Catharsis

I’ve just finished reading a book about parenting that my mum gave me, parenting forward by Cindy Wang Brandt.

She warned me in passing it to me that it was written by a Christian but said she didn’t think it would be too heavily about Jesus or God that I, a ‘spiritual being’ who doesn’t believe in a God of any religion, would find offence with it.

Far from that, it’s been an eye-opening read.

It’s affirming in how I’m choosing to parent my son – allowing him to have a voice and opinion even at such an early age – and has also served as catharsis for the unspoken feelings and thoughts about my upbringing in fundamentalist religion.

The fundamental Christianity of my youth – by no means ‘fundamental’ compared to other types of churches – left its mark on me.

But I didn’t have a way to voice this until I heard my story told in that of Cindy’s.

Fundamentalism taught me to accept what was taught to me – believing was about unconditional acceptance of what I was told instead of a grappling of what was spoken about. A tidy faith, a believing faith with limited room for disagreement and only belonging, support and community if I could agree with what was taught.

Fundamentalism showed me a white, middle class faith that didn’t challenge the racial prejudices in the system. Jesus was white, he looked like me and our congregation was mostly white. We didn’t use our privilege to challenge the dominant culture, we kept safe in it. Race wasn’t discussed.

Fundamentalism taught me that women weren’t equal to men and that the feelings that so keenly came up inside me – anger, frustration, rage – were not acceptable to God or to the community I belonged to.

Fundamentalism taught me that my purity was the most important thing about me and I didn’t feel I fit once that purity was no longer ‘in tact’. As Cindy says ‘Fundamentalism failed my relationship in that I was taught to hold back even when it was good and appropriate expression of emotional connection‘.

Fundamentalism gave me no option other than a heteronormative view of sexuality and a narrow parameter with which that could be explored. And while happily married with a beautiful son, there is a ‘what if’ that I’ll always carry for the non-binary, more nuanced parts of my sexuality that never had a chance to come out of the closet.

And yet I came off pretty well all things considered – my privilege protected me as a cis-gendered, predominantly straight, white woman.

I didn’t have to suffer racial micro-aggressions or white washing of my culture. I didn’t have to hide all of me to fit in. I was resilient enough to temper myself. I came from an economically well-off family so always had more than enough to eat.

And I recognise that people in the church served me as best they could with what they had. All the above would have been (mostly) true if I hadn’t been brought up in the church – the times in which I was raised were when the inkling of sexual freedom, feminism, awareness of systemic racism and self-awareness were starting to bubble to the surface of our consciousness after being buried for several decades.

But it’s just nice to be able to read something and think ‘so it wasn’t all just me‘ – to have a story told in which I can see myself reflected.

So thank you, mum, for the book. It’s one I’d recommend to anyone who was brought up in the church and wants to be deliberate in the choices they now make, as a parent or just as an adult.

And I want to leave you with a sentence that hit home with me from the last chapter of Cindy’s book:

Children propel us into fighting for a better future because we belong to one another. We can see ourselves in the reflections of each other – our childhood in them, their future in us. 

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A path for finding truth

Religions are not truth. Their just a path. And different people follow different paths.”

This is a sentence from a book I was reading last weekend – it really spoke to me and has been in my thoughts since.

As someone who was raised in a Christian family and who believed that Christianity was the only ‘truth’, this was a really interesting thing to read.

I’ll be honest with you, dear friend. I shy away from writing about religion here because I know some of you who read my words are Christian and I don’t want to offend you with my views.

But in line with my recent post about loving myself enough, I’m going to write about it. Because, when I loved myself enough, I gave myself permission to express my thoughts, even when they differed from the thoughts of other people.

I know from my own experience the danger of living as if my own religion is the only truth. I put judgements on other people and alienated myself because of thinking that I was right and they were wrong.

I’m sad to admit it, but I judged people who weren’t heterosexual when I was a Christian, thinking they were somehow wrong for loving who they loved and being who they inherently were. And in doing so, I locked myself down to a heteronormative label when I think that human sexuality is more fluid than the black and white ‘hetero vs. homo’ line that we so often draw.

My fixation on the ‘truth’ hurt me and it hurt others.

I also judged people who followed another religion – worrying for their soul and, if I’m honest, feeling superior in my ‘rightness’ as a Christian. I read about how other religions were wrong, even Catholicism which has the same ‘God’ at the heart of it, just because they pray to saints.

This makes me feel so sad – the fixation on showing how others were wrong in their beliefs.

With this belief that Christianity was the only truth, there wasn’t much room for debating and grappling with what I was taught. It wasn’t discouraged, but it wasn’t encouraged either or something I engaged in.

I take heart from Christian bloggers I know who are challenging, debating and seeing where the teachings and beliefs fit with them (Clotilde, my sister’s friend is one of those – her blog is here).

I think a truth which hasn’t been tested personally and intellectually is dangerous but that is how I lived for the most part as a Christian.

Looking back, I see such a strict black-and-whiteness about so many things in following the ‘truth’ of Christianity.

Beliefs about sex before marriage being wrong, the danger of being friends or in a relationship with ‘non-believers’, the importance of converting those I knew who didn’t share my faith, the ability to be healed being based on the strength of your faith.

In fairness, not all these teachings came from my church. Some views came from visiting preachers, discussions with other believers, Christian festivals and me taking the word of the bible as truth without grappling with it.

But the one thing that bound all of these issues is the focus on Christianity being the ‘truth’, not a path to finding personal truth.

This is something I’m still grappling with. My experience of religion, my current knowledge of Christians as being more flexible, more inquisitive. My search for a ‘church’ like community which comes together for the beauty of being in community.

And as someone grappling with this, I’d be interested to know your views on this, dear friend.

All I know is that this feels right for me, right now. That religions are just paths to personal truth.

And I take great comfort in the clarity that this small sentence brought to me. It sums up a belief deep inside me that I hadn’t been able to voice until now.

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