When I tell people about my former faith, I often characterize it as Lutheran. That’s the style of church I grew up in, from my days moving around as an Army brat to landing in northern Alabama. But the kind of church I went to doesn’t adequately describe my complete religious upbringing. At home, I’d listen to hours of children’s praise music, read different children’s renditions of Christian fables, and have everything in life get compared to how it affected me spiritually. Such an experience is described as evangelical Christianity today.
It causes me no end of pain, shame, and disappointment to realize I grew up in an evangelical household. Even when presented with information on characteristics of evangelicalism, I still have this urge to whitewash my past and pretend that it magically didn’t have an effect on me. The thing about invisible scars is that it’s easier to pretend they don’t exist.
Growing up, I thought evangelicalism was normal.
Part of this comes from the idea that there are only two kinds of people in the world: true Christians, and other. Another part comes from the concept that non-Christians are out to corrupt, defile, and otherwise prevent true Christians from being saved. Third, I didn’t have access to trusted adults who could have adequately guided me away from evangelicalism. Thus, there was nobody around who could have told me that I shouldn’t have to listen to awful stuff like this:
Even when I did finally get to be involved with non-religious peers, I simply didn’t talk about the things I grew up with. I knew on some level other people didn’t have to think about Jesus as much as I did, and that they thought it might have been excessive. Additionally, I didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings when they found out that if they weren’t enthusiastic about Jesus, they might be going to hell. My solution was to just ignore what I’d learned growing up.
Looking back on it is terrifying for me.
If I hadn’t gone to public school, my whole life would have existed within the confines of religion. Everyone I would have met would have had the same religious background as I had. I would have had the same problem as when I was younger; I wouldn’t have had access to people who could help me question my upbringing.
Despite this access, I still had to pretend like I was more religious at home. Of course, I was actually more religious, but considering what I learned about lukewarm Christians growing up, I couldn’t be vocal about it. It wasn’t that I thought Christianity was wrong; I was scared about letting family know I wasn’t super-excited about it. I felt like there was something wrong with me for not wanting to be a zealot.
What about kids and people who are stuck in it?
My main goal in writing this is to let younger people know that they don’t have to choose evangelicalism, even if they have to put up with family that demands it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend a day doing something that isn’t covered in a religious handbook or sermon. You’re not crazy for wanting more to life than obsessing where your invisible soul goes after death. In fact, it’s not healthy to think about death as much as Christianity sometimes does (once, twice, or even more times a week).
It bothers me that I might meet younger people who are in the same situation I was in. They don’t talk about it because they can’t. Or, like me, they might spend some time in denial about all the other bad things that went along with living in an evangelical house. Specifically, I’m referring to the threats of damnation, screaming and verbal abuse to get you to be a “righteous” person, and many other abusive behaviors just because it lets someone go on a diatribe about faith. And really, this doesn’t even cover all of what goes on.
Despite those worries, evangelicalism is about the control a person gives it. The sooner anyone realizes it, the less of an impact it has. Other people can whine, threaten, scream, and cajole all they want, but it takes personal masochism to keep running with it. If religion hurts, stop doing it.