Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole

My sister is in a difficult place. She is rejecting most or even all of what her church teaches. She isn't sure that she is going to end up believing at all. I think there is a good chance she will become a non-church-going agnostic. She doesn't do well with grey. If Christianity is the true religion then the Bible would be clear and we should believe everything it says. If the Bible has contradictions in it, then it is not clear, cannot have been written by God, is therefore entirely a human work, and religion is something people make up to help themselves feel less afraid of the dark. Right now she stays at the church because it is necessary for her daughters to continue, and because she has nowhere else to be. She took a communications class in which she learned that one of the things that people need is affiliation -- a sense of belonging in a community. She has learned that it is normal for people to stay in communities that are harmful to them because it is more difficult than leaving.

Right now she is so very busy trying to work as much as she can, keep up with the church responsibilities and go to school full time. She doesn't have time to find a new place to belong. I am not, by the way, going to try to suggest web sites or churches or groups to her any more. I only suggested one -- a parent support group that I learned met in her town. She thought it was a good idea, but can't fit it into her schedule. I think right needs to protect herself from finding anything new. She is trying hard to remain a member in good standing at church so that her second daughter can continue going to school there. Next year, after Niece2 graduates, she may change her mind.

She was very relieved that when the Pastor read the requirements for keeping the scholarship that Niece1 was given (attendance at one of the schools on their "approved list," attendance and service at a church near the college and at the home church in the summer) he left out "continued membership of the parents in our church." That had been there before. I don't know if Niece1 noticed it, but the church did make a promise to keep giving her a small amount of money for school even if her parents fell from the path of righteousness.

I don't know how Sis would have raised her children had she not gone down this path. It is impossible to imagine. She feels deeply guilty about leaving the world she has built for them. She wants to let them make their own choices, knows she can't make them do anything else. No decisions are easy.

They live in a not-small town. Their house is in a modest neighborhood across from a largish city park. They shop at Sam's Club and the mall. They have library cards. For most of the kids' lives they did not have television. When they finally broke down and got it, the girls mostly didn't watch it. Of course my sister didn't either. They periodically watched movies as a family and my brother-in-law watches sports. They don't get a newspaper, subscribe to any magazines, or listen to radio in the house. If didn't listen to the radio since even the Christian station played rock music and rock music is obviously demonic, seeing as it comes from Africa. They attend a small church that grows ever smaller, and attend the school there which has dwindled to about 12 students from kindergarten through high school. The girls read only Christian novels.

My nephew now goes to public school and Sis listens to NPR while she drives and cleans, so things are slowly changing for them. They had Internet access for a while, but the girls had no interest in it. Now it is off and they have to go to the library to access it. Nephew has an email account but the girls know about the satanic spam, and they have no one to write to anyway, so they don't.

The girls have no friends who are not part of that church. They have no source of information not approved by that church. They have accepted this life. They believe that their eternal salvation and all possible earthly happiness is tied up in living this life in which they accept their place as women, never wear pants, and read their Bibles every day.

It is amazing that it is possible to pull this off.

No one has taught them basic anatomy. My sister asked me to define "moxie." We were at the church banquet and I told her to ask me later. When we got home I told her I couldn't tell her at church because the only thing that came to mind at the time was "ballsy." She was confused so I said, "You know, like when they say that a man has brass balls?" She was still confused so I explained further. Eventually she got it. Niece2, who is 17, however was confused by the brass balls part. What were brass balls? Without pausing I told her that "balls" was slang for "testicles." She looked at her mom and asked, "Do I want to know what that means?"

Sis said, "I don't know, do you?" Niece2 looked at me nervously. I said, "They are part of a man's body." She responded, "Oh! No, I don't want to know then."

A few days before that Sis told me that she had only recently insisted that Niece1 let her explain sex to her. Niece1, who was then 18, did not want to know, but Sis said that she didn't have a choice. Niece1 told me that she thought it sounded really gross. I was certain they were kidding me, but eventually they convinced me that they weren't.

My nieces have grown up knowing where babies come from but not how they got there. They know nothing about the anatomy of men. They know that there are sexually transmitted diseases, but they do not know what they are called or exactly how one might get them.

Niece1 was helping with the bus mission. They bring kids in from various neighborhoods to come to church. Sis hates it, saying that the only parents that let their kids go with strange people are those who are desperate for free babysitting. Someone tattled to Niece1 telling her that one of the kids was swearing. This time she asked her mom for information. She said that she couldn't tell if the tattler was lying or not because she didn't know what the swear words were. Sis dutifully listed them for her, letting her know which ones were worse than others.

One gets a feeling of complete disorientation now and then.

They think that evangelicals are bad or liberal or something. I think it is that they have made compromises with the devil by using rock music, but I'm not sure.

They really believe that a person could come to Christ, change their entire life, by reading a few Bible verses and that that wouldn't be a mark of mental instability. My sister didn't get that one at first. I asked her what she would think of someone who had read a few quotes from the Buddha and based upon that alone decided to dedicate themselves to following the Buddha and seeking enlightenment. What if that person had completely abandoned their previous way of living and explained it by saying that those words came to them at just the point when they needed them. When they read those few words they realize they would finally know true peace if they abandoned all worldly things and followed Buddha, and just like that they sealed themselves off from any source that might tempt them to change their mind and tried to be Buddha-like in every aspect of their life.

"Would you think that that showed that Buddha was the one true way, or that that person might be less than totally sane?"

Please understand that I do not think that all religious people are insane.

It occurred to me that my nieces are what Gary's Girlfriend's mom wants Girlfriend to be.

I try not to worry for my nieces. They do not know how small their world is, and I don't know that they are the least bit prepared to handle any of the world out there.


  1. It actually makes me physically sick that they don't know these things. Doesn't surprise me, but Wow.

    Just wow.

  2. OMG I don't really get how anyone has successfully been able to insulate themselves from the world in the environment in which she lives. It is sort of what you expect when you read about religious compounds but more surreal because your sister didn't have that level of physical isolation.

  3. Although I agree that 17 and 18 year olds should be taught about the beauty of sex, and yes it should be taught that way, I think that innocence is something that has been lost and is beautiful to maintain. Innocence is not the same as being naive, but I think it's beautiful that the girls have not been corrupted by hearing about sex in a flippant way, or hearing words that are derogatory and demeaning. I wish I could go back to that time of innocence.
    I definitely think there are some deeper issues of shame and fear there, but the innocence doesn't bother me.

  4. oh my...I have so much to say, but I'm biting my tongue. Religious arguments from previous experiences never end well :)

  5. If you ever change your mind about suggesting websites to your sister, I recommend this one: I've recently read it from start to finish. It was very touching to see somebody stuggle with everything they have known in order to learn to think for themselves.


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