Working my way from fundamentalism to freedom (without losing my mind)


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Guest Post for Alise Write

Hi friends!

My research project is done, my exams are finished, and (though I still have a few summer classes to take) I’ll be walking in the Oakland University graduation ceremony at 4 pm today. I think it’s time I start blogging again.

So, let’s mark my triumphant return with a guest post for the wonderful Alise Write! I’ve written for Alise about how I’ve navigated my relationship with my fiance, Abe, as we both travel along in our individual faith journeys.

When I first met my fiancé, Abraham, I was a fundamentalist who had recently realized (with trepidation) that I believed in evolution, had just become a feminist, and was considering leaving the Baptist church that I grew up in.

When my fiancé, Abraham, first met me, he was a Southern Baptist Missions drop-out who had recently left the church and was considering atheism.

I remember our second date clearly—Abe had taken me to a seafood restaurant that he really couldn’t afford because he wanted to impress me. In between mouthfuls of flounder and scallops, we discussed religion.

I listened, nervously, as he explained why he had stopped pursuing a career as a Southern Baptist missionary.: “They wanted me to teach ‘once-saved-always-saved,’ and I just don’t see salvation as a one-time event.”

And he listened (with I’m sure just as much nervousness), as I explained that I thought maybe a Creator God could use evolution to form the heavens and the earth.

We disagreed on these points that seem almost laughably insignificant, looking back. But to a couple of people not-quite-yet grown out of the bible-clearly-says mindsets we’d both been raised in, those insignificant points seemed like a big deal.

Read the rest at Alise Write!


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Feminisms Fest Badge

When I heard that Preston Yancey, Danielle Vermeer, and  J.R. Goudeau were hosting a three-day blog link-up discussing feminism, my first thought was “Damn this timing.” See, I was planning on dedicating these very three days to finishing the literature review for my senior research project.

So, yesterday I was too busy to contribute because I was staring at a blank Microsoft Word document thinking “Fuck it, I’m going to go watch Fullmetal Alchemist.”

Tomorrow, I’ll probably be too busy to contribute because I have stayed up all night writing my literature review to make up for the time I spent writing today (and watching anime yesterday).

But today? Today, I’ll be doing my part. Wasn’t planning on it, but I couldn’t stay away.

You see, my project is on how rape and sexual assault are handled in four different Christian dating books (spoiler alert: not very well), and so I’ve been researching cultural attitudes toward rape and rape victims.

As I studied and the facts popped out at me…

“25% and 35% of respondents (both male and female) agree with the majority of these rape myths”*

“…Although individuals are not likely to directly blame a female rape victim, 53% of college students agreed that her actions led to her assault.”*

“In a study conducted at a Christian liberal arts college, men higher in religiosity…compared to less religious men were more likely to believe that women who are promiscuous or who dress in a provocative manner deserve to be raped.”*

“Qualitative analyses demonstrated that clergy take into account the woman’s resistance, provocative behavior, decision making, marital role, and unusual behavior when assigning responsibility for rape. The results indicated that most clergy blame the victim and adhere to rape myths.”**

…I realized that all of these quotes are why we need feminism. Why I need feminism.

A common stereotype about feminists is that we hate men. Feminism causes that hatred, according to these stereotypes. And I’d like to admit something.

I used to hate men.

…before I became a feminist.

And why not?, I think to myself as I research for my project and read about the rape that occurs and the public attitude toward it. Why not hate men?

The world is not just. And, according to bell hooks, “without justice there can be no love.” 

Before I became a feminist, before I began to demand justice, in my politics, in my churches, and in my relationships, I could not love men. And the men in my life who were upholding patriarchal traditions–often without even knowing it–could not really love me.

Now, I must add that I don’t think one has to identify as a feminist in order to love or be loved. I’m simply telling my own story.

But I agree with hooks that there can be no love without justice. Where unfairness, inequality, abuse, disrespect, victim-blaming, and rape exist, there is no love.

And feminism is one movement that fights for justice for women. 

So why feminism? 

Love. That’s why. 

I wrote in my last post that a man at a Christian college that I went to believed that relationships between men and women–romantic relationships, friendships, parent-child relationships, etc.–were broken. He believed that they were broken because of women not adhering to gender roles.

I agree with this man on one thing. Relationships between men and women are broken.

But they’ve been broken for a long time. Longer than second-wave feminism. Longer than suffrage. They’ve been broken for centuries and it’s not because of gender roles.

It’s because of injustice.

I want to love men because I want to live in a loving world. I want to love my fiance, yes. But also my brother, my father, my uncles, my cousins, and my coworkers and friends.

But I cannot do this when I fear them. I cannot do this when they exercise power over me or when they disrespect me. I cannot do this when they ignore their privilege and continually hurt me–whether intentionally or on accident–because of it. I cannot do this when they believe and perpetuate rape myths. I cannot do this when they are rapists or abusers themselves.

So I need feminism. Because I need justice, and without justice there can be no love. 

Sources: 
* Edwards, Katie, Jessica Turchik, Christina M. Dardis, Nicole Reynolds, and Christine A. Gidycz. “Rape Myths: History, Individual and Institutional-Level Presence, and Implications for Change.” Sex Roles 65.11 (2011)
**Sheldon, James P., and Sandra Parent. “Clergy’s Attitudes and Attributions of Blame Toward Female Rape Victims.” Violence Against Women 8.233 (2002)


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Do Gender Roles Cause Unrealistic Expectations for Relationships?

I wrote a guest post for Kevin Olenick about how the gender roles I learned in a Joshua Harris book put an unnecessary amount of stress and pain on a previous relationship.

When my last boyfriend and I started getting more serious about our relationship and were wondering “Where do we go from here?” we decided to seek some counsel from books. So I went to the Christian bookstore on my Christian college’s campus and picked up Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris.

Now, my ex and I had both grown up in fundamentalist-learning churches, so we’d heard the basics about gender roles before. But never had we heard about gender roles with an emphasis as strong as what we found in that book. So, thinking that we had been doing everything wrong for our entire relationship, we attempted to follow the rules that this book put forth.

He would be the strong, masculine leader.

I would be the vulnerable, feminine, helper.

Instead of being ourselves, instead of continuing the journey we’d already started toward learning who the other person was, we both tried to see the other (and ourselves) as Man or Woman, as defined by Joshua Harris.

Read the whole post here!

Cover of the book "Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti"


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Love and the mystery of men and women

I’ve been reading bell hook’s book All About Love: New Visions. In it, she stresses the importance of defining love so that we can’t be controlled by abusive people who claim to love us. She borrows her definition of love from M. Scott Peck: “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth…Love is as love does. Love is an act of will–namely, both an intention and an action.” 

hooks later discusses our culture’s reluctance to define love:

It is particularly distressing that so many recent books on love continue to insist that definitions of love are unnecessary and meaningless. Or worse, the authors suggest love should mean something different to men than it does to women–that the sexes should respect and adapt to our inability to communicate since we do not share the same language. This type of literature is popular because it does not demand a change in fixed ways of thinking about gender roles, culture, or love. Rather than sharing strategies that would help us become more loving it actually encourages everyone to adapt to circumstances where love is lacking.

It’s funny how much this idea–that love should mean something different to men than it does to women–has caught on in Christian culture. Funny. And a bit sad.

Cover of the book “Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti”

I think of the books that were popular when I was a teenager and when I was attending a Christian college. The ones that flew off the bookshelf at Lifeway. The ones that the “cool” churches had Young Adult Bible studies on.

There was the For Men Only  and For Women Only series. I remember buying For Men Only with my college suitemate Carina because it made us feel rebellious. We read it in her dorm room and snickered at how dumb it was.But the premise was exactly what bell hooks described above–that men and women  are totally different and must be loved in different ways. The description on Amazon for For Men Only says it all (emphasis mine):

 Now at your fingertips is the tool that will unlock the secret to her mysterious ways. Through hundreds of interviews and the results of a scientific national survey of women, this book demonstrates that women are actually not random and that they really can be systematized and “mapped.” In fact, much to men’s delight, this book shows that women are actually quite easy to understand and please—as long as you know what it is they need. This simple map will guide you to loving your wife or girlfriend in the way she needs to be loved.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only Christian relationship book that emphasizes extreme sex differences when it comes to love.

There’s Eggerich’s Love and Respect, a book that I stopped reading out of frustration when I was dating my last boyfriend: “Psychological studies affirm it, and the Bible has been saying it for ages. Cracking the communication code between husband and wife involves understanding one thing: that unconditional respect is as powerful for him as unconditional love is for her. It’s the secret to marriage that every couple seeks, and yet few couples ever find.”

Again, this idea that men and women need different things in a relationship.

How about the Eldredges’ books Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul and Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul? Secret? Mystery? Or how about Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti? 

Or Hayley and Michael DiMarco’s Marriable: Taking the Desperate Out of Dating, a book I read in college, which had separate chapters for men and women. Most notably, there was a chapter on “Male Porn” and “Female Porn.” The male porn section was on, well, porn. The female porn section was on chick flicks. Even when it comes to sex, says Christian culture, men and women want different things. 

What happens when we insist on this dichotomy between men and women when it comes to love? What happens when we pretend that men and women are too different to understand each other? Or that all men want one thing when it comes to love and all women want another?

That men want respect and women want romance?

That men want physically pleasing sex and women just want to feel close to someone emotionally?

That men are a secret? Women are a mystery?

What happens is we cannot love each other fully. We cannot “nurture another’s spiritual growth,” according to Peck’s definition of love, because we’re only giving another  person half of what they need. Because we’re assuming we know what their needs are based on the genitalia they happen to have (or because we’re assuming we can never really know what they need). Men and women both become dehumanized. They become simply mysterious terrain to be “systematized and mapped.”

I told you I stopped reading Love and Respect. Why? Because I don’t just need love and my boyfriend at the time didn’t just need respect.  We both needed both. Equally. Unconditionally. One cannot exist without the other. I couldn’t stand the idea of being treated as simply this object called Woman–just follow the instructions to please! I couldn’t stand the idea of treating the man I was with in the same way.

The more the church settles for these split-up, scattered, partial definitions of love, the more the church pretends that all men are the same and all women are the same and all men are different from all women, the more that the church withholds holistic, fulfilling definitions of love from both men and women…

…the less the church knows love. The less the church knows God.

 

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Unseduced and Unshaken: A Book Review

 

 

 

The following is a book review of Rosalie de Rosset’s book, Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices. I’ve been given a copy of the book to give to one of my readers, so if you’re interested in a free book, leave a comment! 

 

When I first began reading Unseduced and Unshaken (which one of my twitter followers joked sounded like what you’d get when you played a James Bond film backwards), though there were a few aspects of it that made me uneasy, I wanted to like it. I really did. The author made several points that stood out from typical Christian jargon and I wanted to embrace those points and write a review about how I was “pleasantly surprised.” The main idea of the book is the idea that women should be “dignified.” That word made me cringe right from the start, but the author’s initial definition of dignity actual had me nodding my head in agreement. According to Rosset, a dignified woman is strong, demands respect, has found her voice and uses it, and boldly speaks the truth. Rosset encourages women to educate themselves, study theology on their own (in opposition to asking their husbands at home, a point which made me particularly happy), and to reject the world’s attempts to sexualize and commodify women. These are all things that I want to do and be as a feminist woman.

 

However, despite the good, I couldn’t get over my unease at the idea of demanding that women be “dignified.” I was too much of a skeptic to embrace the author’s positive points. Women speaking and being bold and thinking for themselves? I just had a feeling that what I was reading was too good to be true. This is a Christian book. There has to be a catch.

 

I was right about that. The book quickly decelerated until  the last few chapters where it got so bad I wanted to throw the book across the room. Even before that point, however, there were hints as to where the book was headed.

 

One positive thing I will say about the book is that it meets its intended purpose. In the introduction,the author states, “I pray that this book will begin significant  conversations, lead to further reading, discussion, and even disagreement.” Oh, there was disagreement. But that disagreement led to discussions, with Abe and with friends on Twitter. Through these discussions, I realized that many of the points made in this book are commonly made in Christian culture, and that these points can have unhealthy, even disastrous, effects on women.

 

I’m going to list and briefly discuss a few of these points below, and I, like Rosset, hope that they lead to significant conversations. A few of these points may even merit their own blog post in the future.

 

  • Be rational!: The book consistently makes a point to demonize emotions. Emotions are usually equated with sin, and women are told to foster rational thinking so that we can combat the feelings that are leading us to sin. Rational thinking is good and important, and it’s refreshing to hear someone encourage women (and Christian women at that!) to use it. But when rational thinking is contrasted with emotion, it sets up a false dichotomy of thinking and feeling. The message many take away from that false dichotomy is “Don’t trust your feelings and don’t express them too much.”
  • God fixes eating disorders: In one chapter, the author explains how vicious society is toward women. She’s right, of course, but rather than turning her critique toward society, she critiques the women who are affected by society. She describes women who don’t feel adequate because of societal pressures as having a “pathetic greed.” She also states in another chapter that eating disorders and depression are caused, not by a society that constantly tears down women, but by women not fulfilling their longings with God.
  • Respect or sex? You can only choose one: The author states that many women “open themselves up to disrespect” by “getting physically involved too soon and going too far.” The author also tells women that they are to dress modestly so that they “are taken seriously…not objectified and don’t attract the wrong kind of man.” She then says that once we overcome sexual sin, we can return to our “self-respect.”
  • Lesbians are pathological and clingy: The author lists “same-sex attraction” as an addiction. In one of the most rage-inducing parts of the entire book, she describes lesbian relationships as mere friendships that include “attachment that is marked by emotional immaturities, crippling dependency, exclusivity, and insecurity.” She sees lesbian relationships has having some “elements of genuine affection,” but as mostly being “problems of idealization and unresolved childhood attachment that create a barrier to healthy adult mutuality.” She ignorantly suggests that lesbians are unable to “emotionally receive the presence of another without a loss of self or a dependent consumption of the other.”
  • Masturbation is evil:  According to this book, masturbation will make it hard for you to have a relationship with someone because you’ll be satisfied with satisfying yourself. I’ve heard this argument many times from Christians. I have no idea where they get it from. I’ve never heard of anyone (besides maybe John Mayer) who just couldn’t relate to a sexual partner because of masturbation. The author defends her idea that masturbation is a sin by stating that people feel guilty for doing it. This kind of contradicts her whole “don’t trust your feelings and use logic” point. Her reasoning here just baffles me. She doesn’t address Christian culture that makes people ashamed of all sexual expression, nor does she address society that shames women who are able to find fulfillment outside of men. She simply concludes that since people feel guilty for masturbating, it must be a sin.
  • Modesty. Be ashamed. Be very ashamed: The book tries to make a point for modesty outside of the tired, old “don’t cause your brothers to stumble” line. The author believes in this line, of course, so I couldn’t even celebrate her choice not to focus on it for too long. But the author thinks that our idea of modesty should come from theology, specifically the theology that states how worthless we are without God. Using the story of Adam and Eve as a reference point, the author states, “clothing confesses that humans are ‘without.’ We are…untrustworthy, vulnerable to one another, and lacking faith in the benevolence of God.” We are to dress modestly to “confess who [we] are in Christ by showing who [we] are without Him–naked and ashamed.” With this idea, the author lifts all pretense from the modesty discussion and states what it is really about–being ashamed of our bodies, ourselves.
  • Civilize the menfolk! Later in the book, another reason for modesty is given: it “changed men from uncivilized males who ran after as many sexual partners as they could get to men who really wanted to stick by one woman.”
  • “One of the most precious gifts in life is innocence,” the book states. Yet innocence is stolen from us by things like sex education and sexual abuse (yes, the author really puts those two things in the same sentence as thieves of innocence). The author praises the Lord–who protected her from ever having been touched sexually or jeered at inappropriately–for protecting her innocence, which hit a nerve for me since the Lord apparently chose not to protect my innocence when I was abused at a young age.

 

When I discussed these points with Abe, his response was, “Well, that just sounds like every other Christian self-help book for women. Why do we need to hear all that again?” He’s right. You’re probably not surprised by the above points if you’ve spent any time at all in evangelical culture. For many of us, these points have shaped, and may even continue to shape, our worldview. I’d like to spend some more time dissecting these points in the comments. Let me know if you’re interested in a free copy of the book so you can dissect it more thoroughly!

 


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Last Valentine’s Day…

Last Valentine’s Day was hard.

I had had plans, of course. I was going to continue the tradition that my boyfriend and I had started two years earlier where we give each other President’s Day cards instead of Valentine’s Day cards. The card was still sitting in my desk drawer. It said, “You baRACK! You’re da oBAMa!”

But now the plans were cancelled because there was no one to give the stupid card to anymore and the student union was rubbing it in my face with all the hearts on the walls that said things like “URA ZERO,” and I couldn’t decide whether to put the obligatory Christian Valentine’s Day facebook status about how God loves everyone or to make some bitter comment about how this day was meant to remember a priest who was beheaded anyway and…

oh…

I had an email.

But wait. It was just another notification from that stupid Christian dating website. Ugh. Christian Cafe? Really, Sarah? Why would you sign up for that? What possessed you (besides crippling loneliness and desperation and four days with no sleep) to join Christian Cafe?  It was some guy with the screen name Gnomad something or other, and he thought I was cool because I had a picture holding a toy stuffed Link from The Legend of Zelda. He seemed like a nice guy and he was really cute which obviously meant he was probably really a 60 year old creepy man using a fake photo (because everyone on the internet is, or so I’d been taught). Or maybe he was just a fake account set up in order to lure me in so I’d buy the Mocha Grande Payment Package (seriously, folks) after my free trial was up ’cause no one that attractive would be on Christian Cafe (and then I thought, “Wait! I’m on Christian Cafe! Lovely. Just lovely).

And with THAT, I closed my computer and resumed the break-up routine that had been going on for a few weeks now: listen to Relient K’s Forget and Not Slow Down all the way through,  cry, eat about a million beefy crunch burritos from Taco Bell, try to sleep, fail, repeat. That was last Valentine’s Day.

Then I woke up. Valentine’s Day was over, and I think it was Tuesday because I didn’t have to work and I’m pretty sure I skipped all of my classes and I decided “Hey. It is the day after Valentine’s day and I am going to love myself today.”

And so I walked to my car, because I was going to go to Walmart and buy clearance candy and eat it, damn it!

And then I was going to cut off all my hair, damn it!

And then I was going to dye it red….damn it!

And my car’s tires ended up being frozen to the ground, but I didn’t even care.

I would walk two miles to Walmart in the cold if I had to. And I did.

As I walked, instead of listening to Relient K’s depressing breakup album, I listened to sunshiny 60s pop music (’cause the magic’s in the music and the music is in meeeee!) and I fell in love with me again.

The red hair, and the cheap chocolate, and the fresh air after months of sulking in my dorm room, and the Lovin’ Spoonful? That was the turning point. The point where I untied the chains of that three year long failed relationship. That was freedom.

This Valentine’s Day, I celebrate a personal victory.

I celebrate the seemingly ordinary factors that combined in a magical way to give me the strength to move on.

I celebrate the message in my email inbox that was waiting for me when I got back from Walmart saying, “I forgot yesterday was Valentine’s Day! You seem pretty awesome so this is for you: <3″ and I celebrate the fact that I decided, “Oh, fine, I’ll talk to this Gnomad guy. He seems alright.” (he was)

But mostly, I celebrate love and the fact that no matter how broken your heart is, you can still find it–in the clearance section at Walmart or in a box of hair-dye or in a song from the 60s or even on Christian Cafe.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.

Let’s celebrate love.


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Weekend links!

Here are a few of my favorite moments from the internet this week! Enjoy!

Five women who changed God’s rules” by Fred Clark at Slacktivist: Sometimes I don’t think God’s laws are fair. Sometimes they’re sexist. Sometimes I let God know how I feel about those rules. Turns out, this makes me a “biblical woman,” and turns out that, God listens to women. This article tells us of five women in the Bible who challenged one of God’s unjust laws and paved the way for more equality for women of the ancient world! It tells me that God isn’t as “anti-progess” as some people think he is. Definitely post of the week!

Helping is for everybody!” by Abe Kobylanski: So, who should feed the poor and right the world’s wrongs? The church? Or the government? Why not both?

Why I am not Joe Paterno” by Dianna Anderson at Relevant Magazine: When Relevant Magazine published a highly offensive article entitled, “We are all Joe Paterno,” Dianna Anderson boldly stepped up to the plate to defend the voices of rape survivors. I was proud.

Christian Dating Bingo” by Dianna Anderson: And, on a lighter note, this post made my week.

“Two Reasons Mark Driscoll’s Popularity Doesn’t Bother Me” by Rachel Held Evans: I needed to hear this one after all the “Real Marriage” and “Mars Hill church discipline” news lately. Very encouraging.

“She Won’t Let Me Wear The Pants Or Stick My Thingy In Her, And Other Pressing Problems Facing The Church Today” by Jo Hilder: An awesome response to all the “recent rash of Driscollisms.” I mean, the title alone, right? So great!

“Biblical manhood, or fruits of the spirit?” by Bram Cools: Bram wonders, why do we place so much focus on “Biblical manhood or womanhood?” Why not focus on the fruits of the spirit?

“Famous Paintings Improved by Cats” at Sad and Useless: Amazing. Just amazing.

“What NOT to say to someone struggling with their faith” by Elizabeth Esther: SO much truth!

And, of course, two of the greatest episodes of the Colbert Report aired this week (which is saying something, since Colbert is always amazing. Check out Stephen Colbert’s interview with Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are and other children’s books.

Grim Colberty Tales, part 1

Grim Colberty Tales, part 2

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