Christianity Can Be Awfully Complicated
I don’t talk much about my religious upbringing. I was raised by Christian parents and spent the majority of my childhood at a Southern Baptist Camp in the Sierra Nevadas.
It is difficult to discuss my religious experiences publicly because there is no concise way to define the kind of Christianity I grew up with. Christianity is a religion that is practiced broadly. Denominations and individuals have differing beliefs, teachings, rules, and practices.
It is difficult to name the particular brand of Christianity that I grew up with because it has no name. My parents described themselves as non-denominational. They did not ascribe to any existing set of beliefs and believed they solely followed what was said in the Bible.
Given the amount of Biblical translations and the allegorical and symbolic nature of the Bible, no two people interpret the Bible the same way. However, my dad felt the way he read the Bible was THE RIGHT way. My sister and I joke that my dad made up his own version of religion, but all jokes aside, that is exactly what he did. He felt his beliefs and views were correct, while everyone else was wrong.
For example, he felt it was sinful to get divorced. He thought that if you had sinned in a “significant way” (such as getting pregnant in your teens), you were unfit for church leadership later in life. He felt women could not be pastors. He did not believe in the Holy Trinity. He thought blue fingernail polish was unnatural and therefor wrong. It was hard to know where his religious beliefs ended and his personal opinions started.
To further complicate matters, his beliefs and religious practices shifted over time (I’m happy to report he is far more religiously tolerant now and we’ve been able to develop a supportive relationship).
But as a child, it was an ever-changing guidebook with an ever-changing map. It was impossible for us kids to get it right. This is probably why my mother always told me to “ask my father” when I had a religious question. I wanted it from her, from someone far more loving and understanding, but she deferred to my dad as the “religious head” of the family.
So I experienced this twisted version of Christianity that was then mixed with the experience of growing up at Southern Baptist Camp. Every week, different churches would come and rent the camp facilities to have a holy retreat away from the world. I was exposed to their differing viewpoints.
The other families that helped run the camp weren’t necessarily Southern Baptist, so they all had their different versions of Christianity. They loved to talk about their views, and I frequently heard them as we shared meals together at the camp dining hall or when I later worked at the camp. Their views often went beyond “expressing opinions,” and I was often admonished, scolded, or “told” what to believe.
This complicated environment had another layer. The school I went to was a tiny public K-8th grade school. There were 24 for us altogether. Aftering some rearranging from the school district, the school was integrated with a district lower down the mountain and our school doubled in size. All of the new kids came from a Christian church called “Word of Life.” They were a very insular community with extreme beliefs. They were incredibly mean and cruel, and I was often made fun of for not being similar to them (for instance, they only wore skirts and would bully me for wearing shorts).
Every Sunday, my family drove an hour down the mountain to attend a non-denominational Christian Church, which had yet another viewpoint of Christianity. My dad was on the pastoral committee (he would preach when the pastor was away), but I had to keep it a secret that my dad didn’t align with all of the church’s beliefs (such as the Holy Trinity).
My parents would also take us to extra workshops, youth groups, and plays related to Christianity, usually fundamentalist-based ones. Hell’s Gate, a play about who gets to go to heaven or hell when they die, was particularly terrifying.
My childhood was inundated in convoluted, confusing, and conflicting presentations of Christianity.
As an adult, I went through the process of deconstructing all of the varying beliefs and experiences. I examined their impact on me and the lasting patterns they had created (such as trying my worth to “doing good.” I decided what to keep and what to release. It took, and continues to take, years of therapy, journaling, and deep conversations with others.
I’ve now come to a place where I publicly write about religious deconstruction, harmful beliefs, and destructive teachings.
I am not critiquing the religion as a whole. How could I? There is no consensus on what Christianity is.
So when someone comes to therapy for religious deconstruction, we are not dismantling “Christianity” and tearing it apart at the seams. Instead, we examine a person’s unique experiences. We look at the beliefs, behaviors, and teachings they absorbed. We unravel all of the tangled threads to see which they want to keep, which they want to toss, and which they would like to rework.
It takes such exacting work because Christianity is complicated.
Thank you for reading. If you would like to work together on religious deconstruction, you can reach me here.