Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why I'm Saddened, Shamed, And Scared By Evangelical Christianity

I largely destroyed the early years of my adult life by undergoing, in my freshman year of college, a religious conversion that brought me into the ranks of evangelical Christianity.  I don't use the military allusion lightly, for, as I soon discovered, evangelicals truly view themselves as "Christian soldiers," an army of believers bent on bringing the entire world around to its particular band of faith.

Looking back now at this experience, which began to end not long after my 30th birthday (I'm 59 now), I marvel that it was even possible for this to have happened to me.  I had been brought up in an academic, nominally liberal household (more about that later), one in which tolerance was at least given lip service.  Why would I throw that away for a belief system predicated not only on intolerance, but on a near-total rejection of the intellectual part of life?

There is no simple answer but, over the years, I've come to realize that I had grown up with a lot of self-doubt, augmented by the fact that my parents went out of their way to over-protect me from a lot of activities they deemed to be potentially dangerous.  Add to that the fact that I had attention-deficit disorder and a high IQ, and couldn't overcome the one to fully take advantage of the other, and my whole growing-up process was a total mess.  By the time I was ready to step into the world on my own, I did so without a trace of confidence that I could be successful in it.

I was, in short, easy pickings for a moment that feeds its numbers with directionless people looking to almost anything for direction.  And, for the first twelve years of my adult life, I did the best I could to accommodate myself to its demands, even its demand that I only date women who were part of the faith.  That made my life more complicated, because there were very few available women who qualified, and the ones that did had no interest in dating me.  Evangelical women, for theological reasons, look for men who possess a confident, leader-like personality and, back in my college years and early 20s, that definitely was not me.

By the time I was in my mid-20s, I was in a downward spiritual spiral.  My faith was not helping me cope with a civil-service job I dreaded to go to, and my social life was in a near-total rut.  The best thing I had going for me was the fact that I lived in New York, my all-time favorite city.  But even that was not enough to make my life happy, or even functional.  My response to that was to double-down on the bad spiritual bargain I had made, and attend a week-long program sponsored by Bill Gothard's Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts.

And this was the experience that became the beginning of the end for me, evangelically speaking. Gothard's seminar, like all of his programs, are built on his concept of Biblical authority.  Put simply, any authority that is over you has been placed in that position by God, and must be responded to with absolute obedience.  That not only includes the concept of wives submitting to husbands, but children (even adult children) submitting to parents.  Sadly, both my faith and my self-esteem were low enough that I bought into this concept.  Not long after that, doing so cost me the only good relationship I had ever formed with an evangelical woman--because my parents disapproved of the fact that she was black.

I don't blame them, however, for my decision to end the relationship.  I blame me.  I blame myself for my weakness, my insane search for an "authority" that would make all of my decisions for me, and my complete inability to trust my own judgment and instincts--even when those instincts proved to be right, time and time again.  It was only when I realized that I was the only person who needed to be or should be in charge of my life that I broke out of this downward spiral, and began to turn my life around.  Ultimately, that turnaround led me to abandon the faith I had made the mistake of adopting.

I'll never know exactly what my life might have been if I had not wandered into evangelical Christianity.  I have a good life now, with a terrific marriage and family, and two careers (as a lawyer and an actor), so I have no complaints.  But I can't help but feel a sense of frustration over the years I wasted trying to conform to the demands of a belief system that gave me nothing but a sense of failure.  Who knows how I could have benefited others, if I had just lived my life on my own terms, instead of the terms of people who cared more about my obedience than my happiness?

This is why it infuriates me to see something like this, which makes me realize that no one should waste a second of their lives listing to anything Bill Gothard has to say.  To say nothing of how his particular system of religious tyranny has spilled out into our popular culture, thanks to the Duggar family, whose show, mercifully, has been taken off the air.

And that is why I warn everyone, especially those of you with high-school age and college-age children, to be very, very careful if someone you know or love looks like they may be in danger of falling into the evangelical trap.  Do not hesitate to intervene.  Do it with love, but do it armed with the truth.  And the greatest truth that you can share with them is best summed up in the final four lines of the poem, Invictus:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

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