I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years deconstructing the harmful elements of fundamentalism. Today I’d like to reflect on some of the ways I benefitted from being raised in a strict, religious environment. Because, the truth is, it wasn’t all bad. Some of the things I learned while being raised fundamentalist have helped me build a stable, successful life even after leaving fundamentalism. For example, there’s no doubt in my mind that learning how to manage my time, maintain an orderly life and meet my commitments has positively impacted my life.
So, here are seven good things I received from fundamentalism:
- Welcoming life. Growing up, large families were the norm. I was surrounded by children from a very young age. By age eight, I knew how to take care of a baby by myself. Even though I had only one sister (my mother had health complications which prevented her from bearing more children), as fundamentalists, we maintained a sincere openness to life. There was no such thing as having “too many children.” We encouraged and supported young mothers. It wasn’t disgraceful to bear children at a young age. Nobody told us to wait until we were ‘ready.’ Even though it was very difficult at the time, having babies in my twenties was one of the best choices I ever made. It is a gift that keeps on giving.
- Biblical literacy. I know my Bible backwards and forwards. I’m surprised by how often verses will come to mind that precisely fit whatever situation I’m in. The strong, fundamentalist emphasis on reading the Bible and “studying to show ourselves approved” taught me how to connect with God through Scripture. Ironically, it is the fundamentalist belief in Scripture as the literal Word of God which aided my embrace of Catholicism; particularly as it applies to the Eucharist (ie. I simply couldn’t read St. John 6 and tell myself it was all just symbolic).
- Personal relationship with Jesus. Although the evangelical/fundamentalist emphasis on having a personal relationship with Jesus was often abusively leveraged by church authorities, the idea that God desires an intimate friendship with us is profoundly important. An intimate friendship requires a heart-connection. There were a few times in my childhood when I felt and experienced the love of God so powerfully, it preserved my faith even when all else failed. This is why, perhaps, Catholicism does not seem like a “dead religion” to me. Instead it feels like a simple fulfillment of the personal relationship I have with Jesus. Before I was Catholic I could only touch Jesus spiritually–now I touch Him physically through the Eucharist.
- Sex is sacred. A profound, sacred respect for sex and marriage permeated all we did. In some ways, this was linked to our openness toward children. We implicitly understood that a stable, two-parent home is the ideal environment for raising children. Sex wasn’t a casual thing. It was reserved for marriage. This is why I was remained a virgin until my wedding day. This is why the “D” word was never, ever allowed. Yes, a no-divorce culture had its downsides (ie. women in abusive marriages had a tough time getting out). But a no-divorce culture also had its benefits. We really believed in the vows we made. Marriage truly was for better or worse.
- Hospitality. The entire orientation of our lives was other-centered. In fact, it was a delight to serve others. We went out of our way to prepare wonderful meals and comfortable guest rooms for visitors. We invited people to dinner. We hosted all kinds of outreaches. Granted, most of these efforts were geared toward fellow church members–but the mindset of giving and hospitality has benefitted me all these years later. I still love bringing people together. A house full of people and noise feels joyous to me. I love seeking out the people who seem left out and making them feel welcome and comfortable. My life is richer and fuller because the seed of hospitality was planted deep in my heart even as a child.
- Hard work. We didn’t wait around for something to happen, we made things happen. We didn’t expect special favors or handouts. We believed in working hard and never shirking from our duties. Although I’ve experienced some pretty severe burnout (my problem is not knowing how to rest), I can’t deny that a strong work ethic has helped me build a fairly stable life after leaving fundamentalism.
- Self-control. For my personality type (ENFP), practicing self-control is a full-time job. In many ways, I’m thankful for the rigid structuring of my childhood because it taught me to take responsibility for myself and my emotions. I no longer follow a hyper-controlled schedule, but there’s no doubt in my mind that learning how to manage my time, maintain an orderly life and meet my commitments has positively impacted my life. For example, my editor recently told me how impressed he was that I was willing to rewrite my entire book. “You didn’t even flinch,” he said. Yep. Thank you, fundamentalism.
How about you?
Can you see any good results in your life that sprang from a bad situation?