BJU: a system of learned helplessness
I never really intended for my site to become the Bust-BJU-Blog but now, it's personal. I just learned that my own grandmother attended BJU. You know, the one who forced me to repent on my knees? Yeah, a lot of shit is falling into place. Oops, 150 demerits for profanity! I've been out of fundamentalism for almost 10 years but I'm horrified--HORRIFIED--to discover that the systematized oppression of my childhood is as large and powerful as an entire university. I simply had no idea.
It's like waking up from a nightmare only to realize your nightmare is actually real. At least now I know where my grandmother got her training: BJU. It's all starting to make sense.
Some of the dissenting comments on my recent BJU posts have suggested that despite the rules, BJU isn't that bad and people can go on to live healthy, successful lives after graduating. Yes, OK. We all agree that human beings can survive ugly situations. And some of them even go on to live successful, happy, fulfilled lives.
But that proves NOTHING. I find that argument absolutely hollow. It's like the argument some people use for spanking: I was spanked as a kid and I turned out fine!
For those of us who were spanked until our "will was broken," we turned out fine IN SPITE of the thousands of spankings--not BECAUSE we were spanked. There's a huge difference.
Yes, I survived my childhood cult. Yes, I've gone on to live a fairly successful life. But I can tell you right now that it has felt like CLAWING my way out of a pit. I was messaging with a family member recently who told me the same thing: sometimes we are just absolutely blindsided by pain from our shared pasts. It never, ever, ever goes away. You just learn different coping mechanisms.
When you are raised in a fundamentalist environment, it's like your body and soul are branded with hot iron. What BJU has created is a system of learned helplessness. Did you notice that almost every single action requires prior approval? And even after approval, you are required to check in and check out. On top of that, other people are checking on you. Reporting on you.
I remember that well. That was precisely how my fundamentalist church operated. What happens when you live like this is that you never develop your own decision-making skills.
You're constantly seeking prior approval for everything. After awhile, you can't LIVE without permission. You begin to panic when faced with a decision--how will you ever make this decision without approval/permission from the "God-given authorities" in your life?!
One of the things I had to work on in therapy was not apologizing for everything and also not feeling compelled to explain everything I did. I had been raised to believe every decision Reverberated Through Eternity! and so I was always ready with "Biblical reasons" for ANY decision I made. It was like I couldn't do something without a Bible verse to back it up.
And even then, I agonized over whether I had made a decision "outside of God's will." I doubted myself and second-guessed myself all the time. Basically, I didn't know how to be an adult outside of the religious rule system. Like BJU, the rules in my church were so focused on the minutia of my external behavior that I believed that's what God cared about, too.
It was like: as long as I kept my hair naturally colored, neat and feminine I could leave all the big decisions to God! I didn't have to make decisions about whom I'd marry or whether I'd get a job after college. I just needed to keep my hemlines low and my necklines high.
When the pain hits, I focus on what is very good in my life right now. I have five wonderful, healthy children. I have a steady, faithfully loving husband. I focus, focus, focus on those things until the darkness ebbs and my mind stops howling.
But does the fact that I've gone on to live a good life after fundamentalism mean I'd want my kids to grow up that way? Over.my.dead.body.