I left this review on Amazon after purchasing a 1-cent copy of this book to verify for myself some of the stupid bullshit that made up my ‘sexual education.’ Amazon wants me to rate the book, so here it is. Note: I don’t tackle the deeper problems of gender essentialism or unhealthy attitudes about sex here since I wanted this review to be palatable to potential buyers. Most of these potential buyers will be semi-conservative Christians, so I wanted to discuss the book’s shortcomings within that framework. Besides, the review is already too long!
Rating: 1 star
I understand that many Christian parents will feel themselves in a bind when it comes to educating their students about sex, puberty, anatomy, and influences that a teenager may face at school and in their neighborhood. They may want to find an education book that reflects their values while still having a straight talk about sex and bodies. Preparing for Adolescence claims to provide just that, so I can see how it would be attractive.
DO NOT BE FOOLED. This book is packed with misinformation, shame-inducing language, even outright cruelty, and does very little to enlighten teenagers about their bodies, sex, or even modern challenges facing teens. I’m going to break this down into a few topics that the book addresses and bring up some of the serious problems. Full disclosure, I was homeschooled with this book as my only sexual education apart from a few side-discussions added by my mother (which, while limited, were still MUCH more informative than this piece of rubbish). As a result, I was woefully ignorant about sex, bodies, normal behavior, bodily changes, attraction, STDs, and more until I entered college. Needless to say, that is NOT a safe situation for any teenager.
PUBERTY: This is primarily what my mother purchased the book for… to explain my sister’s and my changing bodies, as well as explaining the process that boys go through as well. I am very glad that she gave us her own personal lecture about menstruation, because Dobson does not even provide the bare minimum of knowledge about these topics. His discussion of menstruation reads like a weird fairytale, describing it as a miraculous and exciting time when a girl’s body prepares for pregnancy (he calls the uterus as a “special pouch” for holding a baby and the vagina as a “special opening” for the baby to exit). So much for having a mature discussion. He spends a couple of pages rambling on about how miraculous and wonderful pregnancy is and how it is the most “amazing thing that ever can happen”, but entirely fails to mention what a tampon is, fails to mention that girls may experience cramping, does not discuss what a normal flow is, does not discuss the emotional changes that can happen, does not discuss any other symptoms a girl or woman might experience during her menstrual cycle (like bloating, discomfort, breast soreness, appetite changes, etc). He does say that girls should ask their mother if they think their period is abnormal, but since Dobson never explains what is normal, I have no idea how he expects a young woman to know when she has cause to be alarmed! I know I certainly didn’t! The ONLY other thing he mentions in the female puberty section is that girls will develop larger breasts. He fails to explain that women will grow body hair, may get acne, their body fat distribution may change, etc.* Apparently knowing about the miraculous-special-amazing-super-delight-miracle of menstruation and enlarging of breasts is all women need to know!
*EDIT: I did find in glancing through it a third time that body hair is mentioned (it was easy to miss) and acne is discussed in a different section. I would say that my initial lack of notice of it is mostly because of Dobson’s incredibly poor organization and his disproportionate focus on certain aspects of development that made it easy to miss other details. He in fact spends a short section discussing acne, but it is placed in between the sections for boys and girls so I missed it when glancing through.
But the section for boys is not any better. He describes this much more briefly and without all of the fairytale language (which makes me think that “special” is the word Dobson tends to repeat when the conversation he’s having makes him uncomfortable). He describes growth spurts, growing body hair, and changing voice. He also says that your “sexual organs will grow to look more like that of an adult man’s” but he never explains what that actually means or what that will look like. He also fails to even mention the word TESTICLES anywhere, so presumably a boy will have a startling surprise when those descend. There are no pictures anywhere in the book, so neither sex will have any idea what the body of the other sex looks like and, in my case, I never really even knew what my own body looked like because I was too nervous and ashamed to look down there. But we’ll get to that, when Dobson discusses…
SEX: I think a large reason that Dobson is so attractive to Christian parents is because he holds conservative Christian views, but he actually discusses sex in his book. Supposedly. Let’s see what he actually says about it.
He starts with a full paragraph, explaining that many people are shy about the topic of sex or avoid it, but that he’s going to treat his readers like adults and be open with them and withhold no information whatsoever. He then explains what sex is in two sentences. And that’s it. Two sentences. Those two sentences explain that a penis becomes hard and straight, a man and woman lie together and the penis goes in the vagina, they move some, and then they get a “tingly sensation”. That’s it. He does not mention ejaculation. He does not even have it in him to use the word “orgasm” or explain what that is. He does not make any allusion to the idea that orgasm may be difficult or easy or that sex should be done carefully to ensure that it is comfortable for both partners, since it can otherwise be painful. And, fundamentally, his entire 2-sentence description flew over my head when I was a pre-teen reading this book because I still had no idea what a penis really looked like or how it can get “hard and straight” or how to get it “in there” or anything else that might help me understand. Dobson claims to withhold nothing and treat his readers maturely, but there is nothing here that actually would enlighten a kid that doesn’t already know everything (and thus would have no need for this book).
So, after the first paragraph explaining that he will withhold nothing, and 2 sentences explaining what sex is, what does he spend the rest of this section on? Misinformation and shaming! To his credit, he first states that partners may have sex often or not, depending on what works for them, which I think is a good thing to note and is sometimes overlooked. But then he spends a couple of pages explaining how dangerous and horrible sex is if you have it before marriage. Now, I’m not going to complain too much about his aversion to premarital sex here, because I am sure many readers would agree due to personal convictions. Rather, what I take issue with is the WAY that he addresses it and the disproportionate amount of time he spends on it. Two sentences to explain sex… multiple pages about how terrible premarital sex is. And Dobson goes to horrifying lengths in his attempt to scare kids away from sex, relying on ignorance, misinformation, and outright lies. He claims that if you’ve had sex already, you will NEVER appreciate it with your current partner and will never be fulfilled (how horrible must that be for rape or abuse victims to know that they will never be able to enjoy sex with their life-long partner???) He claims that people who have premarital sex will often experience a change of personality to become cold and bitter and miserable (so having premarital sex is not just bad, it will turn you into a bad person!). He also warns of STDs that could kill you or make your life miserable (although he goes into very little detail) but never actually explains how to avoid them aside from “you and your partner must never have sex until you marry.” Well, that’s nice, but you can only control your own behaviors, not your partner’s. So what if a young man or woman meets a partner that HAS had sex before? There is no discussion of how to protect yourself, get tested, or anything. Just “getting an STD could be a DEATH SENTENCE” and then “but you don’t have to worry about it as long as you and your partner both have never had sex.” How is this remotely safe for a teenager? And throughout all of this discussion, he never once mentions redemption. He never mentions forgiveness or renewal or being able to rebuild a happy life even if you “messed up” and had premarital sex. Nothing. Just “if you have premarital sex, you will never appreciate sex with your current partner, you will become a cold, miserable person, and you might die. So don’t do it.” This is just blatant scare tactics and manipulation based on lies and it is a horrible and unhealthy message for children to absorb.
SEXUALITY: I am separating this from “sex” because I want to discuss Dobson’s ideas of attraction and sexual interest. First, Dobson states that boys will start feeling an interest in girls’ bodies. He says they will become fascinated with “curves, softness, even their feminine feet”. Honestly, I find his description of what makes women attractive to men very limiting and a little ridiculous (not all women are curvy and soft!), but I’ll give it a pass. He then says that girls will not find boys’ bodies attractive in the same way, but rather they will be attracted to personalities. He later repeats this, saying that men are attracted physically while women are attracted emotionally. This is JUST NOT TRUE. Books like Dobson’s led me to believe that women do not experience sexual attraction, only emotional attraction. This is a very confusing and damaging message to internalize. It taught me that if I wasn’t attracted to my boyfriend, that was normal and good. It taught me that if he pressured me for sex and I didn’t want it, that was normal. It taught me that if he wanted to be physical and I didn’t, that was normal. I did not realize that I was attracted to women until I was in my 20’s, because I had always assumed that my disinterest and revulsion at the idea of physicality with men was NORMAL.
And speaking of homosexuality, he mentions it only once in this book (which is probably good). He says “homosexuality is a sign of serious problems, but it is rare and it is not very likely that you will be one.” If your child happens to feel attraction to the same sex, this is a good way to deepen their shame and hopelessness. They have a rare condition that is ominously described as a “sign of serious problems.” How is a child supposed to do anything but hide their sexuality in fear if this is the only thing they are told about it?
Oh, and before I leave this section, I should add that Dobson has a list of questions near the end of the sex/puberty chapter that he says are common questions that young teens might have. One of them is asking if God will punish them for sexual thoughts. Rather than answering the question, he simply states that “you will likely experience sexual thoughts as you go through adolescence. You may feel guilt or shame about this.” That’s it. No indication that a teenager need not feel guilty for their thoughts and feelings or that sexual attraction is nothing to be ashamed of. Just a statement that they will feel guilty and ashamed. I assume this means he thinks the guilt and shame is normal and good. Ugh.
GENDER: Dobson believes in gender essentialism, so he thinks that women and men are inherently very different and their “woman-ness” and “man-ness” is an integral part of their being. I have no interest in arguing with this, as I assume many readers will agree. However, I will again take issue with the way that he addresses this. It is confusing and terrifying as heck.
Dobson discusses this as a side-note at the end of one of his chapters. He states that it is of extreme importance that boys learn to grow up to be men and girls learn to grow up to be women. He expresses many times how IMPORTANT it is that boys and girls learn the correct way to be masculine and feminine. But after putting so much enormous weight on this, he then leaves the reader with absolutely no understanding of what that’s supposed to look like. He suggests only that a child find role models to try to model their behavior after. This is not a bad idea, except that how is a boy or girl supposed to know which role models are correctly “masculine” or “feminine”? Dobson does not care to define it, so teens are simply left with a ringing warning about how improper it will be for them to fail to live up to their gender, but no indication of how to go about it. And, for the record, these sorts of vague admonishments frequently result in girls and boys feeling guilt and shame if they do not fit all of the stereotypical behaviors of “masculine” and “feminine”, even if the parent themselves had no intention of restricting their children to quite such a rigid set of behaviors.
RELATIONSHIPS: I could not bring myself to re-read ever page of Dobson’s relationship section because I was so turned off at the beginning, so my discussion here is limited. All I can say is that he opens up the section by painting an imaginary storyline of a couple that falls in love young and marries. Apart from the couple being young, Dobson seems to paint them as doing everything right. They meet, they find they share interests, they really enjoy each other’s company, their families like them, they spend time together, they fall in love, they get married (no premarital sex). And then, for some reason, Dobson states that they start fighting on their honeymoon. They lash out at each other and then suddenly feel bitter and resentful. Rather than making up, going to counseling, or improving communication, he says that their life spirals into a hell of fighting and hating and avoiding each other for the rest of their days, wondering what went wrong, and inflicting pain on their child who will forever know that his mommy and daddy don’t love each other and will grow up miserable. Wow. That escalated quickly.
This catastrophe is all because… well Dobson doesn’t even really fully explain it, apart from indicating that the couple may have been too young and that their love apparently wasn’t genuine. But honestly, it just isn’t made clear HOW they could have known that their love wasn’t genuine. All that is implied is that it was wrong and somehow the couple involved should have just been more godly or something and none of it would have happened. This is again just blatant scare tactics, trying to frighten teens away from having relationships, without giving them any tools for knowing what actually IS a good relationship. I can understand if his point is to encourage teens not to rush into marriage or to be selective with their dating partners, but that is not what this story accomplishes. It simply says “you might feel like you’re doing everything right, you might love and respect your partner, things might seem to be great, but you might be wrong and you will be miserable for the rest of your pathetic lives!” and then leaves it to an emotional, confused and ignorant teenager to try to figure out how to avoid this catastrophe. Let me tell you from experience: it did not work for me. What is the point of giving teenagers this horrifying picture of what a failed marriage might look like without explaining to them how to avoid it, besides “don’t marry until you’re in your 20’s?” Turning 20 does not magically make you know what makes a good marriage partner!!!
DISABILITY: This part just makes me angry. Much of the book is devoted to discussing avoiding peer pressure and navigating social aspects of adolescence. He talks about not being mean to people and trying not to compare yourself to others. Throughout this discussion, he brings up a couple of children he knew who had disabilities. I was shocked in re-reading the book at how unkind he is in his discussions of this. One boy he discusses as having a hearing difficulty, but he felt embarrassed to wear a hearing aid because it made him stand out. Rather than discussing this dilemma compassionately or actually dealing with the pain and struggle of having people treat you like garbage because of a disability and how horrible that can be, he states that he feels sorry for the boy for being so foolish as to let other people influence his decision to wear a hearing aid. Yes, he MOCKS a child for feeling shame and pain over the torment that his classmates give him about his disability. He gets even more cruel when discussing a blind girl who refused to let people lead her from place to place. He makes a joke of having seen her walk into a pole once, and then again chastises her for being foolish and avoiding assistance because of the way other kids treated her.
THIS IS WRONG. Look, I agree that a disability is certainly nothing to be ashamed of and that we should encourage children not to feel like there is something wrong with them. But the way to do this is NOT by making them ashamed of feeling self-conscious or mocking them for wanting to fit in. Besides, particularly in the blind girl’s story, he makes the assumption that she refused to have people walk her places because she was ashamed. He does not consider that maybe she had learned her way around well enough that she felt confident and had set a personal goal to travel around school without assistance. The possibility that she was trying to become more independent, or had been working towards this for a long time, or that her lack of guidance my be an act of bravery rather than cowardice does not seem to even cross his mind. She is just the butt of his joke to demonstrate that, if you cave in when other kids tease you for being different, you’ll just make a bigger fool of yourself.
Overall, this book is poorly written, woefully unhelpful, full of lies, misinformation, and scare tactics, has cruel and harmful messages for teens, and does not even do a good job of presenting conservative Christian views of sex or adolescence. PLEASE look elsewhere. If you have already decided to use this book, PLEASE at least find other resources to supplement it with because your child will not know what he/she needs to know about adolescence just from reading this book! It is not comprehensive and it is harmful and it is not a good Christian alternative to a proper sex education.
My fiance had a few things she wanted to discuss about Evangelical culture, so I will be offering her space on this blog to add her thoughts and experiences as well. The following post is about the common mythologies of prayer.
I have a problem with prayer: it is selfish.
Prayer is by nature self-centered. I am not saying that that’s a bad thing, per se, but it is only useful when used for the self. It has power to help you find peace, or to center yourself, or to try to figure things out. It can bestow perspective and clarify the mind and relieve stress. Interestingly, brain scans have shown that prayer and Buddhist meditation work in very similar ways, and help the brain to maintain itself and connect with the world.
I am of the general opinion that we may connect with a higher power when practicing these things. I will not completely discount those who say God has spoken to them during these times. I do think that there should be a healthy dose of skepticism when dealing with any such experience or retelling of an experience, however, as thinking or claiming to hear from God is dangerous. More often than not, I have found a peculiar correlation between what someone wants to hear from God and what they claim to hear from God.
There are some limitations I believe prayer has, that many people don’t seem to realize, along with a few things it can do:
- It cannot change the world. People changing the world can change the world.
- It can’t solve world hunger. Donating food and money to food banks, or legislating that the government takes care of the people can. (Not getting into politics here, just stating that that would indeed feed hungry people.)
- It cannot change weather to bring rain or make it leave, etc. The physical laws of this world can. Even as a Christian I believed that God had put in place the physical world and mostly left it alone, because he had created an intricate machine that would work on its own.
- It cannot change a person’s mind. Only they can. You cannot pray for a politician to change his mind or for someone you know to be ‘brought to Christ,’ and expect it to actually happen. That would be a violation of free-will, which is the foundation of Christianity. We were given free-will so that we might know what it is to sin and what it is to be redeemed. Therefore, God cannot or will not change anyone’s mind. It follows that you cannot change someone’s mind by praying for them. You cannot make them choose what you want or leave the ‘lifestyle’ they’re in. If you could do so by prayer, then you would be manipulating them into your will. If you pray for God to ‘show them the way’ then do not be surprised when the prayed-for person does not ‘find the way.’ Think instead that either God won’t manipulate people like that, or he does not agree that your way is the correct one.
- It cannot save a life. Doctors and rescue workers can. Prayer can help the pray-er by calming and de-stressing them, but there has never been any evidence that a prayed-for person recovers any faster from ailment than one who is not prayed for. See the natural laws thing with the praying to change the weather paragraph. Medical science has advanced a long way, and sometimes can work ‘miracles,’ but it is the resilience of the human body and mind and the skilled people and medicines and machines that save lives.
- Prayer can also make a person complacent. “Why donate money or time when I can pray for the person? God can help them better than I can.” This I liken to the facebook ‘slacktivism’ that has people change their profile picture or repost a sentence to supposedly end violence or child abuse or whatever it is. It is so, so much easier to send up a nice thought than it is to do something, or to sacrifice something.
- It can allow you to start believing God spoke to you. That only you know what is true. It’s easy to feel feedback from ‘God’ while praying. The funny thing is that it’s very often either what your conscience is saying, or simply something you want to be right, anyway. While it could be God, it is far, far more likely that it is your brain practicing its powerful sway over you. It is also entirely possible to have multiple people, all saying God spoke to them, and all saying different things. This is impossible if there is one true God: either some are lying, or they all truly believe that they heard God’s will. Related to that is that prayer leads to a lot of confirmation bias. You want something, you pray for it, it happens, your prayer must have worked. You tend to forget all the times that it didn’t work, or explain them away by God saying no. You tend to recieve the answers you want, or expect, when you ask for guidance.
So prayer has a lot of limitations and downfalls. There is another part of it that is problematic: the saying “I’m praying for you.” By itself, there is nothing wrong with this phrase. I had a Bible study teacher once say “we may not know if prayer works, but praying is how we know we care.” That is true. While I don’t believe it actually does anything supernatural to help someone else, praying about something is a way to show you care. Saying that you’re praying is a nice sentiment and expresses sympathy, if it’s done in a caring manner at the right time and with the right tone.
It is often joked about in the south, how you can say anything bad about a person, and if you follow it with “bless his heart,” it makes it okay. Suddenly you weren’t mean or hurtful. In southern culture, you are not allowed to be angry or impolite, or to express dislike in any way besides passive-aggressive measures. Similarly, anger and related emotions are practically taboo in Christianity. They have to be tamped down and only released with the select passive-aggressive words.
Telling someone “I’m praying for you,” becomes annoying or downright hurtful when they know that it really means “I don’t like what you did. Only God can save you now,” or “I’m praying for God to make you straight so we can love you again.” “This person did these awful things, but see how I am better than him? I can pray for him!”
I like how Jesus says we should pray in closets, in secret, so that no one knows. I heard in Sunday school how in those times the Pharisees would go around praying loudly so that everyone could know how holy they are. These days, I often see posts on facebook asking for prayers, with twenty people replying saying “praying for you!” Or posts saying “Praying for so-n-so.” “Praying for America.”
I have heard that some believe in power in the number of prayers, which is their explanation for why they post that they are praying for someone. This either gets into a weird ‘spiritual warfare’ area (which has its own problems, to be discussed elsewhere), or makes God one of those attention-whore parents who posts pictures of their kids holding a ‘If we get two-thousand likes Mom says we will go to Disneyland!’
The only other reason for trumpeting your prayer life to the public is because you want the attention, the kudos, the feeling of being superior. Christianity is like all other cultures, and in each culture there are status symbols. Unfortunately, actually following Jesus and helping the needy and praying privately are difficult to turn into status symbols, so then it becomes who prays the most/loudest, or who has a fish on their car, or how many ‘souls you saved.’
Now, onto the spiritual warfare. When I was younger, I read a book by Frank E. Peretti. I don’t remember which one, but that doesn’t matter, because after reading the summary of another book by him, I realized they were all the same:
Bad things start happening in town. Bad things are due to demons. Angels come to fight demons, can’t until local Christian population starts praying hard enough and with enough people that they are given power-ups and can drive out the demons.
This is what I believe people mean when they talk about spiritual warfare: there is always a fight going on over souls between heaven and hell, and prayer helps the good guys win.
I concede that if you believe in God and heaven and angels, it follows that there is a hell with demons and Satan. An interesting side-note is that Satan wasn’t always the super-bad-guy he’s portrayed as now, but seemed to have more of the role of a being who tests the faithfulness of God’s people. He only appears in a few texts, and not usually is directly named. The idea of spiritual warfare is problematic: it is not biblically-founded, besides the mentions of casting out demons. Prayer never was a big role in it, that I can recall. In any case, much of what is now used as a biblical basis for it was more metaphor than instruction, like Paul’s ‘armor of God’, or the entirety of the book of Revelation.
I can give that we don’t know what else may be out there, in another dimension or what have you. Perhaps there are angels and demons battling. The problem comes when a person claims that someone else is experiencing ‘spiritual warfare,’ or demons, or what have you, and then uses that to completely invalidate that person’s own viewpoint and memories. Telling someone that their experiences are invalid because they were besot by demons is demeaning and almost laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating. Believing that if only you had prayed harder and the demons would have left must be a horrible burden, but it also must be nice to have an easy excuse for any bad in the world: demons did it.
If God expected people to pray in order to bolster his forces, he probably should have said so. Otherwise we are just writing our own fanfiction of the Bible to make ourselves feel more important than we likely are. Yes, it is written that we casted out demons and did miracles. Never does it say that was done with prayer alone. Not even in the story of Peter being freed from prison is it clear that prayer was the cause of the angel’s arrival. Even if we do implicate prayer in that miracle, that is the only instance (that I am aware of), and it is not theologically sound to base an entire doctrine off of anything that is only mentioned once in the Bible.
Prayer is a healthy activity, a useful tool, and a calming exercise for the brain. It is also an easy route to feel better about yourself for not doing anything, a tool for abuse, and a badge of honor. It can harm as much as it heals, and it is promised to do much more than it does. As with much Christianity, if what you prayed for didn’t happen, you weren’t praying hard enough or your faith wasn’t strong.
Links to the brain scan research:
I have been asked to write a series of guest posts on the blog “I love you but you’re going to hell”. I have been following this blog almost since I first started on WordPress. I love the balanced viewpoints that Adam Laats expresses, so I am thrilled that he has asked me to write a series on my journey from science-denying to scientist! Go check it out and check out the rest of his blog as well!
In this installment, I am discussing my Creationist curriculum. Here’s a short excerpt.
I am a conservative, anti-government-educator’s dream. Because I was homeschooled, my family had the unique opportunity to control every aspect of my education completely. Part of this included being taught with a Christian science curriculum that supported Biblical 6-day creation, denied Evolution, described scientific evidence for a global flood, and opposed modern environmental policies. When I tell my secular peers this, the reactions of shock, horror, and amazement are often rather comical. Very often, I am told that I must be remarkably resilient or intelligent to be able to make a successful science career for myself after being handicapped by my early education. As much as I’d love to accept the accolades, I simply don’t see it that way. My seemingly-bizarre education did not hamper me much at all, and in some ways, I must credit it for inspiring me to become a scientist in the first place. Although I cannot defend the inaccuracies in the curriculum, I still have fond memories of it, and I can highlight both the shortcomings and successes of the book series.
The non-religious have long been discussing the toxic environment that evangelizing and proselytizing can create. Common complaints are attitudes of hostility, harassment, implicit threats of eternal torture, and a refusal to desist when asked. All of these are important problems, but I want to draw attention to the less-examined side of the issue: the culture of proselytizing hurts its own members.
Surprisingly, it only recently dawned on me how unhealthy the mindset of evangelizing culture is. Growing up, it was impressed on me that the world was lost and dying; each person was wallowing in a temporary hell, just waiting until the afterlife to suffer eternally again in a permanent hell. The picture painted was pretty dire, and it broke this child’s heart. I wanted so badly for these poor, suffering people to be happy and avoid this dark fate.
But the true danger comes from the expectations that the church places on its congregation. We were given the “great commission” to witness to all nations and people of the good news of Christ. If this had been taken more in the spirit of John 13:35 (“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” NKJV) it would not be much of a problem. Christians could be a shining example of love and kindness, joy and a devotion to justice and the defense of the underprivileged. Witnessing could be accomplished by our attitudes and actions towards our fellow man, without a word being said about hellfire or demands being made for them to follow your particular creed.
But that wasn’t how it was billed to me. Witnessing was the act of pressuring a person to convert to your religion. “I’m a Christian” was supposed to always be on my lips. I wasn’t supposed to stand out from the crowd just by my kindness and selflessness, but also by pushing my faith onto others at all times, regardless of whether my advances were welcome or not. After all, in the evangelical culture, I was personally responsible for the lives of all of the lost people I encountered. If I failed to “share the gospel” with atheists, sinners, or liberal “Christians” then their blood was on my hands.
This is a horrifying amount of pressure to put on any man, woman or child. Needless to say, it can have a lot of dangerous results. Some of my peers responded by becoming militant proselytizers. I still see them crowing on Facebook about each person that they harangued with the “good news” of hellfire and damnation. Every time they bring up religion in a conversation they become offensive and disrespectful. They seem incapable of self-reflection, and truly believe that they are presenting a godly image to the world, even as people flee from them and curse the judgmental asshole of a god that they purport to serve.
Then, there was me. I quickly recognized, once I entered the real world, that any attempt at conversions would not be well-received by my non-Christian friends. In fact, most of them were fully aware of the Christian doctrine and had simply made the conscious choice to reject it. I felt like it would be disrespectful and hurtful for me to argue this decision without even being invited or asked for an opinion. But this flew in the face of everything I had been taught. I wallowed in guilt as I imagined all of the friends that I was failing by “hiding my light under a basket.” I knew that, if I became the virulent evangelist that I had been taught to be, I would likely have no secular friends (and, by extension, have less opportunity to witness to them.) But I was still taught that refraining from actively converting my friends was being selfish: trading their immortal souls for my momentary comfort. I would have moments of shaky, sweaty panic as I would tell myself over and over again to just force the issue on them before it was too late! But my voice wouldn’t come and I would beat myself up in my head for weeks after, lamenting the blood that was slowly soaking my hands, clothes, and entire body. I was responsible for so many souls and I was failing them all. It was nightmarish to imagine.
It still makes me a little sick just remembering the amount of cognitive dissonance I felt. I had been set up with an impossible choice, and neither option seemed to be serving the Kingdom of God. On one hand, I could congratulate myself on my aggressive proselytizing, even if it left me isolated and utterly ineffective at being a good witness. On the other hand, I could maintain relationships and shine as a good friend, but be guilty of the souls of my friends that I wasn’t actively recruiting to my religion.
Eventually, the Guilt became such a constant companion that I grew numb to it. I went through a period of years where I no longer evaluated the moral rightness or wrongness of anything, because I was too spiritually exhausted to try. I will write more on that in another post. After those years, however, it finally occurred to me that my entire view of “witnessing” was disturbingly flawed. I was not responsible for anyone’s soul. We were all our own people, with our own decisions and our own experiences, and it is not my job to force others into heaven. I do not need to hide my decisions and beliefs, but I also don’t need to feel guilty for respecting other peoples’ decisions and beliefs. Indeed, I think that is something to be proud of. After all, who is a better witness of rightness: one who offends or one who heals?
Let me tell you a little bit about my history with the word “fuck.” Belated warning for language.
When I was young, foul language was understandably taboo. I would never have dreamed of saying a nasty word, and the consequences for it would likely have involved a wooden spoon and my backside. However, I thought that words like “stupid” and “butt” were bad words. I was sheltered from adult language very thoroughly and, to a point, that was reasonable.
The sheltering never stopped, however, Well into my teens, I was still largely clueless about what a bad word actually WAS. I had come far enough to realize that stupid and butt no longer held the same weight that I thought they did when I was a kid. But then how was I to know which words were okay and which ones were bad? My family had a TV filter on that automatically muted foul language, so even movies were no help for me. Even my older sister was tasked with protecting my virgin ears and would stand by the boom-box and turn down the volume of the Evita soundtrack when the army singers shouted “bitch!” in the refrain of “Dangerous Jade.” I knew there was such a thing as an “F-word” and this was the worst of all words. But what it was and what it meant was a mystery.
My first experience with this mythical word came when I was reading a book about dog-sledding. As a young teen, I checked out many books from the adult section of the library in order to challenge myself in reading. It was common for me to skip over unknown words and glean their meaning by context, since I was reading above my grade level. Little did I know, I was apparently skipping f-bombs by the dozens. When my parents decided to look through some of my literature they were outraged. “That book is full of f-words,” they chastised me. “We are very disappointed in your choices of what to read. We thought we could trust you.” I was shaken and terrified because I didn’t realize that I had been reading foul language and now felt horribly guilty. I had sinned against God! And I still didn’t even know what the F-word was! Oh, the temptation was great to sneak a peek in the book again, just to satisfy my curiosity about the dangerous word, but I was a good girl. I resisted.
What that experience taught me, along with all of the sheltering, muting of TV’s, and outrage from my parents, was that this word was so horrible that even HEARING it was a sin. Speaking it would be worse, I presumed, but hearing it was bad enough. It was lumped, in my mind, into the category of “virginity”. Thinking impure thoughts was a sin. Seeing a man naked was a sin. Hearing the F-word was a sin. It was a loss of my purity to be exposed to this evil and, thus, a degrading of my very being. I actually spent time worrying that I had heard bad words and absorbed their evil without realizing it.
To be embarrassingly honest, I didn’t know for sure what the word was until I was in college. When my more enlightened friends tossed around “fuck this” and “fuck that” I felt myself clench up inside. My virginity was being damaged by evil words. I wanted to close my ears off, but had no mechanism to do so. I wondered if I shouldn’t be spending so much time around these worldly people. Perhaps I was endangering myself with their perversions of words?
To think that the word “fuck” nearly drove me away from some of my most fulfilling friendships is kind of laughable now. But at the time, it was a very real fear. My purity was EVERYTHING. Without it, I could never be godly, live a fulfilling life, find a husband, and… well… fuck! The amount of fear built around simple words was absurd. Now, I’ve learned from the old phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Yes, language can be hurtful, but the way it is used rather than the letters therein are where the poison lies. I still don’t swear a lot, but when I do, I am guilt free. I don’t even give a flying fuck.
Signs that you are a Sheltered Evangelical: the List
I hope to eventually tackle each of the subjects listed here. You can think of this as a sort of table of contents, or a preview of what this blog hopes to cover. The order of topics is not relevant and I will probably eventually add more. Without further ado… here are 20 ways you might know you are a Sheltered Evangelical!
1) You think sexual attraction is a sin.
2) Atheists are scary.
3) You are a homophobe because you really ARE scared of the gays.
4) You cry after you masturbate.
5) You feel like a failure if you DON’T shove your religion down peoples’ throats.
6) You are always guilty.
7) You are taught to ask questions to secular people, but shot down if you ask questions about religion.
8) You think that cleavage-displaying women on youtube is porn.
9) You are told that sex is wonderful but have no idea how it works.
10) You think a lack of sexual attraction in a relationship is a GOOD thing.
11) Your evolutionist friends turn out to be more tolerant of your ideas than you are of theirs.
12) Your “normal” peers can’t understand how a seemingly-smart person could have been taken in by so much bullshit indoctrination.
13) You think that your first-ever relationship MUST end in marriage or you will no longer be a suitible partner.
14) You still think you are required to obey your parents even after you are an adult.
15) You believe having a dissenting opinion is sinful.
16) In college, you aren’t sure which words are swears and which ones are safe to repeat.
17) You didn’t know that women could orgasm.
18) You were always taught to “just say no” but were also drilled in absolute obedience.
19) Rape fantasies are the only way you can “get off” because consent to sex feels sinful.
20) You think men can’t control their lust and your body is the problem.