The reality of growing up as a fundamentalist Christian
I wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter
Although I’m mostly open about my life and upbringing, there’s one important facet of it I never mention: the fact that I was brought up in a very religious household, or more specifically the fundamentalist Christian variety.
Attending church each Sunday (at least), being strongly discouraged from engaging in sex before marriage and from being gay are the more well known aspects of this particular genre of Christianity, but to be honest being banned from reading Harry Potter and from celebrating Halloween (because you might start practicing witchcraft) is a much better way of quantifying it. Nevertheless, the community that I come from has both amusing and endearing aspects, as well as those that are hypocritical and frustrating.
It is a very peculiar culture at first glance, that in truth is very welcoming, but it is also cloistered from the outside world. Yet as a general rule, Christianity can be quite cliquey as practicing Christians tend to not only stick with other Christians, but their specific denomination and friends from that. And to be honest it is not particularly surprising that this happens when you consider that there is so much social stuff constructed around regularly attending church. Prayer groups, church weekends away, summer house-parties, and Christian festivals like Soul Survivor (As a side note, a Christian houseparty does not follow the general rule of getting pissed at someone’s house, it’s renting a boarding school or big house for a week and running a Jesus themed holiday) all lead to lots of links between people of faith.
The particular subset that I come from (what I would describe as Evangelical Anglicanism) is very middle class, very white and everyone knows each other. Therefore, the concept of six degrees of separation doesn’t really work here (it is far more incestuous than that). If you aren’t related to someone, you grew up knowing them, or your parents met their parents at church or you met them at a Christian camp (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, it’s actually quite fun). And if you genuinely do not know them, chances are you will have a mutual friend or some other tenuous link like a church you have attended.
But let’s be honest, the ins and outs of your average bible basher’s day to day life are not particularly interesting or relevant to you. Going to church every Sunday and having a praying schedule may be considered somewhat unusual in today’s increasingly secular society, but not necessarily something that is of note. However, the more out there stuff, like Christian sex education is probably an issue that would pique interest. The pregnancy prevention agenda of most schools in regard to sex ed doesn’t really apply here, as it gets drummed into you pretty early on that it is a no go area until you are married.
It was heavily intimated that pre-marital sex was psychologically damaging and had a high risk of somehow tainting your relationship with your future husband or wife. Which, is not only quite fear mongering, but sets the stage for a lot of teenage rebellion and doesn’t actually work. Case in point, my sister got pregnant at 15 and now has a very lovely two year old daughter. This insistence upon abstinence based education (as the US system has made abundantly clear) is not the answer, and to an extent I think they knew that, because the focus was on what to look for in a relationship and potential spouse rather than telling you how not to have sex.
As for the LGBT side of things, archaic doesn’t quite cover it. I remember at a youth event I attended they once did a Q and A on sex and relationships and someone asked about gay marriage. The response was somewhat confused as the general party line of God loving everyone was followed, yet there was an exclusionary function to this as the aforementioned party line is that marriage is between a man and a women. I honestly don’t know what they would do in regards to the transgender rights movement – probably mumble something about omnibenevolence whilst simultaneously conflating sexuality with gender identity.
The church I grew up in definitely came under this umbrella and pushed it one step further by being quite mad. Our pastor even told people he could cure cancer just by touching them. Obviously it is arrogant and ludicrous to assert that you are a human cancer cure, but this was not beyond the realms of acceptability in this context of charismatic Christianity. I remember going to a youth conference when I was about 11 with the youth group, (in Slough of all places) and they sent us out to lay hands on people and heal the sick. As these assertions and plans became more fantastical, the leadership became more and more inept and the church went kaput – which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
If I’m completely honest, my experience growing up in such a strict faith has rather put me off organised religion. I find it difficult to attend a church for more than a few months and I prefer to practice my faith in private because I find that level of ostentation really off putting. By all means jump around singing about Jesus and engage in interesting conversations about theology and the nature of existence, but allow your actions in your life show your faith. When I see the guys standing around my university with a crucifix twice their size trying to tell people about Jesus I admire their resolve to always come back no matter how much they’re mocked. But I can’t help what wondering what they think they’re achieving.