And the transformation was exceedingly painful, and the end result mostly unknown. These were women raised, and deeply indoctrinated in fundamentalist faith systems. They had broken out of such systems, and the real struggling began.
Never have I read such painful, heart-wrenching descriptions of soul-searching. My heart literally broke in agony as I read these stories. At first questions, and then more, the searching for evidence, and the final acknowledgement that nothing they had been taught was true.
And that is the issue. The Nothingness. Each expressed in various ways the loss of foundation, the mooring of one’s being in a philosophy that grounded one’s life. The anchor had been removed. As one put it, “there is no right or wrong, no up or down.” These women could see no basis for any moral decision, in fact they could no longer define what was morality.
In some cases they were plagued with fears that the very thoughts they were thinking were the work of Satan, causing them to rethink what they had determined. They were in chaos, swimming in circles, grasping for a lifeline.
Some were still determined to find God in all this mix. Others were not sure at all that any faith was any longer possible. This is the insidious evil of fundamentalism. It is taught as an all or nothing thing. “Either every word in this book is literally true, or we have no basis for believing any of it is true, and our faith is nil.”
It is the faith of fear, threat, and punishment. If you question, you are possessed by the devil and are going to hell. Open that bible, pray. Such people often end up in mental hospitals under sedation. Any psychiatrist will tell you that many a patient is locked in a vicious loop, the perfect catch-22, and some can’t escape.
As I have said many times, fundamentalism causes more atheists than any other single factor.
I left comments on a couple, offering sympathy, and hopefully insight. I offered hope. I offered encouragement. I offered a listening ear.
I, to date, have received no reply. And I was saddened.
And that caused me to think deeply as to why I was so saddened. Why had my overtures been seemingly rejected?
Of course, that is not necessarily the case. My offers of help, of counsel, may have been taken in and treasured deeply for all I know. There is a time for everything as Ecclesiastes tells us.
But I was more concerned over my own feelings.
They gained clarity with today’s second reading from Paul to the Corinthians. (1Cor 1:10-13.17). In it Paul is lamenting the “factions” that have arisen in the city among the faithful. Some are “for Paul”, others “for Apollos”. Others “for Cephas.”
In Paul’s time, there were indeed factions. Three or four to be certain. Paul represented the most “liberal”. His position was that these new gentile Jesus followers need do nothing than profess Jesus as Lord. Cephas, or Peter, represented a more moderate “Jewish” position. Namely that the new gentile members should follow at least some of the Jewish laws. Presumably Apollos represented another school, perhaps the stricter one that all new gentile converts needed to be circumcised and follow all the laws.
In any case, Paul admonishes them all, claiming that the message is distorted if it’s about who is right on all these particulars. The greatest thing by far, is the message of Jesus. That is what they are all called to preach. Losing sight of the goal is damaging to them all, as well as causing damage to the real point, the preaching to the ends of the earth of the saving power of Christ.
I began to realize that this is what I had gotten caught up in. I wanted these women to acknowledge and validate my advice. I wanted the “oh you don’t know how much you have helped me, how you have clarified things, set my heart at ease. I know that my faith is real!”
It was about me.
And I was humbled, as I thought about this. For indeed, I had never agonized over my faith in this way. I had never tossed and turned, fearing, and trembling. I had never felt the painful insecurity these women expressed.
My conversion was more intellectual. I made an assessment of arguments both for and against. I truly believe that God brought that to a head for me. And the choice was obvious to me. Still is. But I did not wrestle with the angel as Jacob did. I made a decision. I question it from time to time, I go over the “evidence”, but I don’t cry out and moan in pain.
And in some ways, I guess that means, that these women have a faith hugely bigger than mine. It is a faith fighting a behemoth of misinformation and out right lies, told to them for years. And they are still in the fight. I’m not sure I would be. Many a newly created atheist sure isn’t.
I am awed, and I am humbled. Perhaps I need do a bit more listening and a lot less giving of advice. Perhaps I am the one who needs to learn something about faith.