What I Miss About Growing Up a Religious Fundamentalist

Sometimes I find myself pining for the days when I was growing up in a family that belonged to an ultra-conservative religious sect. Yes, it was a very stifled existence. But when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I remember the simpler days of my childhood and adolescence.

There was always a sense of belonging. You went to school and church with those just like you (yes, we had our own schools). You shared certain customs. You knew where you fit. You didn’t have to try to make friends. They were built-in. You were joined by your beliefs, your values, and your separation from the world. It was you vs. everybody else, which only bonded you to each other. It felt comforting to have a tribe. True, the love was given conditionally, only if you “toed the line”, but it still felt protective.

There was always a sense that you were special. You and those who believed as you did were the only ones going to Heaven, the only ones who would find favor with God, the only ones who knew the Truth. The rest of humanity were on the wrong path and would burn in Hell for all eternity. Yes, of course you hoped they would join you on the “straight and narrow”, but you also pitied and judged them. The feelings of righteous superiority were a big boost to the ego. Perhaps you didn’t get to have as much fun as they did or live as complete lives, but you were destined for greatness in the next life and they were destined for damnation. You felt like you were in on a really good secret, which your best friend shared with only you.

You never had to question anything about what you believed or how you lived. In fact, you weren’t allowed to question it. Everything had already been answered for you. You had only to obey. This freed you from struggling with life’s big questions and the existential angst that accompanies them, from using critical thinking skills, from challenging yourself, from expanding your mind. This was even truer if you were female — you had your whole life already planned for you. Marriage, motherhood, taking care of your children, and obeying your husband while he worked outside the home to support it financially. You didn’t have to figure out your purpose or what you were meant to do for a living. Your choices were restricted to a few approved life paths. Although this sounds and definitely felt imprisoning, it ironically brought a certain freedom from much of the mental turmoil usually experienced by adolescents and young adults.

Did anybody else grow up similarly? Can you relate with any of these feelings?