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?

My Issue With Social Groups

Recently I have been trying to be more social and active outside work. I know close relationships with other people are vital to one’s mental health, and I’m no exception. I grew up in a very religious family and was never able to examine my beliefs or use critical thinking until I became an adult. I was expected to believe everything that was taught, not to ask questions, and never to deviate at all. For several years as an adult, I have not gone to church, and have thus felt a void where a sense of community, at least, once existed. I recently visited a less strict congregation in a different, much more liberal denomination and also visited its web site. I found that many of the feelings and fears I have when I think back on my time in religious conservatism were brought to the forefront again. The web site listed a lot of causes and organizations, mostly related to social justice, some of which I agree with and some I don’t. And I worry that I’d probably feel just as ostracized, “othered”, and guilty for not “towing the line” if my true feelings were revealed. If I’m invited to volunteer for a certain cause that I don’t agree with, will I be “marked” as a dissident? Suddenly I find myself once again feeling small as a child, insecure, dependent, not allowed to come to my own conclusions, expected to do what I am told, not my own (but a reflection of another). Granted, this might not be the case and there might be a lot more tolerance for other views than I realize. However, when I visited, at the front of the sanctuary were statements beginning with “We believe…” with many of their causes listed. They seem to imply if I don’t fully agree with all of them, then I can’t be part of “we”.

Can anybody else relate with my distrust and concern towards being a part of any social group? That if you don’t agree 100%, you’re looked at as a traitor? Politics seems to have gotten more this way, as well, in the past few decades, with both parties situated towards opposite ends of the spectrum, people choosing their friends based on which candidate they voted for, and just more vitriol, in general.

Even “belonging” to a social group sounds bad — as though they own you. You’re their belonging. I know I’m probably more trigger-sensitive than most people when it comes to this topic because of my past. But can anyone else relate? Or am I viewing this issue illogically or leaving an important point out?