Thirty years later, I'm coming to terms with my religious upbringing. After having raised children of my own, blindly trying to figure out how to protect them from crazy religions without making them disrespectful of normal religions (and nowadays I think to myself, what religions are normal anyway?), I see how I stumbled and struggled clumsily through parenting.
Fundamentalism to me as a parent was something to be frightened of, to make sure my kids didn't get sucked into anything remotely cult-like, while at the same time trying to prevent them from being frightened of every innocent invitation to a church event, or flippant when their friends sincerely believed in something. Now I wish I would have understood my own journey sooner, but c'est la vie.
I saw around us the mega-churches scaring kids into heaven and picked my words carefully as I understood at the time, to protect them from falling victim to any fear-driven theologies, and pulled them out of a church we tried during their preschool years when a misguided Sunday School teacher prayed our daughter to tears to get saved while we were not with her (somehow I thought the Baptist-leaning church wouldn't pull that kind of crap, but apparently Baptists weren't as hell-bound as my Dad thought). Sure my childhood church was on the lunatic fringe compared to my classmates at school, but apparently we were closer in to the main body of the Christian rug than I previously thought.
We were independent Apostolic Pentecostals, we were told to be in the world but not of the world. This was code speak that we should look, act and think differently than everyone who wasn't one of us, because all of "them" were going to hell, all of the other Protestant denominations (they were shameful, lukewarm and not worthy of the body of Christ), all of the Catholics for sure (Catholics were heathen idol worshipers), and of course all the rock and roll legions, and every other group in the world.
My church was quite tame in comparison to some that have come to my attention recently. There are extreme offshoots, independent pastors who are on a sociopathic bender that have made many peoples' lives hell on earth. Extreme factions (what rational people would call cults) isolate their members from the rest of the world to the alarming point of not being allowed to talk to their sinful family members.
Whatever flavor of fundamentalism, it all starts with working over those irrational human emotions. A blogger who has been along this path, Glenn McGee, wrote this article in 2015.
The video he included there is reminiscent of my childhood, and my teenage years. I and my church friends would pray to the point of stammering like these girls, being slain in the spirit (example - the one girl falls over, having reached such a point of spiritual ecstasy that her muscles collapse).
While I feel the human body and spirit is naturally capable of self-inducing such an emotional high in these exercises, I believe that using these emotional highs to sway the emotions of children is irresponsible. Guidance in harnessing ones emotional state is an important step in adolescence. Children and teens exploring the limits of their emotions to the point of sobbing uncontrollably in fear of eternal damnation, well, like McGee says, that's just sick.
What's the point of these churches? The parents who bring up their kids in these churches are trying to protect their children from hell, a literal hell that they really believe exists.
A paranoid parent might raise their kid in these terms 1-4. Causality - if I want my kid to be safe from getting run over by a car, I can choose the following:
1. keep them indoors
2. describe in graphic detail the injuries and deaths that are caused by cars hitting people
3. show them videos of things getting smashed by cars
4. teach them to play in the back yard
5. teach them to look both ways and verify there are no cars before crossing the street
Comparatively, the fundamental Christian parent thinks in terms of 1-4. Causality - if I want my kid to be safe from hell, I can choose the following:
1. keep them in a church home and school
2. describe in detail the hellfire and brimstone that awaits all the unsaved
3. show them videos and play enactments of people suffering in hell
4. teach them to live exclusively around similar believers
5. teach them to look critically around their emotions and look for the existence of hell
Can we humans please all grow up, open our eyes, and leave behind this irrational belief in and fear of hell?
Part 4: Fright