Monday, April 20, 2009

Comparing Fundamentalism and Abusive Relationships

fundamentalism, fundamentalist, religion, god, jesus, bible, sex, sexuality, abuse, women, misogyny,
I started thinking of this after reading a post by the Accidental Historian. For some reason, the post hit me hard, way harder than it should have. Then it struck me- I'd been triggered. I'd suddenly seen a connection between fundamentalism and abuse, and that got me thinking: What is the difference between religious fundamentalism and an abusive relationship? As far as I can tell, not much.

[trigger warning- abusive relationships]

Fundamentalism: Humans are depraved and hopeless without god.
If you've ever been in an abusive relationship, this will sound familiar, only you've probably heard it put this way: You're nothing without me. You're ugly, stupid and nobody but me would ever want to be with you. I don't even know why I stick around.

Fundamentalism: Do what I tell you, or you will spend forever in hell. God doesn't want people to burn for all eternity, but if you don't follow the rules, he has no choice.
Again, this should sound familiar. If you would just do what I tell you, I wouldn't have to punish you. You burned the toast, it's your fault. It's not like I like want to do this, but I have to- otherwise how would you learn?

Fundamentalism: Watch your every though, because god knows and judges all of them. And they're really, really bad.
An abuser doesn't just want to control your every move, they want to control your every thought, as well. You can never admit to liking a movie or TV show your abuser doesn't, and forget about having your own hobbies. Just say what will make your abuser happy- until one day you find that you really just can't think of anything they don't want you to.

Fundamentalism: Chastity and purity demand that you where these clothes- not those stylish clothes or those comfortable clothes you might actually want to wear.
Sound familiar? If you've ever been berated for wearing a pretty new blouse that shows, well, nothing much, or had someone cut into pieces the clothes they don't like, it should. What, do you want people to think you're a big slut? Or maybe you are a big slut . . .

Fundamentalism: A woman's sexuality is not her own. It first belongs to her father, and then she "gives" her virginity to her husband. She should please him on demand, but not really enjoy it all that much.
If you've ever been in an abusive relationship, you know exactly how demeaning all of this is. And that's exactly what it's supposed to be.

Fundamentalism: You can only associate with others who believe as you do. Nonbelievers are depraved sinners and you should have nothing to do with them.
This is the abuser's most potent weapon: making absolutely certain their victim has no one to turn to, nowhere to run, by isolating them from everyone who cares. If all you ever hear is the same opinion, the same commands, the same thoughts, it's hard to conceive of any other way to think.

I think this is why fundamentalism, and the willing embrace of fundamentalism, is so hard for me to take. It's like watching people march eagerly towards what I worked so hard to escape. And there's me, watching the parade, shouting, "Hey! You'll never entirely get out of this. It will scar you forever in places you didn't even know could be hurt. Stop!"


  1. PF trying sitting through Fireproof and notice the correlations between an abusive relationship and what the movie shows. Basically, God wants you to be abused as well as abuse you himself.

  2. I couldn't do that movie. It honestly triggered me, and greatly upset me because there are a lot of people who think that is FANTASTIC marital advice, and that's what EVERYONE should do, and isn't it WONDERFUL?

    No, it's fucking not.

  3. Exactly, exactly right.

    D'you know I attempted to work through "The Purpose-Driven Life" with my mom so that I would have a means to explain these very important facts to her. My effort of course did not work. We only made it about two-third of the way through the book.

    We would get to a place in a chapter where I'd point to a paragraph or couple key sentences and say, "See, when it says X, what that's saying to me is Y."

    Her response would invariably sound something like, "But it doesn't actually mean Y. That's not what it's really trying to say. You're misinterpreting it and adding in things that aren't there."

    I dunno. Maybe I should have tried it with a person other than the one who instilled most of those sinister double meanings in the depths of my heart in the first place. In the absence of that shared (but, for slightly different reasons, severely repressed) history, maybe I could have explained the concept to some other evangelical person.

    Then again, nobody likes the idea that they've been the victim of a bait and switch. Or that everyone they know, respect or trust, everyone whose combined regard gives their identity weight and substance, are collectively victims of a bait and switch. It is a harrowing thought.

    Furthermore, the mindset you describe can function as a handy-dandy slide rule. It can allow an adult personality to switch back and forth effortlessly between the abusive, domineering emotional dynamics they learned in childhood and the more equal social adaptations they learned later in life. The process is not made conscious (that would ruin its effectiveness!) but it goes something like this.

    Big scary abuser demanded XYZ from me. Now I know that big scary abuser was trying to trick me into treating them the way only God should be treated. Humans should not treat one another that way. So I will treat God like big scary abuser, and other humans like other humans.

    However, if I or other humans fail to give God XYZ, God will be angry. And since God is infinitely bigger than my abuser and is also justified in his demands, his wrath is infinitely more to be avoided than that of big scary abuser.

    Therefore my devotion to God and my love for others both require me to make sure others always behave with XYZ. Because dealing with my wrath is much, much easier on them than dealing with the justified wrath of an all-powerful God.
    It's a little like that thing where an abused person turns around and abuses others by doing the same things that were done to them. They're still trapped in the abusive relationship; they've just switched roles. The difference is that the insertion of "God" acts as a buffer between the conscious ego and the perceived characteristics of the abuser.

    This way a person can remain trapped in abusive dynamics, abuse others by doing the same things that were done to them, feel proud of having done so, but still retain the role and mindset of a victim in every portion of the personality accessible to consciousness. Because the impetus to behave in abusive ways is subjectively perceived as a divine command rather than being associated with the conscious ego. They themselves have only switched out a human being in the dominant role for an invisible being. And if that invisible being happens to agree with one's own desires and habits regarding how things ought to be, why then, one has been blessed by a loving God with the divine insight necessary to live a righteous life.

    But the biggest avenue by which Christians open themselves to abuse by other Christians because of the difficulty of maintaining doublethink when the "God idea" is the product of one's own habits and desires. To the extent one's experiences of God are not real communications from a real invisible being of infinite power, wisdom and goodness, then they are not genuine. The more self-aware a person allows themselves to be, the more the desire for a genuine divine experience leads them to look outside their own personalities for signs of God's influence.

    A person who mistrusts their own habits and desires may be leery of interpreting Scripture, weighing the moral value of different choices, or deciding how to perceive the actions of others according to said habits and desires. If God as such either does not exist or does not see fit to contact the person directly, the closest they'll be able to get is by deferring socially and spiritually to the judgment of the type of who claim that they have been gifted with the divine insight necessary to lead a righteous life. That is, those who are not troubled by cognitive dissonance.

    Those who are self-aware, reflective and have the desire to question their own established beliefs lose social power, while those who lack those qualities or prefer not to develop them gain social power.

    Repeat this process enough times, filter through a camera, and voila! Instant Glenn Beck.

    Never mind that all these things are the complete opposite of the way the Jesus depicted in the Gospels behaved and the things he told people to do. If you're relying on your own judgment to interpret your experiences or try to determine what the Bible says to you about the nature of right and wrong, then you're just asking for your mind to be manipulated and controlled by Satan.*

    *anyone but me.

  4. exactly. wow, that was amazing FL.

  5. This post is absolutely spot on.

  6. thank you, uzza.

    and one more for FL: that is why it drives me crazy when women say, "well, he never hurt the children." by abusing you, he is teaching your children to either be victims or abusers themselves. So, yes, he was hurting your children.

  7. Great, post. I haven't really thought about this particular similarity before, but now that you point it out, it seems so apparent. The "god" that many people try to get others to worship is one big asshole alright.

  8. :D Thanks PF. As you may have noticed I think about this issue a loooot.

    Do you remember seeing one of those "slippery slope" diagrams in mental health literature? These basically illustrate how an abuse victim stops mentally contrasting their situation with a healthy relationship. Instead, they compare the way things are now to the way they were on the last iteration of the cycle of abuse. "Well, I got a broken nose this time, but it's not much worse than the bruised face I got last time" becomes "Well, my fractured skull isn't so bad, because it isn't all that much worse than the black eye I got last time" etc.

    What it does is gradually change the abuse victim's personal definition of "hurt" in the same way the Bush administration changed the definition of "torture":

    It doesn't count as real hurt unless it's as bad as the worst thing I've ever suffered.Which is the second part of how abuse victims become abusers. The first part is the one we each talked about above: if you only know one relationship dynamic, you simply have to pick one of the roles that dynamic makes possible, and the role of abuser is the one with the greatest illusion of power. The second part is more essential to being able to take on the role of abuser: arrogating to oneself the sole and exclusive right to define the legitimacy of wrongs.

    Once a person takes that on, it becomes a whole 'nother slippery slope. Which leads all the way down to the place where one needs to annihilate others' capacity for free will in order to feel safe.

  9. It doesn't count as real hurt unless it's as bad as the worst thing I've ever suffered.And that's why it's so hard to date after being in an abusive relationship. Not long after that, I (briefly) dated a guy who started calling me "bitch" and "whore" and I caught myself thinking, "no big deal. I've been called worse."

    It's desensitization, really. A person who's never been through that would go through the roof at being called names, I thought it was nothing. Heck, it was practically nice in the comparison. Compare me to a soldier. If I saw someone get shot, I would be completely traumatized. I doubt a soldier that's seen active combat for years would react the same way. They've seen it before.

    Desensitization is a good thing, in a way. It allows you to cope in a lot of bad situations. (That soldier couldn't function if he reacted to violence the same way each time. He needs to be able to step back from it.) It's after you're out of the situation that desensitization becomes a problem, because then you need your sensitivity to protect you.

    Abuse is like alcohol- don't date for a while after you're out of it. You'll make bad decisions.

  10. A phrase FL said really stood out to me:

    "The second part is more essential to being able to take on the role of abuser: arrogating to oneself the sole and exclusive right to define the legitimacy of wrongs."

    In some of my interactions with anti-gay folks in the blogosphere (especially at Opine Editorials and DNA blogs), I have found that when LGBT people express feeling unsafe, abused, or demeaned in conversations with them, they regard these feelings as illegitimate. They have arrogated to themselves the sole and exclusive right to define the legitimacy of what is the right and wrong way to treat people. I never really articulated that before, or thought of it that way, but it was something I sensed that was really creepy about conversing with those people.

    I think, in many ways, I found that I had been de-sensitized to anti-gays treating me in ways that just aren't acceptable to treat other human beings. Until you're outside of it and looking back, it can be hard to see. I don't engage with those people anymore, it's just not healthy or productive.

  11. (no offenses to you!) here's my biggest issue. I love the blog and it shows me why I hate closed minded Christians. The one time i went to church in a long while and they made me CRY! So mean..bastards. In ANY CASE a lot of people are saying "God did this so he is an asshole" I have a question..have you ever considered that maybe humanity (these closed minded Christians specifically) have screwed everybody over including God? God's not the issue but they are? It's like...your a child ok and your parents get a divorce. You're forced to stay with your mom and your dad always sends you letters and stuff showing his love, but your mom doesn't give you shit and says your dad hates you and your the reason he left. You grow p and find your dad and want to kick his ass but your mom did everything bad. See my analogy? Mom = the closed minded bastards. Dad = God. ...stupid bastards....

    Honestly i have no clue why I'm saying all of this XD (I'm truly sorry if I offended!)In conclusion...square equals cherry pie..and omg that movie sounds scary or article or whatever it is.. *much laziness to click link* further news i like feeesh and r using your comment space for my evil ADD randomness...

  12. Fannie: I do love people more educated in a subject than me, and FL certainly is. That is one of the oddest things about an abuser: I do this to you, and I am justified; you do this to me, and you are not. I am justified in my outrage, your outrage is never justified. It is as if abusers are incapable of empathy, or simply afraid of it. If they did empathize, they would realize how horribly they are acting, how horrible it make their victim feel, and would in turn feel horrible.

    I think, in the end, with people like the Opiners and DNAers, it's easier for a straight to deal with them, because while I am offended and disturbed by their behavior, I cannot take personal offense at it. It's like talking to my black nephew about racists: it enrages me to no end that there are people who dismiss this wonderful, sensitive, talented boy out of hand just for the color of his skin, but that doesn't happen to me, and it is impossible to truly feel another's pain. The best I can do is make the empathetic leap that I have felt pain, it is terrible, and other people want to feel that again as little as I do.

    I truly wonder what he felt on April 15th, watching those "tea party" assholes flaunt their hatred for the world. I bet it was a bit much for a 15 year old boy to take.

  13. A great post and spot on. I'm a recovering ex-Christian myself and know exactly how this feels. I was told, and the Catholic Church teaches, that everything is in God's providence in that he either wills it directly or allows it for some good purpose. See? Nothing that happens to you then is ever bad. Abusive husband? No worries, God's will. Raped? God's will. Child abuse? God's will for your salvation. And the Christians will wail, "No! No, that's not true." But it is when you follow the view of all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving to their logical conclusions.

    More people need to know this stuff. It *is* just like leaving an abuser. I've used this analogy myself in talking with others. I too stand there and just want to scream when I hear others gush about Jesus/God. But of course they'll tell me, "You didn't know him like I do." Typical response of someone who doesn't yet see the monster within. As much as religion makes me angry, I often feel a great sadness for those still stuck in it's circular world of nonsense.

  14. wow...

    there's another bit, that i think gets left out a lot when it comes to these dynamics. its the same Catch-22 that people in chronic pain sufferes - people who aren't in that sort of pain don't believe it is real, and people who ARE in that sort of pain never think anyone else hurts as much as they do.

    so... when you have been abused, NO ONE ELSE has suffered like you have (generic you). and that makes it EVEN HARDER to really get help and escape the abuse cycle - no one understands, and if no one really understands, maybe its not like you think it is. maybe its not really bad. maybe you *do* deserve it. and society reinforces these thoughts, by generally implicitly defending the abuser

    when it comes to God, its an EXPLICIT defense of the abuser. we are all, to some extent, abused... but we never really believe anyone else was abused like *we* were

    am i making any sense here?
    i blame the 'Quils (ny and day :D)


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