Kim Davis and The God of Glowering Women

Dear God, please smite all the folks I don't like.

Dear God, please smite all the folks I don’t like with your magic smitey hand.

I know Kim Davis. Not personally, mind you, but I know her. She is my mother, my aunts, the women who yelled at us for being drowsy during long sermons and gave us candies for memorizing Bible verses. I know her.

I know her because I lived in the world she inhabits. She is part of the Pentecostal movement, the movement that raised me. Like my mother, she found Jesus as a grown woman. She probably found Jesus out of some combination of desperation, emptiness and a desire to be in control, while also surrendering control. The surrender comes with obeying all of the many, varied and often ridiculous rules laid out ostensibly by the Bible, but more honestly, by the clergy and the “head office.” The control comes from imposing those same rules, not just on yourself, but on your family, your community and anyone who thinks differently than you. The control comes from being right – not through years of searching and trying, but by reading the manual. Pentecostalism is a bit like assembling IKEA furniture. As long as you follow all the instructions, you’ll get to hëavën.

When I look at her, I see those women. I see the stubborn, closed-off hatred disguised as piety. I see the surety that comes from having a side in a fight, from backing a team that always wins because it sets the rules. I also recognize the fervour of a new recruit. Davis “found” Jesus just four years ago. She’s still fresh. And the fresh ones make the best mouthpieces. They echo because they haven’t done their homework yet.

I did my homework. After believing for years, I started to doubt (mostly because praying felt a lot like talking to myself.) In order to challenge that doubt, I read all the books I could find about what I believed. I read the books Constantine cut out of the Bible. I read works written contemporaneous to it. I read books by biblical scholars and professors and pastors. I attended sermons and services and sleep-away camps. I mainlined god. I searched and researched the way a person should before using their religion to oppress others.

I looked and I found contradictions and problems and lies and hypocrisy and a lot of political finagling. What I didn’t find was an absolute truth. Absolute truth doesn’t come easily, if it exists at all. You can’t go to an expensive building in your best clothes and find absolute truth. No one can hand it to you. Even if they do, that will be their truth, not yours.

In all of my searching and reading and hunting, the closest thing I’ve ever found are four words: First, do no harm. That’s my truth. I will never expect it to be anyone else’s. My favourite passage from the Bible-I-do-not-follow remains, to this day, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

In the end, what I see when I look at the be-smocked and matron-haired woman who resembles my childhood is a person who chose a path that would both forgive all her shortcomings and let her judge other’s. I see someone who thinks that four years of learning means that she has the answers. With those answers she has built an ideological wall that no amount of rational discourse can climb.

So while folks mock Kim Davis, while they rally behind hashtags that vilify or martyr her, I’m remembering an easier time. A time when I knew I was right, without considering all the variables. A time when singing the right songs and saying the right prayers meant a super-hero in sandals had my back. A time when I did not have to consider why people do what they do, because demons and angels were the answer to most of the behaviour of sinners and saints.

It is easy to be holy for eschewing lipstick or mainstream music or signing documents that let others express their love and commitment. It’s easy to be right because a man behind a pulpit says you are.

When I walked away, I gave up self-assurance for self-searching. I gave up the right to judge for the right to choose, the right to love and the right to ask questions. It was not an easy trade and it destroyed a part of me that felt pure, in that it was naive and simple. I think I was happier then. I was happier trying to convert my school friends and shame people whose lives were pointed in a different direction than mine. I was happier as a girl who glowered and judged and wore long skirts and held longer grudges.

I was happier. But I know – I know for a fact – that I did more harm.

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28 thoughts on “Kim Davis and The God of Glowering Women

  1. It’s odd that you say you were happier doing harm. Sounds a little sadist. I, however, understand what you mean, as you didn’t have the weight of the “real” world on your shoulders. I grew up Roman Catholic and felt weighted down. When I left, I have never been more happier, BUT I would be dishonest if I didn’t say I was frustrated. I have a strong feeling of independence, discovering “truth”, and fighting for what is right and just. Am I understanding you correctly?

    • I think the Pentecostal movement is less a belief system and more an entire lifestyle. I’d go so far as to call the version I grew up in cultish. We really believed we were the white hats in a world that was set against us. There’s a strange camaraderie about being in the “barracks” of a holy war. I was a happier person when I believed that the world was just a test run and that all our mistakes would be forgiven. I was happier when I could call out and feel like I was always heard. I was happier as part of something than as part of nothing – and when I left I was truly part of nothing. I had no family, no home and no future.

      So yeah, even though it was abusive (very) and horrible (very, very,) it was all I knew. There was always music and community and a group of people who were pointed in one direction. Belief is easy, in that it is ALL the answers. Since then, it’s been hard for me to find a centre, because for the first 17 years of my life, the centre was god. I’ve spent a long time mourning the loss of that solidity, that faith, that community. It wasn’t the doing harm that made me happy. It was being part of a family, no matter what price I had to pay to be there. The harm was the cost of entry.

      It should also be noted that I had this massive fundamental shift in my late teens as I was also dealing with coming out, living in a transitional group home and trying to recover from all that I’d lost. It was not a happy time. It was not a safe time. It was, as I’ve said, not easy. There’s also the guilt that may never leave because the some of my beliefs were beaten into me. They are set in my neural pathways and betraying them was tied to pain. When I first walked away, I would swear, take the lord’s name in vain, and have a panic attack. I did this over and over again, just to show myself nothing bad would happen. It’s a strange way to be, but I’ve come to except these quirks of my make-up.

      Thanks for your question, though, and for giving me the chance to clarify.

    • @Troy. I was part of Opus Dei -that is like a Catholic approved cult- and I can confirm that your insight about not having all the weight of the world on your shoulder is part of the “happiness” you experience inside a fundamentalist movement. This happiness is like a drug that keeps you “worry free” as long as you don’t dig too much into the movement’s ideology. But if you “do your homework” you discover that you are not in the best place to live and you start to find your way out. In OD’s case this implies a lot of trauma as you are scared of going to hell if you leave the group. Even doubting your “call” is considered diabolic. Another part of the cult-mind is to isolate you from everybody that is not a superior in the cult. So talking about your doubts with outsiders -friends, relatives, or even other members of the group that are not your superiors- is considered treason. Like being another Judas. Anyway, of course I also agree with your observation that leaving the cult, and the Catholic Church is a big relief when you get rid of your “Hell-phobia”. In my case it became clear that the Church didn’t have any special help from any superior entity to discern about moral stuff. If not Opus Dei would have never counted with the support of even John Paul II (who also didn’t catch Marcial Maciel, another crook). At the end I ended as Agnostic after an raging Atheist period. And today I am recovering some spirituality, even from the RCC experience. Anyway, in your first days in an ultraorthodox group your happiness is very manifest and it can even attract more people. In my retrospective analysis I think that that was one of the most powerful mood altering drugs I have ever taken. In that sense it was an awesome ride. I guess it is similar to the experience of other strong psychotropic drugs. So I was into drugs!

      • Actually, the idea that it’s like a drug is not far off. Or hypnosis. Repetitive movements and chants, rewards and punishments, isolation and fear followed by love and community.

        Thanks for sharing the OD point of view. I’ve talked to other people who were in that more extreme versions of Catholicism, and there’s a lot of shared territory.

        I remember the idea that even doubting was a sin. Questioning was unforgivable. I really was looking for assurance when I stumbled into doubt. The more I tried to prove it to be true, the more I found that it was not. The worst part for me was when I found out about all of the ways the book had been changed and manipulated to suit whatever political power needed it at the time. The ways religion was weaponized. It was hard to accept. I see the way it’s being weaponized now, and it’s heartbreaking.

  2. Where you wrote that they were forgiven and free to judge, a part of me that still hurts, because I wouldn’t join the cult disguised as a mainstream family-oriented socially-minded organization, felt a little better. I grew up always in church, because my mother was always working there. I never fit. It was obvious early on. My mother always adopted that role no matter what horror she committed. And her church supported that view. And I got comfortable quickly being the one poking holes in the reasoning. It’s never been easy to be completely cut off from my family, but having never thought as they did, I lost nothing except their lopsided judgements. I’m sorry you were happier. I wish I could say I knew what you’d lost, but all I feel is the blissful freedom.

    • This question keeps popping up in other social media where I shared this. Why was I “happier” inside. It’s actually a really, really good question and one I’m going to think on. Other people I grew up with, who figured it out earlier, were able to walk away with fewer scars. Some of them, like you, just never really felt like they fit with it.

      As to poking holes, that is a vital skill and one I respect. 🙂

      Thanks for reading and for sharing.

  3. Pingback: Kim Davis and The God of Glowering Women | Randomness Expressed

  4. Hi Heather, I so relate to what you are saying about feeling “happier” in the church because of the sense of belonging … to the right side, sort of thing. It was more like feeling safe and right to me. It’s not like there was an obvious intention to judge and harm others, at least from the congregant portion of the church. The judging was shrouded with “love” as to save people from an even harsher “judgement” in the end by GOD…the big guy who they needed saving from in the first place…, as far as I’m concerned!

    • I get that. The two headed snake of love and punishment is a massive part of the fundamentalist experience. In some ways, I think the fear of judgement doesn’t pass, even when the belief in it does.

      • Actually, some branches of Orthodoxy have “cut books out” from the New Testament. And Revelation isn’t in any of their canons. Of course, that’s where fundies get their end times inspirations.

    • Probably not. :). I am assistant professor of exactly nothing (I’m actually finally finishing high school as we speak!) As an autodidact, I am fully, fully expecting to misspeak at least twice every time I write. Thanks for the note. Honestly, I’d love more info, especially a source (text or otherwise) that might be more informative. Thanks!

    • Agreed. I’m always stunned by how much money travels from the hands of the very poorest among us to the ministers and bureaucrats. It’s a fantastic for profit model, but that’s what makes it so sad.

  5. Wow. What a well-written composition. I recognize some of the women I grew up with in your essay. They were quick to judge, but all from a pious and invidious attitude of ‘love’ as in “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I was raised fundamentalist (Mennonite Brethren) but from an early age I could see the disconnect between what is said in church and the reality that exists in the world. I did not have a problem leaving beyond the necessity of dealing with family and friends who are still ensnared (and who must continuously deal with the fact that I have yet to become some sort of devil-worshipping reprobate). Still, I understand why people are so reluctant to leave the safe embrace of faith; why they fight so hard to hold onto their beliefs even when it is so obvious that their beliefs are mistaken. Having all the answers means you never have to think, and if you don’t have to think you don’t have to deal with the discomfort of discerning the factual from the fabricated. Ignorance is, indeed, bliss. And bliss is not easily abandoned.

    Like many nonbelievers, I’m willing to grant people their right to worship as they please. If a large segment of the population feels that their world is better under a cloud of delusion, I generally do not have a problem with their choice of lifestyle so long as they keep it to themselves. But this is not the case. At every turn, the faithful are exhorted to spread their delusion and to fight against anyone who does not share their views. Your comment about the ‘weaponization’ of belief is sadly accurate and the reason for so much strife in the world. And yes, it is heartbreaking. We could be so much better.

    • Wonderful summary of the challenges and the truths of leaving faith (or as I sometimes call it, un-finding Jesus.) I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’m not happier without faith and plan to follow up in another blog.

  6. As a former independent fundamental baptist, I agree with what you’ve said: life “on the inside” was simpler. I didn’t have to think (and was encouraged not to), I had an instant family and community always there, and I was surrounded by people who constantly assurred me that we were right. Leaving was scary because all of a sudden I was not only without pat answers for everything but also without a community.

    • And the social circle was something too. It’s hard to get a couple hundred people into a room for a sing-along where no one’s voice needs to be the star. It’s hard to find people willing to pot-luck once a month. In some ways, I think community centres need to steal the basic set-up of churches. But then, they don’t obligate their users to give 10% of their income, so the funding model may not be sustainable. 🙂

  7. Wow! I very much can relate to this. I grew up in a similar “religion”. I still to this day catch myself when a fleeting thought of prejudice pops into my weary little brain. Old habits are hard to run from; we have a tendency to revert into the old way of thinking. I struggle with my departure from faith every day. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • I know! I hate when I get those flashback moments, especially when they’re pointed at me. Like, I stub my toe, swear, worry about hell, shake my head, shake it again, hush the echoes of judgement and THEN I bandage the toe.

      • I know! I was driving and talking to my friend on the phone the other day when I said something totally blasphemous. Even now, I still have a fleeting, momentary fear of being struck dead. But then I remember that I don’t believe in fairy tales anymore. So funny how it stays with you, years and years later.

  8. It’s not just the Pentacostals, nor the Catholics, its pretty much ALL of the “religions of the book” (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) and let’s throw Mormonism into that mix, the religion I grew up with. The most damaging portion of religion is primarily the “certainty” with which they hold THE TRUTH”. Everyone is uniformed, misguided, or damned. We HAVE all the answers from our book(s), the source of all truth- so the “wisdom of the world” is the source of illusion and evil. God chose us to be the “light unto the world” and if they don’t listen, they are servants of the Devil and will suffer horribly for eternity (“heh, heh, heh”). WE are the chosen, and his blessings are greater the more holy we are… ie: the more successful we are in life, the more God’s love is showing through us. Since WE have the answers, WE should control things, right? God doesn’t want a Democracy on Earth, HIS is the KINGDOM! God’s Kingdom on Earth, run by his annointed host….US!

    THAT is what stops the progress and evolution of Mankind, THAT is what destroys progress and inquiry and learning. “If you have all the answers already, what are you doing screwing around with physics and chemistry and engineering? God’s gonna destroy it all anyhow… and SOON… maybe tomorrow.” THAT is the mindset that is keeping us from mobilizing Mankind to deal with the ramifications of his polluting the world. THAT is the mindset that makes it virtually impossible to overcome the cultural and political barriers that lead to war after war- wasted lives, wasted resources, lost time. THAT is the mindset that prevents us from coming together as a country made up of many…”e pluribus unum”. Remember THAT?!? The religios replaced out currency’s motto in 1954 (out of the fear of the Soviet Union’s growing strength and the beginnings of the “Red Scare” and McCartyism). They replaced that motto, which reflected one of the best intentions of our nation -“e pluribus unum”… Out of Many, One. They replaced it with “In God We Trust”… reflecting that we didn’t trust ourselves, our neighbors anymore… It has only gotten worse.

    • I never knew (being Canadian) that that’s what e pluribus unum meant.What a fantastic sentiment to be replaced by such a divisive one.

      I agree that the weird apocalyptic obsession doesn’t help when trying to spur people on to positive community action. There’s a nihilistic tendency amongst people who believe the end is nigh.

  9. The Christian Dilemma:

    The greatest threat to America, and indeed to the rest of world, at this point in history, comes from the staunch advocates of right wing ideology, and I must submit this warning to you: There is a grave problem with the right wing movement, in that; they seem to possess a distorted sense of entitlement. They’ve set themselves apart, and seem to think that their faith gives them the right to view the world from a platitude of conceit, through condescending eyes, and with a false sense of superiority. They actually believe themselves to be superior beings, with a manifest destiny and some strange notion that God is on their side. A people with a desire to conquer, under the false guise of Christianity, seeking to dominate in the name of Christ, their view of humanity being reduced to nothing more than a matter of “us” and “them”.

    What they fail to realize is; if the Christ you believe in leads you to view other humans as lesser beings, then you are a follower of the anti-Christ. The plain truth is; God doesn’t have a religion and God doesn’t discriminate. Any religion that professes to be the only true religion, or that they‘re special in the eyes of God preaches false doctrine. If the Spirit of God is truly with you, it will only be known by acts of “unconditional” love and charity. No religion can claim exclusive rights to God. He belongs to all that He has created, and to foster a belief in “us” and “them” is to divide humanity, not unite it.

    And so it will be, in The End, that those who have set themselves apart from their fellow man will find that they have set themselves apart from God. The worth of a soul will only be measured by how much it has loved, nothing more, nothing less. Woe to those who have taken the widow’s mite and built castles and empires in His name. They have incurred a great accountability, their suffering will be unending.

    Even Jesus will not claim to be Christian, but will only proclaim the glory of the Father. And when He returns they will shout: “Here we are Lord!” And He will respond: “I never knew you”. They have forsaken the Word and have become prisoners of the Numbers.

    Those who have put themselves first will be last.

    • Really, when I write, I often find myself thinking in a much smaller scale. I may not be able to understand all the larger elements at play (though I try) but I can strive to understand one person. I can’t say what it is that makes humans dance the razor’s edge like we do.

  10. The Separation Of Church And Hate:

    There is a good reason why Church and State must always remain separate. Let’s get something straight, right from the start: A theocratic state is not a free state, and never will be. I’m sure it was never Jesus’ intention nor was it His will that anyone should be dominated in His name, the name of Christ. That is the will of men. To be accurate, the concept in itself is anti-Christian. You can only follow Christ by choice, not by legislation.

    It seems some people are more intent on casting stones at perceived sinners than propagating the love of Christ. ~ “Above all else, I command you love one another”. ~ This was the message that Jesus preached, and as far as I can see, the worth of a soul will only be measured as such. But I can assure you of one thing, when your time of judgment comes, you won’t be asked to recite scripture, but rather, if anything, the question will be; did you get the message and live by it?

    For all of you people out there on the religious right, you should try to remember that looking for sins to condemn, and people to persecute in the name of God, is simply Satan’s way of keeping you from seeing what is good and praiseworthy. It’s Satan’s favorite means of deceit; getting people to hate and kill each other in the name of God and Christ Jesus. Twisting scripture to incite hatred and division.

    Understand this; that by doing so, you are defaming the name of Christ, associating Jesus with bigotry and hate. Jesus was never cursed with these feelings, these sins that you commit in His name. It’s widely agreed that He rose above it all, and to use His name for the justification of spreading contempt and hatred for anyone is true heresy. It isn’t Pro-Christ by any means, but clearly Anti-Christ.

    *******************
    ~ It doesn’t really seem to matter at this point weather you believe in Christ or not. What we have are Anti-Christians, the antithesis of the persona Jesus, and they are attempting, through legislation, to declare America to be a theocratic state and nation, legitimizing discrimination under the false guise of “religious freedom”. If you’re not one of the “chosen” you’re fair game for persecution, oppression and abuse. It’s a perfect “us” and “them” scenario. If you express opposing views to the “Order” or you’re a non-believer, or in any way perceived as a “sinner”, they’ll be coming for you. ~ Anti-Christians: You will know them by their bigotry, their hatred, and their contempt for “others”.

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