My dudes, dudettes, and everyone in between: I have been down a dark rabbit hole on the internet. Nothing like some home grown, good ol’ American Christian fundamentalism to cast a pall of existential horror over the new year. What. The. Fuck.
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that fundamentalism of any kind is dangerous. I’m just focusing on Christian fundamentalism here because that’s what I’ve been reading about.
I blame Reddit. That site already sent me down the creepy path of researching Snapewives, so I’m not surprised that it’s also responsible for for my deep dive into learning more about some of the creepier sides of cult life. One of these days, I’ll learn my lesson. Most of the time, Reddit is an amusing way to distract my wound-up brain. Sometimes, though, it’s the gateway to Having a Bad Time.
I saw an innocent enough discussion about the Duggars on the front page last week, and it sparked my curiosity. I’ve long known about fundamentalism of all stripes, of course, along with a sect of Christianity winding themselves up in the quiver full movement. It’s fascinating, in a morbid way. And since I joke plenty about my own mega-religious/spiritual devotions, I decided to read more about my mega-religious Christian counterparts.
Spoiler alert: they’re not my counterparts. At all. They terrify me.
You see, because I myself am so mindful about keeping the gods in everything I do and sharing everything with them, I sometimes worry about being a legit nutcase. Especially when I’m in the midst of deep depression; am I clinging to an abstract concept and pouring my energy into something that sounds absurd because I’m trying to convince myself that living is worthwhile? Ironically, it’s in my darkest fight with depression that I actually “hide” from the gods and ignore them as best as I can. I don’t want to burden them, just as I don’t want to burden my friends and family. I’m trying to conserve whatever energy I have to keeping my head above water, because I feel so exhausted that it would be much too easy to just slip under the waves for good. And of course, the nearest and dearest members of my god squad are right there in the water with me (along with family and friends) whether I want them there or not, encouraging me to keep afloat.
I also wonder sometimes if I’m over-the-top with my spirituality because sometimes it feels like it’s all I ever talk about. Despite having a wide range of interests and hobbies, sometimes it seems to me that I can’t go five minutes in conversation without mentioning the gods or something going on in the heathen community. I’m very much aware of that. I only wear jewelry and accessories that have spiritual significance, and I go so far as to veil because it makes my twisted little nun heart happy to do so. Loki is in everything I do; it’s just a natural effect of the oaths I’ve made with him. I’m bound up with the Bound God, and it’s a great path for me. It’s right for me, and it makes me extraordinarily happy. Even when dealing with depression, I savor the moments when I notice him or Sigyn especially, moreso than when I notice any of the others. Being the closest thing heathenry has to a nun, I also recognize the need to do a self check every now and again to make sure I’m not slipping into the dangerous realm of zealotry.
Reading up on groups like Gothard’s Institute of Basic Life Principles (the church with which families like the Duggars and Bateses are affiliated) and Girl Defined and their ilk has been an eye-opening experience. YouTube is full of videos by fundamentalist Christians, often young couples (looking at you, Paul and Morgan), lecturing about purity culture and giving tips on how women should completely submit to their husbands (side note: I’ve never read/listened to so much about sex as I have the last few days. For people so obsessed with modesty, they really love to talk about sex. It’s almost like a lifetime of repression and being controlled had a weird effect on people who get married at 18 just so they can front hug or something. But of course, I’m ace, so their serious obsession with the topic really pings as weirder than normal). Instagram is rich with large fundie families trying to compete with each other over who’s more blessed, more devoted to the Bible, who’s the most worthy of attention to spread their ministry. It’s easy to consume this media as an outsider because they’re almost freakish to the rest of us: though prairie dresses have given way to long denim skirts and home-permed hair to dry af heat-treated locks skimming their waists, they still look like families stuck in a time loop. Their makeup is still outdated, their “modest” dress still frumpy, their forced grins so desperate against their dead eyes. There’s a wealth of videos and blogs about girls who grow up under the stricter-than-strict control of their fathers, being counseled by thier perpetually pregnant mothers on how to be a worthy “help meet” to the husband to whom they’ll eventually spend the rest of their lives in total submission. I admit, I started down the rabbit hole because I was gawking at this subculture as if they were old-timey sideshows, but it didn’t take long to just feel horror at the blatant narcissism of the adults and pity for the children they’re “training up” (side note: Michael and Debi Pearl are some of worst of the worst in these cults, and their books and lectures on how to best beat children and use psychological terrorism is genuinely atrocious. I felt – and still feel – hideously sick in the pit of my stomach at the things they advocate. There’s not much that I regret reading, but their policies qualify).
Their whole interpretation of the Bible and God is so abusive and deeply disturbing on every possible level. The purity movement is hella damaging to girls and women by teaching them they’re objects to be possessed and controlled by the men in their life; they aren’t allowed to be humans in their own right. Or at all. Members of these groups are deeply bigoted and spread nothing but hate speech against anyone who is remotely different from them. The vitriol they spew against the LGBTQ+ community is sickeningly cruel. Everything about them is cruel. They are in every way the direct opposite of what Christians should be.
Hell, I’m a genuine heathen, a polytheist who runs with the old gods, and my lifestyle is more Christian than theirs. I love my neighbors, regardless of their appearance or background. I try to work in my community to help those who need it. I give what I can to help, even when I’m struggling myself. I do what I can, when I can, to make people feel secure and safe. These basic concepts seem to be absolutely foreign to these fringe fundamentalists. The truly unnerving thing about all of this is that there’s more of them than you realize. I never gave them much thought because I thought people like the Duggars were anomalies. These last few days down the rabbit hole have exposed just how widespread that community really is. You start off hearing about the Duggars and their offshoots, and then you learn about the Bates family, and the Rodrigues family, whatever creepshow that spawned the two from Girl Defined, the Collinses, Paul and Morgan, Mrs. Midwest, The Transformed Wife, the Maxwells, the Nauglers, the Plaths, the Wallers… the list goes on, and the hole goes deep. All of these folks preach abuse and bigotry and total submission. It’s all so hateful, and I’ve yet to come across evidence of any of these grifters being even remotely Christ like, even in the blogs and videos they themselves are publishing. It’s genuinely disturbing and terrifying.
Of course, I’m heathen, decidedly “unsaved,” so they’ll say that’s why I find their beliefs and practices so gross. But really, it’s because I try to be a good human. And good humans don’t beat their malnourished children or think that marital rape is part of a healthy lifestyle. Good humans don’t advocate for harm against the LGBTQ+ community, or engage in racism, or force others to submit to their personal interpretation of a 2,000 year old collection of stories while dipping their hands into the bank accounts of everyone around them. Good humans don’t actively try to hurt the people around them. Jesus sure as hell didn’t. Jesus was a great man with some truly inspiring teachings. He led by example, but this subsect of Christianity seems to be actively ignoring all of the examples their savior set for them. It’s heartbreaking on so many levels.
I might be overly absorbed in my own spirituality, but at least I’m not dangerous. I’m not spreading harmful views (to my knowledge, anyway – call me out on it if I do!), I’m not looking at the lore as a literal collection of Truth, I don’t read the Eddas and sagas as if they’re word-for-word historical things that happened exactly as written. I don’t submit to anyone, least of all the gods. I’ll entertain their requests or suggestions, but I bicker with them and/or tell them (well, one) to fuck off more often than not. And I enjoy talking about theology and practices and paths, but I’d never tell anyone they’re required to do what I do, or that the way they honor their deities is wrong. How can anyone dictate how a relationship with the divine should be developed? The whole thing is confounding. The extremes to which these fundamentalists go are alarming. If that’s how they feel they build their relationships with God, that’s one thing. It’s the degree of control over everyone else around them that I take issue with. The level of isolation and indoctrination is scary and illustrates why “Us vs. Them” attitudes can be so dangerous.
Of course, I myself am biased af. I’m heathen: the concept of dogma and “One True Way” raises alarm bells for me. To be honest, if I were to for some reason re-up my previously brief experiment with Christianity, I’d give Quakerism a go because I appreciate their belief that everyone forges their own direct relationship with God. The Bible, like heathen lore, is a guidebook of stories that help us to understand the nature of the divine and gives us inspiration to build relationships with God. Some of it is based in historical events and people, like the sagas. But as with everything, context is key. And helping one another is paramount. Fuck off with your bigoted condemnations. You do a grave disservice to Christianity with your cruelty. Creating strife and pain and fear in others is the work of your Satan, not your God. Your God commands you to love. Try it.
Dammit, Reddit. Why you gotta do me like this?