The Story of How We Became "Christian"

Tue, 11/06/2012 - 11:17
Submitted by Carlin Ross

When I'm hung over, it's much easier to write about myself. Maybe it's the slight disorientation or the headache that throw me off a bit and kill my ability to bury my true feelings.

Last night Betty and I had a girl's night dinner. The subject turned to my background...more specifically what my parents thought about what I do (ie sex). I never answered the question. I told several stories and tried to change the subject. I was even called out, "you didn't answer the question, Carlin". I smiled and that was that.

My complete refusal to answer a simple question - what do you parents think about what you do - answer: they hate it - was embarrassing. Several users have asked me to write about my childhood. I've alluded to my Christian Fundamentalist past but I've never connected all the dots. It's time to share my's the first installment - how we became "Christian".

My parents are still in love. I think that's why I'm not more fucked up. I saw tenderness and affection every day. But like most people they're also terribly flawed.

My dad was a drinker...his dad was a drinker. When we were kids, my dad would pass out and we'd play with our matchbox cars running them over the creases of his corduroy pants. We were never allowed to be alone with my dad. My mom worried that he "might do something" - that's what she'd say on the phone with my grandmother.

There were a few times when I went to the store alone with my father. Whenever I was with him, I felt sick to my stomach. Kids are so perceptive. I loved him but I could feel his depression and it made me feel bad about myself.

We didn't have a word for what my father was...we never talked about it...but when we came home from school we'd check the entire house looking for him. I was charged with looking in the basement. I would tip toe down the stairs holding my breath as I rushed to flick on the light switch. I had this visual of him with a rope around his neck hanging from one of the beams. No dad swinging...I'd exhale and run back up the stairs to the kitchen for a snack before homework (no surprise that my daddy complex manifests with a penchant for dating older men).

When the Christian fundamentalist movement - the Pentecostal movement - swept across America in the 1980's, my mother seized the opportunity to "save" my dad. His depression was getting worse. She accepted Jesus Christ as her personal lord and savior, spoke in tongues, and evangelized her husband. The New York Times vanished from our household...followed by their Arlo Guthrie records...all "secular" books...and finally our television.

It as the era of James Dobson, Jimmy Swaggart, the Bakers, and Jerry Falwell. We were taken out of public school. They burned our books. All our friends had to be "Christian". There were no Christians on our block so I didn't have any friends. Betty always says that I like everyone - that I should be more discriminating - but I can't help it. Anyone new is thrilling to me. I would rather end a friendship than never start one.

Everything became an epic battle to save our souls...keep us on the path. On my 8th birthday my aunt gave me an iron-on unicorn t-shirt. Remember those iron-on shops in the mall with all those glittery designs? She even had them put my name in those big fuzzy letters on the back. It was the best thing I'd ever been given in my life. It was stimulating in a way nothing else in my environment was follwing the "sanitation".

My mom's face turned. I knew what it meant: there was some dumb ass reason why my t-shirt was evil. My poor aunt. She tried so hard to get me a good present. My mom wouldn't even let me try it on. It was confiscated at once. My mother explained that unicorns were mythical creatures...that they weren't godly. God had made horses not unicorns. She took an iron to my shirt - she tried to iron away the horn and make it a horse. She ruined it. I was heart broken. I didn't understand how a unicorn jeopardized my soul. It was just a horn.

This was the beginning of a decade of repression, judgment, and isolation. In a way, my mother did save my father from alocoholism. But he replaced one addiction with another. I know I harbor some anger towards my mother. She was the one who put our family on this path. She was strong. My dad simply followed her. My dad was weak. Whenever, I hear someone spouting off scripture - desperately clinging to what they believe to be true - I feel a pang of sorrow. I see my dad.

Becoming Christian left an indelible mark on my life. What I came to understand is that sometimes you need to believe in absolutes to keep your head above water.

Editor in Chief & Keeper of All Things Betty Dodson

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Thanks for sharing. Having

Tue, 11/06/2012 - 16:56
Jake E

Thanks for sharing. Having such a conflict of ideas right in the heart of your family must be quite stressful. Which I think makes the support you get here all the more important <3

thank you

Tue, 11/06/2012 - 19:01

Thank you so much for sharing this. How many of us can imagine having to check the house for daddy, hoping he won't have hung himself? And to go from one nightmare to another?

Sounds familiar

Tue, 11/06/2012 - 19:45
Ladi Day

OMG Carlin your childhood sounds so similar to mine, I was also raised Pentecostal in the 80's! It's healing to hear that you came from similarly repressive family background and yet you are so free now.
I still struggle with anger issues towards my mother too, despite knowing that religion was her only way to cope with life's struggles at the time. She robbed me of so much because of her crazy beliefs.
But I am discovering my own power and happiniess now and a lot if that is thanks to you and Betty!
Thank you so much for sharing! And if you feel up to it please share more!
Lots of love to you!

I had wondered how growing up with Christianity effected you

Wed, 11/07/2012 - 02:44

You're not alone, Carlin. I think one of the basic struggles of becoming a real, thinking adult is learning that we can't live our lives according to other people's ideas of what we should be. I ended up at your site after spending a lot of time trying to deny my sexuality and what you and Betty call "my sexual self." I know that no one in my family would want to talk *honestly* about who I really am, or how I feel, because I've tried and it always turns into an issue about how they view themselves, and how it would affect them.
Your last sentence, "What I came to understand is that sometimes you need to believe in absolutes to keep your head above water," really resonated with me. I am coming to understand that holding onto absolutes is what has been keeping me from developing into a mature adult; someone capable of change and real sensitivity to myself and the world around me.
I am also finally able to let go of thinking that belonging to my family is what makes me a worthwhile human being. I belong to myself, first, my mind, my body, my spirituality. The work that Betty and you are doing on this site has provided a much needed boost to the positive self image that I'm am trying to create.
Thank you.

The tyranny of (some kinds of) Christianity

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 14:06

Thank you for beginning to share your moving story. It's one I believe we can all learn from. And also an object lesson in the damage that well-meaning fundamentalist parents of any faith can inflict. What does it do to a child to suppress so many harmless things (unicorns!)? What does it do to wall the child off in a fortress of religion? It is also so difficult to grow up in an alcoholic family.

The 'epic battle to save our souls' in Christianity depends on the terrifying conviction that God---the highest possible expression of Pure Love---runs an eternal torture chamber called Hell, to which he is ready at the drop of a hat to send his supposedly beloved creatures. Believing in such divine cruelty is both crazy and crazy-making. It makes even the most normal, harmless activities seem evil and intolerable. It's very sad, and difficult to escape from. God the Torturer---what a way to think of divine love. Thank you for sharing.