Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism


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Jonah

Why do people leave behind everything they ever knew, people they love, security, their entire life? What makes you take such radical steps? Are you not afraid of whatever will happen next?

Of course I was afraid – more than that. I was terrified. Making the decision to leave an entire system of beliefs, relationships and home, without an idea of how life could possibly work, that’s not easy. No one said it was. The question that remains is what could possibly scare you so much that jumping off that cliff into the unknown – without knowing if there was a net to catch you, with the very real possibility that this might end really, really badly – was better than staying and trying to change things slowly.

For me, that was god. It sounds counter-intuitive, but my fear of god made me leave.

When god calls Jonah to be his prophet, Jonah reacts very differently than all the other prophets before him. He doesn’t obey. He doesn’t stay. Instead, Jonah leaves everything behind and boards a ship, with strangers, to a place he doesn’t know. Why did Jonah leave?

Sometimes I think that Jonah and I have a lot in common. Staying meant obeying for both of us. The fear of what god would do to us if we stayed made both of us get on that ship. The fear of what god would do to us. Not the belief that there is no god, the pain caused by relationships, the sad memories. No. The knowledge that god wasn’t done with us yet, and that whatever he had in store for us would not be any good.

Jonah was haunted by god, and god did terrible things to make Jonah return. So Jonah does, and he obeys the lord, and subjects himself to things he doesn’t want to do, things he doesn’t feel are necessary or right. And finally, it turns out that everything Jonah did was just a big game. Nineveh wasn’t destroyed (which is a good thing), but Jonah can’t help but ask why god would do such terrible things to him. God, Jonah says, is compassionate and loving. Jonah knew that God wouldn’t destroy Nineveh. Why was all this necessary? We never find out (yes, you could argue that without Jonah, Nineveh would have been destroyed – but why Jonah? Why not pick a person who would want to do it?). After all things are done and over, Jonah sits outside the city and wishes he was dead. Jonah is empty, angry and has lost all hope. But God isn’t done with him just yet. God let a plant grow for Jonah, so that he could sit in its shadow. And Jonah is happy about that. But then God destroys that plant just to lecture him some more. And Jonah? Well, he is angry, and he still wishes he was dead. We never find out how Jonah’s story continues, but me, I never expected Jonah to jump up and praise the lord. I don’t think he did.

Unlike Jonah, I didn’t return. And god didn’t haunt me (of course, I’m not a prophet). Unlike Jonah, I managed to escape god’s grasp on me. I think that returning would have resulted in similar feelings for me. I believe I would be like Jonah, sitting in my small hut, asking god why I of all people have to be in a situation I really don’t want to be in, why my prayers aren’t being fulfilled (but my husband’s are). I think I too would wish I was dead, angry at god.

Jonah’s life after returning was bleak. Unbearable. Jonah had a choice, though: He could have decided to die that night on the ship, or in the fish. He decided not to. On that night on my ship, I made a different decision: I would rather die than return to whatever god had in store for me.

It’s not about a lack of belief, or about things in the bible that just don’t add up. It’s about a genuine fear of what he would do to me if I obeyed his every word.

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“Purpose”

There is an almost unlimited amount of books on “purpose” for the christian life. Books about prayer, missions, singleness, courtship, engagement, marriage, children, gender roles, house keeping, the list goes on. And on… and on. And really, it’s all about purpose. – finding purpose in a life that is supposed to have a higher purpose.

I’ve been wondering lately why it is that the christian culture is so obviously concerned with finding a purpose for its members. Shouldn’t purpose come somewhat naturally when you claim that your faith is the ultimate source of purpose? Why is it that I apparently need a bazillion books to find something that was promised to me when I started believing?

The situation is especially apparent in single women. Pretty much everybody else has a naturally derived, gender-based purpose. Married women care for men and raise godly arrows. Men, married and unmarried, fight for religion, faith, justice and all that and, last but not least, provide for either future or current family. But unmarried women? They’re kind of out of a purpose. “Waiting” is not exactly a purpose that I consider a valuable waste of lifetime.

I remember how I wondered what my purpose would be, some day. It’s fascinating how obsessed and yet how afraid I was that I wouldn’t find something valuable to do. I sometimes felt my salvation was at stake.

This is particularly funny, because if you actually believe in sola scriptura, as most fundamentalists claim to do, shouldn’t purpose be self-evident in some way? I mean, if scripture, and only scripture, is fully and entirely sufficient to answer all questions you could possibly have about life, death and everything in between, you shouldn’t need that many books outside of scripture to actually have an idea what you should do with your life.

All of these books, whether it is “So much more”, “sacred singleness” and all the other books on the issue of single women, claim that all they do is point out things that are already pointed out in scripture. Often times you will read something like “hands-on advice” or “practical ideas” for single girls. Well. Isn’t that what scripture should do?

I don’t merely mean to point out that all of these books are either a simple repetition of bible verses or a weird twisting thereof, I mean to point out that what’s going on there is false theology on so many levels. If scripture is enough, and that’s what you as an author of these books believe, your book is useless and invalid (and, mean as I am, I will call you greedy for selling the book despite your better knowledge). If you claim that your book is neither invalid nor useless, you don’t believe that the bible is the sole source of “godly” advice (which, by the way, makes the bible fallible). I think the hypocrisy in these circles is rampant. To be honest, I don’t care much about defending “biblical” teachings or the universal truth of the bible. I am simply shocked that I didn’t realize this when I believed in all these ideas myself.

I swallowed up all the “purpose” materials. It had to be somewhere in there, right? In the end, I have to realize, for myself at least, that the movement of fundamentalist christianity is nothing but a huge machine which aims to exclude groups of people from society, which feeds these groups ideas about what they should and shouldn’t do, claiming at the same time that their advice is biblical – but nevertheless I need materials outside of the bible to actually understand the bible.

Christianity is not “outside of culture”, it is a culture of itself. A culture which cannot exist with the bible as the sole source of law and morals, because these laws and morals – and, not to forget, assignment of purpose to specific groups – need to be controlled in a much broader fashion to survive. Selling young girls books to help them find their purpose is nothing but a means of keeping them in line when the obvious fallacies of the bible and problems with the bible aren’t enough to satisfy a natural thirst for finding something more in the existence we have been assigned.


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Me and the great punisher

I don’t remember when I wrote my last post on believing in God and Jesus. It must have been over a year now. This post has been on my mind for so long, but somehow I never found the words. I feel some sort of inner pressure to write this, yet I don’t know how. I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t find words to say things. That should say something.

You know, I really want to be an atheist. Sometimes I believe that’s what I am. There are days when I have that summery, beachy way of freedom. Those days where you think that your entire life is in your hands. That you’re not just some sort of marionette in the hands of an all-knowing, universal punisher. Those days can be so reassuring that you’re on the right track, that your life is going well and that your decisions really matter.

Other days I find myself deeply wanting to pray. And on some of these days, I do. It’s not very often anymore. Most of the time I will delay myself somehow. Do some house work, go somewhere, read some blogs, whatever. I will pray before I fall asleep, I tell myself to calm my mind. God won’t strike me dead if I pray an hour later. These are the days where I usually fall asleep just before I remember praying. But on those other days, those on which I pray, I pray fervently. Please God, please forgive me, please forgive me for being blasphemic, for saying those terrible things about you. I was angry, you know that. Please look into my heart. Please do something, please change me so I can be good and right. Please forgive me forgive me forgive me I will do anything but please forgive, tell me what to do. I am so alone without you. And then I feel better for a while. I’m thinking it’s a bit like an alcoholic drinking his first beer in months. Desired, fulfilling, but somehow it feels wrong.

There’s one thing I never say, though I’d said it so many times before: “I surrender my life to you.” It’s the one thing I don’t want to say. I don’t want to “surrender” my life. It’s my life. It’s mine and I will not let anybody decide what I do with it. I think that’s what makes me feel so bad on the days I pray. My prayers are useless because I am selfish and despicable. I don’t trust God anymore. Nothing can fix that. It’s what will send me straight to hell.

Other days again I am angry. No, I am furious. I don’t know if you can understand just how furious I get. I hate God with all my being. I know he’s there, and I hate him, and I want to spit in his face for all the terrible things he does. He is not good, he is not just, he is an evil, evil and mean little child who steps on ants and burns them just for fun. I feel for satan – I wouldn’t want to deal with the evil big guy either. Maybe satan is actually trying to save us from God’s wicked ways. Maybe he’s the only one who understood everything that was wrong with the big punisher all along. I want to scream and yell at God that I’d rather spend eternity in hell than with him, because hell can’t be worse than an eternity at the feet of such a gruesome, evil being. I get so angry that I want to hurt everyone who believes in God. I want to tell them that hating people for being gay is awful and disgusting and terrible. I want to tell them that treating women as doormats is stupid and gross. I want to tell them that all they believe is a joke. So an extraterrestrial being snapped us all into existence? And you want to tell me that evolution doesn’t make sense? Please!

And then, I am sad. Because there is no God to save us, and nobody will be there when we’re dead. And I hope that the evil punisher is real, even if that means burning in hell for me. But I hate him and I want him gone, and I want him to be there so badly. Sometimes I hear those one minute ads by the catholic church on the radio. They make me want to be part of it. Somehow I always feel better when I heard them. A few days ago there was one on christians living normal lives. A girl talked about how she can go out at night, be a bartender, even drink. That’s not against her religion. Catholic doesn’t mean boring. Catholic is young, cool and hip. I can see behind the marketing here, but I still wish this was true. I wish I wouldn’t have to throw everything away to be religious. For me, there is no middle ground, no grey area. Faith in God still means complete and utter self-denial. I thought this might change at some point, but I’m losing hope. I want to be a part of christianity, but I don’t want to join the choir of hate speech and judgement that I see everywhere.

So yes, that is my update on my faith. I don’t think anything has changed.


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Book Review: Brenda Weatherly: “Quiverfull: To Be Or Not To Be”

This and the following post are a review of “Quiverfull – To be or not to be” by Brenda Weatherly. Brenda approached me if I could review her book in exchange for a free e-copy. After making sure she had understood my own background and position, I agreed to write this review. Apart from the free copy, I did not receive any form of compensation. The review is my own, honest opinion.

You are probably wondering why I would review this book. Well, I’m still wondering myself. For some reason, I felt that it would be fun. I was eager to read a QF book at this point in my life, with my new ideas and convictions. I wanted to see what changed in my views. It seemed like a great opportunity to reflect myself. At the same time, Brenda is a lovely woman who approached me with so much kindness that I didn’t feel like I could possibly turn her down. Yet I was very hesitant. Why should I in particular review a book written by a quiverfull mother? What positive could possibly come from it?  She’d said that it is about quiverfull faith, contraception and valuing life. I imagined that it would be a rather technical book, and that I would feel terrible writing an honest review on it. I am still unsure whether I’m the right person for this review, nevertheless I will do my best to be objective and point out what I liked and didn’t like.

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Here is what Brenda says on her blog about the book:

“Quiverfull: To Be Or Not To Be” is a 50-page book that discusses a somewhat controversial topic, that of birth control in the Christian family. The first portion of the book is the story of my life and where the Lord has brought me, from teen mom to a mother of 7. The next portion of the book goes into a brief history of the birth control movement and what the Church’s views on contraception have been and how they have dramatically changed since Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, came onto the scene. Natural family planning is mentioned as a positive alternative to the conventional ‘wisdom’ most women typically have heard. I discuss sensitive issues such as mental and physical illness. The topic of abortion is covered in detail because it has personally affected the life of my family. Orphan care and adoption are covered in the final section of the book when I ask the question, ‘Which children are blessings?’

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The book is a relatively short read. There are 52 pages. However, Brenda doesn’t waste space on fancy layout, so these are full-text pages with an occasional family picture. I generally like Brenda’s style. I can’t quite figure out what to call it: Conversational? Blogger-style? Either way, it is fun to read, easy to access, and doesn’t feel “holier than thou”.

I believe that the title (and description) are slightly off. Yes, it is about all the technical issues (contraception and faith etc), but it is also a journey through Brenda’s life, especially the first half of the book.

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As mentioned, the first part of her book is pretty much her biography. Brenda comes from a christian background. Throughout her life, she went to several stages of christian beliefs. If you yourself come from any of the conservative christian movements throughout the US, you will likely be able to relate to numerous parts of her story and her experiences. From the perspective that traversing through different groups of christians offered up to Brenda, she describes the changes she went through concerning her beliefs in contraception.

I think what is particularly interesting in the first half of the book is the way in which these hardships changed Brenda’s views on family planning – I want to tell you right now that Brenda’s beliefs today would label her a heathen in the community I’m from. This doesn’t mean she isn’t conservative. I’m having a very hard time placing Brenda on the typical QF scales of believers and unbelievers. She doesn’t quite fit in.

If you like reading biographies of QF people, you will greatly enjoy this part. I really don’t want to quote here because I’m having a hard time reviewing it without revealing too much. But there are many problems Brenda faces and goes through: Relationships with parents (and her own children, of course), difficulties of life, job problems, financial problems, health problems, to name a few. In this sense, Brenda experiences many things all of us experience, and I applaud her bravery to talk about it so openly and to dissect her own choices she makes in those situations. Brenda is not afraid to talk about right and wrong choices, and she does a great job using her experience as means to explain how these shaped her beliefs.

Yes, that’s all I want to say. I think Brenda’s biography is worth reading, though it is short. I have encouraged her to add some more perspectives because I truly believe her life is worth telling a bit more extensively.

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The second part of the book is where it gets as “technical” as promised by the title. Brenda had mentioned a sort of essay on birth control she wrote in her biography already, and I tend to believe that this is what makes up the second part.

Now, the thing with the second part is that almost all of it was “already known” for me. But please remember that I grew up in these same beliefs, so it is only natural that I am familiar with it.

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The first section discusses the backgrounds of Planned Parenthood and “artificial” vs “natural” family planning. This is also the section which I criticize most. I used parenthesis because Brenda doesn’t quite clearly state the position of certain means of family planning – I’m talking condoms here. The section about Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be news to any insiders of QF, but nevertheless useful to newbies. I like that Brenda gives references to her sources.

However, I truly missed a connection back to the actual beliefs derived from the history of Planned Parenthood. I do not want to discuss Margret Sanger here – it’s not really important for the review – but I am wondering: If Sanger in fact had racist views on birth control (something not entirely proven), how does that influence modern Planned Parenthood? Sanger is long gone after all. I think the argument that the Planned Parenthood organisation must be rejected based on Sanger’s views is a bit like blaming others for mistakes they didn’t make. The churches likewise had difficult relationships to several nazi organisations, nevertheless I don’t see anyone condemning the churches today on the basis of that. That’s exactly the point here: It is ok to reject Planned Parenthood, but doing so on the basis of Sanger’s private ideology that is not the same as Planned Parenthood’s modern stances is a bit mushy to me – it doesn’t seem religiously correct to reject/judge.

Another chapter which receives almost the same criticism from me is the chapter about environment and population. While it is fine to have certain beliefs, I still miss the connection of the facts with the corresponding beliefs. I also would have wished for a more thorough investigation of this. One thing that struck me was the following:

Gene Edward Veith, of WORLD Magazine, writes, “In 1968,
Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, panicking the
world with dire predictions of a population explosion. By the
year 2000, he predicted, the world would be so crowded that
hundreds of millions would die of starvation. Although Mr.
Ehrlich’s prophecies have turned out to be almost comically
wrong […]. (p. 35)

I think the final sentence is quite off. Unfortunately, we do live in a world were millions – unfortunately most of them children – died of starvation or malnutrition since 2000. Whether this is due to overpopulation or not I do not want to discuss – I would have to do research. I think the issue is much more complex that just overpopulation yes or no. The issue is also that we are not willing to cut down on what we have, that we believe we deserve what we earn and if somebody else doesn’t earn the same, he or she probably doesn’t deserve it. I don’t think you can discuss overpopulation without keeping in mind that there is also the matter of distribution, or what we expect to get. Just an example: If we were to not eat meat, the world could feed more people with the resources we have than if everybody wanted meat at least twice a week. And in this sense, I do believe there is something like overpopulation, not to forget that we can’t simply use all land we have at our disposal to produce food. And this is only food, the list goes on. Either way, I had a problem with this part, simply because I do believe in limits population-wise and also because we certainly already hit a limit of some sort. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see all those children starve when we turn on the TV.

Both the criticism of Planned Parenthood as well as the criticism of environmental beliefs are collected under the hood of a “humanist” thinking. Humanists are believed to strive for a decrease of population and, ultimately, to a destruction of the human race, by furthering contraception and abortion. In these senses, this book is very much in line with core QF beliefs. And, just like every QF classic, this book too fails to tell me why exactly “humanists” would want to do these things that they are supposedly doing. Why would humanists want the human race to die out, or live in agony, or anything else? What is the agenda behind the “agenda” of abortion?

In my youth I was told by my parents that humanists worked for satan. This means that humanists are actually working for him – consciously or unconsciously – to win the “cultural war”. The underlying idea is that Christian are in a war against satan’s army. The army consists of more than just humanists, however: Anybody who is not a christian (muslims, Buddhists, atheists, you name it) is a member of satan’s army with the ultimate purpose to destroy God’s army. There are so many things about this ideology that bother me. The idea of a war of cultures is also what nurtures the christian idea of being different from “culture”, often by dress to make it obvious.

I think you get the point I’m trying to make here: The stance this book expresses on specifically these two issues is very much the same as you will find in the classics – and just like in the classics, there is very little reflection on the actual consequences for beliefs based on the facts. It is “This was a bad person, so don’t like the organisation”.

The idea of this group of “humanists” with some shady agenda to hurt humanity is troubling. I think it generally remains underspecified what is actually meant here, not just in this book but in pretty much every book on these issues.

Yes, these chapters were a drawback for me, the two reasons being 1) my familiarity with the rhetoric and therefore my unfulfilled hopes for “something new” and 2) the fact that I cannot agree with these parts. I simply can’t. Sorry.

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However, I agree with many things mentioned in the chapters on NFP and the general stance towards birth control. The chapters in which Brenda deals with the “tough” questions of QF are very interesting.

OF COURSE I heard these questions in my youth: “What should the family do if the woman is ill?” is just one of them. But the answers I got and believed in were different from the answers Brenda gives here. I like the way she deals with questions like illness (a mother’s or one of the children’s), severe financial problems and others.

While Brenda makes it obvious enough that she believes that children are blessings, she does not mindlessly press that a child is a blessing at all times. Something that struck me as very strange (for an evangelical, that is) was the fact that she quotes roman catholic stances on family planning extensively. That’s not a negative thing, actually, because she manages to make quite a point that despite children being a blessing in this mindset, she acknowledges that this may not be true at every point in a person’s life. Especially her opinions of delaying children in instances of illness struck me as unusual for Evangelic circles:

“For goodness’ sake, can there possibly be any judgment aimed at the desperate woman who fears for her own children’s safety because of mental issues? Certainly not!” (p. 28)

Brenda advocates family planning whenever another birth poses a threat to either the mother’s health or the other children’s health. This is also the major point in which I see potential shunning for Brenda’s attitude and bad critiques from the core QF movement: By their ideologies, she does not fully “trust the Lord”. Brenda justifies this ideology by saying that the intentions of the heart matter. If you are truly open to having more children, but are overcome with fears for a reason, that is theologically fine. I do not think that this is necessarily a bad position, but it is certainly a position which can be easily attacked by core QF believers. “God’s ways are best” is a traditional QF quote which typically goes a long way “exposing” people who think like Brenda as “unbelievers”. While I don’t agree with this logic, you will have to agree with me that in this aspect, it is unfortunately impossible to dispute the issue. There is always that all-knowing, loving God who does everything for a real good reason. Why not would he allow a physically ill woman to have another child? Why not

One of my favourites was the following quote:

I believe the Lord wants His children cared for… not just given birth to. (p. 43)

Here, Brenda adopts a rhetoric that is also used by liberals (christians and atheists alike) to point out that merely birthing children is not the point. IF you are pro-life, you cannot stand there and cry out against abortion and then lose interest as soon as the child is born (or, alternatively, pound on the idea that the mother should give her child up for adoption). Things aren’t black and white like some people want them to be. Children must be cared for. Some people need help. In some cases that may be adoption.

As a part of the discussion on caring for children, Brenda (of course) discusses orphans and foster parents. But within this chapter, I also find that she discusses state and welfare means to protect children in the US (not overseas). A general stance towards state intervention by the core QF groups is that it is an invasion of privacy and a threat to parental control over their families. Recently, Libby Anne has extensively discussed the fact that a home school organisation is greatly involved in cases of suspected child abuse, actually defending the abusive parents by advocating their rights to raise their own children. From a book written by a QF follower, I expect a similar position, but Brenda delivers quite a different comment:

State welfare emergency hotlines throughout the nation reportedly receive over 5 million calls each year of suspected child abuse or neglect. Of those calls, about one million meet the criteria for state intervention. What happens to the remaining four million families that don’t qualify for help? (p. 47-48)

Brenda correctly points out severe issues such a lack of funding and an overwhelmed structure of agencies. I think this is another point in which Brenda greatly deviates from core QF, and I think her points are  interesting. It was refreshing to see that a QF believer would actually speak out for help from welfare agencies. Some groups within the QF movement put a parent’s right far above the rights of a child to grow up unharmed, both physically and emotionally. The thing is: A child has rights. The fact that this is acknowledged here, and that child neglect and abuse calls must be checked, that they are not an inappropriate invasion of privacy but merely the best thing for children in a very difficult situation, astonished me.

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Summary

Overall, I get the feeling that Brenda is caught between worlds. It’s not that I feel she wants to please anyone with her book. I do think she bravely defends the points she known won’t get her praise in the evangelical circles. The thing is that Brenda switches back and forth between ideas that I consider deeply QF and almost liberal ideas how families should work.

At some points I was surprised by the liberal views, which in turn caused me to feel surprised when very conservative views showed up. I was constantly torn between really liking what Brenda writes and some very bad memories I connect with certain conservative teachings.

Would I recommend this book? Well, yes. I didn’t regret reading it. It didn’t feel like I was wasting my time. I think this book is interesting to people outside of QF, and helpful for people inside QF. There is very little “biblical” background to the core QF values, and I do think that this is beneficial for the book. Brenda repeatedly points out that there is no literal evidence that one must have as many kids as possible – she says that while children are a gift and you shouldn’t be so concerned about planning everything to detail (because planning doesn’t make much sense anyway, in my opinion!), you should still use your (god-given) brain to make good decisions. That is the core message of the book, and in my opinion, it is a refreshing one for QF – one that should be taken to heart!

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What I liked about this book:

– Brenda’s biography was a real “page turner” for me – there were some serious moments of suspense that had me thinking “Oh please do the right thing!”

– I liked reading a mother’s perspective instead of a daughter’s or young wife’s perspective

– Brenda’s story is not “core QF”, neither is it “ex-QF” – her story offers a very interesting middle ground; keep in mind that despite the fact Brenda considers herself QF (which is ok, no critique here!), she would still be considered an unbeliever by core QF

– Brenda can very pointedly reflect events in her life and how they changed her beliefs over and over

– It doesn’t blame women

– Brenda acknowledges the existence of mental illness, and points out how serious this issue is – she recommends not having children in cases of mental illness – this is NOT typical for QF at all. The ignorance towards mental illness has led to cases of mothers killing their children and I find it great how Brenda stresses the seriousness of this type of illness.

– Brenda offers genuinely good advice for QF families who find themselves in a difficult situation. She does not reject family planning and repeatedly points out that a large family is not the best way for everyone, while not being judgemental towards others.

What I didn’t like that much:

– It’s not that it’s bad or anything, but much of the ideology behind her beliefs in QF was known to me

– Sometimes I missed a deeper connection between facts and beliefs (this goes particularly for the Planned Parenthood section)

– I think it should be longer, specifically the biography. It is so interesting and I was genuinely sad when I had finished it so quickly – but this may be personal preference

To whom would I recommend this book?

– To anyone unfamiliar with the QF movement and the ideology behind it – you will find a widespread collection of beliefs in Brenda’s biography, while the actual QF part provides insights into pretty much all branches of the beliefs behind QF

– If you are interested to understand QF and don’t really know where to start, this will give you all basic information on a relatively short page count – definitely an advantage to reading 1001 blog posts without really knowing what’s going on

– If you are a christian and you are interested in QF beliefs for yourself. I would carefully recommend this book over the “classics” provided by Mary Pride because Brenda is not a mindless, vicious woman who doesn’t care about mothers. Brenda DOES care. Props to that.

– To anyone who needs condensed information about QF due to professional reasons: I know there are people who do research (e.g. thesis for university) on these issues because I do get emails and questionnaires occasionally. It is great for single use or as a supply to the classics mentioned above.

The e-book is available via amazon for $2.99.


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Ex-Evangelicals and Catholizism

Many evangelicals are fascinated by the Catholic churches once they leave their old lifestyle. I realized that I share the same fascination. And today, I want to say something about that.

Living in southern Germany, I’m naturally surrounded by more catholics than I was back in the US. Many people here are catholic, the catholic churches are prominent buildings in pretty much every city, Catholicism is simply a part of the history of this area and that shows. If you take a hike in the woods, you’re likely to encounter old statues and tiny little chapels dedicated to Virgin Mary or another Saint.

The members of my German family are catholic as well, as is my boyfriend, hence I can hardly escape catholic life and ritual.

And I have to admit that I like it.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the mexican traditions of day of the dead – you have seen it, heard about it. What I didn’t know (and I’m sure you don’t know, either) is that there is a similar tradition that’s lived out in German catholic communities. Here, the catholics too decorate the graves of their loved ones with rather expensive flower arrangements. The graves are completely made up – softening the soil, planting new plants, scrubbing the stones, replacing broken decorations and so on. On All Hallows day (day after Halloween), the families go to the graves in the morning and the catholic priest hold a mass on the cemetery. It is impossible not to attend this if you have catholic family. Especially when there are multiple graves, you need everyone you can get. That is because on every grave of the family, at least one family member must be during the mass. Hence it is common for families to split up in order to have somebody by everyone’s grave. This year, it was me standing by the grave of my grandmother’s sister, who did not have any children of her own. After a round to visit every grave of the family and praying a short prayer, everyone went to their designated family member. As you can see, extended family counts as well, and it’s on you to take care of the dead when they don’t have any direct descendants. (picture: German cem before the beginning of the mass)

It felt weird, standing there, remembering a woman I never met (she died young), knowing that I was the only relative to think of her that moment. I could not help but fervently try to pray along Mary’s prayers as well as I could, which felt even weirder. But, despite the weirdness and unfamiliarity of all this, it felt good.

I liked standing there, the entire cem filled with people. Some graves had only one person standing next to it (like me), others had large families huddled around them.

And what felt even better? Realizing that catholics aren’t as “lunatic” as they’re made out to be. When the priest went into a lengthy prayer, asking God to take the sinners to heaven who weren’t ‘saved’ in their lifetime, praying for those who do not know the gospel and nevertheless act according to it in their best conscience, and pretty much for everyone to be saved despite their wrongdoings. Yes, Catholicism feels much more “real”, much more doable, much more just to the realities of life.

I do not think that I will become a catholic because, to be quite honest with you, right now I have no taste to actually “live” religion. But nevertheless, Catholicism is fascinating and, once you get over the evangelical viewpoint, very beautiful.


12 Comments

How to find a spouse?! – Part 2

I love my commentors! hehe Yesterday’s post received a comment and I wanted to add some more along the lines.

Comment by Latebloomer: “In my family’s church, the spin was a little bit different because compatibility was downplayed. The pastor taught that marriage was about sanctification, not happiness, so really any godly person could marry any other godly person. Your personality didn’t matter. In my opinion, this is a really irresponsible teaching to direct at singles, and I’m glad I found someone that I had a deep connection with because we are very compatible. I actually just wrote about this on my blog yesterday, haha. It must be spring :) .”

I didn’t even think about happiness and emotion when I wrote my post, but it’s such a huge deal!

Now, even when you’re believing that there is “the one”, emotion, happiness and love aren’t what you’re looking for. To quote countless sites and people talking about this issue: “Love is not an emotion, it’s an action. Love is not an adjective, it’s a verb. It’s something you do, not something you feel.”

I think this pretty much sums up what the movement preachers think about marriage. You don’t marry someone you love, you (as a woman) marry someone whom you can support and help achieve life goals, such as missioning. And as a man, you look for a woman who has all the abilities you need as support. Emotion is generally something that is not needed to start a courtship or get engaged. Love (emotion) isn’t even something you need to feel once you’re married!

For them, as love isn’t an emotion, all you need to do to “love” someone is.. well… let’s make a list!

Men loving a woman: Providing for her, listening to her, giving her gifts, respecting her mood swings, protecting her, being her spiritual leader, correcting her, training her.

Woman loving a man: Submit to him, respect him, fulfill his sexual needs whenever he needs it, follow him, share his vision, be a good mother and home maker, don’t talk back, don’t correct him even when he’s clearly wrong.

These are just the most common ones I could name off the top of my head. Depending on the author/church you’re looking at, there might be much more things to do to “love” someone. And some of the points I mentioned do sound very weird! For example the giving gifts part. They might not express it the way I did, but they certainly all mean it: A man should buy flowers/candies/give her massages every once in a while. The core of this idea is a very nice one, but it’s turned into an obligation here, and in that it means nothing if you ask me. Gifts are only worth something if they come from the heart, if they show thought, and as obligation they are nothing more than a meaningless duty.

One point that has bothered me to great extend, even more than the “submit” talk, is the “fulfill his sexual needs” part. Believe me, during my courtship I was given plenty of books to prepare to be a good wife and all of them stressed this issue. What you’ll typically read is something like this: “even if you don’t feel like it, do it anyway. Get pretty and do it. Offer it even if you’re tired and not in the mood. Be cheerful and happy during, show him that you enjoy it, even if you don’t.”

Can you imagine that? Out of the seven days the week has, would you feel good having sex with your husband every day if you don’t feel like it at all on 5 of the 7 days? As a man, would you enjoy it if you knew that there is no enjoyment for the woman? That she does it only and purely out of obligation? I think that’s a terrible thought. I know I wouldn’t enjoy something the other person is forced to do. Just like the gifts, it means nothing when it isn’t done out of love and honest joy.

So where does all that talk leave christian couples?

All of those fundamentalist speakers, authors and churches talk about the fact that there are so many divorces among the non-believers. They blame it on the fact that people marry out of emotion-love, not action-love. Besides the fact that this is untrue, because with emotion-love action-love usually comes naturally, of course christian couples don’t get divorces because they don’t love each other anymore! They didn’t love each other to begin with. Sure there are couples who are in love. Sure most couples have at least a crush on each other when they’re courting. But that doesn’t mean that emotional love will actually come – and stay. And because this part of a relationship is so unimportant, it’s easy to say you’re still loving each other when by love you mean actions out of obligation. None of the partners in a fundamentalist christian marriage want to break biblical law, hence they will keep up all the actions needed to qualify as “love”.

I’m not saying that none of the points I mentioned before are bad or not a sign of true love. If you bring your woman flowers because you thought of her that day, want to apologize, or simply want to see her happy smile, perfect! Go for it! If you give up your dream to help your husband fulfill his dream because you love him, good for you (and him)! Do it before you end up wondering for the rest of your life! Everything you do out of true, emotional love is worth doing in my opinion. Everything you do out of pure obligation, something you despise or would not do unless forced by some sort of law, give it some honest thought if your actions are really worth the price.

What good is it for the partners if nothing is done out of true love, but only because they have to? Of course we all have to do things we don’t like doing sometimes. That’s life. But if life is nothing but obligation, and your only joy the freedom of guilt, not the joy of seeing the other person’s smile when you did something for them… Yeah… That’s not the life us fundamentalist girls dream of when we wait for Prince Charming.


8 Comments

How to find a spouse?!

There are two beliefs within the movement about looking for a spouse (that I know of, there might be more). Basically, beliefs divide into two groups here: The ones who believe in “the one” and the ones who believe in “choice”.

Basically, the choice believers believe that God didn’t make two people who are absolutely perfect for one another. There are multiple people in the world who would end up being a good match for each person and you still got to pick one of them. There’s choice involved in this.

The other (bigger) group believes that God made one single perfect match for everyone. You have to wait for God to bring that person into your life and nobody else can make a marriage as perfect as this single person could. These are usually the people who strongly believe in the purity movements.

My family belonged to the latter group. While the first group leaves choice and preferences, allowing a man to actually “look” for a wife, the other group doesn’t allow “looking”. It’s all about waiting and seeing what happens – obviously the man still has to make the first step, but only if he feels God is telling him that this is “the one”.

I have major issues with the entire mindset of waiting on God, believing in “the one” and, maybe, even being called to stay single for life. I do not think that the bible means to express this mindset. I think it’s false prophesy and causes a lot of hurt in a lot of people.

Why? Well, I base my belief on the following verse:

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.(1 Cor 7, 8-9)

Uh uh. So… where did that “one” go? Where did that “God will bring them into your life if you’re supposed to marry” go? I don’t think that’s what’s meant here. What I read is: Paul thinks people should decide whether they should marry or not depending on the fact if they can stay pure without being married (or not). I think this single verse blows up the entire construct of waiting and just taking it if God doesn’t send you “the one”.

I have always had major issues with people discussing this verse away, trying to spin the actual, literal meaning. I think that this is a general issue with Paul’s writings. Too often they are abused and twisted to suit the needs of the individual. Paul has written some of the most beautiful passages in the bible, and some of the most misunderstood, and yes, some of Paul’s writings are the complete opposite of something else in the bible.

I’m not trying to say that there isn’t “the one” for you, neither am I saying that there’s only “one”. I don’t really know what I’m saying, to be quite honest with you. I don’t know what to believe in this area. It’s just hard for me to imagine that there could be only one single person you can spend your life with, you know? I mean, I like to think I’m pretty easy-going, social life wise. I might not be the woman everyone looks up to, respects, is impressed by, but neither am I the person people don’t like or even hate. It’s easy for me to get along with different personalities because I try to accept everyone for what they are – the posh, heavy make up girly girl who talks about lipstick all day long, I understand her because it’s something that she enjoys, just like I can talk to the tomboy type of woman who likes football more than anything and cries when her favourite team lost. And likewise, I love the different personalities of several men I know, some are more quiet, deep thinking and emotional, others loud, funny and sporty. They’re all fine the way they are.

When I was out with some friends on the weekend, I had a quiet conversation with a friend of a friend, a man. I’ll admit he was a bit drunk, but we talked about his family and his struggles, something that he hardly ever talks about. Suddenly he asked me if I could imagine to date him. I laughed because I didn’t take that question very serious, after all, he was drunk! But he put on a serious face and I gave it a quick thought and this is what I said: “Well, you’re really handsome, you’re smart, much smarter than me, you’re a good listener and a hard worker, you’re interesting and lots of fun to be around, all in all you’re the type of guy all women would like to date – but no, I can’t imagine dating you – at all.” All of what I said was 100% true. I keep wondering why my answer was no. Well, obviously I can’t imagine because I already have a wonderful man I date, but that’s not all of it. There must be something more to it. By no means I believe I found “the one” with Daniel. I can’t say that after such a short time! I don’t know, I just keep wondering! The man who asked me this question looks A LOT like Daniel – the stereotypical tall dark and handsome guy.

At the end of the day what I end up with is: I think most people are compatible with a larger amount of people. In this group of matches, there might be one, two, maybe even three exceptionally perfect ones. But you can make it work either way. Does that make sense?