Fundamentalists claim that unless we submit to the Bible as the Word of God, we cannot have objective morality. Our sense of right and wrong would be subject to personal taste or popular opinion.
I think this essentially becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who grow up in fundamentalism rely on the external authority of other people’s interpretation of the Bible and morality. We are taught to DISREGARD our personal ideas, and we lose the ability to discern which opinions are worth our attention.
It is an insidious vicious cycle to keep people from functioning out of their own moral agency and stay under the control of religious gatekeepers. This is the reason for the arrested development of many fundamentalist adults, that they continue to rely on external authorities to dictate their everyday choices.
Breaking free from it takes time and incremental steps for a lot of us. It took me years to reclaim a strong sense of agency over my own spirit, mind, and body–to trust, once again, that I can discern for myself which ideas are compelling, what activities are worth engaging in, and who gets to be an influence in my life.
Contrary to popular fundamentalist opinion, gaining self-agency doesn’t mean we become free-for-all selfish beings who float around in hedonistic airs without purpose or moral grounding. It means putting back together a robust integrity of personhood that was broken by abusive religious teachings. And it means we can participate in the communities of our choosing with our whole selves–learning to discern the next right thing without shame along the process.
Sometimes I think fundamentalism invites you to a banquet of food but takes away your ability to taste. “This dish is really yummy,” they tell you, describing the flavors and texture in exquisite detail, and then demand you trust that they are right. Soon enough, you’re gaslit into believing you are enjoying delicious cuisine.
Until one day, you find yourself in front of a banquet table again and, after painstaking inner work, you have your taste back. After trying many different foods you’ve figured out which is your favorite, so you put a giant spoonful in your mouth. You roll it around with your tongue, savoring each spark of flavor before ingesting, and the realization hits: I love this food because I learned to know my own tastes and decided for myself to eat it. I know it tastes good not because others described it for me but because I can taste the goodness.
The best evangelists don’t shove food in your face telling you it is good and forcing you to eat it. They prepare the banquet table and tell you to decide for yourself, and then they sit down at the table beside you when you find your favorite dish.
About Cindy Brandt
Cindy writes from Taiwan about faith and culture. She blogs at cindywords.com. She is the author of Outside In: Ten Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore, which you can download for free by signing up for her newsletter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.