Before I get into my list, first I want to state that not all people considered fundamentalists or conservatives are like the fundamentalist Christianity I am most familiar with. I’ve known some evangelical Christians who are extremely kind, loving people. However, I grew up and struggled with a very strict religious tradition (where women weren’t allowed to wear pants, makeup or cut their hair, tv was considered evil and everyone who thought the slightest bit different than us was going straight to hell). After I grew up and married I went to a denomination that was somewhat less strict, but still as a whole was definitely conservative. I try hard not to judge those who believe differently than myself, although it is hard when I see people who let their religious beliefs overcome their human compassion. Having come from such a strict background and choosing to walk away from it has made me a little sensitive to criticism and rejection from those who believe like I once did, but I still try to see the good inside of them, because almost all of us have good shining through if you look for it. As you read this post, please keep in mind that these are the things I struggled with and am glad to have changed, but they are not meant to be stereotypes of all conservatives.
Anyhow, with all that said, here are 5 of the biggest reasons I am thankful to have left behind fundamentalism:
#1 – I no longer live in fear of going to hell or of those I love suffering eternal torture in hell. This does not mean that I don’t believe in justice and that if you live a horrible life you may not face some karma or discipline or whatever you choose to call it. However, I do not believe in a cruel God who would eternally torture or punish those who happened to live a short lifetime with some mistakes or with the “wrong” beliefs. Personally, I tend to believe that our greatest judge of our misdeeds after our death may be our own soul, not a higher being. It always interested me that in most near death experiences, when people went through their life review, they didn’t feel any judgement from God or Jesus for the wrongs they did, but they felt all the pain they had caused others through their actions and this truly changed their outlook and heart.
#2 – I don’t have to exclude anyone. I don’t have to believe that anyone is worth less than anyone else or that some of us are “better” than others. I don’t have to turn away gays, liberals, infidels or anyone else. I can be around people who drink or smoke or are openly sexual without fearing they will somehow “contaminate” me. I can focus more on my own spiritual growth rather than focusing on any perceived lack of spirituality in others. I can love and befriend anyone without trying convert them.
#3 – I don’t have to read the cringe-worthy bits of the Bible and try to find some kind of reasoning for why it is ok. I can look at the Bible and see that it was written by humans who were trying to understand and please God, but who were still just plain old humans after all. I can see that in the context of certain cultural beliefs and time periods that things may have once seemed much different. I can see that just like all ancient cultures, the Jewish people tended to see anything good happening as God acting on their behalf and anything bad happening as God punishing them. They didn’t completely understand the idea of chance or even some of our most basic scientific laws. I also understand that much of the Bible (particularly the old testament) was written down long after the events happened and just like with any society, centuries of oral tradition passed down can greatly change or exaggerate a story.
#4 – I can be a woman and not believe I am inferior or subservient to men. I can be married and have an actual partnership with a husband who respects me just as much as I respect him. I don’t have to feel bad about my gender because “Eve messed it all up”. I don’t have to believe that a woman’s body is something to be ashamed or afraid of. I can choose to be modest because that is what I desire, without judging every woman who dresses differently than myself. I can see how ridiculous the belief that women invite rape by dressing sexy really is. All of us have a responsibility to control our own actions and it is never right to blame our wrong actions on another. I can believe that all of us are born innocent and that it is our experiences, choices and actions that determine if we grow up to have a positive or negative influence on this world, not some curse put upon us all because of the bad choices of two humans eons ago.
#5 – Lastly, I am so relieved to leave the fear behind. The fear of never being good enough. The fear of always being evil at the core. The fear of trying to live a good life but still being thrust into hell for any unintentional mistake. I can look at life and people with the view that we are all different and will never see everything the same way, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be compassionate to one another and work together to solve problems that affect us all. Without fearing so much about everyone’s eternal destination, I can instead focus on the here and now – on learning to love others unconditionally, healing the pain of the past so I can forgive & move on, growing spiritually and trying to give back to the world in positive ways whenever I can.