Over at No Longer Quivering, RazingRuth has been doing a series of posts about her childhood in a Quiverfull family. They are worth reading, giving a very real and scary view into a lifestyle few of us realize exists. The #8 recently went live, and there was a quote at the end that really stood out to me:
If we saw something and didn’t tell, we could be punished. If we saw something and told, we could be punished. There was no logic to it. If we forgot to hang a towel right or swore, the punishment was the same because, according to Gothard and my father, there is no difference between the two sins in God’s eyes. As a child in that sort of environment, you get a point where the parent doesn’t need to raise a hand to you – by nature, you feel guilty and scared. That IS abuse. To make a child feel so guilty and doubtful of their nature is wrong.
To make a child feel so guilty and doubtful of their nature is wrong. This is the great tragedy of not just the Quiverfull movement, but of all cultural organizations that seek to oppress and silence their members through authority and fear. Religions are the best known examples, but you’ll find similar cultures in political parties, country clubs, fraternities, and other social groups. While my own experiences are not to the abuse Ruth experienced, they are in the same vain of guilt and doubt.
I was raised in a Catholic household. All my primary relatives were Catholic. Many of my friends were Catholic (and those that weren’t were some other form of Christianity). This environment bred a deep love and affection for Catholicism and a strong faith in its belief structure. The rules and policies were divine, given to the pope from God himself. It was my duty to change and adjust my life to fit inside these rules, and to fail in that was a sign of weakness in myself.
Guilt is a powerful tool. And like any good manipulator, Catholicism knows how to instill guilt (so much so it even has a Wikipedia page). The interesting thing about religious guilt is that it is usually proportional to your religious commitment. The more strongly you believe, and the more knowledgeable of your religion’s rules you are, the more guilt you feel. Learning all the rules and regulations means that you know when you break any one of them.
I generally tell people that my crisis of faith started in high school, with my “trinity of enlightenment” (The Bible, the Selfish Gene, and the Story of B). But on further reflection, I believe that my crisis started in middle school. It was here, with the onset of puberty, that I truly began to feel guilty and doubtful of my own nature.
Sex was a “hidden” topic in my household. It wasn’t necessarily forbidden to talk about; we simply didn’t. It was an expectation that there would be no sex until marriage. Because of this, there wasn’t any need to discuss it. Going along with this was an unspoken assumption that all things related to sex, including masturbation, were equally unacceptable.
This created an instant conflict in middle school. As a young boy passing through puberty, sex was ever-present in my mind. Looking back, I do not expect I was much different than other boys (and girls) my age. But because these topics weren’t really talked about that much, I had no idea. What I did know was that sex before marriage was wrong, and that all these sexual thoughts, feelings, and actions were sinful. Even worse was the fact that I enjoyed them, doubling up my sin.
I spent several years with this internal war between my faith and my sexuality. I absolutely hated my body. I thought that it was betraying me, tethering me to an unholy life. Being a shy, self-reflective child didn’t help matters either. There was no one I really felt comfortable opening up to about these problems. This is not to say there weren’t people who could have helped. I’ve got a loving family, many of whom would have been great resources. I didn’t ask for help because I simply did not know how.
The idea that one’s own body is one’s enemy is a terrible burden to place on anyone, let alone a child trying to mature into adulthood. Rather than use guilt to enforce compliance, we should instead seek to educate children of their nature and let them choose their own path. Shrouding the workings of our bodies under the veil of ignorance only harms. It harms both children as they grow, and later adults as they pursue more mature relationships. We must embrace our physical selves in order to purse happiness and self-awareness, rather than be tied down by guilt and doubt.
-That is all.