How St Augustine made Sex Evil

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

St Augustine and his mother, Monica

I recently read an article by Stephen Greenblatt in the New Yorker about St Augustine, who fomented the worst turn in Christianity. He came up with the idea that all sexual urges are sinful, all sex is somewhat sinful, and the only people who were born without sin were the two who were born without sexual intercourse: Adam (and Eve) and Jesus. Along the way he had to invent original sin and predestination to make his theology work.

St Augustine has probably done more to tear down real Christianity than any other church father.

St Augustine was born to Patricius, a pagan father, and Monica, a Christian mother, about 300 years after Jesus. His father was unfaithful and sometimes mocked Monica’s belief. Patricius took Augustine to the public baths one day when Augustine was around 16 years old, and was thrilled to see his son’s boner. He brought his son home and announced to his wife that his son had a wonderful man’s boner and would soon be using that boner to produce children, and wouldn’t they be proud of their grandchildren? (First of all, was Augustine traumatized by his Dad pointing out his boner at the public baths?) Augustine’s mother was horrified by the prospect of her darling son having carnal sex. Augustine writes that his mother, “in whose breast God had already started to build his temple…endured a violent spasm of reverent, tremulous trepidation.” (Augustine seems unaware of how much sexual energy he attributes to his mother’s chaste attitudes toward sex.)

Monica impressed upon her son that sex was evil, carnal and ungodly. “She made a considerable bustle,” Augustine writes in his Confessions to God, “to insure that you, my God, were my father rather than him.”  Patricius died the following year, and Augustine does not sound sad when he records his passing, even though his father and his father’s mother had converted to Christianity that year.

Augustine was split between his mother’s view of sex and his father’s view of sex. He began studying to be a lawyer at the university of Carthage, had a series of affairs (he describes as “putrid rutting”), and took a mistress. For the next 14 years he remained faithful to his mistress, and had a son, Adeodatus.

His mother Monica, was upset that he had studied Manichaeanism, the belief that there are two opposing forces in the world: good and evil. She cried and wept as if Augustine had died. When he prepared to leave for Rome and Milan for a promotion as a university lecturer in philosophy, she wept: “She was hanging onto me coercively, trying to stop my journey or come along with me on it.” He told her a lie to get away from her. Augustine describes her longing as “carnal desire” or “physical longing”, the curse that Eve had to bear after tempting Adam with the fruit in the Garden of Eden.

In Milan Augustine listened to the sermons of Ambrose and began to soften in his view of the Biblical stories, beginning to see them as stories of profound mysteries. And his mother moved in with him. She arranged a marriage to a suitable girl of status, who would be marriageable age in two years, and arranged for Augustine to send his mistress and son away.

Augustine writes, “My heart, which had been fused with hers, was mutilated by the wound, and I limped along trailing blood.” His mistress vowed never to take another man. He sent the mistress and son back to Africa where she came from, never to support them or hear from them again, and quickly took another mistress as he waited for his fiancee to become old enough to marry. He expects the reader to understand the difference between a legal marriage for the purpose of bearing children, and “a deal arising from lustful infatuation.”

Within a year he converted to Catholicism, broke off his engagement, took a vow of chastity and determined to go back home and found a monastic community. He was diving headlong into his mother’s dreams.

The day before Augustine and Monica sailed for Africa they concluded that their joy was much greater than anything carnal, this was the joy of the saints and nothing carnal could compare with it. Then they experienced a physical feeling of climbing higher and higher, “stretching upward with a more fiery emotion,” “while we were speaking and panting for it, with a thrust that required all the heart’s strength, we brushed against it slightly.” When the 32 year old Augustine and his 55 year old mother were done, they sighed. (Notice the sexual wording Augustine uses in this description.)

A few days later, Monica died. Augustine’s Confessions then move on to discussing how evil sex is, and how everyone is born with the original sin that sexual intercourse implants in each one of us. Augustine dissects and re-dissects the story of Adam and Eve until he can get it to say that sex is evil, and no sex happened before the Fall.

Augustine broods for decades over the fact that we don’t have logical power over our sexual desires, and we can’t just command our sexual parts to procreate at appropriate times. He acknowledges that sex is the greatest physical pleasure, but insists, “surely any friend of wisdom and holy joys…would prefer, if possible, to beget children without lust.”

Augustine is horrified by the “very movements which it causes, to our sorrow, even in sleep, and even in the bodies of chaste men”.

The biggest voice that disagreed with Augustine was the British born monk, Pelagius, who believed that we are all born innocent. We are free to serve God or serve Satan.

Augustine said that was hopelessly naive. that we are in a mass of sin.

Pelagius countered that Augustine was just repeating the old Manichaean belief that the flesh was evil. This could not be, because clearly Christ had become flesh and dwelt among us, yet without sin.

Detractors of Pelagius said he was teaching salvation by works, or earning one’s salvation. Salvation by grace and forgiveness are the cornerstones of Christianity. Pelagius maintained that he was in no way teaching salvation by works, but his detractors won the battle.

Augustine said that Christ was born of a virgin, conceived of “not flesh but spirit, not lust but faith,” therefore without the original sin of Adam stamped upon his spirit, “lust being utterly absent.”

AdamEveSo Augustine delved deep into the story of Adam and Eve. After the fall they knew that they were naked and felt ashamed. That was the dawn of lust, as far as Augustine was concerned. That is when the first sinful boner occurred. His mother had been proved right and his father had been proved wrong.

Pelagius was eventually excommunicated for heresy, believing that we have the power to obey God of our own free will. This “heretical” doctrine is still in practice with the Churches of Christ, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Eastern Orthodox, the Coptic Church, Judaism, and others.

JohnMiltonParadiseLost

Illustration from John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Augustine shows all the signs of emotional incest. Parents who are split in their childrearing. A mother who is horrified by sex (probably having been sexually traumatized as a child). A son who tries to rescue his mother from her trauma, but who only reinforces it. A son who is taken over by his mother as an emotional spouse, sending his mistress and his son, whom he loved dearly, away, and vowing never to have sex again.

Augustine is histrionic: overly dramatic and easily influenced by his mother. Histrionics usually are ignored by the same-sex parent and made into a mini-spouse by the opposite sex parent.

The Christian world has been duped by sexually traumatized people. John Calvin based his theories of predestination on St Augustine’s: Humans, born in sin, cannot of their own free will choose God, they have to wait  for God to choose them. God knows who he will choose before they are born, therefore we have been predestined to heaven or hell before we are born. Nobody can complain about this because we all have fallen short of the glory of God through our progenitors, Adam and Eve.  Truly one of the most evil doctrines ever foisted upon Christianity.

Sex is exactly the way God designed it. (Yes, we live in a fallen world. Yes, nobody has a perfect sexuality). But to decide that sexual desire itself is evil? Only a traumatized person could come up with that theory.

Our spirits are housed in a physical body. We have only to look at animals to see what natural human bodies function like. We have spirits that live inside animal bodies.

Pelagius:

“You will realise that doctrines are the invention of the human mind, as it tries to penetrate the mystery of God. You will realise that scripture itself is the work of human recording the example and teaching of Jesus. Thus it is not what you believe (in your head) that matters; it is how you respond with your heart and your actions. It is not believing in Christ that matters, but becoming like him.”

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The Fundamental Dishonesty of Evangelicalism

WilkersonTeen Challenge is a Christian evangelical/ pentecostal organization, founded by Bill Wilkerson, author of The Cross and the Switchblade, which became a popular movie in 1970. Teen Challenge does drug and alcohol rehab. So far so good, except they are not primarily for teens. They started out as an organization for teen drug addicts, but now they are mostly not. Yes, they serve anyone over 18 years old, and a small portion of them are still teenagers. But 80% of the “teens” in teen challenge are over 20 years old.

So why don’t they change their name to Adult Challenge? Well, they have, sort of. They are now called Adult and Teen Challenge, but the local branch, which serves only adult men, still raises funds under the name: Teen Challenge. Because they couldn’t raise even half the amount of money they raise now if they gave up the Teen moniker. The public would much rather donate to an organization that is selflessly helping 16 year old drug addicts than adult drug addicts. So it is more important to them to mislead their donors into thinking that 90% of their donation is going to minors, and collect more money, than to be honest and tell people that their money is going to adult addicts. All while teaching their adults to be honest with their emotions so they won’t be drug addicted.

Additionally, over half the time of the participants who are being treated for drug and alcohol addiction is spent fund raising.

Most of the residents who enter Teen Challenge for rehab, have petitioned a judge to sentence them to Teen Challenge rehab instead of going to jail. Many courts grant this. The addicts in rehab are charged $800 per month, and also have to go out and “witness” to congregations, asking for donations. They set up tables in parking lots and on sidewalks asking for donations to Teen Challenge. Up to 80% of a participant’s time is spent unsupervised, raising funds. This is not made clear to participants when they are signing up for a 12 to 18 month rehab stint. But their choice is: go along with the 80% fund raising, or go to jail. This emphasis is also not made clear to the donors, who think these adults (“teens”) are spending the majority of their time studying for the GED, in Bible study, in wholesome activities, and learning how to be sober.

Teen Challenge is an authoritarian organization, much like an alcoholic family. The thinking is black and white, either-or, all or nothing. Teams of 3 or 4 participants are sent out to set up a table in a parking lot for several hours, or several days, asking for donations. One of these groups slipped up and bought beer while they were out fund raising for 4 days, and when the truth came out, all their privileges were wiped out and they had to start back at square one: no visits, and no phone calls from their relatives.

Teen Challenge encourages “witnessing”, which means the participant has to be ready to give a one minute to ten minute recap of their addiction sins and how God has helped them come to Teen Challenge and reform. At the conclusion of each “witness” there is the broad hint one should donate money.  Teen Challenge calls churches and asks if they can sing at their church. The church sets up a time for the “teens” to come sing. They play recordings of worship songs, while a group of 5 or 6 adult participants sing along to the recordings. Then each participant does their testimony/witness, and then they ask for money.

Teen Challenge is not alone. The local high school and college campus ministries spend half their time fund raising. Youth With a Mission, Young Life, Campus Crusade and Intervarsity, all spend fully 50% of employed leadership time fund raising. If you are a volunteer on Young Life Committee, then 95% of your purpose is to help the leader fund raise. When I attended a church plant for a few years, there were two young women, one a recent convert and the other a Roman Catholic, who were claimed by both Campus Crusade and the church plant as their special converts. Those two young women, now not attending any church, were used as the reasons for fund raising in 2 different organizations.

The evangelical and pentecostal practice of “witnessing” or “giving one’s testimony” is supposed to build up our faith. The only problem with the practice is that the stories become more dramatic as they are re-told, until the stories are amazing and wonderful, and a bit too hard to believe. There are no investigative journalists to dig and find out how much of their stories are actually true. They are rewarded for exaggerating their stories. As believers slowly realize that many of these stories aren’t completely true, it ends up tearing people’s faith down instead of building faith up.

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White Churches aren’t Biased

Recently a new book on Housing Bias has been published and the author, Paul Boudreaux is doing the radio interview rounds.  The Federal Housing Administration was created in 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression (my parents’ era) to encourage home ownership by federally guaranteeing home loans, making it possible to purchase a house with only a 10% down payment. Today, instead of the bank required 20% down, a new home buyer can put only 3% down and FHA will help the buyer qualify for a house loan.

Except in 1934 the FHA refused to guarantee loans to black people, or any loans to people who lived in mixed neighborhoods or neighborhoods anywhere near black people. Why? Because those neighborhoods were deemed unstable, and the FHA was afraid if the house went down in value and they had to repossess it, they couldn’t resell repossessed houses in those neighborhoods. After all, who wants to live in a black neighborhood?

Redlining_0The FHA had maps of all the black and mixed race areas of town (in red) to make sure they didn’t guarantee any loans on houses in those areas. White neighborhoods could only receive FHA guaranteed loans if they included restrictions in the deeds, making sure owners could not sell to black people, in order to make sure the neighborhood didn’t lose its value.

In this way huge amounts of money flowed into white neighborhoods, while no federally guaranteed loans flowed into black neighborhoods, as in NONE. Therefore the white neighborhoods looked rich, and the black neighborhoods looked poor.

“Why are these houses so small and ugly, Mommy?”

“Black people don’t know how to take care of their houses, honey.”

On top of that, cities would zone areas for warehouses and industry, predictably, not in the new white suburbs awash in lucrative federally backed mortgages. No, the black neighborhoods were zoned for warehouses and industries that belched black smoke and loud noises, and had big trucks trundling back and forth.

When black people wanted to buy houses, there were no neighborhoods available to them. So their existing neighborhoods became overcrowded.

As housing prices appreciated over the years. Whites who had been given the opportunity to buy houses in the suburbs had houses to borrow money against, to buy things like cars, second homes, investment property, new businesses and college for their kids.

These FHA policies continued through the boom of suburbs after WW2 in 1945. As white soldiers came home from the war, they bought houses in white neighborhoods, backed by the FHA. As black soldiers came home from the war, they could not receive an FHA loan, and were not permitted to buy a home in the suburbs. Through the Civil Rights protests of the 1950s, the back-of-the-bus boycotts, the voting rights marches, white flight into the suburbs, school desegregation, the hysteria of the Beatles, the race riots (that proved to white people that blacks were uncivilized), these policies continued, only changing in 1967, when I was 10 years old.

In 1967 the first black family moved into Plainfield, Indiana, a white suburb of black dominated Indianapolis. We were astounded when a black child appeared in the cafeteria of our school. We kept on standing up so we could see her. Finally the teacher placed her at the head of the long cafeteria table. So we could all stare at her without having to stand up. She was in the third grade. looked down at the table and chewed her sandwich slowly, as the children laughed and whispered the N word. (The black family did not move to Mooresville, where there was an active KKK group.)

By this time my family owned two houses. One we lived in, and one we rented out.

Today an average black person earns about 60 cents for every dollar an average white person earns. But the average black person still owns only 6% of what an average white person owns. Why? Because housing appreciates in value and is inherited through the generations.

My grandfather was a high school teacher who bought a house in San Bernadino, California in the 1930s, probably with FHA guaranteed loans. Then my grandparents opened a not very successful diner, probably borrowing money on their house. In the same way they bought farm land in Mississippi. When my grandparents died, their assets were inherited by my father and my aunt. None of this was available to black households until 1967. So my family, at the lower end of the middle class, has a huge financial jump on black families. The average white household now owns $111,000 in assets (mostly in their house), while the average black household owns only $7,000 in assets. Latino assets are similar to black assets.

What led to the change in government policy that opened up the FHA to let blacks have ANTI INTEGRATIONfederally backed mortgages and buy housing wherever they could afford it? Racial unrest in the 1950s and 1960s. The bus boycott of Montgomery, Alabama, when blacks refused to sit in the back of the bus, the lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s when blacks sat at whites-only lunch counters for days, waiting to be served, while whites spat on them. Voter registration marches, when blacks had fire hoses set on them, dogs and horses from state police attacking them with batons.

A preacher friend of mine who grew up in Arkansas said he remembers a preacher from the pulpit in a Church of Christ referring to “Martin Lucifer Koon.” Such was the hatred of blacks changing the lives of whites.

As blacks moved into white areas, high schools changed their dress codes. They banned all Afro hair styles, or made the rule that no student with an Afro hairstyle could have their picture taken for the student yearbook. Some of these rules were unconscious, white people were scandalized by black culture, seeing it as eroding the morals of white culture. Didn’t everyone know that blacks were much more promiscuous than whites?  That’s why they are so poor! Would you want your daughter dating a black man? (Black maids and field workers were often expected to sexually service their white employers long after slavery officially ended.)

My parents relate how deacons or elders would stand at the back of the church in the 1960s and if a black family would come in, they would  let them know that there was a black Church of Christ across town where they would feel more comfortable. My mother said, “And they thought they were doing that family a kindness!”

After the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1967, President Nixon launched the War on Drugs, in which distributing powdered cocaine (used by white people) received a much lower prison sentence than distributing crack cocaine (used by black people), which received a mandatory 30 year sentence with no chance of parole. Enforcement was uneven against blacks vs whites arrested for drug offences. Many believe the War on Drugs was a substitute for the housing bias against black people. All you have to do is put 5% of black people in jail with felonies, and they can never vote again, their voting power is weakened enough so they cannot gain power. Most presidential elections are won by narrow margins.

Now (mostly) white evangelical churches are longing for those bygone eras of white neighborhoods and white schools. During the 1950s and 1960s one factory salary could support a wife, kids, house in the suburbs and a car in the driveway. Whites look back with nostalgia, confusing global imports with the integration of the last 50 years. Most factories have moved to countries who pay 15 cents an hour. The only jobs left here are ones that cannot be exported: food, delivery, leisure and hotels, technology, housing, construction, education, finance and healthcare.

White churches voted for racial inequality in the last election. They deny it, because they know racial inequality is a sin. They justify it by saying poor people are lazy, generations are on welfare, taking up our healthcare system, translation: blacks. White churches also justify their voting by saying that they were saving the lives of the unborn, voting against abortion. this rings hollow when at the same time they are voting against healthcare dollars for the unborn and for pregnant women. (White evangelicals also had concerns about judges nominated for the Supreme Court, religious liberty, and gay rights.)

White evangelicalism is a whited sepulcher. Pretty on the outside, full of rot on the inside.

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The Horror of the Good Looking Family

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Evangelicals are Afraid of Change

Frankie-FitzGeraldbyFrancesFDennyfor-webFrances Fitzgerald was interviewed on the PBS recently because she recently published a comprehensive history of the Evangelical movement. Starting with the revivals of the late 1700s, evangelicalism became a distinctly American movement, one which set the tone for American society.

Frances Fitzgerald mentioned in her interview that one of the motivators of evangelicals is their abhorrence of change. They see the world descending into chaos.

This reminded me of when I was studying authoritarianism in evangelical churches. Two of the key components of authoritarianism is the fear of society going to hell in a hand basket, and fear of sexual decay in society. [Authoritarian is considered bad and is connected to the anti-Semitism of the Nazi party in the 1930s and 40s. Authoritative is considered good. Authoritive is not a word except in some nonstandard English families.] Authoritarianism is still connected to racist attitudes, anger at poor people, and a suspicion of the government. Authoritarian racism is evident in some of the presidents elected by evangelicals. Nixon started the war on drugs, zeroing in on the drugs that blacks and hispanics used, but not focusing on the drugs whites used.  Thirteen per cent of black men are not eligible to vote in elections because of having been felons. Many states ban felons from voting.

The point is that a whole group of people can be whipped into a frenzy by just telling them that a specific issue of change in society is a symptom of the fact that our society is descending into chaos. I remember in the 1980s Dr Dobson would name a particular issue: secular humanism, abortion, the gay agenda, tax and spend politics, the National Education Association’s opposition to homeschooling, the banning of Christian influence in public schools. Dr Dobson could get a million listeners to phone or write to their representatives in congress because he said that this was the chaos they feared the most. Some of the representatives used to complain that Dr Dobson had misunderstood what a particular legislation, but they had to vote it down just because they had received so much popular opposition to it.

Many evangelicals have become severely disillusioned with the Republican presidents they voted for. Evangelicals wanted gay rights stopped and abortions ended. But most Republican presidents just gave lip service to the evangelicals. The presidential candidates said they had faith and prayed, but they did not limit the march forward of abortion rights and gay rights. Some political pundits believe that Republicans in the past have used the 25% of the population that identify as evangelicals to get elected, but never actually subscribed to their key issues.

In the 1960s  and 1970s it was women’s liberation, the birth control pill, bikinis and mini skirts, sex education, rock and roll, long hair for men and the threat of people living together before they were married. In the 1980s it was AIDS, secular humanism, gay rights and abortion. In the 2000s it was the Moslem terrorism threat, gay marriage and transgender rights.

Young evangelicals today are amazed that these issues could have been such a big deal. They have grown up with these issues, so they don’t consider them symptoms of society falling apart, they consider them normal parts of their childhood.

 

 

 

 

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Women were the first Evangelists

Joy of Magdalene nat-cathedral-mosaic

Rowan and Irene LeCompte, Mary Magdalene in the garden with Jesus

 

The word Evangelist is a Greek word meaning bearer of good news. Who were the first bearers of the good news of the resurrection? Women!

In fact the gospels are specifically written to turn the power structures of the time on their heads:

  • Jesus is born to a virgin teenage woman.
  • Jesus is born into a blue collar family, Joseph is a carpenter, not royalty.
  • The angels announce the birth to the lowest rung of society: shepherds. Shepherds were not allowed to give testimony in court because everyone knew they lied. But God chooses these liars to be the first ones to witness the birth of the Messiah.
  • Jesus chooses twelve disciples, three of whom are lowly fishermen (Peter, James and John). Matthew is a tax-gatherer for the oppressor government. One (Simon the Zealot) belongs to the political party that assassinates members of the oppressor government.
  • Jesus treats women as equals: Women gave money to his cause. He sat and talked to women as equals. Jesus emphasized that women were not objects to be lusted after, or discarded by their husbands.
  • Most of the apostles seemed to have run away when Jesus was crucified, but the women stayed near the cross. The women came to wash and prepare the body for burial and they are the first chosen by God to witness the empty tomb, Mary the first witness to his resurrected body.

The gospel of Jesus turns the hierarchy of his day on its ear.

What does that say to us today? What power structures should be turning on their ears? What people at the bottom of the social ladder should we be elevating?

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Why do Fundamentalist Families resemble Alcoholic Families?

I remember inviting a family from church over to our house for Sunday lunch several years ago. They had many children. They had recently left a Pentecostal Church to join the church we were attending because the Pentecostal Church had had a wild revival that involved too much chaos at the church services. They objected to the suggestion of the pastor that God was “frolicking” with his children during the chaotic worship services.

churchpeopleSome of this family’s children were the same ages as my own. As their children grew up some of them became drug addicted, some serving time in prison for drug dealing. Why? They had grown up in a teetotalling family that attended Bible believing church twice a week. Their parents stayed together. The family ate meals together, prayed before their meals, honored God and home schooled, strictly limiting TV, video games and movies. What happened?

Nothing extraordinary, that’s about normal for fundamentalist and evangelical families. Almost all of the boys in the youth group at our evangelical church were struggling, several were regular marijuana users, one was occasionally suicidal, several boys got arrested once or twice, one boy used kiddie porn, almost all of the boys used regular porn. Several used alcohol regularly. Most of them were having sex whenever they could. That’s what evangelical teens look like in most churches. Those who have had teens understand this and are not surprised, those who have children under 13 years old do not understand this, and are committed to making sure their young teens go to youth group every week so they won’t act like that.

One of the reasons that fundamentalist teens (and to a lesser degree, evangelical teens) have such a struggle in the teen years is that they have not had a foundation for making decisions in their lives. Developmentally, God turns a switch on in teens’ brains that says: “Start practicing making your own decisions before you have to move out of the house and fall flat on your face.” So the teens make their own decisions, often with disastrous results. Teens know intuitively that at age 18 or 19 they are moving out, and will be making most of their own decisions, especially decisions about how to conduct their day to day lives. They know they have to start practicing making their own decisions.

Non-fundamentalist families that are preparing their children for decision making start very young. “What do you want to eat today? Eggs or oatmeal?”

“Would you like to wear this shirt or that shirt?”

“What story do you want me to read to you?”

For more important decisions:

“Do you want to wear your coat or carry your coat?”

“Do you want to do your homework now or in half an hour?”

“Do you want to clean your room with me in the room or by yourself?”

As children get older they have more latitude:

“You can skip baseball practice if you want to, but I’m worried you won’t get to play first base. Have you thought about that? What will happen if you skip practice?”

Rudeness:

“If you are rude to me then I don’t want to take you to your friend’s house this afternoon. If you want me to have energy to do you favors, then you have to be nice to me.”

School:

“You can decide not to do your homework, but I’m worried that you are limiting your career choices. What do you think you would like to do for a job when you get older?”

Health:

“You can decide to smoke cigarettes, but not in this house. You already know what I think of cigarettes and tobacco companies. What do you think of cigarettes?”

Sex:

“You can watch the videos and movies you decide to, but you know what I think about things that will drag you down, or movies that degrade people. What do you think of the last movie you saw?”

“I feel very uncomfortable with you using porn or watching those music videos, but it’s your decision. What do you think of porn?”

“You know what we believe about sex, but the final decision is up to you. What are you going to do, and are you prepared for the consequences? If you disagree with me, we could make an appointment for you at the doctor for birth control.”

Parties:

“You can decide to smoke marijuana, but I just want to know that you have thought through all the consequences. What are the pros and cons of smoking marijuana?”

“It is your decision to go to the party. It’s up to you. Do you want to talk about it? Do you have any concerns?”

Work:

“You can decide to skip work today if you want, but I’m worried about the consequences. Are you okay with the consequences of skipping work today?”

The Law:

“You’re paying for your own car insurance so you can decide to disobey the traffic laws, it’s up to you. Have you thought through the consequences? I don’t like getting tickets, so I try to stay within the law. I hate getting stopped by the police.”

Some people advise saying something a little different:

“We have high expectations of you. We expect you to obey the laws when driving. But of course we’re not there, so it is ultimately up to you.”

I am not saying pre-teens should be making all their own decisions about TV, the internet, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol. What I am saying is that decision-making should be a regular part of a child’s life. And if the parent is open to helping the child sort through their own emotions and thinking, without being too judgmental and pushy, then the child learns gradually to have confidence in their own good judgment. “I can see you made an adult decision about your bicycle. You decided to save up and buy the one you want.”

These are conversations that one can have with a teen one has raised to make their own decisions, but these discussions are not available to fundamentalist parents, or any rigid or authoritarian parent. Discussions that involve disagreeing with one’s parents are not possible in these rigid homes. The parents tend to fall apart when their teens disagree with them or disobey them. Fundamentalist, rigid and authoritarian parents are fragile, easily breakable, and fall apart when their hierarchical system doesn’t work. They rage or cry or threaten or abandon, anything except having a real honest discussion with their teen. In this way they resemble alcoholic homes–homes in which alcohol helps the fragile parent limp along.

The consequence is that the teen has to make all of these decisions by herself, in secret, while lying to her parents, without a calm parent who has confidence in her. One teen in a strict family ran away from home twice. The first time the family thought he had been kidnapped, but his friends said he had two lives: one in front of his parents, and the other in front of his friends. He didn’t like having a split dishonest life, so he ran away to be the whole teen who was making his own decisions. The second time he ran away he joined a gang of wandering teens for a year–just so he could do normal teen development and learn how to make his own decisions. Teens use their friends as a stepping stone away from their parents. It is scary to begin making one’s own life decisions, so they follow their friends. The stricter their parents were at home, the stricter they follow their friends, simply because the stricter their parents were, the less  confidence they have in their own ability to make decisions.

How do I know all this? I was a strict home schooling parent. My daughter used to have friends over for sleepovers. Years later she told us she would take the VW Rabbit out for a spin after we were asleep. Her friends would pile into the Rabbit, push it out into the street, and drive downtown to the main shopping district, all without a driver’s license. It’s impossible to follow your teen around all day at school, or stay up all night and make sure your teen doesn’t climb out the window and visit his friends. The truth is that all of the above decisions are already the teen’s regardless of what kind of home he is growing up in. They are making their own decisions in fundamentalist homes as well as in homes that encourage the teen to make their own decisions. But which home is preparing and encouraging the teen to be self-controlled, and mature?

Friends of mine, also conservative and strict Christians, raised teens who stuck to the rules, never coming home drunk, never trying marijuana, getting excellent grades in school, achieving a bachelor’s degree with honors at a conservative Christian college. At 30 years old his overweight son was still living at home, without a girlfriend, working at a big box store for low wages, unable to make his own decisions.

Family Roles

The Main Addict in the fundamentalist family is the parent who is the most religious, the most rigid, the most dysfunctional. Fundamentalist teens develop caricatures to help them cope: One teen becomes the Family Hero: getting amazing grades, helping take care of the younger children and working a full time job while still in high school. A second child becomes a raging punk Scapegoat, ready to punch the world in the face. A third becomes a sickly Enabler, covering up for, and defending, the main Addict, always buying a new supplement and monitoring blood pressure, temperature, tongue color, snot and poop to make sure they have not been poisoned by the multitude of the toxins they are vulnerable to. A fourth becomes a Lost Child, always absent when there is conflict; watching TV or playing video games, cuddling the cat and reading. A fifth becomes the Clown: cute, adorable, funny, always ready to fall off their chair when tensions are on the upswing. A sixth child becomes a Pastor in a Bible believing church, secretly watching porn each night. Each caricature is a cardboard thin role that the child puts on as an actor to help her or him cope. There isn’t a whole person living inside, just a scared kid. The role is needed as armor against relationships that require emotional maturity. [Most of these roles come from literature about alcoholic families.]

Alcoholic Family

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