Friday, June 7, 2013

Stained Glass Masquerade

I had been thinking about something yesterday. I have noticed that living with one foot in the outside world, and the other in alternate universe, I'll call fundie land, I've noticed many differences between the two cultures, obviously, but there's one that has really stood out recently: People in the outside world don't hide who they really are very often, and when they do, they aren't very good at it.

People in the real world, where real life happens, often don't feel as much of a need to be obnoxious in sneaky, underhanded ways, if they are an asshole, then they are an asshole, they don't flaunt it (well, some do), but they don't shrink away from it. There's a lot of people who are deceitful in what they say, but not about who they really are as a person. 

When someone has a complete lack of any moral character whatsoever, and tries to hide it, I can see though it much faster in people in the outside world than I can living undercover in fundie land. I have known some great people in my time in fundamentalism, including "Jason and Kelly", despite Jason's tendency to put dogma over empathy sometimes, but some of the most absolute worst people ethically I have ever known, I knew from fundamentalist circles. Not only were they the worst in what they did, but they knew how to hide what they did, and who they were better than people in the outside world.

When you are a fundamentalist, or someone who is still living undercover in that world like me, you become an expert at putting on a false front. Even people who are basically good people still have to learn this technique, because the expectations placed upon you are so high that no one can measure up to them. You constantly have to monitor what you say, what appearances you give off (can't appear to be "too worldly"), and must appear happy, at all times. 

Since true happiness comes only from god, you must act happy all the time, even if you aren't happy and it's because of mental illness, and if you aren't, then we will question whether your "relationship with god" is  in order, or we will out rightly state that is the case. I've talked before about how people, especially children, teens, and young adults have it impressed upon them that they have no right to have their own emotions. This leads to almost everyone learning how to become an expert at being fake out of necessity

This leads to a whole host of problems, if someone can learn the lingo, learn how to compartmentalize their life, and hide their true feelings, they can blend in, and hide almost anything, from the normal and the trivial to the horrific. 

People often wonder when a sociopath like a child molester is outed in a church, how people didn't notice. Part of it is apathy, people not caring or not paying attention (it can be different from congregation to congregation), but I wonder how much of it has to do with the fact that if someone learns the culture, and it's ways of hiding who you are, you can hide anything about yourself.

I know because in the three years that I have been undercover, no one in the church has ever questioned my authenticity, not once. The only times I have been questioned was by my mom, and that, ironically enough was when I was either still a Christian, or in the questioning/doubting stage. From the the point that I knew what I actually believed, I haven't heard any questions from her about it, even though she doesn't know. 

I've lived all my life immersed in that world, and all but three years of that time, I believed it, it comes naturally to me. It's kind of a bizarre experience, having people ask you to pray for them, and otherwise accepting you as one of them, when I know that I'm not. One of the more odd circumstances where this happened was one summer day, about two years ago, when I was talking to a youth pastor of another church in my town, at a protest he was running in front of a local abortion clinic. 

I had stopped to talk to him about some of my issues with the "pro-life" movement, wondering what his response would be to my objections, and talking about what led me out of believing in Christianity. The youth pastor actually took the time to listen and civilly debate, which I was surprised by. 

What I was surprised by even more is when a man walked by, obviously a pastor or deacon who was a part of of the protest, patted me on the back, said "God bless you, brother", and walked on. I apparently have spent so long blending into that world that to this man, I appeared like I belonged in the protest group, since he couldn't hear the conversation that was going on. If good old socially inept me can blend into this world so well, and with such a big secret hiding in plain sight, anyone can blend into this culture if they learn it, and try hard enough, people with more nefarious intentions. 

Another major problem is this atmosphere is that keeping up with appearances like that causes an incredible amount of stress, then people can't release that stress, or everyday worries to each other because they are afraid that this necessary charade that they have built will crumble, and people will see them as a fake. I remember as a Christian, one of my favorite songs was Stained Glass Masquerade by Casting Crowns, which strangely enough, though they might disagree with why this effect happens, certainly agree it exists:

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin' so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they'll soon discover
That I don't belong
It goes on talking about this effect, the act that people put on and people's desire to finally open up, and let people know how they feel:
The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart
But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be
Even the evangelical/fundamentalist world knows that there is a problem with this, whether or not they will ever figure out the causes, and be willing to change them, I don't know.


  1. I can't begin to imagine the psychological strain of keeping up a smiling, perfect fascade every single day. That kind of repression results in problems being ignored, anxieties festering, and anger manifesting in unhealth ways (passive-aggressive behavior, ulcers, weak immune system, etc.). Worst of all, it prevents people from gaining self-knowledge or enjoying honest, genuine relationships with others. It's sad.

    Your blog post described my evangelical relatives to a T, my fundamentalist aunt especially. The fake smiles, the feigned happiness, the lack of ethics, all there. Not surprisingly, the few times my aunt's mask has slipped, it's revealed a judgmental, passive-aggressive, woman who craves attention. Who would want to live like that!?

    1. I've noticed that there is very little grey area with fundamentalist personalities. People are either extremely good, moral, loving people, or they are just awful and immoral/judgmental. Beware of the judgmental ones, they often have the worst character, they are typically overcompensating.

      The good/loving people in fundamentalism (well, loving as much as fundamentalism will allow) are often very depressed and self hating. They want to live up to the impossible so badly, and then when they trip up in some minor way, or their fundamentalist "everything's alright" facade begins to crack, they panic, and blame themselves, feeling like they are a horrible human being.

    2. Not sure I totally agree with Part Two. I think there are fundamentally good fundamentalist people who are not so self-hating or subject to these4 cracks.

      Otherwise, this is a great post.

    3. I don't know if you are a former fundie yourself, so your background may be much different.

      However, I have noticed and incredible amount of people in fundamentalism that aren't as happy as they like people to believe, and some who would be considered clinically depressed, and yet they find ways to blame themselves for their unhappiness.

      There's a lot of unnecessary guilt and self-hatred there, people blaming their unhappiness on not living up to the impossible standards of fundamentalism, "not having a right relationship with god", or they will think that depression, worry and anxiety is a "sin", because it's a sign of not trusting god enough with their life. (Can't tell you how many times I have heard that one).

    4. I've heard the "not trusting God enough" line as well from fundamentalists, but with regards to trauma responses rather than depression and anxiety. It's as if they refuse to acknowledge that brain chemistry and traumatic experiences DO wreak havok with one's mental health.

    5. No, they don't recognize anything psychological, or see the biological connections.

      If someone has a broken leg or cancer, they get plenty of help and support, if you have mental illness, it must be your fault...

  2. I cannot even fathom the kind of world you lived in....but the oppressiveness you must have felt comes through in your words.

    A Japanese poem (Haiku)by Hakyo Ishida says
    "For but an instance
    a setting sun
    transfigures with gold
    a burnt land"

    I hope that in your new life there will be many instances when the warmth of people or nature will give healing to your soul.

    Life is grey.....Yet, somehow, we have begun to mistake life as a multiple-choice test with only one right answer.......
    The Tao te Ching (Chinese) shows 2 ways we can see the world---as a dichotomy or as a harmony........

    "When people find one thing beautiful,
    another consequently becomes ugly,
    When one man is held up as good,
    another is judged deficient.

    Similarly, being and nonbeing balance each other;
    difficult and easy define each other;
    long and short illustrate each other;
    high and low rest upon one another;
    voice and song meld into harmony;
    what is to come follows upon what has been."

    Dichotomy can create oppression (Shirk/division)
    Harmony can create freedom (Tawheed/Unity)


    1. I didn't know you studied Eastern philosophies, CM :)

      Thank you so much for this.

    2. I am an Easterner and so this stuff just sort of gets absorbed like osmosis...!...

    3. Ah, I didn't know where you were from, you are rather secretive. :)

    4. My apologies---its a habit---My background is confusing--when I am asked "where are you from" I don't know how to answer. It seems I am from nowhere or everywhere.......right now I am "from" South East Asia.

      You grew up in a world where you had to conform to a strong external "identity"....In mine there was no identity---because of my background I didn't fit into any "thing", didn't fit any stereotypes....while there is freedom in that---and I wouldn't give that up---it also means that you need to find your "self"---because there is no "identity" you can fall back on. The thing is, "self' is not a static thing---its not as if once you find this thing called "self" you are done!!! Its not even one thing---"self" is multi-faceted.......


    5. You didn't grow up in a majority Muslim nation?

      Yes, I need to find out who I am, really.

  3. This is truly fascinating. I have often wondered this myself as I have contact with people who are theists, who deal differently with me than they would other theists. This must be them putting on their fake mask so that their theistic friends don’t see them for what they are. Funnily enough I don’t take offence at this, but it does make me doubt whether I want to keep contact with someone who is clearly dishonest.

    I suppose I keep them as friends as I have sympathy for them.

    1. Well, like I explained, the mask is necessary, due to the unrealistically high standards they have to live with. Some are really good people, some are just awful, there's rarely any middle ground.

  4. Wow, I can't believe how much I identify with this post. I also feel like I am better at reading people than your average person, and it is totally due to necessity of it while growing up. I spent my childhood very meticulously crafting how my actions look to anyone else, and I can spot someone else doing this pretty easily.

    I can also remember the absolute freedom of letting it all go when I completely left Christianity. It coincided with going to college, I was around new people so I had no background to maintain. Nobody knew who I had been, I could be anything I wanted, so I just let go and was myself. Holy shit that was awesome. The funny thing was, I hadn't realized how much work it was to maintain the pretense until I let it go. To be able to just relax around people and just be myself without always being on guard for an errant comment or whatever, absolute freedom!

    1. It is liberating to let go of those expectations, and also to no longer have to defend in indefensible aspects of fundamentalist doctrine.

    2. Ain't psychological freedom a great thing? It's exhilarating to live life on your own terms after escaping from religion.

    3. Yes, you finally get to be yourself.

    4. yup, and the thing that I still find amazing all these years later is that I had no idea how much work it had been until I didn't have to do it anymore. It's amazing what can become normal.

    5. Yes, anything can become normal. :)


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