Leaving Christianity – Part Nine
Today’s guest post is written by my sister, Laura Lanier, who also deconstructed her Christian belief system as I did. Here she is speaking from her own experience and knowledge, but it closely echoes mine. I’m sure that there are many others who will relate to what she has to say!
Being a Christian young adult makes dating, marriage, and love all very easy. There’s very little room for interpretation, and everyone is on the same page about how to play the game. The rules are incredibly simple: don’t have sex before marriage. Choose one partner for life. Never get divorced.
Of course, the belief system supporting these basic rules is steeped in misogyny. The premise of male-female relationships in the Bible is based on the story of Adam and Eve. In this classic story, Adam arrives to the world first (of course), and Eve is only offered a place in humanity once Adam has need for her. Eve is created from just a fraction of Adam’s body, and upon appearing on planet earth, she instantly knows that her place is as Adam’s helper. When she dares to exercise independent thought, eating the fruit that the mysterious serpent offers her, the rest of humanity is cursed for all time because of the sin she committed. Essentially, every single problem for the rest of history is the fault of this evil, rebellious woman.
Conveniently, traditional Christian ideologies forget to mention that Adam and Eve were never married. Throughout the Bible, there are a lot of contradictory teachings that pastors omit when crafting a picture of Christ-centered dating and marriage. Some of the Bible’s most famous (male) main characters had multiple wives, committed rape regularly, cheated, committed adultery, or found incest appropriate. Even Jesus was caught breaking the purity rules when he provided teaching for women in their own homes— a massive faux pas for his time.
Today, the teachings of all-male Biblical heroes have become the foundation for male-female relations in the church (there’s no need to even mention relationships that aren’t heteronormative— they’re all a “sin”, of course). Male-centric teachings are taken widely out of context in an attempt to control some sort of hierarchy in the church. According to these passages of scripture, women must be modest at all times. Women cannot speak in church or public settings; men have full authority to silence a woman who thinks otherwise. Wives must submit to their husbands as the final head of household. Any woman who voices an opinion at home is considered a “nagging wife.” The list goes on and on, enforcing antiquated, oppressive ideals as God’s model for the 21st century.
As a young person interested in dating, sex, or marriage, this shifts all responsibility and blame to the female partner. Women must take care to be modest in appearance, words, and actions at all times; men cannot possibly control themselves if a woman is flaunting her body. Because sex for women is simply reproductive and not meant for pleasure, women must be vigilant to avoid anything that would be a turn-on for a man. If a sexual encounter does take place, the only explanation for such a sin is seductive behavior on the part of the woman. And if pre-marital pregnancy happens to occur— well, you guessed it. Not only are abortions out of the question, but the woman will be shunned, viewed as used goods, and forced to raise the child on her own.
If you’re a former Christian who has left the church, you might find that purity culture still haunts you. The idea that all sex is sinful (save for the reproductive kind) can make it difficult to enjoy any acts of pleasure. It might be hard to embrace your true identity, whether that’s feminine or masculine, flirty or relaxed. Dating or having sex might still feel like a dirty act.
When deconstructing purity culture, the best question you can ask yourself is why. Why does this action feel so tainted to me? In some cases, there might be boundaries you need to set based on personal preference— maybe you don’t like that particular part of human sexuality. Other times (and more commonly), it can make sense to separate the act from your old belief system and understand whether it’s something you’re comfortable exploring in your new, non-religious identity. Wherever you land on the sexual spectrum during your deconstruction, it’s important to remember that you’re finally in charge. There are no old men, churches, or ancient manuscripts to tell you what you can and can’t do. Go forward boldly, explore slowly, and create your own rules for the gender identity and sexuality that best fits you.