Thursday, May 9, 2013

The fundamentalist purity obsession and abuse

I've blogged before about the uncomfortable intersection of 
fundamentalist religions and abuse. And about my strong (negative
feelings about the role of women in fundamentalist religions. This week 
I've read a few powerful articles that managed to make me feel 
EVEN WORSE about this topic; honestly, I didn't even know that 
was possible. Warning: I've linked to some posts that are pretty upsetting.

If you haven't heard, Elizabeth Smart recently spoke about how parts of her religious upbringing impacted her recovery from her horrific kidnapping experiencing. Unfortunately, even though we come from different religions, I could totally relate to her "teaching" experience. From the Christian Science Monitor
Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.' And that's how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value," Smart said. "Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."
These sort of shame-based, "damaged goods" arguments against premarital sex are sick for many reasons. I think I think Richard Beck, the author of Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality explains it pretty well in this post.
...[Psychologist, Paul Rozin would] put, say, a cockroach in a glass of juice and swish it around. He then removes the bug and offers the juice for participants to drink. They, of course, refuse. That's to be expected. But then the interesting part of the experiment begins. Rozin goes on to sterilize the juice in front of the watching participant. He then makes another offer. Participants continue to refuse. This despite knowing, at a rational level, that the juice has been sanitized. So why refuse? Because at the affective level a judgment of contamination continues to dominate. The juice is judged as unclean. Despite all efforts to purify, sanitize, or rehabilitate
Beck goes on to say that by using this purity appraisal of sexual sins we rely on feelings of disgust, revulsion, and nausea, which are based upon a system of food. So we are applying an appraisal system of food towards human beings. Our children. We compare our children to food (something that is either consumed or thrown away). Just let that sink in for a moment.

No wonder Smart went on to say, "I felt like I wasn't even human anymore. How could anybody love me, or want me or care about me?"

What is worse, this purity standard is often enforced in a gendered way. Girls who commit "sexual sins" are deemed "impure" while boys who do the same merely stumble. You can recover from a stumble. You can't recover from impurities; "impure" is a permanent state. When something is impure, all you can do is dump it out; throw it away, it is useless and gross.

Is that REALLY how we want our girls to feel about themselves if they have sex before marriage? (and let's be real, the vast majority will/do). Many fundamentalist religious leaders don't seem to have a problem with it. And those same people don't stop to think that as many as one in three of the girls hearing their sick, twisted message will have already experienced some form of sexual abuse by the time they get their fundamentalist youth group. What is the message for them? Somebody hurt you against your will when you were just a child and you are now worthless and gross?

And it gets worse. I've talked before about the destructiveness of authoritarian parenting styles (and how they are often endorsed by fundamentalist religious groups). And yet, I was totally unprepared to read this.
Jori later realized that the parenting methods her parents used essentially conditioned her to be a victim of non-consensual sex (you can’t actively resist an authority figure who wants you to please them and pressures you with guilt trips).... fundamentalist Christian parenting methods train children to not resist sexual predators and to not be able to identify it if they’re molested, raped, or harassed. [this is why the Church remains an unintentional haven for sexual predators, and why reporting sexual abuse in the church to authorities is still a question for debate, not an assumed course of action to protect victims.]
It made total sense and yet I hadn't made the connection. But the manipulation (hallmark of fundamentalist youth groups), the value placed on unquestioning adherence to an absolute authority? What a perfect storm of grooming for abuse! The story is just beyond horrifying. I honestly don't even have that much to add to this beyond the obvious: I will never, EVER let my daughters be "taught" like this. Like Elizabeth Smart said (and shockingly, it needs to be said), I will make sure my daughters know:  "You have value. You will always have value and nothing can change that."


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