Just writing the title of this post is enough to make me twitch a little bit. Benefits, you say? Benefits of THAT? That which I have been through and lived to tell the tale? Yes. Benefits.
You see, it wasn’t just fundamentalism I grew up with, it was Calvinism, fundamentalism, abuse, being a pastor’s kid, and, as my therapist has helped me recently see, mental illness. If all of that sounds overwhelming and toxic, believe me, it was. It has taken decades to get to the point of untangling the web of exactly what we were dealing with. However, there are some things that happen to me, and I think, if it weren’t for my background, I couldn’t have done that. Yes, there are some benefits to fundamentalism. Here they are, in no particular order, and with caveats thrown in for good measure:
1) The ability to put with discomfort, pain, awkwardness, etc. for FAR too long. (Caveat – this is not always a benefit. This ability has also allowed me to put up with abusive relationships or inappropriate situations because that was “normal” to my messed-up mind.) However, all things being equal, I am able to live in uncomfortable circumstances and just DEAL. Just deal with it, live with it, function as if nothing is wrong. This is not some valiant self-sacrificing/taking up your cross type of martyrdom, this is just a leftover coping mechanism to the sh*tstorm that constantly swirled as a child. Ignoring, carrying on, and enduring whatever pain may come was basically the only choice I had. Now days, I can take a shot like a champ, I can endure pain without medication far longer than I actually should, I can power through a situation and do without certain luxuries, and I can ignore huge giant red flags and warning signs and carry on as if it were the best of times. Again, this is not necessarily healthy, but every now and then, you *do* have to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and just get through something. Fundamentalism helped me do that, a little too well.
2) The ability to talk to a huge variety of people. Our church was a magnet for freaks and geeks, no offense to those in attendance (myself included). We took pride in not being “mainstream” because, of course, none of those “mainstream” churches had the real truth. They were just Baptists, Methodists, etc. going through the motions of their man-made traditions each Sunday. They probably weren’t “real Christians,” didn’t know or read the Bible. They probably just went there because their parents or grandparents went there, or because it was the closest church to their house. Not out of conviction, like us. And don’t even get me started on those Catholics. Anyway, so when your church is the “frozen chosen,” “all white and uptight” community of “true believers” (lots of “ “, sorry), and you believe that you are the ONLY way, you tend to attract those on the fringes of society or rejected by the same mainstream that you reject – single parents, recovering addicts, the extremely poor, socially awkward, conspiracy theorist types – who are looking for a place to belong, who are looking for something to latch onto. There is nothing wrong with ANY of those labels I just listed. In fact, I hate to even define them. Christ draws (and His Church should draw) all these people to himself. But, when the Savior and the Church you’re seeking for healing just gets you stuck in a different way that the wounds that got you there, that’s not true freedom. In my opinion, that’s what our fundamentalism did for these people – a whole lot of nothing. Anyway, all that to say, Sundays (or any time we were in church) were a time in which we were forced to speak to these awkward people with very different experiences than our own. There were very few kids our age. (The ones that were there eventually left due to wanting a youth group or to minute doctrinal squabbles between the church and their parents). There were very few people that were highly educated. We had to speak with adults in complete sentences, we learned not to bat an eye at people’s weird quirks or whatever may be brought up in conversation. We learned that these same interesting individuals may even be sharing the feast with us at the next major holiday, so it’s best to pretend that everything is great and normal. Now, by nature, I’m an extreme introvert. But, growing up, I was forced to make conversation with all types of people, mostly adults. As much as I *hated* it at the time, I’m able now to try to relate to almost anyone I meet. I’m not saying I’m great at it. Small talk is still against my nature, but I have learned over the years that others are sometimes just as uncomfortable, and it’s usually best to try to make them feel welcome without forced conversation or prying, but with a few statements that reach out to them. I also get annoyed at other introverts who can't get over themselves or come out of the damn shell for just one moment and make conversation. So, overall, fundamentalism for the win. I learned to relate to freaks and geeks.
3) The show must go on. 10,000 caveats again. When you’re dealing with parents for whom outward appearances are everything, this gets really out of whack really fast. Now, I went into a career in the performing arts for a while, and this is the cardinal rule of performing. The show must go on. So, anything from a little rain on your commute to the electricity going out in the middle of a show, or any number of disasters on stage or in real life, always remember, the show must go on - preferably with a smile as if nothing phased you. This is closely related to #1. Deal with it, no complaining, and act like nothing’s wrong. Now, again, this is not always healthy. It can lead to making you callous or cold to the sufferings of others. It can put you in dangerous situations because you think you *have* to get to work, regardless of the risks or that you *have* to finish X, Y, Z tasks regardless of the toll they might take on your health. It can make you not take concerns, pains, or hardships seriously and not listen to yourself or your instincts. But, every now and then, that ability to carry on comes in handy, just take it with a giant boulder of salt.
So, I've come up with three potential benefits of fundamentalism. I'm sure there are more, and I'm sure these things are just as much a warning about fundamentalism as they are a benefit of fundamentalism. In my effort to see my childhood with honesty - I am listing the good along with the bad. Lord knows I've analyzed and rehearsed the bad in my mind for YEARS. I also need to see that there were some benefits.