Category: Fundie Stuff

I was raised in a funadmentalist Christian group that on nice days I call ‘a small insular church’ and on nasty days I call a ‘cult.’ Sometimes this means I have a really weird intersection of faith-based experiences or stories about my past, or translations of current events based on that.

Roads Unbent

I grew up – okay, let me start that again.

I lived, from the age of four to the age of fourteen, in a suburb of New South Wales called Engadine. Engadine is where I learned how money works, how to read, what a library was, how to talk to a doctor, about family restaurants and VHS tapes and watched the Beta cases slowly disappear off the shelves. It’s the place I walked with my mother as she went to a business to pick up an actual physical paycheque and hand it into an actual physical bank. It’s the place I tried a paper route.

To say I ‘grew up’ there is a misnomer, though. Because in Engadine, I was in an environment that deliberately sought to stifle what I learned of the world, watching a small number of years left in the world tick down. But Engadine is still a big part of my life, and time to time, we pass through it on the way to Sydney, from where I live now.

Engadine has a KFC and a McDonalds on the highway, meaning that on a long con drive out of Sydney, it’s a place to refuel and restock, and also, crucially, a place where you’re not going to get caught up in a brutal Sydney snarl of traffic if you stop for a while and sit down.

Dad used to say Engadine had a lot of flat ground – it was just all vertical. The terrain of Engadine is all hills, homes perching on uneven backyards, with the biggest flat areas being the football pitch, the mall, and the public pools, which sat across from the school I went to. We would cross the road and do sport on the big field, or in the public facilities to play hockey.

I really do love the public works part of Engadine, in hindsight. There were so many things that were available to me that I didn’t know, or didn’t appreciate. There was a walkway to the Train Station that went under the road, so as a child, I could safely make my way to the station without having to go up a huge number of stairs or some other way cross six lanes of highway.

When we revisit Engadine, though, the thing that blows my mind is how little it changes. Storefronts have changed – different businesses have come and gone and I’m sure nobody there remembers me, nobody remembers what I did or who I was, some nondescript little church kid with a bowl haircut reading Pratchett novels in the foyer. But the shape of Engadine is the same.

I think a lot of this is because of the roads. Engadine’s roads are all… pretty much the same? The big Woolworths is probably a Coles now, the NeoLife offices aren’t there any more (because the bastard who ran them is dead), but the businesses and the people have to follow the shape of the roads, the roads that are laid out on the land as best they can be.

I remember when I lived there I was genuinely confused as to how there were any other places in the world. How would you get there? The first time dad drove us out onto the highway and I saw that that little road I thought went nowhere in fact went everywhere, it blew my tiny mind.

But Engadine is still Engadine. It is older and it is different and it is dressed differently, but it is still a place named for the people who we took it from, wearing on its roads the scars of a culture that should never forget what we did.


This blog post and subject was suggested, as above, by @Garlicbug on Twitter. If you’d like to suggest stuff you’d like to see me write about, please, do contact me!

David Bowie

You know what it’s like to walk into a world where David Bowie has existed your entire adult life and you have no idea who he is?

The man’s like a fucking space alien.

I grew up in a media bubble which means my actual appreciation of media as having some sort of continuity and inter-related field of study. So imagine if your first encounter with music is jumping from church praise songs to, around 1997, suddenly having access to popular radio and media, which you listen to in your room, with headphones, for fear of being found out.

Now you might think this means I learned a lot about trash, and boy howdy did I. My knowledge of pop music started in 1997 and that was not a great time for Australian pop. And somehow, in the intervening years, I never actually went that far back. I never really got ‘into’ Bowie. He was part of the landscape already. I could literally never experience his songs new, see his impact new.

But he was everyfuckingwhere.

When I learned the man had passed, I tried to think about what he’d done that I really knew. Oh he was in Labyrinth. Oh he made The Man Who Came To Earth. Oh he was in The Prestige. Oh he was referenced in The Venture Bros. Oh he was responsible for that song in Elite Beat Agents. Oh he was in Shrek 2.

In his lifetime, David Bowie became part of the landscape. Fluency in him didn’t just become important to understand the world at large, but he became osmotic. And that’s just from me, from someone who is as close as you can come to not having anything to do with the guy as possible. For a lot of people, for my friends, David Bowie is the Michael Jackson of the queer set – an ideal of concepts and values that has underpinned their entire lives since it was introduced, something so fundamentally ur to their modern now that they don’t even realise he had formed it. The people who are all fucked up and sad right now because he’s gone but don’t know why because it’s not like they listened to his music all that much.

It didn’t impact me much, but I get that it did.

Man, Photons, Sir, Ma’am, Y’all

Yesterday, editing the podcast, I caught myself saying five-man dungeon. It’s a common phrase, used in World of Warcraft discussion. It grows from a common phrase for crewing things – man the cannons – and basically it means the same thing as five person dungeon.

I thought about this turn of phrase, as yet another little bit of everyday sexism that’s worn into my mind, and where the alternative isn’t just unfamiliar, it’s linguistically kinda worse. Without trying to sound like a whiner on this, five-person and five-man are two terms that have distinctly different flows; the consonant stop in the middle is a distinct thing and it shapes the term differently. This isn’t to say I want to keep using five-man – I corrected myself both times.

I also kept in that I made the mistake.

There’s a strangeness that comes from hearing yourself, played back, regularly. My podcasting compatriots don’t hear it, unedited, the same way I do. They don’t hear the raw audio, over and over again. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s manner of speaking, but I am responsible for my own. My language is not just embedded with the signs of the typical intersectional overlay of kyriarchic bullshit that we all deal with but I have an extra bonus layer coming from my fundamentalist upbringing. Even the way I swear, explicitly a rebellion against that kind of thing, reflects that upbringing. I learned to write and read under an American regime, then had Australian corrections amend it in some superficial ways dating back from before modern spelling. I learned to spell ‘waggon’ and ‘gaol,’ words of no practical application in the modern day but as strange curiosities.

I feel a need to be honest about these mistakes. I mess up. There are others I don’t catch. Editing audio – especially hours and hours of it – is really hard. There’s stuff that slips through. Sometimes, hugely embarassingly, sometimes not.

Lemme tell you about socialised speech.

You learn a lot of how you talk from the things around you. A lot of kids learn slang and shorthand from one another. Swears and other language, things that have meaning that they share with one another. I didn’t have many friends – I very rarely ‘socialised’ with other kids. Not just awkwardness, but also the divides and factionalism in our church, and the, you know, violence. Common public media wasn’t okay either – and any words that were ‘wrong’ were met with a pretty consistant punishment.

I remember reading Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and seeing Zaphod Beeblebrox use the word ‘photons’ as a swear. He used it like the word ‘heck’ or ‘dang.’ It was a good word, it had that nice ‘t’ in the middle and it wasn’t a word, as far as I could tell, that was rude at all. It had something to do with laser guns, I think? And so I used ‘photons’ when I was hurt, when I was frustrated, when I fell off things or when I touched my chest and felt the bruise spreading. “Ah, photons.”

Then one day, my dad grabbed me, by the side of the head, and yanked me out of the flow of traffic. He looked me, very seriously in the eyes, and told me to stop saying that.

“Is it a rude word?” I asked, terrified. Had I been doing A Wrong?

You know what you really mean,” he growled, and that was all the explanation I got.

I was lost. I was confused. That… what did I reall mean? Was Photons a dirty word in another language? Was it in the Bible somewhere? This prompted a little research project that took me six months before I finally gave up. The guilt of the action wracked me.

Another source of my language flowed from the god-awful media I had access to. There were these strange 1970s nostalgia pieces my dad and mum kept, the videogames that slid in, but ultimately, what I read and saw was from that particular Christian media bubble. I read a lot of fundamentalist Christian literature, and the ‘cool’ edge of that (trust me, you’ve no idea). Narnia, But Written In 1990 America To A Word Count.

One of the hallmarks in that kind of story of the protagonists? The character you were meant to emulate?

He called people sir.

Oh, he called women ma’am, too, that was definitely part of it, but the sir thing stood out. When I left that media bubble and called teachers sir they looked at me confused. When I called strangers sir on the street, they gave me the same look. When I called a woman a few years older than me ma’am, I got a filthy look.

As a teenager, it was weird. As a young adult working service industries and low-skill jobs, it was old-fashioned. Now, in my life, a ‘sir’ at the wrong time can be an act of violence.

This is scored in deep on my mind. This is etched in my brain. It leaps out of my mouth barely passing my conscious mind, and not doing so sets me on edge because those terms are tied to respect in my life, they are tied to politeness and in refusing to do them, I am in some way, preparing a defensive or offensive posture. They are words meant to reassure that have stopped working, but my urge to be kind, my want to be nice to be people tries to re-apply these broken tools.

I’ve taken to using ‘y’all’ a lot. It has the nice side effect of also being a word that can be used to obliterate ‘you guys’ or ‘guys.’ That sort of substition is something my brain can handle. When the ma’am comes up I can replace it with y’all – “How are y’all” somehow sits right in place of “How are you, ma’am?” Of course, now, I’ve traded the chance of upsetting strangers and misgendering people for instead, a familiar conversation with people who want to know why I’m using it. It inevitably results in someone cleverly pointing out that they are not multiple people. My efforts to expunge harm have instead exposed me to pedantry, and boy hoy howdy do I love me some pedantry. The concern about it usually comes from people who only deal with me in text, and what’s weird there is it’s not like any of them have any idea how I do talk, or how I should talk.

That in particular is weird, because I don’t talk like an Australian.

I mean I barely ever say the word ‘c*nt.’

I think about this sort of problem a lot. And I think any time someone retweets or shares a tumblr post that ends with “THIS ISN’T HARD PEOPLE.”

It’s hard for me.

Man of Steel – The Cruel Pacifist

Much was made of the Christian overtones of Man of Steel, to the point where the movie was advanced-screened to some churches, a point that some folk got outraged about but really just seemed silly to me. Thing is, after it came out – and sucked – I gave it a cursory examination, read some script excerpts, saw the critical reaction, the advertising and figured I wanted nothing to do with it. Then the greater analyses came out and wow was I justified in my observations of this piece of crap, this Jesus-as-Judge extrahuman narrative ordained by human military powers.

Today, I want to talk to you about one particular scene in the building of this narrative, because it’s an incompetently constructed sign of a fundamental misunderstanding of Superman the character and Superman the narrative. Continue reading

Arkaeology

Now look, I need some disclaimers up front. First and foremost, you are hearing twenty-year old memories that were encoded, at the time, by an eight year old. Second,I was at the time, a second-hand source. I did not see the events, I saw the news reporting on the event, I saw my family talking about it, and eventually, spoke to the person in question. With that disclaimer in the way, let’s talk about one of the more goofy parts of my childhood, the persistent presence of Arkaeology. Continue reading

From Inside The Bubble

I’ve mentioned the Christian media bubble I grew up in, this little landscape of carefully controlled worldview. It’s conspiracy theory garbage, and unfortunately, a lot of people in the real world live in it. But while I’ve made hay out of the replacement media, the ‘Christian Versions’ of things we were given to replace the higher-quality, less-Christian versions of same, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the strangeness that was the times we tried to claim something from outside the bubble.

Now, my dad was not a purist for the bubble. Broadly speaking, he does not believe it’s that which goes into a man but that which comes out of him that corrupts him, ignoring exactly what the context of that sentence was saying in the Bible. It’s still an interesting perspective, which means that my dad read Harry Chapin lyrics from the pulpit confident in the knowledge that nobody in the congregation would know he was quoting a popular songer.

There were others, however, who liked things outside the bubble, who would argue for the Christian-ness of things that they brought in. Age worked in their favour in a lot of ways; both older people and older media were usually more wholesome. John Wayne movies, for example. I saw True Grit and it was okay, even though it had a swear. There were some… edge cases though.

See, one of the ideas we really clung to in these environments was the christian as an oppressed minority. We were sure that there weren’t that many Christians in the world (so missionary work was always important), and that we had almost no power. Hollywood was a vast, christian-eating machine and we warned people to stay away, or if they must go, go knowing they would be hated. Therefore, any ‘big’ media we could attribute as Christian was the result of some clever, insidious trickery on the part of a covert operative Christian, sneaking up the villainous Hollywood’s tower and waving a tiny Christian flag, reminding us all to stay strong.

I’m not kidding.

The first one to stick in my head was Enemy of the State, a conspiracy movie from the late 90s which focused on Will Smith as a hapless victim in a government conspiracy carrying information that was dangerous for someone. I saw it in theatres and heard, a few nights later, a member of the congregation argue that it was a good movie, as it was clearly trying to demonstrate the government of the End Times. It was, they said, a movie that was made for post-Rapture Christians (people who convert after the rest of us leave town), to be prepared for and understand the world they were going to live in. The main thing I remembered in the movie was the lingerie store scene.

The second movie was The Matrix, which we went and saw as a Youth Group because of course we did. See in this movie, there were Bible words, and there was Trinity and that meant that we were clearly seeing a covert missive from our Christian brothers (and sisters I suppose) in Hollywood who had made this movie. We read into the metaphors of this movie convinced that the Nebuchadnezzer was a reference to timescales, that there was some prophetic divination that we could untether in our little youth study classes. Just imagine a youth minister saying, ‘Much like Neo, in the Matrix, Jesus-‘ and you have the image of what happened.

Now I want to make it clear, if you’re a Christian, if you espouse this faith, that’s fine. And I think if you do, you might be a bit insulted to think that the Matrix movies were made for you by a secretive conspiracy and not, as they probably were, created as a sci-fi anime mishmash by a trans woman and her brother, with references to thousands of different sources in cinema and literature. Find your Christian reading, sure, but claiming it was made to be a Christian movie is…

Let me just settle on ‘weird.’

The third one, though, the third one was a movie I loved. That was The Transformers movie. How did we know the secret of that one? What gave away the secretive Christian nature of this piece of toy advertising? Was it the death-rebirth cycle of Primes? Was it the Matrix of leadership and the martyrdom and resurrection of Ultra Magnus? Perhaps it was the way the Junkions fought and did not become tired. Nope, nope, nope. The reference to Judas that was Starscream?

No.

No, the thing that tipped off the church member arguing for this was that in the opening of the movie, Hot Rod runs over a barricade guarded by Kup.

His Kup Runneth Over.

I saw an adult make that argument with a straight face.

“Were You There?”

Every time I write about fundamentalism I feel like I need to make this huge-ass preface and denoument to explain that I’m not applying this to everything and I’m sure you know some totally nice fundamentalists and all that. It’s tricky. I don’t want to be an asshole about it, but I do want to make it clear that thing is bad and I am allowed to think thing is bad. Just this tug between ideas.

Still!

In fundie school-churches, we’re trained to be disruptive assholes. Not to ourselves – oh god help you if you were disruptive in my school. No, we were taught to be disruptive and harmful to other people’s lives, with the most self-righteous of motivations.

The thing with the fundie bubble is that they know they can’t hold you forever. They can’t keep you from interacting with outside. If they want to control you when you’re not under the thumb, then, they need you to work to keep yourself enslaved – and guilt will do a lot for that. Know what else does a lot for that? Being an asshole.

There’s this wave of behaviours I have and I’ve recognised in myself and in other fundies. We argue. We argue hard and we argue with this visceral sincerity that means we’ll often be an asshole even when we lose. We’ll break out arguments at picnics and family camps. We’ll interrupt teachers. And we share stories about the people who do such things, these sorts of ridiculous modern myths about being persecuted for being Christians that really, when you listen to the story, are actually stories about bein ignored for being assholes. This was the meme of my childhood – the idea that I would raise my hand in class, and ask a secularist teacher at some sad point in my future ‘were you there?‘ and watch as they crumpled. The world was full of ridiculous paper tigers, who would fall when you threw out these arguments, and you would sweep in the glory of the lord. And if they didn’t fall, you were being persecuted, and could embrace that, too!

So many stories, so so many stories. So many stories that taught us to challenge the other authorities, to act like petty assholes, and then act offended when people treated us like assholes.

I actively worked to make the science education of my fellow students worse. I argued with teachers who knew better than me but didn’t have it in them to tell me to just shut up so they could get on with the class.

I imagine if I hadn’t had the crises of faith I had, this sort of self-fulfilling perpetuating behaviour would have probably driven me back to the church, because the church had crafted me to outsider myself in all other situations. You become crafted socially broken, then told your brokenness will only be accepted in the circle of prayer.

 

“Slavery Wasn’t So Bad.”

First things first, a content warning. I’m going to discuss slavery and possibly get into the specifics of what that means, and my own upbringing. I apologise if this makes you uncomfortable and advise you to freely sidestep this post and go do something else. I am a white dude talking about my experience with fundamentalists talking about slavery in the Bible. If you’re a Christian sensitive about literalism or your individual interpretation of the book, well, you might also want to step outside elsewhere, too. Probably won’t make you very happy.

Continue reading