I lost my religion to Science in a series of tragic accidents, but not in the way most people shed their piety. Mine were discoveries that everybody knows but which seemed to render my faith in God, equality, and the beauty of womanhood utterly incompatible with each other.
From time to time I will do this, take a topic of discussion that has come up in my own journey to the polyamorous life, and explore my take on it and the role it has played in landing me where I am now. These are personal and do not necessarily generalize, but I imagine there are elements of my story that may be relevant to others. This one was more or less of a first step on my descent into my life of More.
I had been slowly falling out of love with religion for some time. Ever loyal to religion, my unhappy parents stayed together in the misery house of my upbringing. With childish obedience I curtailed my sexual interests, cut explicit songs I enjoyed from my life, and bent under the weight of guilt—guilt from bad thoughts, guilt from desire and longing and aspiration and opinion and outspokenness. After a while, my house that was not a home had become my prison, and everything in it was a factor in my nightmares, not least of all the Tradition and Practice that singled out sinners for some things over others: for not wearing a skirt on church days and not saying Grace before meals; but letting your wife cry herself to sleep in the next room, letting your daughter think of her body as a burden, telling your children over and over their mother’s way of worship, with memorized prayers and thanks to the virgin, was wrong—those things faced no judgment.
My religious texts did not speak loudly enough for my sex.
Only then did the Science come, a slinking snake to whisper truths that made themselves indelible in my mind. I, the feminist, could not reconcile with I, the Christian, why women must work so much harder to come out on top. The religion of my youth seemed, to me, a perfect blueprint for a world in which female subservience is true in every instance, a legacy of male dominance dating back to the days when men lived by the sweat of their brow and growing until it underlay everything we say, we think, we do. It sprung from that particular drive in men, the drive to violence, to physical success, to power, to dominance, to snatch at the inheritance of a brother, to act in anger and jealousy. It continued through that hesitation in women to eat the forbidden fruit, to trade other women for the man’s satisfaction, to share a husband, to suffer stricter governance. The physical model was followed by an ideological one, male strength in the physical becoming the rule for all modes. My religious texts fanned the power of the patriarchs, and my Christian upbringing encouraged this, promoted this, believed in this. But the more my wardrobe and my curfews and my opinions were limited compared to those of my younger brother, the less inclined I was to drink the Kool-Aid. My religious texts did not speak loudly enough for my sex. They did not truly speak for me at all.
And the more I thought about it, the more the subtitle patriarchy of human physiology needled me until my fury at the physical discrepancy between men and women struck the fatal blow. It was the fact that on the whole, men tend to be physically stronger, taller. They possess a penetrating appendage that makes it much easier for them to physically dominate a woman than for her to physically overcome him—even when he does so against her will, thus eviscerating her, physically, emotionally, psychologically, irreparably.
Then it was the fact that women’s bodies make us sick monthly from the time we are children until the time we are middle-aged adults past our physical prime; we are constantly killing ourselves for even a chance at child-bearing. And then that womanhood leaves us bereft, taking our talent for babymaking with it and leaving us to live out the rest of our years, spent. Men, on the other hand, march on forever, their swimmers ever springing to life amid the sags and cracks of old age. Childbirth itself imperils us, tortures us, and also pledges us physically, emotionally, to a dependent which we may easily be left to rear alone, even before the little one has fled our womb.
And then there’s the matter of our vaginas, fickle things, tasked with seeking a healthy balance in an unbalanced world. They are secrets we share at our peril. They are systems that stew, writhe, and sigh, just like our hearts in our chests. They descend into hysterics at the slightest provocation, frothing and stinging and raving at the world and making a mess for me to clean up. No sir, I don’t want to have sex with you on a beach or sit in the dirt or ride a horse bareback, not if I want my vagina to live and breathe normally. But a man can. Let him get down in the dirt and carouse, feeling your lady parts clench up tight in automatic defense of themselves as you watch him. He will not understand. And he will also not remember what you tell him, even if you tell him again and again. A moment of silence for every woman who has ever needed to explain her body to a man.
Why would the pattern of physical dominance and female control not continue through the ages, down to my own Sundays?
As I unpacked the struggles of womanhood, a sinking feeling hit me. The discrepancies were too great, the advantages for men too stark and inborn. I was falling out of love not just with the Practice that limited me but with the Hand they told me was so just, so loving. I couldn’t hang all of societies ills on the limitations of human understanding, and I also couldn’t wholly blame men for the head-start they inherited with their hormones at birth. As I grew into womanhood, it seemed to me I could trace my society’s skewed structure like a red river through history with every gut-crunching period that doubled me over. Can’t you just imagine Eve curled up under a tree for five to seven days while Adam gives names and instructions to all of the animals with a firm sense of purpose? Can’t you just imagine Eve holding the hands of her two young boys while Adam plows the field, gathers the grain, chops the firewood, feeds the horses? Can’t you just imagine Eve, still aching with the horror of her son’s death, pushing away Adam’s advances as he grows more insistent? The more I thought of religion in the context of my own body’s limitations, a pattern emerged that unsettled very bone in my body and seemed to reach through millennia, from the wives of Jacob to the bleeding woman clinging to Jesus’s coattails. And why stop there? Why would the pattern of physical dominance and male control not continue through the ages, down to my own Sundays?
As I shed, by degrees, the subjugating rules of my childhood, as I moved off to college and began to wear trousers to church and explore, out of curiosity, the structures of other faiths, I lost track of the reasons for my religious fidelity in the first place. What I once knew as a system of don’ts and shouldn’ts fell away as my fear of them faded. The question of “Why?” was a question I asked often and the dissatisfaction that had been mounting in me for years sent me farther afield to look for answers. I met JJ, a Religious Studies major at university and, incidentally, one of my first best friends at uni. She was bisexual, Wiccan, and strong-willed, far from the dutiful archetype my mother had set before me. I took classes that taught evolution and chatted with professors who were adept at the inclusion of students from all walks of life. I had friends and crushes who were atheist, Jewish, agnostic. And I had boyfriends and grappled with my own femininity, my strength versus theirs, my body against theirs, my vagina battling the imbalances of sex.
And then I had started a landslide. Once I had started to lose my religion, I just kept losing it. Once I had started asking “Why?” to my religion, I couldn’t stop. Why was my life loftier than JJ’s? Why was my chastity of value? Why was my self-restraint beneficial? Why was church mandatory? Why was one sexuality superior to another? Why was monogamy more acceptable than polyamory? “Because,” was the only answer I found, and the day that answer stopped being enough was the day I shed my faith. I don’t know when it happened, I just know I looked up and knew for sure.
I stopped asking “Why” and began asking “Why not?” I sought to find good reasons to leave forbidden fruit untouched, and to be honest, I have yet to find any.
In my circles now I meet very few people who are pro-religion. Liberalism seems about as open to religion as queerness is open to eating meat, which is to say not very. And so now I am just one of the number in my communities who have either shed the yoke or who never bore it to begin with, all of us unwilling to bear the disappointment of those who will never approve of us. But yet my sympathies run deep. I reasoned away the precepts that kept me in line a s girl, but they did succeed in tethering me in a way I just can’t shake.
But now I also have the wisdom of one who has been on both sides. The girl who worshiped looked down her nose. She felt stronger for every urge denied. She felt that her accomplishments, wrought through strict self-restraint, were a cut above the ones of all those who indulged. And for all her little victories, she died just the same, slain by the me who emerged, triumphant, from the trials of my youth. She was an idealist, though, convinced she was govnered by ideals of love and kindness and raised on nothing but the coaching of steadfast belief, patience, and deeds meant to better others. For all the misguided actions of the church and its followers, the purest belief is built on these morally positive concepts. It was my religious upbringing, the belief to move mountains, that formed the blueprint for my steadfast belief in hope, in the potential of the improbable, and in other people, which has given my polyamorous lifestyle the honesty, intention, and optimism that is its lifeblood.
What that girl lacked, however, was understanding, and it was in the pursuit of this that my religion was lost. She had faith and intention but not openness, not a willingness to meet people where they are. The church does preach the latter, but with the unspoken expectation that once you meet them, you will then change them to be how they ought to be or to behave in a way that is better for them, which has never actually been my choice to make for others. The Christian girl did not have the tools to live alongside people, to recognize that Free Will means that their choices are theirs and are not mine to try and change. I still believe that much of the religious texts my Christianity was based on have been misinterpreted and that when God said “Free Will,” he did not also say, “but only when…” The journey of my early twenties made this and many other discrepancies of organized religion clear to me, which shook religion from my shoulders like so much man-made control. I stopped asking “Why” and began asking “Why not?” I sought to find good reasons to leave forbidden fruit untouched, and to be honest, I have yet to find any. And so my feminism, queer identity, and poly drives killed the girl I was and wrought instead the woman I am.
As casualties go, my faith did not seem much troubled about being dropped.
It was the accident of my womanhood that began it, an accident that I could not school myself to do as I was told, to put aside vices in the approved modes of self-control. Perhaps it was an the accident, that slip of the curtain, that revealed to me the backstage structure of male dominance, the differences in male and female design a Creator thought wise. I’m willing to admit that perhaps the accident was my own misinterpretation. But I have turned it over and over with what I consider to be an open mind, and felt there were no accidents in the designs themselves, but every intention, of God and of Man, to saddle the woman with an uphill climb. If God is truly egalitarian, with a deeper reason for the way of the world, then perhaps he will resurrect my faith. I just made the choice not to live my life in waiting. Before I married a Jew I asked again why my Bible was truer than his, why my history more current than those of his ancestors. In lieu of an answer, I moved forward with my life. What if our lives are actually equal? Why the hell not.
As casualties go, my faith did not seem much troubled at being shaken from my everyday life. It, like the house in my past, was wrapped up tightly in my mind and left behind, trailing out only a scant, fluid remnant of what it had been like to have and hold and bear with.
No Glossary this time, but…
This is a discussion post, so it’s not just about me. Feel free to share a piece of your experience; mine is by no means the rule. But please ensure your comments follow the rules of the blog. If it’s negative, it will be removed.