I’m Dani Kelley,

and I do lots of things.

Tag Archive for Religion

The Stories We Tell: Purity Culture and Shame.

I had a very eye-opening conversation with my mom recently.

We were talking about my marriage to my ex, and she asked me if her hunch was correct that I’d have married him anyway if my parents hadn’t given us permission. (You see, in our iteration of purity culture, even as a 22-year-old adult, I needed my parents’ permission to marry.)

I thought a moment and answered honestly: yes, I would have still married him. Then I clarified, “I honestly thought I had to.”

“You didn’t get that from us!” Mom responded in astonished confusion. “You don’t have to marry someone just because you slept with them.

Let me state up front: that’s an entirely true statement. I agree with it 100%.

And yet it was my turn to be shocked.

Because that statement flew in the face the entire narrative of my first 20+ years of life..

The Stories We Tell: Purity Culture Edition

Purity culture: a definition.

As defined by the excellent No Shame Movement,

Within the conservative Christian context, purity culture is simply the view of any discussion of things of a sexual nature outside of the context of heterosexual marriage as taboo.

Those with in purity culture must adhere to a strict heteronormative lifestyle that forbids most physical contact with significant others, as well as engaging in self pleasure, or holding lustful thoughts about another person that is not a spouse. This view is generally enforced and policed by the family and church community. Purity culture includes an insistence on female modesty and responsibility to shield boys and men from sexual temptation.

To be blunt, purity culture is distinctly religious and sexist at heart. As Dianna Anderson states, “Purity culture is, in brief, the linking of religious piety with virginal status, particularly in young people, and the association of sin and shame with sex.”

As such, it operates with an awful lot of assumptions about the world and how people do and/or should belief and/or behave:

Of masculinity & abusive breeding grounds.

Of Masculinity & Abusive Breeding Grounds

This post originally appeared on Plymouth Brethren Dropout on May 26, 2014. An updated version appears below. It’s been just over a year since the tragedy at Isla Vista that prompted the original penning of this post. So many things have happened since then that illustrate the points made herein, including but not limited to: the largely “secular” ongoing hissy-fit that is GamerGate…

The journey in and out.

There had always been a disconnect between what I was taught and what I observed and experienced, between blind faith in invisible things and repeatably testable evidence. But as a child, as a teen, even into early adulthood, I wasn’t given the words to recognize the disconnect, or even the tools to inspect or deconstruct my beliefs to see if there was any merit to them outside of wanting them to be true.

Observations about relationships in Christianity.

What kind of foundation forms a lasting friendship, then? I mean, friendships are a pretty personal thing. There’s lots of aspects that are difficult to pin down, usually including compatible personalities, shared experiences, outlooks on life, mutually enjoyable activities, etc. I think those things are a given, no matter whether you’re a conservative Christian or not. But in my experience, the ingredients that point to longevity seem to be a pretty equal mixture of mutual admiration, respect, and trust. The Christian friends I have now who have been friends of mine for years weren’t my friends just because of our once-shared faith. We became friends through discovering and indulging in shared interests, sure, but we did it while demonstrating respect for each other’s individuality and personhood. Our personalities do click, but we also work hard to be empathetic, trustworthy, respectful people. We care about each other, what demonstrably makes each other’s lives more meaningful and fulfilling, no ulterior motives.

Let me hide myself.

I was 15 years old, sitting in the front row of the church, staring skeptically at the woman who was preaching to us. This wasn’t my youth group, of course—the assemblies would never allow a woman to speak like this. I determined that perhaps she was like Balaam’s donkey, and did my utmost to pay attention to whatever word of the Lord she might ironically speak despite her unfitness for leadership.

She walked over to her projector and held up a transparency sheet. “This represents you,” she said simply. “Your lives.” She picked up a few different markers and started doodling on the sheet, explaining that our sins and decisions and actions were like the marks on the page. “Everything is here—from the clothes you wear, to the words you say, to what you do in your every day life. They all show up here.”

The speaker placed the sheet back on the projector and turned on the light. “This light is Jesus,” she continued. “Notice how you can’t see him through the ink, only through the clear parts?” I stirred in my seat, aware of how it seemed the Spirit was moving within me.

She took an eraser and slowly began moving it across the marker drawings. I watched, mesmerized, as the marks disappeared. “This is what the blood of Christ does”—she pointed to the now-clean sheet—”so that all that can be seen through you is Jesus.” She spent the rest of her time with us explaining how important it was to make sure that our transparencies remained clean, that our decisions and words and lives were so clean that we would only reflect Christ to those around us.

As I got in the van with the carpool that brought me to church that night, I was deeply convicted to start changing my life so that I would better reflect Christ. It occurred to me that this meant becoming a different person. But wasn’t that what Christianity was all about to begin with, becoming a new creation in Christ?

For the well-meaning Christian: humility in listening.

You’ll approach me with why you think I really stopped being a Christian, as if it’s a huge secret that, if you can just crack the code, you could make sure no one would leave the team ever again. And usually, much like this person said, you assume I just didn’t pick the right flavor of Christianity. Or I just didn’t really know Jesus. Or as a recent reader suggested, I just left the bad Christians behind but not Jesus.

You’re taking ownership of my story, mangling it beyond recognition, then insisting I accept your version rather than my own. You’re saying you’re a better judge of my experiences and life than I am. And when you suppose these things about my life and my beliefs, you are being incredibly disrespectful and unloving. Like Cassidy said. it’s like you grew up in a home where smacking someone upside the head was considered loving, and you’re now indignant that you can’t smack me, too.

I get it. I do. I did the same thing. I believed rather strongly that anyone who left the faith was never a Christian to begin with but had been deceived into thinking they were. And I wasn’t shy about this belief, nor did I falter in said belief.

Until it happened to me.

For the well-meaning Christian: credit to whom credit is due.

I think we really do a disservice to ourselves and the people around us when we attribute the good or bad things actually done by people to the supernatural, or even to some sort of intrinsic goodness like hard work. I don’t begrudge people the comfort they take in believing a divine creator has orchestrated their life to their benefit, or even wanting to believe that bad things have happened due to an invisible malevolent force. I just can’t help but notice how this tendency to credit the supernatural with what man or chance has wrought often serves to create a disconnect between us and our communities.

No more faith: the whys and why nots of my deconversion.

It’s really rather rare for people to ask me why I deconverted from Christianity. Like, really rare. It’s far more common for them to assume they already know, whether they’re talking to me while they’re expressing this assumption or not. However, in a single week, I’ve had two separate unaffiliated people ask me a variation of the same question about the role fundamentalism had in my deconversion. Of course, I’ve been trying to figure this out for myself on a less-specific scale for the better part of two years, though much of it has been in my own head. Perhaps it’s time for me to work out of my thoughts here with you.