5 Insane Lessons from My Christian Fundamentalist Childhood
My name is Hannah Ettinger, and I was raised in the Quiverfull movement. The term is taken from a verse in Proverbs, which says: "Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of arrows." We interpreted this to mean: "Blessed is the man who dies with the most kids."
In the Quiverfull movement, children are pretty much metaphorical weapons born to shoot a degenerate modern society in the face. I was one of nine children, and our family was just on the large end of "normal" in size. Really, it was downright small: We didn't need to use all the seats in our 15-passenger van to get to church. I was brought up to be just one more weapon in this terrible faith-based arsenal, but I didn't quite hit the target. Here's what I can tell you about being a weaponized offspring.
It's Not a "Time-Honored Tradition" So Much as a "Super Racist Conspiracy Theory"
When you think of crazy religious fundamentalists in America, you probably picture a hard-faced member of the Phelps clan. It's easy to write someone like that off as just another nut born into an extreme religious tradition, proudly carrying the family psychosis into the future. But this isn't true of the Quiverfull movement: We're only just now entering our second generation.
Just like Star Wars fans, oddly enough.
Most of the ideas that spawned the Quiverfull movement can be traced to books like The Way Home by Mary Pride (key quote: "My body is not my own"), an anti-feminist treatise published way back in the ancient days of 1985, when men were RoboCops and women wore shoulder pads. The first wave of Quiverfull families weren't born into anything. Like roughly 2/3 of people who join cults, they came into it as young adults fleeing shitty childhoods. Choosing this alternative lifestyle was their rejection of the "normal" world -- whether they were fleeing drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or plain vanilla no-frills physical abuse -- to right the wrongs of their parents. And for some reason they thought the best way to do that was to have kids the way other people buy Costco cheese.
No, seriously. Here's the basic political idea behind the Quiverfull movement: The more babies we have, the more voting Christians we'll have to balance out the heathens. The individual babies really aren't as important as the quantity you successfully indoctrinate into the cause.
Way to really half-uterus it.
I've heard people in the Quiverfull movement -- parents, pastors, homeschooling gurus -- say things like: "All children are blessings. It's godly to be fruitful and multiply. Look at the birth rates across the world -- the Muslims are the only people keeping up with us! They're going to outbreed the Europeans, and in the end we'll be all that's left of Western civilization."
That is not a recent development. The only thing "new" about that statement is the ethnicity of the rivals. Before terrorism started to dominate the news in 2001, the Chinese were the international threat we had to fear. My family had a few primary news sources: One, called God's World News, was for the kids, and then there were World Magazine and Voice of the Martyrs (which really sounds more like a broadsheet you'd find in downtown Fallujah). They were filled with stories of Christian martyrs getting killed in various Asian countries. As a result of this and your average evangelism training classes in third grade, I came to believe that my life would be useful to God only if I did one of two things: either go to the "10/40 Window" (the non-Western world located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator) as a missionary (or the wife of one), or have as many kids as I could as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, raising up more kids for the cause.
The "10/40 Window," aka every country that needs Jesus more than clean water or a stable government.
Now, having left the movement for the "real world," I'm utterly appalled at how blatantly racist/colonialist this attitude was, and how fundamental colonialist racism (called "dominionism" internally) was to the entire movement. My parents never voiced any of this xenophobia themselves, but everyone around us acted like it was the only reason we, as children of Quiverfull parents, existed in the first place.
Yeah, that whole "children as weapons" thing? It was only barely a metaphor.
They Use Procreation to Dominate Women
My mom had nine kids. She was either nursing or pregnant for almost all of my childhood.
I'm pretty sure that most Quiverfull moms (including mine) struggle with postpartum depression for years and never get help for it -- depression is assumed to be caused by lack of faith in the Quiverfull world, not the nasty side effect of chemicals fucking with your brain. Keeping women in a state of constant pregnancy/nursing may not be a conscious tactic of male domination, but it works that way all the same. You try life as a 24/7 lactation pump -- see how "strong" and "independent" you remain while acting as combination Household Operations Manager/Teacher/Brood Queen/Slurpee Station.
Look at this slacker. She's got a whole free arm.
My mom worked as a nurse before my dad retired her to start having kids on a semi-professional basis, but she kept her nursing certification active through the years. That was an anomaly. Some women in the movement may go to college (only as a backup plan in case your husband becomes a paraplegic, of course), but birthing and caring for kids is the highest achievement a woman could or should aspire to. Even little girls aren't really encouraged to dream much beyond that goal. I had a friend who would create complicated strategy games for racing these little horse figurines we collected. Her parents banned her from playing it because she wasn't spending enough time helping with babies, cooking, and cleaning. Later, she wrote a fantasy novel and printed out the final draft in this big binder -- it was over 300 pages long. The family computer crashed and this was the only copy. But because she'd spent so much time and effort on that instead of her scullery maid duties, her parents said the novel was "an idol." She was obviously putting her writing above her devotion to God, so her parents burned it in the living room fireplace. They never even read it.
Not many people can say they've literally watched a dream turn to ash.
They're Obsessed With and Entirely Opposed to Online Privacy
When we first got a computer, the whole family shared one email address (with the exception of my dad's work email account). This was for the sake of "accountability." No one -- including my mom -- could be trusted with a private online life, because the potential for "temptation" was too great. Then, when I was 16, I was working on a "Christian worldview" magazine with some other homeschoolers, and the team gave me my own email address. When my dad found out, you'd better believe he wanted the password. He had the password to my old Xanga, which was still cool then. And when I went to college and got a Facebook account, he naturally signed up for one too. After all, there are boys on the Internet! Some of those boys might not even be interested in pumping a girl full of nonstop babies. Got to pre-emptively weed those suckers right out of the feed.
Above: the average secular male.
My mom got her own email address last year. And so we're clear, my dad wasn't being "extreme" at all. That's just how the fundamentalist movement embraced technology -- if people are fundamentally sinful, and if you sincerely desire to follow God wholeheartedly, you'll submit to complete transparency in every area of your life for the sake of your spiritual well-being. A lot of newlyweds who haven't left the movement merge their Facebook accounts to one ("John & Jane Smith") for the same reasons. Well, either that or they're becoming some sort of Cronenbergian merged body-horror Facebook monster.
It's ... probably the first one.
We Don't Date -- We Court
Here's the rough diagram of Quiverfull's holiness scale for romantic relationships: You've got arranged marriage as obviously the least sinful solution, and then there's betrothal, common among the more firmly devout. If you think you're more "prone to temptation," you might have a brief, chaste "courtship" before getting engaged and married -- three months of courting or less is considered normal.
"Nice to meet you! Welp, guess it's time we get to that altar."
The parents usually orchestrate romantic relationships, although in a rare case it might be the young man's idea. If that's the case, he'd better be careful to suggest the idea to her father in such a way that the father thinks it's totally his own idea. The best way is to get the mom on your side before approaching the dad. After all, "the woman is the neck."
"OK, what's a nice way to say 'I wanna do your daughter, but for Jesus'?"
Generally speaking, at no point before the parents propose the courtship does the woman know anything about this boy's interest. It's entirely possible that the couple won't spend a single hour alone together before their wedding night. And then there's supposed to be a transformation from naive, Disney-caliber virgin to smokin' hot wife, despite the girl having never seen an erect penis before in her life. Heck, she's really lucky if she actually knows how to get herself off before the wedding night!
But of course, the genitals of both parties are treated like proximity mines at all times. Dating is considered just barely preferable to prostitution. After all, you're giving away pieces of your heart to each person you date, and you'll never get those back -- and then you won't be able to give your spouse your whole heart on your wedding night. And right about now, you're mentally casting all of these roles with 18th century peasants. But remember, this is not in a walled-off commune somewhere. We're talking about teenagers in the United States in an era with the Internet and smartphones. There are dicks everywhere -- you've probably seen 10 today. There's probably one flopping around somewhere in your peripheral vision right now, and yet the normal-seeming girl across from you (yeah, that one wearing the "purity ring") while you're reading this in class may have absolutely no idea what a dong looks like. Despite the fact that she's about to be engaged.
... pretty much, right?
Sex Is Worse Than Drug Addiction
Male masturbation is treated like a D.A.R.E. class treats heroin addiction. If you do it at all, even once, you're considered an "addict." Or you probably think you invented a new sin. So all the little Quiverfull boys essentially grow up and go into marriage believing that they're sex addicts or perverts. It's worse for women, because the slim sex education we girls get never even addresses the concept of female masturbation or orgasm. We just talk about periods and babies. This is the closest to sex-positive most of our educational material ever got:
"Masturbation isn't a filthy habit that makes people dirty. It only reveals the dirt that's already in our hearts."
That reads like something a serial killer would scrawl in blood in a Denzel Washington thriller, but nope -- that's your sex ed.
And shame is your birth control.
Marital rape is like unicorns and hoverboards: It doesn't exist. Rape is generally the fault of the woman. My friend, the same one who had her novel burned, wound up hiding her online social life out of fear of having that taken away from her, too. Eventually she met some guy in a chat room, things got serious, she met up with him, and he raped her. When she went to her parents, their first reaction was to accuse her of lying. They did eventually take her to the cops, but only so she could sign a statement recanting this whole "rape" claim officially. I wrote up that whole story here, if you'd like to test whether enough impotent rage can make your hair spontaneously combust.
Our sex education isn't even particularly good once you get pregnant, even though that's ostensibly our only reason for existing. Apparently labor pain exists for my spiritual benefit.
Thanks, God! Did us all a real solid on that one, buddy. Stretch marks and distended uteri are totally not signs of physical destruction!
For more facts you'll wish you didn't know, check out 16 Shocking Statistics You'll Wish Were Made Up.
Related Reading: Cracked's also taken a look inside the hidden 'troubled teen' industry and spilled it's ugly secrets. We talked to an escaped Scientologist and even a former prostitute. Also; we talked to a prison guard. Got a story to share with Cracked? Message us here.
Hannah Ettinger has a website, and also runs a magazine for survivors of fundamentalist homeschooling, The Swan Children which just launched a new issue and she reviews young adult literature on her Youtube channel.