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Living Life Through a Lens of Godliness, a Guest Post by ObstacleChick

godliness

A guest post by ObstacleChick

Growing up in an Evangelical environment, I learned that we are supposed to assess everything through the lens of godliness. That means we should discern whether our thoughts, actions, movies or television shows we watch, songs we listen to, articles of clothing we wear, relationships we have, and articles or books we read glorify God or detract from godliness. This is a large task that requires a lot of attention.

Many Christians I knew at my Southern Baptist church or at my Evangelical school went through the motions of religious practice without taking it to extremes, but some people took it quite seriously. I always found it overwhelming to pay the necessary attention to every single aspect of life to determine whether it met the standards of godliness. My grandmother, who had her own library of Christian concordances, history books, and books by Christian apologists, as well as Christian novels, spent large amounts of time trying to live up to what she considered her God’s standards for godliness. Everything was intently scrutinized to determine whether each was godly enough.

Our family loved watching “The Sound of Music” when it was broadcast on TV each year. We could sing along with all the songs, and we all cheered when the naughty nuns stole car parts from the Nazis’ cars so they could not pursue the Von Trapp family as they fled through the mountains to neutral Switzerland. However, one year, my grandmother determined that one of the songs, “Something Good,” taught an ungodly doctrine. This song was sung by Maria and Captain von Trapp after they declared their love for each other. Here are the main lyrics:

“Something Good” by Richard Rodgers

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth
For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

First, my grandmother said good things in our lives come through the grace and mercy of God, not through anything we do ourselves. Yes, our actions have consequences, but all good things come from Heaven above. The second issue she had with the song was with the line “nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.” In her mind, God created the heavens and earth and all therein from nothing, so therefore everything came from nothing and God made nothing into something. And technically there wasn’t “nothing” because there was God (yeah, I don’t get it either). I must admit, I thought she was nit-picking a fun, wholesome, uplifting movie, but I don’t think she watched it again until she started suffering from dementia.

Grandma believed that God developed hierarchies for us to follow. She believed that wives were under their husbands’ authority; that children were under their parents’ authority; that everyone is under God’s authority. She ran the household this way too, but in a loving way. At one point, we were a four-generation household, with my great-grandmother, my grandparents, my mom, and me. Eventually, my mom married again and moved out, but Grandma adhered to her hierarchy. Grandpa was head of household, so he could do whatever he wanted and was to be catered to at all times. Grandma’s mother was next, as children are commanded to honor their parents, and my great-grandmother’s whims were catered to as well. Technically, I was lowest on the totem pole, but Grandma considered herself God’s servant and put herself in the lowest position, eventually to the detriment of her health.

The hierarchy was amusing with regard to television. My great-grandmother was barely mobile, so using her walker, she would go from her bedroom to the table for breakfast, then to her chair where she watched television all day. (My grandma served my great-grandmother’s meals at her chair on a TV tray.) In the morning was news; then “preaching shows” (typically Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker whom I thought looked like a clown with all the makeup); then “The Price is Right,” followed by noon news and an afternoon of her soap operas; then evening news and a full slate of prime time shows and/or a movie. My great-grandmother controlled what we watched. Grandpa bought another television so he could watch sports or movies in another room. Grandma didn’t approve of a lot of the programming on television, but because she considered herself submissive to Grandpa and to her mother, she rarely said anything. I loved being able to watch movies and shows with the word “damn” or “oh my god” (which Grandma considered blasphemous). Grandpa’s favorite movie was “Patton” with George C. Scott in the lead, and even the edited-for-TV version was unacceptable by Grandma’s standards. The only time Grandma intervened was one day on my great-grandmother’s soap opera there was a male stripper and my great-grandma got a little too excited about it. Grandma said, “That’s it, I’m not having that filth in my house anymore,” whereupon my great-grandmother had a tantrum, hauled herself out of her chair, and took five minutes to go twenty feet down the hall with her walker to her bedroom where she sequestered herself and sulked the rest of the day. About a week later she was allowed to watch television again. Grandma herself didn’t watch much television outside of the news and Billy Graham Crusades, and she only listened to Christian radio talk shows like “The Christian Jew Hour” or shows by pastors such as James Dobson.

Grandma did not believe we should play games with regular playing cards because they were a “tool of gambling.”  She would play Rook because those were not playing cards. She did allow me to play solitaire with a deck of cards, but only because I was not playing with another player and gambling, and because her beloved father had enjoyed solitaire so much when he was alive. We weren’t allowed to play rummy in her house — I had to play it at my mom and stepdad’s house. Grandma wouldn’t allow me to play with dice either, because they were also tools of gambling — so games like Yahtzee and Monopoly were forbidden as well. Grandma never understood that literally ANYTHING could become a tool for gambling.

There were a couple of extremely pious girls who attended my church and school. They could, and often did, judge other people’s words and actions “in love,” “correcting” their peers in their testimony to others. During the 1980s, certain television shows such as “Magnum PI” and “The A-Team” were popular. Mr. T was known for saying, “I pity the fool….” A lot of us kids would quote Mr. T, and the word “fool” became a part of our vocabulary. Of course, one day on the school bus, I said “fool” and one of these lovely girls took it upon herself to let me know that it was ungodly to say “fool” because of this verse:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

What I didn’t consider at the time is that it may have been Wednesday. On Wednesdays, one of the pious girls was required by her family to fast at lunchtime and to give the money her lunch would have cost to charity. So she may have just been hungry.

The pious girls determined that the only music they would listen to included “Beach Boys” songs, classical music, and any music played at our church and school. They were suspicious about the music played on the Christian radio station. It was too “worldly” or “liberal” because drums and electrical instruments were used in some of the songs. Their exclamatory word of choice was “fudge.” My Grandma used to say “I’ll Swanee” as her exclamatory word until one day (who knows how) she determined that saying “I’ll Swanee” was ungodly, as it was a replacement swear word. Thereafter, she stifled any response other than “Oh.” Grandma allowed me to listen to classical music or to gospel music and anything by the Bill Gaither Trio, but all other music was considered ungodly. (Please read Christian Swear Words.)

This level of discernment made me anxious and took up a lot of energy while growing up. Honestly, I couldn’t keep up with it all. A lot of it was confusing, and I longed to be free to enjoy life without worrying about every single word, action, or situation being godly enough. When I stayed at my mom and stepdad’s house, there was a lot more freedom of speech and action, but I would have to switch back into high-vigilance mode at my grandparents’ house and at school. It was a relief to let it all go as I moved further away from Evangelical Christianity. Interestingly, as my grandmother succumbed to dementia and no longer remembered all the religious strictures, she became a lot happier, childlike, and fun. There was a lot I missed about her intellectually, but as she became more forgetful, she enjoyed a lot of things again like movies and baseball (we never knew she was an Atlanta Braves fan until she suffered dementia, and I have no idea when or why baseball became ungodly). Don’t get me wrong, my grandmother was a very loving and caring person who did a lot of things to help others (as anonymously as possible), and I loved her dearly, but some of her standards were a lot to handle.

Did the home you grow up in have a code of godliness or what Baptists call “standards”? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    maura

    when I think about godliness, it puts me in despair. so much death and bloodshed in the name of Jehovah and more in the name of Christ. now , currently, so much fear and rage and hatred coming from Christians who say they only preach love love love. and then disgust. I find it all disgusting.

    • Avatar
      ObstacleChick

      Evangelical Christianity is certainly twisted in the way it treats people. There are some good evangelical people who do love others, but a lot of it is judgmental and the type of love that is condescending – as in, “I love everyone and want everyone to be saved and to experience eternal life in Christ, but the unsaved are corrupt and tainted.”

  2. Avatar
    Tammy

    Great post, ObstacleChick.

    My family wasn’t too bad about restricting most things. My parents did watch a lot of evangelical shows, but mostly I wasn’t required to watch those. I did have to watch The Ten Commandments movie and Billy Graham crusades whenever those were on. (Not a fan of either.) And my dad wouldn’t let me watch Three’s Company when I was a young teen because a single man was living with two single women. ( I waited till he wasn’t home and watched it on my small black and white TV in my room.)

    Actually, I put a lot of restrictions on myself when I started attending an IFB church as an older teen. The clothing, the hair, got rid of all my music collection, the whole nine yards. My parents attended as well, but they weren’t as deeply harmed by it as I was. The worst they got was trying to live without a TV for a short time, not having a Christmas tree one year and hating on both Catholics and the Masons. My mom dropped most of it after we left, but my dad still holds onto his disdain for both groups of people. And he watches the “end times” type religious bullshit. He still thinks I’m a Christian even though I’ve flatly told him I no longer believe in the Christian God or any gods. He refuses to accept I’m an atheist.

    • Avatar
      ObstacleChick

      I wasn’t allowed to watch Three’s Company either for the same reason ha ha! Interestingly, my husband who was raised nominally Catholic was also not allowed to watch it. Of course we all found ways to watch it from time to time.

      Some teens will self-impose religious rules to fit in with the group. There are teens who do the opposite in order to establish their individuality, and there are teens who hyper-conform in order to gain acceptance. It’s interesting.

      I hear you about your dad not accepting that you’re an atheist – my father-in-law doesn’t accept that his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren are atheists. In fact, my kids are teens (16 and 18) and they both think that believing any sort of religion is real (they don’t discriminate) is like believing Harry Potter is real.

  3. Avatar
    Matilda

    Yup, the whole works, most things, many of them quite innocent, were ‘thou shalt nots’. My parents weren’t x-tians but I converted, aged 13 and my BF was from a strict fundy family so from her I learned, no make up, high heels, cinema, teen/movie magasines, novels, dancing etc etc etc. I watched TV still at home, in those far back days, our one living room was the only warm space in winter, my bedroom fire only went on for 15mins for undressing at bedtime! So I had my teenage crushes on TV stars and felt guilty that I shouldn’t…but teenage hormones saw to that and their posters stayed on my wall. Parents asked why I’d given up ballroom dancing lessons and Saturday cinema with friends and I said I just preferred the church’s teens bible study group. Guess they thought ‘just another teenage phase’. My BF had an older sister and the two of them set out from home together for bible study group, sister with a bag. BF went into church whilst sister went to the nearby Wimpy Bar, changed into high heels, a shorter skirt, put on make up and met boys, shock horror there. I prayed for her to see the light and the answer came, she got pregnant, she had a shotgun wedding and had her golden wedding anniversary recently! Oh, and Sunday observance, I stopped doing homework on Sundays….and that’s the last vestige I have of former-fundyism. I catch myself thinking, ‘lawn needs mowing’ or ‘big load of laundry needs doing’..but it’s Sunday and it would be such a bad witness….but hang on…I’m FREE of all that now. But I still can’t wear heels!

    • Avatar
      ObstacleChick

      Not doing homework on Sundays – that’s the best! My great-grandmother used to chastise my mom for doing any sort of sewing on Sunday – she would say, “you’ll pick out every single stitch with your teeth in hell if you sew on Sunday”. She also believed that if you stuck a hat pin or a needle into a telephone pole you could hear the devil beating his wife….

  4. Avatar
    Brian

    Thank-you for this, ObstacleChick. You write in a very emotionally balanced way, a distance that reflects good journalism. This is an accomplishment with regard to writing about the evangelical background many of us shared.
    I am convinced that the vigilance required/imposed by evangelical zeal is a mental aberration, an extreme of focus that insists on 24/7 and is designed to harm us as human beings. NOTHING, not even full-blown, natural adolescent sexuality in all its glory is meant to be an eternal cul-de-sac like fundamentalist evangelical Christianity is… To even think of ‘sinning’ is to sin.
    To find your adolescent eyes following the breasts of of your public school teacher is surefire doom and the fast lane to hell. To think of the word, ‘fuck’ in order to attempt to banish it from your mind leaves you in the prison you build around yourself. I must not think of fuck I must not not not fuck think of think fuck fuck fuck oh fuck that does not count because I am trying to not think of fuck and so forth ad-nauseum, until you are truly fucked, so to speak. And then, sometimes, along comes the preacher who tells you to just do your best and not worry about it all so much and well, what the fuck!
    It is my observation that this kind of childhood/youth is spiritual rape. Those parents who give their children this upbringing are abusers. My dear parents lived it in their own childhoods and were unable to resist passing it on to us kids. Sweet Jesus just keeps repeating the sermon on the mount while his minions wreck their own lives from the inside out, generation after generation.
    Which brings me to: Regarding your using sweet sweet Jesus’ death on the Cross to avoid doing your homework is quite a brilliant move! But of course you will have to burn forever because of it. Admit you crucified Jesus all over again by using His holy day to avoid your duty! It shocks me that you could hate Jesus so much just to be lazy!

    • Avatar
      ObstacleChick

      Brian, thank you for the compliment regarding my writing. I come from a long line of avid readers and spent my teens and early 20s catching up on as much classic literature as possible. By nature, I am a very diplomatic and tactful person who tries to understands multiple sides of arguments. I form my own opinions, but I find that examining different aspects helps me to organize my thoughts.

      One problem with extreme fundamentalism is that it really is a 24/7 endeavor. Thoughts and actions are judged equally, whereas in “real life” only actions are judged. Some people refer to those who live in a “fundamentalist bubble” – that is, people who so completely immerse themselves in an exclusive culture of all things Christian that they have very little contact with the outside world. This is an attempt to limit anything that might be tempting or that might teach the person something outside the accepted structure of their lives. The Amish, Hasidic Jews, and certain Christian cults are extreme examples of this – gender roles are strictly defined, and people only work within the community (some of my company’s customers are Jewish-owned companies in which a number of employees are Hasidic or highly-observant Jews – they are allowed to leave early for Sabbath and take off Jewish holidays, and they are surrounded by other observant Jews with whom they can share food, ideas, etc.). While some extreme religionists live in a bubble, others live with religion-colored glasses on. They still live in the real world, but they view the real world through the religion-colored glasses.

      While I can write about my experiences without being overly emotional, I certainly haven’t felt that way. I was a VERY ANGRY teenager, and depressed to boot. I mean, how could someone not be when they are told they are a piece of dung, that all their works are a piece of dung, that Jesus had to die to cover up for their corruption, and that no matter what you do after salvation has to be done to the glory of God. There’s no room for self in this equation. Your thoughts, your abilities, your passions, your life – all have to be given over to God. It’s a lot to handle, especially for an impressionable child/teen. My kids haven’t been raised with an ounce of religion and they seem so much more well adjusted. They worry about things like keeping their grades up, making varsity soccer, hanging out with their friends, getting a summer job. They don’t have to worry about whether looking at a hot girl’s boobs or a hot guy’s butt is going to send them to hell.

      • Avatar
        Matilda

        ‘…it’s a 24/7 endeavour’…and the worst thing is that one is never going to succeed…you’ll always be a worm who needs covering by the blood of jesus. I used to confess my sins, as required in fundy devotional times, and then add ‘cleanse thou me from hidden faults’. Apparently there were a vast unknown quantity of those that I deserved hell for and the hypervigilance to identify them could become exhausting! And if one did overcome a ‘sin’, and felt a degree of success and progress, then that was the sin in itself, the sin of pride.

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