In the first pages of Julia Scheeres’ Jesus Land, she and her brother David ride their bikes to a graveyard. She explains that their fascination with these gardens of the dead as born of the language of their fundamentalist upbringing – with the obsession with death and what comes after, with heaven and hell. But having just read the first half of the book on a rainy afternoon, I’d say that an obsession with death is a symptom of depression, and they had plenty to be depressed about.
Adolescence is the worst of times for children in loveless homes. 13 years of abuse is worse than 12, 14 worse than 13, 15 worse than 14. The cumulative effect, combined with the tantalizingly close but ever receding horizon of 18, is maddening. And then there is the increased ability and opportunity to make their own bad choices, without having been given much of a toolkit for making good ones.
It has been said that “storm and stress” does not describe the average person’s teenage years. Which is an assertion of great annoyance to those for whom the arrival to adulthood was never certain, to those who know some who were lost and others who barely made it, who know what a sizable minority these “storm and stress” teens are, and how they were kept in that place in part, oftentimes, by some of their placidly untroubled peers. To say that they are not the majority in a country ruled by the majority is almost to say that their suffering does not matter, or that they are somehow suspect for being different. What a strange and contradictory country we live in, where plurality is protected, but majority rules.
I don’t know if children raised in fundamentalist homes are disproportionately subject to abuse. I would like to think that instead, fundamentalists ab/use scripture to justify their latent abusive tendencies. The twin paddles labelled “Spare the Rod” and “Spoil the Child” point to how religion and abuse were intertwined in Julia’s family, but what are the roots of Julia’s mother’s inability to hug or touch her children, or tell them that she loves them? We don’t know.
Julia’s mother seems upset simply by seeing Julia and her brother have fun, squirting one another with a garden hose. How stifling to grow up in a house where you are not allowed to laugh. And how unChristian. What did she make of the assertion that God is love, or that the kingdom of God belongs to little children, or that David leaped and danced before the tabernacle of God?
Having visited her website, I know that Julia grew up to reject Christianity, and it is no wonder. There is nothing of the Christ I know in her parents.
When children raised in “Christian” homes reject Christ, what they are rejecting is their upbringing. Even the most religious go to church only a few hours a week – the rest of their Christian education is accomplished in church run/sponsored schools (for a few), and at home. Sometimes the forces outside the home are enough to keep the child in the faith against the inclinations arising from their upbringing, and sometimes forces outside the home push the child away – but usually not for long, for as my father is still fond of quoting: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6, KJV) And then he adds, “but note that it doesn’t say what they will do in the meantime.”
“Let the children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:16, RSV) How do we bring children to Jesus, the one who was God incarnate, the one who was “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, Joy of Heaven to Earth Come Down”? By loving them in the name of Christ. How do we hinder them? By failing to love them, all the time invoking Christ. Those who eschew Christianity so often do so for the very best reasons – Julia renounces evil, just as we are called to do in our baptism. The difference is that, for Julia, the evil she knew was labelled “Christianity.”