I just finished reading Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce and I can’t stop thinking about it. The whole book was fascinating and hard to put down even though Joyce has one of the same writing flaws I have: long, complicated sentences. I have GOT to work on that because in reading this book, I realized how tiring it is to read sentences with too many clauses.
This book was a detailed look at one of the extreme factions of the Christian conservative movements. I’m frequently attracted to this kind of information because I’m rather bewildered by Christianity. The fundamental teachings of Jesus are groovy and I like all of that messaging but the practice of the religion we call Christianity is so slippery and uncentered that I wonder that it can be called a single religion at all. The type of worship and lifestyle I read about in this book bears so little resemblance to the beliefs and lifestyle of other Christians I know personally that I’m not sure they’d even recognize one another’s theology. I also have trouble with the absolutism of modern Christian fundamentalism because it seems to ignore the numerous and rapid changes in the practice of Christianity that have occurred throughout its existence. To say any one way of practicing Christianity is right and final strikes me as disingenuous because history shows us that it has and will change.
Anyway, I read this book both out of a theological curiosity and an anthropological one. I knew about the so-called quiverfull movement, wherein families leave the birth of children in the hands of their god and eschew any and all forms of birth control. The guiding idea behind it is a Bible verse about many sons being many arrows in a man’s quiver. The Duggars are the most famous of these families. What I didn’t know is much else is involved in the theology of this brand of Christianity and this book gives me that information in spades. The large families are merely one aspect of a philosophy of traditional family structure wherein the man is the leader, the woman is submissive, and the children are raised to emulate their parents. These families are generally homeschoolers, profoundly socially conservative, libertarian separatists who prefer not to accept any government assistance even in the case of extreme poverty, and proponents of self-sufficiency and living debt-free. Many of them are engaged in conservative political action such as the anti-choice movement and they claim to be on the front lines of the fight against a “culture of abortion” created by promiscuity, birth control, feminism, and actual medical abortion. They believe that their many children are going to be foot soldiers in a Christian army that will eventually “win back” the US and make it a Christian nation.
I strongly suspect that the descendants of the Native populations from whom American land was wrenched by Christina fundamentalists of another age would find that sentiment objectionable. But I digress.
The lives of the women in this book ran the gamut from those who are leaders in the movement who write books and run successful workshops on how to be a good Biblical wife and who revel in their role as the helpmeets of their husbands to women who escaped from lives of abuse disguised as patriarchal privilege. What seemed universal to their experience – at least from the limited view this book gave me – was a constant struggle to sublimate their individuality and model themselves after a wifely ideal that was not a good fit for most individuals. They all talked about repressing elements of their personalities to be better submissive wives, leading me to wonder, is it the right religion if it doesn’t allow you to be you? Or is there just something I don’t understand about deep faith?
When it comes to personal choices about religion, I am, or try to be, pretty live-and-let-live. I basically don’t give a shit where you worship. If your religion brings you comfort and joy and does not engage in abuse, have at it. Wanna handle snakes? Super. Are you into meditation? Awesome. Do you pray to the Flying Spaghetti monster? Rock on. So my initial reaction to families who live 11 to a trailer, refuse to use credit cards or the Pill and spend their lives dedicated to their interpretation of Jesus’s teaching is to say “It’s a free country”. The problem is, they don’t feel the same way about me and everyone else who isn’t a Christian patriarchal devotee. And therein lies the rub. Rather than making their space in the American landscape and leaving me my space, they wish to convert me to their thinking or create policies that subject me to their beliefs whether I like it or not.
I take such deep umbrage with evangelism because the act of trying to convert others to your way of thinking strikes me as an arrogant gesture. I know, that’s pretty rich coming from someone who writes an opinion blog. But understand this: I do not mind if you don’t agree with me, will never agree with me, and hate every word I type. You will never find me praying for you to come around to my way of thinking. You will never hear me issuing threats of condemnation to hell, here or in the afterlife, if you dissent from me. You will seldom find me declaring absolutely that my way is the only way and all who fail to follow it are wrong. But the most fervent of Christian evangelicals appear to feel all those things about their faith and are working toward building voting blocs that will bring forth the mechanisms to implement theocratic rule. And even though I don’t think they will succeed, it scares the shit out of me because I worry that their voices will drown out mine because Christianity is more widely accepted than non-Christianity.
Our political discourse is already riddled with Christian alnguage and candidates try to out-Christian each other on the campaign trail. Look at the furor that erupts whenever there’s anon-Protestant Presidential candidate. Both Mitt Romney and John Huntsman are having to figure out how to overcome their Mormon-ness. And remember when people thought Barack Obama might be Muslim? You might as well have said he eats puppies. Right now Michelle Bachmann is surging in the polls, largely because of her appeal as a homeschooling, anti-choice, pray-the-gay-away conservative Christian. And can you name any Republican Jews or Muslims in Congress? I can. Eric Cantor (R-VA). That’s it. End of list. He’s actually the only non-Christian Republican in Congress. That says to me that Christianity has a stranglehold on one of the two major parties in this country and that’s disturbing to me as a non-Christian. Our leadership – in both parties – should be representative of our population and our population includes many faiths. I don’t want to see government become a bastion of religious absolutism nor do I want to only be able to count on Democrats to protect the freedoms of the non-Christian population.
Anyway, I strongly recommend this book because it was so interesting and so well researched. I find it troubling but I understand others will find it comforting. So far those who believe in what the quiverfull movement represents and those who do not coexist peaceably. May we all continue to do so.