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Last year, I showed you one of the horror stories occurring every day in evangelicalism: the difference between what evangelical women get taught about finding a mate, and the reality of their husband hunt. This year, I present the one that happens after that husband hunt’s conclusion. Today, we travel the horrifying route between what evangelical leaders teach about marriage, and what women discover about it once they’ve legally entangled themselves with an evangelical man.

a young deer in the snow
(Nathan Wolfe.)

The Happy Christian Marriage Illusion.

From the moment an evangelical girl matures enough to understand language, her tribe begins a methodical subjugation of her spirit and dignity.

This new indoctrination involves not religious doctrines but social ones. It revolves around not Christianity itself, but a subtribe within it: the Cult of Family. And in terms of importance, it represents the current top do-or-die priority for her leaders.

Those same leaders seem like they would rather see a girl-child grow up and leave the group entirely than ever reject the tenets of the Cult of Family. For the same reasons, an ex-Christian man’s wife might sob that she’d rather her newly-deconverted husband beat her or become an addict than deconvert.

Family life in evangelicalism represents a huge part of its culture, if not the most dominant part of it. It contains rules within rules that everyone must follow in the big Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game they play. If someone sits out the game or rejects any of its rules, then everybody else looks weird–and dark secrets soon emerge.

Oh, but the players themselves smile, always. Everyone seems happy.

All radiant smiles, they hold out their hands: Join us! Enjoy what we have! 

But we must dive beneath the surface of those Stepford smiles to discover the truth.

A Rigged Game.

That imaginary girl-child must be indoctrinated early and thoroughly. And no wonder.

The game is so stacked against her, so rigged, and so unjust and cruel that only that kind of hammered-in belief and many series of carefully-set-up mental defenses can keep her playing the game–and serving her masters’ interests at the expense of her own.

She sure as hell wouldn’t stay on her own. Then again, no cultist would, really. If a cult openly told potential recruits what their groups really did, what the game really involved, and what would really happen during their time as players, nobody would ever play with them!

No, cultists operate under ruthless cunning. They obfuscate all of those details. By the time a recruit finds out the truth, the indoctrination itself keeps them in place.

The truth can’t become known until it’s far too late for it to matter in making informed decisions.

A Cult Within a Cult.

I’ve spoken before of this cult and the horrific terms it sets for women in particular. If evangelicals laid out the truth for women, no way and no how would any of us take that deal:

You’ll give up your own rights to your own body as well as most of your leisure time for life. We’ll demand that you obey someone who categorically doesn’t deserve total power over anybody but himself. Then, we’ll vilify and punish you if you refuse. At no time will you be allowed to speak about your experiences in an honest or authentic way, lest you wreck a potential sale of our cult to someone new.

Your husband may seem wonderful right up until the wedding day, but immediately afterward he will very likely retreat into pre-adolescence when he’s at home, forcing you to parent him in almost every single way short of wiping his bottom. But you’ll still have to kneel to him as your master. If he demands literal kneeling, of course, you will.

Once you have children, you will be doing 99% all of the work involved in raising them as well as tending him. You will “joke” to other women about “really having three kids.” See, you’re counting him along with the two actual children you have! Clever! And the other women will laugh tightly because it will be the only time that any of you can be halfway honest about what you all experience.

If he abuses you and you run to us for help, we’ll punish YOU for making our tribe look bad by speaking out against that abuse. We will side with him, every time.

Unless he actually does care about fairness and decency.

Then he becomes our enemy.

Should you eventually tire of being treated like a surrogate mommy your husband can fondle whether you like it or not, we will blame you for the breakup of the marriage and retaliate accordingly.

Who could resist?

Careful Indoctrination.

Our imaginary evangelical girl-child has spent years learning the central teachings of evangelicalism.

She learns that obedience matters more than anything, that she does not own her body and has no right to her own thoughts or feelings, and that those with power will always use it. She learns that being wrong about anything leads to pain. As fierce as her will might be and as bright as her spirit might shine, she learns that neither is any match for the mind-bending cruelty of temporarily-thwarted authoritarians.

Most of all, she learns not to trust her own opinions. If something feels wrong and unfair, but an authority figure says it is right and fair, why then she must accept that figure’s assessment over her own–and tolerate whatever the wrong and unfair thing is, if not welcome it with a stretched-out toothy smile. If she refuses, then she learns just how over-the-top and vicious retaliation is for any shows of resistance.

Her leaders and masters tell her that a god has mandated everything she endures and learns. Consequently, she must do what this god says. His unasked-for death obligates her to do so. (And that obligation itself becomes another unfair thing she must learn to reframe and accept as fair.)

The indoctrination I describe is universal for both boys and girls. But once our girl-child hits a certain age, her second indoctrination begins. It builds on that previous one based on unquestioning obedience. And it extends those awful ideas–and their many flaws–outward.

Clouding the Truth.

Evangelical leaders (and their top-level sycophants) surround the truth about evangelical marriage in gauzy mist. This mist obscures the details and smears the lens of perception. By the time our imaginary evangelical girl-child prepares for her Great Husband Hunt, she knows two things above all:

First, her god expects her to enter into a proper evangelical marriage. 

In fact, before she was even born he’d already picked out the perfect man just for her! All she has to do to find him is obey her masters.

Second, as long as she Jesus-es her little heart out alongside her husband, they will both be blissfully happy.

Her leaders insist that this assertion functions as a divine guarantee. Conversely, if one of them doesn’t Jesus correctly or fervently enough then all kinds of things can and will go wrong. But I doubt many evangelical teens think much about that.

The Schism With Reality.

Not long ago, I showed you something the new apologetics star Natasha Crain wrote a while ago. It concerned how to raise kids that stay Christian for their whole lives. One central part of that post gave me the creeping horrors. It turns out to be especially relevant for us today, too!

In her post directed at Christian parents, Natasha Crain shakes her finger at anybody who prioritizes raising good and decent kids over raising super-duper-indoctrinated kids. She writes:

This might be one of the mantras of this blog given how much I repeat it, but it’s so important, I need to say it over and over: good values are not the same as Christianity.

She clarifies, not that it does much good, saying that yes, of course every parent wants to raise kids to be “pleasant people who generally exhibit what the Bible identifies as fruits of the Spirit.” But she thinks parents should focus on stuffing kids full of indoctrination, because fruits of the Spirit can’t come from anything but super-indoctrinated TRUE CHRISTIANS™.

And just then I realized something purely horrific about the Cult of Family.

(Quick Detour: Fruits of the Spirit.)

BTW: When evangelicals talk about fruits of the Spirit, that’s Christianese. It comes from Galatians 5:22-23. Crain helpfully repeats the list from those verses for us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

The wording fruits means it grows from the imaginary quality of “the Spirit.” So someone who really and truly possesses “the Spirit” will manifest these fruits. It happens as automatically as apples grow on apple trees. An apple tree can’t stop itself from growing apples. Nor can it decide on a whim to start growing pomegranates.

When a Christian “fruit tree” suddenly grows the wrong fruit, it’s a sign that that person doesn’t really possess “the Spirit.” Galatians helps Christians there too:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery; hatred, discord, jealousy, and rage; rivalries, divisions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

This is why judgmental Christians often refer to themselves as fruit inspectors, or tell hypocrites that their fruit is rotten.

So in a very real sense, evangelicals think that the fruits of the Spirit make for a nice easy marriage between two zealots.

(Mr. Captain: “I was totally on board for the first half of that list. They just don’t know what fun is.”)

Building a Better Husband.

I noticed this thinking years ago. In 2013’s “The Husband List,” a young married evangelical woman laid out exactly this thinking. She wrote to advise other young women in how to select a husband. And her list consists entirely of tips for evaluating how well a man pretends to be a TRUE CHRISTIAN™.

1986 love life principles seminar advising that teens date only fervent Christians
Seminar page 38: Who oh who shall we date??? (Click to embiggen.)

Even before that, however, the Cult of Family infested evangelicalism. When I was just a teenager, I attended a church-sponsored seminar about dating. I didn’t find out for many years that it was based almost entirely on Bill Gothard’s ideas! And it’s full of this same teaching.

According to that seminar’s creators, a young woman must assess men first and foremost according to their beliefs and fervor, not what they’re like as people. If Christian girls fail to take this precaution, if they dare to date someone based first on common interests and mutual attraction, then everything will turn out completely disastrously.

The binder on my lap screeches in a most cringeworthy fashion about the sheer danger of such an ill-advised move. In fact, a few pages later we see the results of such a union: an illustration of a blushing teen bride in her gown and veil, gazing up at her one true love: an ugly, old, balding, poorly-dressed homeless-looking guy.

Nobody ever accuses evangelicals of subtlety.

Projection, though? Oh, yeah.

The Hunt Is On.

Just imagine for a moment the breathtaking spectacle of entire generations of evangelical girl-children learning something so bees-headed, false, destructive, and irresponsible. Indeed, their leaders and parents teach them not to worry about anything except a man’s heart for Jesus (that’s Christianese for his fervor and dedication to devotions).

These same trusted authorities teach girl-children that if a man’s heart is right with Jesus, then everything else falls into place as if by magic. They tell girl-children that if two people practice the correct flavor of Christianity regularly and with fervor, then maintaining a marriage becomes possible–even easy. And they tell them that marriages really only run into trouble if anybody slacks off on Jesus-ing.

When our imaginary girl-child gazes around herself at church, she sees legions of couples, yes. These couples smile. They clap and act happy and supportive of each other. They tell her that following the tribe’s rules works. Their shows of affection dazzle her eyes.

She knows only as much about these couples as she sees.

As they present.

As they pretend.

She doesn’t know the truth: these teachings are nothing but pretty-sounding but heartbreaking lies.

Now imagine generations of girl-children launching their own Great Husband Hunts using this information. Imagine them dreaming of their futures based upon the couples they see at church who act so happy and loving. 

YouTube video

“Sh*tuff Christian Girls Say.

Behold them carefully following this advice they’ve been given, asking their imaginary friend for their “Boaz,” their “David.”

And then, at the horror story’s nadir, finding exactly what they sought.

The Reality.

The advice evangelical women receive about male evaluation suffers from two extreme flaws.

First, literally all these women are assessing is how well a man can perform a fairly simple and simplistic mating-dance.

As many predators discover very quickly, it’s painfully easy to trick and fool evangelicals into believing someone’s a true-blue fellow tribe member. Evangelicals ache to be tricked and fooled. They fall for anybody selling anything that even vaguely reinforces their tribal teachings and self-image. Worse yet, they possess no method whatsoever to critically and objectively assess any claim or claimant. Thus, nobody in evangelicalism can tell if a man behaves correctly because of Jesus Power or because he’s faking it.

Most of evangelicals’ interaction with each other is surface-level, ritualistic, transactional, and shallow. Thus, a hypocritical performer can coast along for years without being discovered as a fraud. Once discovered, of course, chances remain good that he can salvage his reputation and regain support and defenders if he doubles down hard enough on the script.

Second, nothing about Christianity makes believers better people than non-believers are.

Many, many Christians associate greater fervor with being a better and more decent human being. This notion is one of the biggest and most pernicious lies in all of Christianity. Its opposite isn’t true either. Really, there’s very little more meaningless and superfluous (as predictive utility goes) than a basic religious label.

The End of the Hunt.

So our evangelical girl-child grows up. She launches her Great Husband Hunt by seeking out a TRUE CHRISTIAN™. Depending upon how well she herself conforms to the standards of beauty maintained by her tribe, she might just find one–or a reasonable facsimile of one at least.

It will likely not even take the exchange of wedding vows for her to see that she’s been sold a bill of goods.

Instead of the mature, nurturing leader she was promised, she’ll be saddled with a big emotional baby who needs his emotional temperature taken every five minutes and then burped every hour on the hour. And instead of forming a lifelong partnership in which each partner is separate-but-equal, each laboring in their sphere for the good of the union, she’ll learn exactly how one-sided that partnership is.

Oh yes, she’ll learn the truth of the terrible bargain–but it’ll be too late to gracefully extricate herself from her entanglement.

She’ll also know, from her earlier indoctrination, what fate awaits anybody who speaks honestly about the Cult of Family.

The Circle of Death.

And so our grown-up evangelical girl-child will smile at all the single ladies in her tribe. Even if she’s just endured the most gut-wrenching marital fight at the highest decibel levels imaginable, she will stretch her lips in a tight wide toothy grin as she stands beside her ambulatory badge of divine approval in church. She’ll sing songs about a reality she does not recognize and perform all the shows of affection she knows are expected of members of the Cult of Family.

Oh yes, yes, she’ll hold out her hands to the young women around her who have yet to finish their Husband Hunts.

She’ll warble at them: Come and join us! Enjoy what we have!

And she will see those young women’s eyes fill with hope and longing, just like hers did once. Her heart might throb with the cruelty and deceit of her play-acting. But the consequences hold her fast in her place in the script.

Besides, if she prays hard enough, then maybe, oh just maybe Jesus will make her lies into the truth one day.

Unless she discovers that “Jesus” ain’t doing jack-all anything for anybody, nothing stops this circle of death.

NEXT UP: A whole new series of Catholic scandals demonstrates yet again that old Southern saying: little lie, big lie. Then we head back to This Present Darkness with Monday’s Lord Snow Presides, and then we have more news to explore about Christianity’s decline! See you soon!

Man alive, it’s good to be “home” again. <3

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...