Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

The Double Consciousness of the Fugitive

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on April 25, 2009

At the end of March I came up with the idea of creating a sister site for this one. The idea sprang from my concerns about a limitation inherent in this Fugitives from Fundamentalism blog. I reasoned that this site was primarily negative in focus, since it consists of the reactions of former believers to their prior worldview, and so I needed to create a site that had a positive focus. Instead of learning how to live life based on the negative example of Christianity and superstitious thinking, I wanted to have a site that discussed positive heuristics for living a life of reason. When I first read Albert Camus’ essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” I was immediately struck by the image of this mythological character laughing at the gods as he rolled his rock up the hill (the character of Rieux in The Plague is a much better developed symbol of a character in revolt–but with my limited artistic abilities, it is much easier to draw a picture of Sisyphus). I excitedly designed the site and wrote my first post, and that is when I ran into trouble. Writing my second post, without any type of reference or allusion to my former beliefs was extremely difficult. “What is going on?” I wondered. I have read the works of dozens of non-superstitious philosophers, I live and practice the life of someone with a naturalistic worldview, I have written numerous academic papers and essays that never once refer to religious concepts, so where did this difficulty originate from? I slowly came to realize that the problem stemmed from the fact that, regardless of the specific topic of an individual blog post, I was implicitly writing about myself. I immediately thought of a passage from the novel Climbié by the Ivorian writer Bernard Binlin Dadié. He writes about:

[…] a class of colonials, half-European, half-African, with a special idiom which would make itself felt in time. When in Africa, these men would always think of their hometown. And once returned to their own country, they would hurry to get back to Africa, because, at home, their attitudes were out of place, and often hurt people’s feelings…They have the blues in Africa. They have nostalgia in Europe. They are no longer men of one continent, but a hybrid species. (129-130)

Although this passage directly addresses my status as an American who spent a large portion of his childhood in Africa, it also applies to my status as a former believer.

To help further illustrate this point, I will refer to W.E.B. DuBois’ concept of “double consciousness.” That link gives a more in depth explanation of the concept, but here is my brief gloss: double consciousness is the idea that people existing as minorities in a culture that is different from their own must, out of necessity, see things through a double lens. In order to navigate the dominate culture they must see things as members of that dominant culture do, and they will see things from their own culture’s perspective as well. I took a course on race and gender with an African-American professor who illustrated this concept by describing how self-conscious he feels when he is with a group of Whites for lunch and he orders chicken. He likes chicken, as do most of his African-American and non-African-American friends, but he is also aware of the racial stereotype of African-Americans liking chicken. Most people don’t think about it too often, but us Americans live in a culture where “White” is the norm. Thus, you would never see a headline that reads, “Five White Teenagers Rob Liquor Store,” but it is very common to see race mentioned when offenders are not White. The same goes for other aspects of culture, where many people connect White culture with what is right and normal. By extension, the cultures of those with less or little power are considered a form of “diversity” or “multiculturalism.” This concept transfers to the dominate faith in America. This is clearly visible in the Evangelical desire to have prayer take place in government controlled and funded forums. When these Christians say “prayer” what they really mean is “Christian prayer.” The Christian part of the prayer goes unstated, since it is the “norm.” By extension, other faiths and non-belief is viewed as wrong and abnormal. This permits Christians to feel justified in their hypocrisy as they discriminate and many times try to oppress others. For instance, back in 2000 the House of Representatives opened a session with a prayer from a Hindu priest. There was a large amount of outrage in Evangelical Christian circles, despite the fact they want prayer in government. This case exposed their hypocrisy, since it was clear that they really didn’t want ALL prayer (or generic “religion”) in government; no, they just want THEIR prayer. Essentially, they want a theocracy in which all other paradigms for viewing the world are seen as wrong and worthy of oppression.

The concept of double consciousness can be carried over to my status as a fugitive from fundamentalist, Evangelical Christianity. My heavy indoctrination into that faith, the fact that I connected reality with that worldview for twenty formative years of my life, and the fact that the vast majority of people I know still view life through a superstitious, imaginary framework, means that I am always conscious of the Christian paradigm as well as my own. This is the result of being raised as a Christian, and there is nothing that can be done to change that. Thus, although I am a fugitive, there is really no escaping the religion of one’s parents. Someone who has been indoctrinated into a religious faith as a child must deal with that faith on a daily basis for the rest of life.

I am resigned to this fact. There is no way to go back and change my upbringing or to undo all of the hard wiring my brain underwent to make me who I am today. In fact, I wouldn’t want to change it. I experience real benefits from my childhood programming on a daily basis. My double consciousness permits me to see right through weak arguments I encounter in a secular environment that others who were never raised as believers completely miss. It has also given me the gift of being able to fully inhabit other perspectives that I do not agree with (a skill that will serve me well when I take on my career as a lawyer). So, I am announcing the death of the sister site. There is no reason why naturalistic heuristics for living life cannot be discussed here (and, in fact, they already have been–so there is no real reason to have the other site).


One Response to “The Double Consciousness of the Fugitive”

  1. Ann said

    This post reminded me of something one of my professors said in a class I took a long time ago. “You fall into one of four categories as a professional. You are incompetent and don’t know it. You are incompetent and know it. You are competent and don’t know it. Or, you are competent and know it. Few are the later. How well do you really know yourself?”

    I like the idea of double consciousness. This quote from the wikipedia entry stands out: “Double consciousness is an awareness of one’s self as well as an awareness of how others perceive that person. The danger of double consciousness resides in conforming and/or changing one’s identity to that of how others perceive the person.”

    A person is always in the process of becoming different, though much of this process of identity formation occurs unconsciously. How much occurs consciously can differ vastly by individual. Professional identity is only a small component of a human organism’s identity. Culture, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexuality, and gender are other facets. Being able to conceptualize a self (have self-awareness), understand self-identity as influenced and changed by every interaction with the world, and allow for this fluidity (or changing) of self-identity are abilities that differ significantly between humans.

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