I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a family/community of conservative Christian fundamentalists. Years ago, Sara Robinson wrote a series titled “Cracks in the Wall” in which she identified what defines that kind of authoritarianism and described how people find their way out of systems like that. I identified very strongly with what she wrote.
But the question that always comes up is “why me?’ It is rare for people to change their world views so radically and it is a very difficult process. Here is how Robinson describes it:
We must never, ever underestimate what it costs these people to let go of the beliefs that have sustained them. Leaving the safety of the authoritarian belief system is a three-to-five year process. Externally, it always means the loss of your community; and often the loss of jobs, homes, marriages, and blood relatives as well. Internally, it requires sifting through every assumption you’ve ever made about how the world works, and your place within it; and demands that you finally take the very emotional and intellectual risks that the entire edifice was designed to protect you from. You have to learn, maybe for the first time, to face down fear and live with ambiguity.
To answer the question of “why me,” one of the things that makes my childhood unique is that, for the first seven years of my life, we lived in Peru. Perhaps I wasn’t as exposed to the kind of early messages children get in this country and was constantly surrounded by people who looked different and spoke a different language. It is certainly true that the pockets of extreme poverty in Lima weren’t cordoned off from view as they are in the United States. My memories are fuzzy, but I have a vague recollection that there was an empty lot right across the street from our house where families were living in cardboard boxes. I didn’t understand why those of us who had so much didn’t do more to help them. Rather than assume that response came from some kind of innate sense of empathy, I think it was a much more logical question for me. It just didn’t make sense.
I thought of all that when I read this article by Tom Jacobs about the subtle bias that underlies the difference between conservatives and liberals.