Changing Our Story

Yesterday I had a conversation with an acquaintance I see about once a month. She is a Christian who has no knowledge that I’m an Atheist and, until yesterday, was also unaware that I am not married.

The last time we spoke, the conversation was rather bleak, by my estimate. She was telling me how she wanted to go back to school and finish her degree that her husband had promised she could finish “some day” back when he asked her to marry him–thirty years ago.

(As an aside, this is a very typical tactic of abusive men, in particular. I warn any woman in a relationship with someone who says, “Oh, you can finish your degree later,” to run the other way as quickly as possible.)

Her husband wants her to just work her retail job because the riches he thought would be endless in the dairy industry (what used to be our prime industry out here) are pretty much gone. She said he told her that going back to school to finish was pointless.

I was thinking of this conversation today because yesterday, the story changed slightly. But it didn’t change until after the woman discovered that I had divorced my husband. Suddenly, it was all her fault that she couldn’t get a degree. She was too old to get a new job or start a new career. She suddenly became the problem.

Now, to the inexperienced, this sounds as if, at some point, she has been lying to me. It is entirely possible, and I would venture, also from experience, that the new story was the lie.

I do not like lying. My kids know that there are few things I will punish them for, and none consistently, except lying. I come from a long line of liars. My parents and brother are con-artists. I. Hate. Lying.

But I’m not at all upset with this woman. I’m not going to get on my high-horse and berate her and say, “Well, look at those Christians. They’re all such hypocrites.”

Why?

Because abused people lie. They lie a hell of a lot. We lie about everything. We lie about that bruise on our arm, we lie about being able to go out for lunch, we lie about how our spouse is a great person. We lie.

We lie for two reasons. One, it’s not safe to tell the full truth. I don’t think I need to expand that thought. Two, because we know everyone around us wants us to lie. Our lives make others uncomfortable and they let us know immediately by shrinking away from us when we try to explain our troubles, or by patting us on the head and telling us not to worry, everything will be alright.

But Christians, and possibly other religious people, lie in this circumstance for a whole other reason as well. They lie because they have been taught that to say certain things will make their witness ineffective and we all know how displeased god will be if that happens. When you are abused, it’s pretty obvious god already hates you–whether or not you are ready to acknowledge that–so you sure as hell don’t want to make him more angry.

Christianity, like any other religion or advertisement or pyramid scheme, is all about false appearances. You are taught from an early age that you have to present yourself to the world in a way that will appeal to them so they will want what you have. Yeah, I know, coveting is supposed to be a sin, but…

When we talk with people who are serious about their religion, we are basically watching a very long commercial. They hope to win you over by how wonderful their lives are–according to them. But their lives aren’t wonderful. They have abusive spouses, they have cruel parents, they have kids who do drugs or get pregnant before graduating high school. There is nothing better about religious people than non-religious people.

(Second aside, there was a time I thought that maybe non-religious people might be better, but I know far too many “nones” who support Trump, and far too many Atheists in STEM who are misogynists and deride the #metoo movement to buy into that lie that Atheists like to tell.)

It was apparent to me, that my acquaintance changed her story in order to appear to have something better than me. I am divorced and trying to navigate that dating minefield–which is so much worse at 50 than 20 that I can’t even. 🙄 She has a husband. I do give her credit for not gushing about him as many would have done. She merely changed the narrative. In the first narrative, the words of condescension belonged to her husband. In the second, the one after she found out I was divorced, they were embraced as her own.

The first time I heard her story, I was pretty angry. Yet another woman who had been lied to by a man who wanted someone he knew he could control. That whole “you can finish college later” scam is a test. If they can get you to give up your own dream, they know they will be able to control you in everything else. I hear this story at least once a month. When I was more active in trying to support women at my old church who were in abusive marriages, I heard it several times a month.

This time, I’m just sad. Another life, full of hope and promise, stifled by this ridiculous need to control women. I do know that men get into bad relationships, but this specific instance tends to happen to women more often because men are usually, even in many secular relationships, expected to be the one who pays for everything and control everything, so a degree is often considered optimal for him.

I have been dealing with religious lies my whole life. I have learned to identify them fairly handily. But these lies happen outside religion too. It’s not just religious people who abuse their spouses, though their victims tend to have less recourse, especially the women because, again, they are often forced to remain uneducated, or at least have to let their education stagnate in order to stay home, raise the kids, and obey their husband.

Good people lie, and they often lie to defend something important to them. Sometimes it’s something as selfish as their pride, but sometimes they lie to protect their tenuous faith in a system or a loved one. These people are not lying to us to get our money or deceive us and control us.

So, I guess my descent from Christianity is complete. There are different types of lies. Some are not acceptable, pretty much anything my ex or parents say would fall into this category. Some, however, are signs to us that the person we are talking to does not feel comfortable with who they are or what they believe, so they feel the need to make things up in order to feel secure.

Society doesn’t plan on changing to help people be more at ease with themselves, so we will have to decide what sorts of lies are acceptable to us. It also wouldn’t hurt to consider how religion has so tainted our view of morality that the majority of people side with the abuser simply because the victim has been forced to lie about the abuse.

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