Unravelling Religion and the Poisonwood Bible

I have just finished the remarkable story of The Posionwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. Reading the last few lines and then setting the book down is hard to do after finding so much of my own history resonating within the voices of the four female narrators in the book. The journeys of these women can be paralleled with so many of the journeys we experience when the light exposes the cracks and deformities in what our father’s told us was true and right. Ask almost any conservative pastor’s daughter who has had her own journey of realization and years of stripping away the unhelpful indoctrination, the story of these four women raised under a harshly authoritative patriarchal Christianity moved from home to “save the lost” is all to familiar. Just as in the book – we come to realize who was really lost, who really needed to be saved.

I come from a long line of evangelical pastors, evangelists and missionaries who have been hell bent on saving the world and seemingly forcing “them” to see the right way of living – the one that only this type of religion thinks is right and true. They do what they think is right – but to me that is no longer enough to excuse the bondage and fear it creates for people. Over the last few months, in this home coming from South Africa to the U.S., I have at times revealed the unravelling of my christian faith for one that isn’t wound so tightly around what I had been told was the “only way”. Instead I have found that at the end of my unravelling there is now room to knit together a new faith – one that is more open to love and less so on a judgement I could never truly be saved from. But in the exposure of my new beliefs I find that in a fundamentalist’s eyes I have become another “soul” that needs saving. I am now “lost” – and yet I feel more open and free than I ever have in my life.

He stamped me with a belief in justice, then drenched me in culpability, and I wouldn’t wish such torment on a mosquito. But that exacting, tyrannical God of his has left me for good. I don’t quite know how to name what crept in to take his place. Some kin to the passion of Brother Fowles, I guess, who advised me to trust in Creation, which is made fresh daily and doesn’t suffer in translation. This God does not work in especially mysterious ways. The sun here rises and sets at six exactly. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly, a bird raises its brood in the forest, and a greenheart tree will only grow from a greenheart seed. He brings drought sometimes, followed by torrential rains, and if these things aren’t always what I had in mind, they aren’t my punishment either. They’re rewards, let’s say, for the patience of a seed.

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