There were two key sub-experiences:
1. The experience of comparing my native faith community with the non-devout world. (Especially through the respective literature.)
2. The experience of extreme sexual repression, in all its self-cannibalizing misery.
(1) Until I began college (Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR), my entire ideological universe was Christian. Of course I knew of, say, 'secular humanism', 'rationalism', 'existentialism', and 'Darwinism'---after all, I had read Geisler's Apologetics
and Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture
, etc. But, in a very strong sense, nothing but Christianity existed for me as an idea; that is, something that might be used to interpret the world. Everything else was only a moral threat. (Hence I read Geisler's or Schaeffer's counterattacks to Hume, but never the work of their straw man---<cough>---target.)
That categorization didn't really change at Ouachita; but now we Christian soldiers had to be allowed contact with the actual threats, in the name of a quasi-education. E.g., some long excerpts from Faulkner, Proust, and Hemingway. These writers were shockingly wise and beautiful---they saw a world I couldn't imagine. Curiosity led me to keep reading, and I quickly shifted to philosophy. Especially Nietzsche. Such radical psychology made me wonder if I knew anything
about being human. Although his moral critique of Christianity was too foreign to really register, I started to feel the extremity of my parochialism.
Then Wittgenstein and Dennett turned me from strict philosophy toward cognitive science. I read these two, along with Minsky, Fodor, Hofstadter, etc.; with growing exhilaration and awe. Such penetrating vision! Such ambition, mixed with such pleasure in the unknown...why couldn't I be like that? How could that be so wrong?
But rather bizarrely, none of these heavyweights pushed me completely over the edge. It was---no joke---Dawkins. One evening in a Barnes and Noble I was taking a break from The Essential Jung
, when the silver edition of God Delusion
caught my eye. Jung was boring me, and since Dawkin already had my affection from The Blind Watchmaker
, I switched. The entire book took about 2 hours. It is, of course, an utterly unexceptional polemic. But the subtext of Dawkins' frustration resonated for me in a way it never had before. "Listen", I heard him cry, "Our world is not a random experiment being performed by some inexplicably cruel, petty Deity. It is a mystery! A mystery, do you understand?"
When I put the book down, storm clouds were forming through the glass in front of me. Then rain set the mood, and I cried with relief.
(2) The simplest way to summarize my sexual repression is as follows: until shortly after the above experience, I had never had a sexual fantasy
. Foucault was a little crazy, but he was absolutely right that sex can be subsumed as moral discourse. First, sexuality is redirected into a generalized moral tension. Then, moral language crystallizes this tension as guilt or violent judgment of others. (Especially on sexual grounds, of course. Cue homophobia.) In no case can one develop the self-awareness needed to successfully pursue sexual intimacy.
This is a miserable
way to live. Generally it does not last long enough to become unbearable, because most people in the Evangelical homeschooling community marry very young. (Within the community, of course.) But partially due to (1) above, and partially because I was unusually isolated even within the sub-culture, that did not happen to me. So the specter of permanent sexual failure was a very strong pressure to overcome my old identity.
There were some difficult periods and many stressful, day-long conversations, but in the end I was sufficiently persuasive. Both my parents, especially my mother, have at least concluded that their earlier dogmatism was misguided. I'm quite sure this improved our relationship, if only because it is somewhat rooted in reality at this point.
Hmm...dunno, I'll get back to you if I think of any notables.