The Unfundamental Conversion
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Trigged in Europe: I’m So Done Pretending

February 10th, 2013 | Posted by Lana Hope in Travel

I talk a lot about how Asia and Asian missions changed me.  But Europe changed me as much if not more so.  This is because in Asia my friends were religious, even the local Buddhists are religious. But in Europe, I was living out of hostels and campgrounds, and almost without exception, everyone I met was non-religious or perhaps more accurately, silent about religion.

On my first night in Europe I went to bed at 9 a.m. from jet lag, and was long sound asleep when a student came in very drunk and shook me and tried to wake me up to join the “fun.”  They ended up having a party in my room that night. Remember, I had gone from the conservative south to missionary Asia, so this behavior was shocking. Fortunately, this behavior was not a picture of my entire trip. I also lived out of a tent for two months, staying in 24 different locations in 11 countries during that time. I also stayed with a non-religious German family when the weather turned cold and experienced the much faster driving style of the Germans. I explored Barcelona with a Korean student and explored Austria with a China student. I met a Scottish couple in Northern Belgium who had camped in Southern Spain in 104 F degree heat; they apparently rubbed bad luck off on me because the next day I got food poisoning and threw up for several hours in 40 degree F weather while tent camping in my only pair of warm clothing.  While washing dishes, I’d listen to conversations among students conversing about feminism and equality. At campgrounds I’d meet people biking for over a month. During all my traveling time, I met only couple who talked about their faith–American graduate students who were biking across Europe for 2 and a half months.

Yet these secular people I met were real. They’d say a cuss word and apologize. They would talk honest about their past and their ambitions. I felt free in Europe.

And when I met men who were jerks, such as the guy who came up to me on a cloudy October day on the beach in Barcelona and asked if he could take me to my place to make me “happy,” I knew every person in my dorm would have kicked his butt before he could have sneaked in our building. They wouldn’t try to convert him or call their father or do something too dramatic; they would just kick him out and go on with life.

What I am describing here is not European culture per se. I am describing the real world away from religion. A world where I could be real, and they could be real. Let me explain with three examples from my evangelical culture.

1) My homeschool, Christian Patriarchy sub-culture. In this world, I had to stay emotionally and sexually pure before marriage with little grace for giving my heart away at all.  I had to stuff in the emotions and smile at church and be one big happy family. And if I had negative emotions, this was a sign of spiritual weakness, and I learned to bury them by quoting scripture, character traits, and using anger management tools. Admittedly, I failed at this.

2) Evangelical sub-culture. I saw this when I was working as a cataloger at a college library. We’d gossip about those who were kissing in the library because surely they were having sex outside marriage. We came down hard on those who were on welfare. We judged others eating habits up there with the word of God. I felt like a clam. I couldn’t mention anything without being judged up against God’s word. And I was working in a secular library. But the evangelical culture was still alive and well, and faking it was much safer.

3) The missionary sub-culture. I had foster kids with special issues who were totally not perfect. And you would think other missionaries would understand because they are there to outreach the culture. But some of them thought we could just teach the kids the world of God, spank them, and train them. We could tell the kids to stuff up their abuse and never mention it again, and the problems would go away. I lived it. That’s a lie. And I don’t think I ever felt more trapped from being real than I did with the missionary community; I had to keep my lips zipped, and only the neighbors, who could hear the words said and voices raised, and one close church friend, knew what really was happening.

But human nature tries to fake it and put on a smile, right? Perhaps so, but religion takes it to the extremes that I experienced in those three sub-cultures. Conservative evangelical culture will often even tell you to fake it. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” says the Religious Right in response to gays in the military. You have to strip yourself of who you are and live in guilt while trying to come to terms with a past you don’t think other people share.

And that’s why I loved European travel. Students and bikers said what they thought, and actually thought what they said. They didn’t look down on someone if they said a bad word, or had a bad day.  Sure some people may have been immoral, but I’d say most people were traveling for the same reason I was – for a more enriching life.  The stereotype I had against secular people had to die.

277When I boarded the plane out of Europe for Qatar and later home, I couldn’t have told you why I dreaded going back into the evangelical sub-culture, but I did.  It was three weeks later that it hit me. A missionary said if I skipped church on my birthday, it “would ruin my witness” and “disappoint the orphans.” I realized what had changed in me while in Europe.

I was done pretending.

Anyone else experienced these two different worlds?

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  • bundesbedenkentraeger

    Never thought of Europe as having one culture… But I think I get your point. Still, this narrow minded pretending does exist in Europe as well. I presume it has to do with rather closed communities. Like you have it more in small villages than in big cities (there people don’t know one another, so why bother to pretend?). If you enter certain communities in cities or villages, where they have a certain set of rules, pretending will come back.
    Being a traveller, where you don’t know people around you and will no see them again in most cases, you neither have a reason to pretend.
    Another thing in European secular culture is that you usually wouldn’t mention your religious beliefs, because it doesn’t fit the setting. Here only few people would talk about their faith, very unlike the USA I guess. So some might be pretending to be secular while really being religious. But the pressure on them to do so is most supposingly not as high as what you described.
    By the way: We do not drive fast in Germany. You Americans drive slow 😉

    • Hahaha love the comment about driving. Right Europe is not one culture, but the west in general shares many culture norms just like the east does. Malaysia is different from Thailand (one most Islam, the other Buddhists), but I could list you so many ways they are the same in culture norms and manners and none of those ways are they like the US. btw, even within the US, the culture varies by regions. I suspect this is true in Germany?

      Yes, Americans tend to discuss religion with strangers in the grocery store and anyone on the streets, perhaps more so in the south. I still think I met a unique group of people in Europe, though, mostly students and outdoors lovers; I only got a taste of the real Italy, for example. I did notice religion was alive there but gone in Chez Republic.

      Germany I saw more because I stayed in a small village far from tourists. This one local there asked why I wanted to travel around other countries. Reminded me of people back home who tell me the same.

  • I think I know what you mean. I took a short trip to Germany with an exchange student friend I’d went to HS with, and felt similarly about the culture there and the autobahn. I think when I mainly hit that kind of culture shock was in college because my high school was pretty conservative. It wasn’t homeschool culture, but it was evangelical and Catholic subculture. In college I took classes on ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and transcendentalism (which all kinda blew my mind), lived across the hall from a gay stripper (he was a fun, quirky guy and a classmate of mine), and had arguments with dorm-mates and classmates (who were mostly secular) about political corruption and why they were against the death penalty. Generally I felt I could play it cool but sometimes certain things sent my head spinning. I got used to a less judgemental environment and didn’t notice the difference until visits home. Now that I’ve moved to the northeast from the south it’s even more pronounced.

    I didn’t understand for quite some time that additional education and experience often have losses that come with them but they do. I am in between worlds now. The one I came from isn’t mine and the one I live in isn’t mine although people in both matter to me. I find some of the best friends I make are people similarly straddling such a divide.

    • Philosophy -my favorite subject!!!

  • Katty

    This is a fascinating topic for me, I enjoyed reading about what you took away from your travels in Europe!
    I am from one of the countries you traveled here in Europe and I spent a semester in Kansas as an exchange student in high school. Also, I’ve been hanging around American blogs like yours or Libby Anne’s Love Joy Feminism quite a lot in recent months. I am not an “Americanophile” by any measure, but there is something that fascinates me about US cultural norms (speaking very broadly here, obviously) and the Western European cultural norms I grew up and live in. As you said above, Lana, these two regions have a lot in common culturally and I guess that is exactly what makes it so fascinating to me to try to get a feel for the differences that do exist.

    My best friend recently told me about an American stundent in one of her classes and how tired she was of this girl always couching all her – constructive and asked for – criticism in so many “niceties”. “Why can’t she just say what she means?!?” were my friend’s words. This anecdote mirrors my experience that in general people where I live tend to express their opinions much more directly than would be considered polite, or “nice” in the case of girls, in the US. Where we Europeans probably often seem very direct if not downright rude to Americans, Americans often come across as somewhat phony by our standards.
    Again, I am speaking very generally here, there are of course many variations everywhere.

    Also, I completely agree that religion is not considered an apt topic for casual conversations here. It’s just not something people usually talk about but rather something considered pretty private – an idea that is, of course, contradictory to the very name of evangelicalism… 😉

    By the way, that’s Hallstatt on the photo, right? Been there once, it’s so pretty and picturesque it seems like it couldn’t possibly be real…

    • thank you SO much for telling me about your experiences. It fascinates me and confirms so much. And yes, I lOVE Hallstatt. I camped there for really cheap, and just a magical place. Hope to go back.

  • YES! Living under fundamentalism was incredibly isolating. I couldn’t talk to anyone about my emotions or struggles because of the horrible condemnation that would result. My parents being in the ministry, they discouraged me from confiding in my friends for fear that some damaging family secret would get out among their parishioners. And my friends hesitated to confide in me for fear that if their secrets got back to my parents, they’d face the same condemnation. Talk about sentenced to loneliness! Problem was, I had a terrible time faking anything. I wore my emotions on my sleeve, which made for some very awkward situations in my dealings with church people.

    I’m so glad I don’t have to pretend anymore. Now my relationships have real depth. And my number of friends is growing. It’s a great day to be genuine.

    • I’m so horrible at faking it too, which meant I was the loud, disrespectful child, ugh.

  • Lana
    At first I didn’t get your post but then as I thought I understood what you are saying. You are sharing your growing up experiences of being sheltered and then being out in the world and being introduced to those who did not grow up as you did and being shocked by that behavior. This behavior just so happened to be in Europe. Did I get that right?

    You mention it being the real world but does this mean a person should live as those in the real word? One thing that many Christians who have been sheltered struggled with is how to live when confronted with those who live more seemingly careful and have no regard for any concept of God. It becomes a hard reality but is definitely a wake up call for their own personal world as was yours?

    • right, I’m speaking of my sheltered background. I’m not saying I should live like those people, but live around them YES.

  • I hope that someday you and I can sit down and have coffee together and talk. I would love that.
    I’m so ready to stop pretending in my real life. So ready.

    • Me too!!! What state are you in?

      • California

        • Seems like everyone I know is out there, Lol. But I’m a long ways away. Too bad. If I decide to drive up that way, I’ll let you know.

          • Wait, I thought you were in Asia? If California is UP you must be in South America?

          • I do live in Asia. I happen to be in the US at the moment. (you just missed the announcement that I got here.) Right now that’s in the South.

          • I do live in Asia. I happen to be in the US at the moment. (you just missed the announcement that I got here.) Right now that’s in the South.

  • I would join in that conversation as well but with a frappe, I am not a coffee drinker, lol.

  • As a Belgian I find this quite interesting to read. I don’t know if I agree with every analysis of Europe, but it explains something of what I don’t understand about Americans and their ‘christian’ subculture…

    (If you ever come to Antwerp I’ll buy you a beer, and buddha will most likely forgive you that)

    • Lana

      Well I was in Belgium only so much as to spend most of it throwing up from food poisoning in very cold weather, lol.

      • Is our food that bad to and American stomach? 🙁

        • Lana

          I was camping, and I’m sure the fact that I wasn’t refridgerating the food had a lot to do with it.

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