Telling the Whole Story

As Beyond Belief finds its way in the world it has been interesting to observe that most of the press it has received gravitates toward the topic of “women leaving religion.” This is understandable with so much media focus on the regrettably harrowing and sensational stories about women who have to “escape” or “flee” an isolated fundamentalist community where physical abuse is rampant.

But the reality is that most women’s stories of extreme religion are about the quieter struggles, daily challenges and simmering internal conflicts. This is not to say that their stories lack intensity. As Bethanne Patrick noted in her recent interview with Cami and me for Atlantic.com “Ostman and Tive aren’t surprised that intense experiences, like sex, came up so often for their contributors. Intense experiences, are, after all, part of why many of the women got into these religions in the first place.”

Most women in extreme religions want to make religion work. As noted in the article we did notice patterns in why contributors joined.  Religion offered meaning and a spiritual connection, a sense of purpose both individually and as part of a community. Many women could not find this in secular society and became loath to give it up even when faced with growing doubts.

From the outset it has been important to me that Beyond Belief explore the whole journey of women within extreme religions because understanding why women choose them and why they stay, sheds valuable light not just on the religious world but on the secular one as well.

Although we often want the choices in life to be black and white so that we can clearly delineate between them this is the very human tendency to oversimplify and create absolutes that causes many of the problems within extreme religions. Beyond Belief attempts to live in the gray area by exploring both the religious and non-religious status quo without taking a side. It’s sometimes difficult, especially for former members of extreme religions, who made big choices in a big way at one time. As Cami said in our interview, “I used to live in a swimming pool where I knew all of the edges. Now I’m in the ocean learning to backfloat.”

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The Beyond Belief cast and crew has an exciting week ahead. We kick off this Sunday April 28th with an afternoon reading at Village Books in Bellingham WA. We’ll have a good sampling of stories to tell, one ex-catholic, four ex-evangelicals and yours truly filling the role as token Jew. It will be fun to read for the hometown crowd before heading down to Powell’s in Portland for a Tuesday night event. There we will introduce our one Oregon based author, Grace Peterson, who will join us for the evening as well as several of our diehard writers including Pam Helberg who is gung ho to make the trek.

Wednesday we stay down south with an event at the University of Washington Bookstore in Seattle. I’ve often thought that Beyond Belief would make a great text for Women’s Studies and/or Comparative Religion Courses and do hope that students and faculty will come hear us read and ask questions. If you’re in the neighborhood please join us. If you live too far away but want to be part of the conversation we invite you to comment, tell us your story or request a spot on our guest blog.

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