The Nuclear Family Didn’t Stop Me From Becoming a Leftist Degenerate

Watching TV here on spring break tonight with my dad, I came across a show with a preacher on it, saying that ‘if America could somehow re-establish the family, then Christian values would be restored in this country’.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

I was born into a traditional family. A very traditional family. My father runs a farm, and my mother was a homemaker. How was it, that I ended up a revolutionary democratic socialist, feminist, environmentalist, pro-GLBT, pro-free-love, anti-racist atheist?

Were my parents just radicals? Well, neither of my parents is anti-capitalist, I never asked my mom about feminism, and my dad insists that ‘men and women are just different’, and I’ve always gotten the feeling that my parents grudgingly became accepting of GLBTQ people after my elder sister came out of the closet as a bisexual. So, clearly, a liberal household, but a radical one? Hardly.

It must have been that evil public school system. Except, I live in the district that elected Michelle Bachmann three times in a row, and all my public school social studies classes were patently eurocentric, pro-capitalist, and generally politically conservative. We learned that communism was enforced absolute equality and the end of individualism, that anarchism was chaos, that feminists and environmentalists always took it too far, that MLK endorsed colorblindness and nothing more, that big government was tyranny, and that the market knew best. No, the public school didn’t turn me left.

But College! That must have been it! No, no- I was radical before I came to college. I was picketing and shouting in high school.

Perhaps it was the divorce. After many years together, in which my mother became increasingly abusive (emotionally to me and my brother, physically and emotionally to my sisters), and my father, busy at his work, could not work his relationship with her out, my parents broke up in a long divorce (a divorce which, in retrospect, was a good thing; my relationship with both my parents has improved, as has their relationship with each other). Surely, this breaking of our family was what did me in! Except, I was beginning to radicalize before then, and some of the most conservative people I know are from divorced parents.

Surely, it must have been the lack of church. My parents, two ex-Catholics (one from a conservative family, the other from a progressive, Catholic Worker family) brought me to a Unitarian fellowship (not so much a church as a place where you learn about other religions and how to love and respect everyone), and told all of their kids to choose their own religion. We all became atheists, except for one sister, who might be Unitarian- I’m not sure. Well, that explains how I became an atheist, but does it explain the socialism/anarchism, feminism, environmentalism, or anything else?

I don’t know, great pastors, what has radicalized me! How could I have gone so wrong, with a traditional family?

Actually, you know, I think it was the church- or rather, the paradigm of free thought that my religious instruction represented. My parents always told me to look at the world, listen to others, and tell the truth. I did, and lo and behold, here I am, made radical less by own hand and more by my own ears and head. Despite the nuclear family and a pretty conservative school, I ended up a raging leftist.

I think that’s what scares cultural reactionaries. The fact that, even if the nuclear family structure they naively imagine to be the foundation of a moral society once again becomes dominant, the divorce rate drops, and women stay in the home barefoot and pregnant, ready to greet their husbands with a brandy and a caucasian baby every evening he comes home the office, people are still going to think for themselves- that’s how this whole damn New Left thing started. Not only is their quest doomed, it is pointless. The cat is out of the bag, and no matter how hard the reactionaries push back, we will keep pushing forward. As long as people can think for themselves, patriarchy, and oppression in general, will not indefinitely prevail.

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  • Lauren

    Emmett, I’m glad to hear that there is at least someone else out there that believes their religion ‘made them’ the left-liberal people they are today.

    I grew up in the Polish National Catholic Church, a sector of Catholicism that doesn’t believe in shoving archaic beliefs down their parishioner’s throats and that was founded on the basis of democracy and power of the people (parishioners own and run the church….priests are there to conduct masses and for the God stuff). Today I am extremely liberal (though I prefer to say ‘common-sensical’ rather than radical) and attribute my beliefs to my church. Sunday sermons always revolved around loving and helping others rather than pushing a white-man’s agenda, and today loving and helping others is the premise I stand on both in politics and my future profession (family counseling).

    Sometimes I think it’s crazy to be able to attribute my liberal beliefs to my church, but it’s true and I feel grateful that I can say that. I too grew up in a nuclear family with a dad working long hours and mom at home with her two kids and disabled mother. And I still turned out liberal. (Though it helps that both my parents are mostly liberal too…I think it wasn’t so much patriarchy that kept my parent’s roles gender-separated, but the need- my dad had a master’s degree-level job and my mom didn’t, etc.)

    Emmett, thanks for sharing your story!

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Ah, the whole nature vs. nurture thing. My personal, anecdotal, and thoroughly unscientific suspicion is that radicalism, like bohemia just gets in the blood somehow. My own mother remarried, moved to conservative Arizona, and attempted to construct a nuclear family in a pseudo-adobe style house. Disastrous results ensued,(some of which I’ve mentioned in comments in the past), and not a bit of it took.

    I’d be curious though, have you looked further back into your family tree, or at relatives other than your immediate family? I came to discover over time that a number of my relatives and ancestors had unconventional lives that my mother wanted to shield her children from. Others, not so much. Maybe there are relatives in your family somewhere you have more in common with?

    • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      Oh, and thinking for yourself, no matter what your background or environment, that’s always good too. :)

    • Emmett J Doyle

      Not so much. I mean, my grandmother and grandfather were in the Catholic Worker, but other than that were very conventional. Beyond that, lots of jesuits, nuns, a few intellectuals, a shrapnel-filled war hero, a cop, a meat inspector… nothing out of the ordinary.

  • Matt

    While the premise itself is very sketchy, it is perhaps worth noting that a pastor should also not be given a pass on what “Christian values” are (these are not well-defined, and they should be well-articulated for accountability — many adherents often downplay certain Biblical values for convenience, whether because those values are incompatible with their politics or because their peculiarity would undercut the appeal of their cause), that these values are something to strive for (in general), and (of less importance) really how much said values were really running the show in the first place. It’s not that we want to pay that much attention to one person, but the argument this person presents is a common one, so it may be an interesting intellectual exercise to break down each part of it — and figure out an argument we are most comfortable using when addressing a person like this (while still being prepared to address it from other angles when others press us to go that way).