Every once and awhile you encounter a book that takes you back to a time and place that was once your home. That’s how I felt about Christine Rosen’s 2005 memoir My Fundamentalist Education: A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood. While the book might not contain any earth-shaking truths or mighty revelations Rosen’s memoir simply and effectively captures the essence of what it’s like growing up in the fundamentalist Christian subculture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. And since I’m a former evangelical Christian, if anyone could identify with Rosen’s memoir, it would be me.
Rosen is currently an adjunct scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. Her memoir chronicles Rosen and her sister’s experiences growing up within the parochial confines of Keswick Christian School, an insular and poorly funded private academy run by Christian fundamentalists. Discouraged by the perceived poor quality of their hardscrabble neighborhood’s public schools, Rosen’s father and stepmother instead opt enroll their children in Keswick, even though neither parent has any strong religious affiliations to speak of. Soon the girls are deeply immersed in a zealous and insular subculture of biblical literalism, end-times prophesies, and ultra-traditional morality. With the King James Bible as the school’s dominant textbook, a spirit of anti-intellectualism pervades the private academy. Taught to fear the evils of one-world government, rock music and sexual promiscuity, the young Rosen struggles to find a happy medium between a life of the mind and a life of faith. Complicating all of this is her ongoing relationship with her somewhat estranged biological mother, a bipolar Pentecostal convert with a slight self-destructive streak.
As I mentioned at the onset, this book struck a responsive chord with me since I too am a former evangelical Christian. While Rosen attended a private Christian school yet did not regularly attend a church, I on the other hand attended public school but regularly attended an evangelical church – all during the same time period as Rosen. Also like Rosen, eventually I would leave that former world in hopes of finding a life that was more authentic as well as intellectually honest. Just like Rosen, I too am shaped in many ways by the experiences of that childhood. Much if not all of Rosen’s memoir found deep resonance with me. Therefore, I utterly enjoyed her book.