My personal morals like everyone’s have always been contested in the collective. One of the main testing grounds for my morality has obviously been school. Because I went to Christian school all my life, however, it was fairly easy to retain a good moral foundation. In high school, I switched from an ultraconservative Christian school to a more liberal one in the tenth grade. That was my first experience in any kind of a peer pressure situation. The majority of kids at my new school drank, smoked and “sexed” on a normal basis. I, however, had never even been exposed to those things in any way. Throughout high school, I stuck to the straight-edge mentality and refused to take part in the parties and craziness. In fact, I stopped drinking soda for two years as a kind of commit to become mindful of what I was drinking and what I would drink in the future. I knew that I was going to a secular school and that I would need to be mindful always of my morals to retain my ideals.
During this time, I was good friends with the pastor’s family in my church, and was completely immersed in community service. I found it very easy to remember why I believed what I did because I saw and felt it everyday. Then, I turned eighteen. Eighteen in our church means membership and attendance of business meetings. In those business meetings, every example of the beliefs that I held was shattered. People were vindictive, they made rumors truth, they walked out the doors and shook hands like nothing happened. I watched the pastor and his family get pushed out and threatened for no righteous reason. I watched the next pastor get pushed out by the same people and I stood up and used the only thing that I thought they would understand, scripture. I stood up while their rumors about my family and I flew, and at some point in all this chaos the faith in my beliefs was lost.
Immediately in college, my straightedge ways were tested. What you don’t drink? One kid saw that I had a straightedge button on my purse and was completely dumbfounded when I said that it was true. In women’s studies, there was one girl who heard me mention that I was a Christian and I had attended Christian school my entire life and it became a rally point in class. Every issue turned into a questionnaire about the ideas of Christian women. Was your church camp like the one and “Jesus Camp”? Did you ever see the website “Christian women against feminism”? I really didn’t think it would be so hard to simply exist. So I went to parties, and let me tell you sober people do not have as much fun with the whole strobe light thing. So I danced, so I drank, so I dressed up in stupid costumes.
Was there weakness in these actions? Was there failure? Was there wisdom gained? Once I got my footing in this community, I was finally able to find a place for me the way I wanted me. I removed myself from that church, and I thought I could study my faith and ask all the questions I should have asked about my faith, and in doing so gain back the feeling of being in the right place.
What does this mean for me and my morality in the face of the collective? To me it meant that I had to be always aware of what I surround myself with. I gained some experience that I could draw from in further situations. I allowed my morality to be compromised and recently found some new semblance of ground. The collective informs my morality. Before all of this experience, my chosen morals very much depended on the community that I was in. They had little to do with my personal feelings. I based my faith on my community for a large part also, and now, that I have seen communities come and go, I think that I have a kind of stand alone morality. Even within my family, both sides now, I uphold the morals that I have set for myself without shame.
I think the important part of my morality was establishing one thing that set me apart from the communities I lived everyday in; one thing that was just from my experience. Sexuality became a very important part of my belief system. To me, it was part of a breaking point with the Church. I had to shape my beliefs on it outside of the Christian church’s views completely. From sexuality to scriptural interpretation, I think it is very necessary to establish your moral views and convictions outside of a collective, if possible. My personal morality was established entirely within one collective, as I am sure most people’s were in the beginning. This bases one’s morality on the survival of the ideal of that collective. Once that collective falls apart or proves it self to be hypocritical, it puts your morality on trial within yourself. That’s a dangerous place to be. If you can’t be sure of your morality within yourself, how can you hope to brace those morals against everyone, and everything else?