This is going to be one of those muddled posts. Fair warning.
I've been thinking, off and on, about childhoods and people who choose religions that are viewed as stricter and more 'rules based' than say your average Protestant faith.
Candice did a poll post a while back which, while aimed at Muslims specifically I think actually might apply to the wider religious convert base.
The basic fall out is that people who had a 'difficult' or abusive childhood seem to tend to convert and then follow stricter interpretations of their chosen faiths than those who had 'normal' childhoods. Of course that's a broad generalization and I've hardly made an actual scientific study of the matter, and there will always be exceptions to the rules. But in general I think this observation bears out.
And I've been trying to think of why that should be. And I say this as one of those people who proves the rule and not by exception. One might think that a person who grew up in a strict household, unhappy, miserable, beaten down and controlled would choose (once they had a choice) to be free. Not to continue to be restricted with rules, but to do whatever they want. And some do that.
But here's the thing that's occurred to me - we are taught, overtly or subliminally, that all the bad things that happen to us are our fault. If we were better, if we were smarter, if we didn't cry so loud or break that toy or need new things for school *then* our parents would love us. *Then* we would be a good child, and bad things wouldn't happen anymore. From the perspective of adulthood we know that this isn't true, but there are certainly some things that run much deeper than just our minds. It's ingrained knowledge at this point. We are *flawed* and there have to be rules and things that we can do to *earn* the love that we see everyone else getting. Because they're good and we're not.
Subconsciously we feel like we have to do things to earn God's love and we choose faiths and interpretations of those faiths that seem like they offer us that opportunity. I'm not saying that that's what those faiths *actually* teach, of course. I'm saying that I think (at least in part) that that's what goes on in our heads.
People talk about 'unconditional love' and we can lip sync along to it. We understand, in theory, what the words mean. But in practice, in our hearts - the words are meaningless. We have no experience of a love that didn't come with conditions. Conditions that we were never able to live up to. And given that the only way we can understand God is filtered through our human experiences the idea that God loves unconditionally - that the rules aren't there to make us jump through hoops to earn God's love but are there to help us in other ways - never really sinks in fully. We cannot understand it because it's an absolutely foreign concept.