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8/12/08                                                                                       View Comments

Atheism is like a life raft in an ocean of religious despair

Sent in by BiMamaFemAtheist

I posted the short version; here's the long version - SP.

I was born at home in January of 1983. Six of my grandmothers eight grandchildren were born this way (the other two are adopted). My parents split up before I can remember, and my mother went back to school to get her degrees (ending up with a PhD). So my grandmother was my primary parent (although mom did live in the same home). My grandmother, who I have always known as Giggy, was both devout and insane. She made the rules and meted out the punishments. In the late 1970s she wrote a Xtian bestseller about the end times and promptly retired from nursing, a job she hated. After a few years of notoriety and fame in the Xtian fundy world (then known as charismatic) she became a "spiritual midwife", urging women to forgo traditional prenatal care and instead root out "defilements" in their lives that might cause a less-than-perfect birth experience. This is the world I grew up in: no Smurfs, Care Bears, or Fraggle Rock. No music outside of church and church choir. No movies till they'd been broadcast on basic TV and then recorded and edited by my grandmother (heavy on that fast-forward button through any bad language or dirtiness). No public school till 4th grade, when my mom graduated and we moved out of state to get away from Gig.

I was sheltered from typical childhood experiences like trick-or-treating (evil and pagan) and Santa (a threat to the "true" meaning of the laughably, equally pagan Christmas) but instead exposed to horrors like medically unassisted home births. I remember being maybe six years old, coloring in the dining room of a stranger's home for hours and hours and hours, when suddenly my grandmother pulled me into the bedroom where the birthing was taking place. There were complications, and my grandmother seemed to think God would be more amenable to the prayers of a child in this case, so I was brought in the room to lay hands on the laboring woman. Her baby was premature and so small. I don't know now how it turned out later in life. We were just there for the births, as far as I know. My grandmother wrote another book, this one non-fictional (supposedly) about her experiences in the "home birth ministry". This one has sold all over the world. My grandmother was invited to speaking engagements across the US and as far away as Perth, Australia to tell people how they weren't real Xtians if they didn't put ALL their faith in God. Did I mention we weren't allowed to lock our doors? Because that would mean putting our faith in things of this world, like man-made locks, instead of in our heavenly provider and protector.

We did not go to doctors. I got into the typical childhood scrapes, bruises and cuts. I also remember stepping on a rusty carpenter's nail in my cousin's back yard when I was about 5 and it going clean through my foot. No tetnus shot for me! Just prayer. It was the one-size-fits-all magic bullet. And it was all about manipulating God to do what He promised in that book of his. We had this huge wooden door hanging on the wall in our entry room, that my grandmother had painted blue, and had written the names of God from the OT in white paint (Jehovah Rapha, Nissi, Shalom, etc.) If you want a pop-cultural figure to relate her to, I offer Becky Fischer of "Jesus Camp" fame. Actually, watching that whole documentary was like some weird flashback, and what has triggered me writing this story.

So here was this incredibly "Godly' woman, well respected in the Xtian circles we saw (fundamentalist charismatic crazies), who would beat the shit out of us, supposedly because we were "in rebellion" and our "Adam nature" had gotten out of hand. Also that whole crap about "spare the rod, spoil the child". Gee, thanks Jesus, way to give child abuse some real religious authority! Fucker. But the weird thing was, for all the emotional, spiritual, mental and physical abuse, this was also the woman who would comfort me. When I had nightmares (which was frequently) she would rock me in her chair and sing Xtian hymns/lullabies about the peace of God to me, and hold me till I felt better, long after the age where I no longer comfortably fit in her ample lap.

My family was actually a bit open-minded in a close-minded way when it came to various denominations. We were non-denominational because NONE of them had enough "faith" as proscribed by Gig, but to get us out of her hair she'd happily send us to every single VBS (Vacation Bible School) in town: the Methodist one, the Mennonite one, etc. and we were involved in children's choir at the Baptist church.

In second grade I stopped being homeschooled and started attending a local private Christian school (I believe Church of God, but I'm not sure). This meant Bible class (easy for me, as it was all we GOT at home), typical school subjects, and of course Chapel on Wednesdays. I was friends with a girl who lived down the block my age, and I remember one Wednesday going to her house after school. Her dad said she wasn't home, but I could come in to wait and watch TV with him till she got there. He molested me. I will never forget that it happened on a Wednesday, because that's why I was wearing a dress that day. I'm older and now more about perverts and I'm pretty sure he would have tried at some point anyway, but as a kid, I associated it with being a girl and wearing a dress. That went on for over a year, till I finally broke through the "don't contradict your elders" teachings enough to tell my mom what was going on.

Being raised the way I was, I thought I was dirty, sinful, "impure" and above all, not a good woman. What man would want me? Also, I overheard the doctors (first I EVER saw was a freaking gynocologist doing a PAP smear on me at 8 to verify I had indeed been violated) telling my mother I would never bear children. This is all really painful to type, but I must get it out.

During this same time my older brother was getting into trouble with the law and at school. Mostly kid stuff, like shop lifting from the local 7-11, but also some kind of frightening things, like homemaking his own weapons. One day when I was in third grade a police officer came to my school to ask me questions about my family, because my brother had called child services to report we were being abused. I was so hurt that my willful, rebellious, sinful brother would dare make such accusations against our loving and godly grandmother! I still feel sick about not defending him. My family responded by shipping him across the country to go live with our stoner ex-Xtian dad.

Anyway, a few months after this my mom graduated with her doctorate and got a job very very out of state and we left. Now came public school, which I was totally unprepared for. Educationally I was actually ahead, but socially I was years behind. Imagine sending a five year old to fourth grade; essentially that's where I was socially/emotionally. I got picked on and bullied terribly. I remember the girl with leg braces picking on me, since it moved her a notch up the social ladder (she'd been at the bottom till I came). It didn't help that I had ingrained exceptionalism and elitism that belonging to a cult gives you, that totally out of proportion to reality arrogance and ignorance.

But I didn't think I'd been raised in a cult, just in church. We still attended church up north, though oddly enough my mom, sister and I each went to our own. I went to a local Community Church, my sister went to youth group at a Methodist, and I believe my mom attended Presbyterian singles group. I liked the pastor at my church because he was gentle and none of his sermons were about hell. During the three years we lived out of state, we still came to live with my grandmother over the summers, so we could spend time with our cousins, etc. She was no longer physically abusive and was a lot more relaxed about things like food (I remember eating nothing but Pillsbury Strudels for over a month one summer) but still crazy restrictive on others, like "secular" music.

One summer, she had a two-week long tour in Australia, and my aunt was left in charge of us. There was an incident where she got nutty and decided that either my sister or I had stolen some of her French chocolate liquors (ew). So she locked us in my grandmother's room with Bibles and assigned us to look up and write out passages about our sin. The truly hurtful, insane and FUCKED UP part was that she assigned us different sins - I was declared and "thief" and my sister a "glutton". Now, if it was the same crime we were both accused of, stealing and eating nasty boozy chocolates neither of us wanted (and to this day, in talks with each other, both deny having done it - I believe her) wouldn't we have gotten the same punishment? Just another example in a lifetime of screwy dogmatic child abuse.

A few years later we moved back to my home town for good. I started spending weekends at my grandmothers, and started working for her ministry. I would mail out her books and newsletters, type, file, etc. I also built the "ministry's" first website and blog. I actually got a lot of really good skills and training from that work, but in retrospect wish I had not done anything to help advance her unhealthy message. I was really starting to believe the things she said, right down to where doctors did more harm than good and people shouldn't expose their kids to those egotistical perverts. (She really hated being a nurse.)

Thank God for high school (ha!). I went to a school for the performing arts and was suddenly and joyously exposed to all those heathens I'd been warned about - people who openly practiced witchcraft, lesbians, actors, stoners, EVERYONE! It was glorious and wonderful. I had my first girlfriend, I found my first truly close friends. I had a little bit of breathing room, for a few hours a day, to be as weird as I wanted or needed to be. I think it's what saved me from being completely racist, sexist, and anti-gay. My grandmother certainly put forth a concerted effort to indoctrinate those principles into me.

After that I was never a "good Xtian" again. I still went to church, meant it when I sang and worshipped, etc, but I had sex when I wanted, experimented liberally with drugs and alcohol, and listened to rock and punk and rap and just everything that had been denied for so long. It was my own stumbling renaissance.

At 17 my mom kicked me out of the house for stupid shit, so I moved in with my dad (whose sole purpose is apparently to be there when my mom gets sick of us, but I'm grateful to him for that at least). I messed around with extacy (yuck) and was consequently hospitalized for suicide attempts twice. Then I got alcohol poisoning. My dad's girlfriend decided I was a liability who would have to go. In order to persuade my mom I was "worthy" of coming home, that I was truly "repentant" I had to go to a Christian cult detox FARM in Texas, where all the animals had biblical names (swear to mythological creature). It was insane. They were trying to cast demons out of me and after four days of this I finally just started faking convulsions to get them off my case. They also took my science fiction books from me, told me I was a whore because my belly button showed in some of my tops (it was AUGUST and where I'm from that means skimpy tops, sexuality aside), etc. But they did let me keep smoking cigarettes, oddly enough. Anyway, after a few weeks of that I got to move back in with my mother for a few months until I could afford my very own mobile home.

Flash forward a few years of this mildly uncomfortable double life (though really, only mildly) and you'll find me pregnant by my loser alcoholic boyfriend. What does the family say I should do? Marry the jerk, of course! So I waddled down the aisle at seven months pregnant and promised "till death do I part" in front of an Anglican priest. That same priest just a few months later had the decency and good counsel to tell me I should consider a divorce; he saw what my family wouldn't - he was a raging alcoholic and extremely emotionally abusive. So, less than three months into my marriage, with a broken ankle and a six-week old infant, I dipped.

I went back to my mom's house. She wouldn't help me pay for getting a cast, so I hobbled around without one, caring for my son as best I could. Only within the last few months have I seen how unloving that was - for her to watch me in deep physical pain every day, but do nothing. But then, she had experience with the matter. Between the ages of 14 and 18 I spent almost all my time with a dislocated hip. It could easily have been treated by a doctor, but instead I was forced to suffer godawful pain for a religious belief she no longer even really held. I think she had just decided i was "faking it" (like when I told her I was suicidal and she said I was being "dramatic" or when i told her I was bisexual and she told me it was a "phase"). I smoked a LOT of pot both as a teenager, and as a new mom, something I'm not very proud of, but the only way I knew of to deal with the physical and mental pain.

When my son turned two I went back to college. I fell in love with two subjects, American History and Middle East Studies. I was fascinated by the convoluted situation in Israel/Palestine and the role that religious extremism played in sustaining the conflict and hiccuping attempts at peace. During a class this Spring in American History from 1800-1850 we learned about America's two "Great Awakening" spiritual revival movements, and the genesis of a lot of our homegrown cults: Jehovah's Witness, Latter Day Saints/Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists. We also read a fascinating book on the Oneida Utopia and it's narcisstic-personality-disorder poster boy, John Humphrey Noyes. While all my classmates were saying "What a load of bull! Who would fall for this crap?" and "This is weird! This is bat shit!" I kept thinking "Why does this remind me of my childhood? Why does this all seem so familiar?"

So, one night a few months ago, I Googled my grandmother's name and the name of her ministry. Pages and pages of links came up, but the mostly fell into two categories: 1. Xtians and others refuting her teachings as dangerous and/or unbiblical, and 2. newspapers about cult deaths and medical negligence deaths, of people who had read my grandmother's books. One story, for anyone interested in Googling it themselves, was about the Attleboro Cult. After reading my grandmothers book on home birth, this small "home church" group went round the bend and turned into a full blown cult. One of the female members told another woman that she and her 4-year old son should stop eating and only drink almond milk. The little boy slowly starved to death in a house full of food. I still can't think about that kid without crying, and regretting all my complicity with the lies my grandmother spread so far and wide. (Though others with far more power are to blame also: she appeared on 700 Club and Pat Robinson, as well as Jim & Tammy Faye's PTL.)

Within a few hours of looking at link after horrifying link, I learned of people on four continents who had died following my grandmother's reckless "spiritual' advice, including an Australian woman who died in childbirth and an African couple who refused to get HIV/AIDS treatment because they believed if they just "prayed and had faith" God would heal them. (He didn't.)

That was by far the biggest blow to my spirituality I've ever faced. Coming to grips with the fact that I was raised in a cult, that my grandmother was a cult leader, that her wackiness didn't just hurt me, but killed innocent children halfway around the world. I'm not exactly over it yet. I think a lot of years of therapy are in my future. But the word "cult" was helpful, because it gave me a place to start. I researched cult characteristics, watched "Sorry I knocked" videos on YouTube, donated to SilentLambs.org (for sexual abuse victims of Jehovah's Witness' "pedophile's paradise"), and protested against Scientology. I started to look at all these religions I could clearly see were crazy. I knew the stories of Joseph Smith and Edward Miller and Brigham Young and John Humphrey Noyes and L. Ron Hubbard. They all had a lot in common with each other, and with my grandmother. Deep personal dissatisfaction and insanity. Untreated depression, and I'd wager a lot of serotonin imbalance all around.

This led to a greater questioning of my own dormant religious faith (I'd kept my son out of church semi-instinctively; like not trusting myself to find a non-abusive boyfriend, I don't trust myself to find a non-abusive church). Everyone on here has great sites they can link you to, but for my WhyWontGodHealAmputees.com did the trick. It confirmed what I was already beginning to believe (that God is imaginary) and gave me the push I needed to go ahead and let myself explore atheism further. I'm reading a wonderful book now "God is Not Good: How Religion Poisons Everything" and it's just incredible. I watched "Jesus Camp" and I swear I want to go kidnap every one of those kids and put them in "normal" homes where they won't be brainwashed into believing they are inherently sinful, evil, and wrong and that their natural desires prove they need a mythical hero to die and rise to save them from that same mythical God's curses.

Atheism is like a life raft in an ocean of religious despair for me. I look at my son everyday now and I am so thankful that he won't be subjected to the torturous childhood I had. I teach him to love himself, that his body is wonderful and his own, and that he should be proud of his accomplishments. I do not present fairy tales or mythology as truth to him and frankly, I'm not sure I'll tell him about Santa either. I don't know. My son is very bright but delayed in expressive and receptive language. In a lot of ways, I feel really blessed about this. He is catching up fine, but it gives me extra time to just *enjoy* him for who he is, and not for what he says or how he performs. We love each other so much. And I would never, ever, ever worship a God that would condemn him for hell for dying too young, for refusing to kneel before a tyrant, or for possibly being gay (who knows, he's 2). i don't yet get the great "Why?" questions or the screaming "No!" fights either; instead I see a child who does not question the nature of good and evil, of his own "immortal soul" or heaven and hell. He lives in the here and now, and that gives me great inspiration for how I can live my own life happier than it has been so far.

Thank you for this forum, and for letting me ramble on so long. Tears are streaming because I feel so glad to get this all out. Oddly enough, i do still love my grandmother. I'll never leave her alone with any child, but I forgive her for what she did to me. She is on antidepressants for the first time in her life, and has become a different person. I see now how much of her insanity was truly just that, chemical imbalance that is behind most insanity. What she did to me was awful and it will probably take me a long time to move completely beyond it, but I have the rest of my life to myself, with no God horning in on my happiness.

And to all the Xtian trolls - I *know* my Bible, so don't tell me to read it. I won a Bible Bowl trivia contest against kids twice my age when I was 7. It's not that I don't know it, it's that I don't believe it. I'll let other members explain to you why it is so improbable; this story was personal and not theological. Again, to the webmaster and other ex-xtian members, thank you for letting me get this off my chest.