9/26/09                                                                                       View Comments

How I escaped the monkey trap

by Godless Vagabond

LeashedImage by TimOve via Flickr

My life has been the epitome of cognitive dissonance. When I was a little girl in church I remember wondering why there wasn't a goddess because it didn't seem fair that the boys had a divine role-model and I didn't. I also knew that women are moms and if we were all children of god and if he is father in heaven and if we were made in the image of god then there should be a goddess mother somewhere. I thought later that it was the Earth was our mother but still there was no mention of her in the bible. But still I liked that idea since I loved nature. I read a lot as a child. I loved fairy tales and mythology and fantasy and sci-fi. I saw the similarities in all the mythologies, including the one I was told was real. I fell in love with horses and Native Americans and read their legends and read about the different tribes and how they held respect for nature. How they saw themselves as a part of nature instead of apart from it. I read how white people treated the natives and the land and all living things upon it. I was ashamed of how Christian Europeans treated our native peoples. I still have shame that my ancestry is the same as those bigots.

I noticed that women were, at best, second-class citizens in the bible. My mother was a single parent who got help from her parents to raise me. I remember being miffed that the bible had such a low opinion of women while the only parent I had was my mom. If men were so superior then why wasn't my father man enough to help raise me?

I wondered why we had a tree in the house for Xmas when there wasn't a mention of one when Jesus was born. Nor was there any mention of Santa Clause or Easter bunnies or colorful eggs. What did they have to do with Christmas or Easter? I later found out that eggs and rabbits were symbols of fertility and that Santa first appeared in Western Europe as a form of the god Odin. Easter is a corruption of the name Ishtar, a fertility goddess and that rabbits and eggs are symbols of fertility.

I remember having communion one Sunday and literally almost throwing up at the thought that we were symbolically consuming a body. "Eat my flesh and drink my blood" on one hand and the sin of cannibalism on the other. I didn't take communion for a long time after that. Even now the thought makes me a little nauseous.

I was told that there would not be animals or plants in heaven because heaven was for humans to praise God forever. I thought that heaven sounded very boring and wondered why a God would need us to sing his praises. For a brief moment I wondered what hell would be like and if it would be an improvement. And if pets would be there, as well. But that thought was sacrilegious so I quashed it. More or less.

I wondered how God could send people to hell just because they never heard of him or Jesus. How was their ignorance their fault? And if you had to be baptized and believe in Jesus to be saved then what about all the people that lived and died before Jesus? Did that mean that EVERYONE, including Noah and Moses and David were going to hell? All of the Hebrews who were dead before Jesus came and now too, even though they are Gods own chosen? All of the people everywhere who had never ever heard of Jesus? That didn’t make any sense at all.

I read Drawing Down The Moon by Margot Adler and thought that a goddess focused religion was better than the patriarchal one I had been dealing with. I ended up meeting some witches and studying Wicca. I liked it. Wiccans view the Earth as sacred and the place of humanity was to protect the planet and work with it. Women were cherished as sources of life and as embodiment of the Mother who sustains us all and that male and female were mutually dependent. Wicca also teaches personal accountability, a most refreshing concept from the pass-the-buck mentality of Christianity. I never liked the idea of me being sinful just because two people somewhere in the nebulous past ate from some tree. What was I supposed to do about that? Hop in a time machine and go stop them? And why should someone suffer and die because of me? I couldn't blame anything I did on someone else. And if I were inclined to shift the blame to anyone I doubt they would smile and nod and let me do it. But, I never stopped thinking that God and Jesus were real in some way or another. I just started worshiping other gods.

Wicca was also accepting of everyone. Everyone was seen as a child of the goddess and worthy of respect, unless the individual acted otherwise. Wicca acknowledged all gods and goddesses. I met people who had affinity mostly for the deities of Scandinavia and Britain but met one Christian Wiccan. I ended up being a solitary practitioner but gave it up. I didn’t get any real answers to my questions and was always left feeling dissatisfied after a ceremony. I liked the rituals but had a hard time finding privacy and was having life full in my face and just didn’t have the time.

I eventually investigated the Mormon church. I thought I had found the True Path! They had some really good answers to my initial questions and taught that women were closer to God because we created new life. Much better option than being viewed as worthless except as a baby mill. I studied scriptures and loved Sunday school classes. I learned that when Jesus came back the Earth would be glorified and perfected. That was the best thing I have ever heard. Then I was told that only people who would be on Earth were the ones who had committed some sins that weren't totally forgettable. They were good enough for heaven but not good enough to be with God or Jesus. I began to wonder what sins I would have to commit so I could stay on the perfected planet. A perfected Earth sounded like heaven much more than some freaking house made of gold and jewels, up in the clouds and all lit up all the time. I hated that idea. I wanted to be able to walk in restored forests in all their majesty, visit the plains and tundras and mountains. I wanted to see clean rivers flowing freely to the sea. I wanted to learn about all of the plants and animals and smell the fresh air, feel the rain falling on me and watch the endless sunrises and sunsets. THAT was my idea of heaven. It still would be, if there were such a thing. (That and a library of every good book ever written). Then I started asking more questions. I got standard apologetic answers that sounded good on the surface but were no answers at all. The church had only recently gotten revelation from God that blacks were to be allowed to hold the Priesthood after all. I was amazed at that. I thought this was an advanced church with a living prophet with a hotline to God and yet only recently have our brothers of African descent been granted the priesthood? Only now is the church catching up with desegregation? What was up with that? I noticed subtle racism and sexism in the church too, which soured their preachings of how they were the true church.

Then came the clinchers. I was married to someone who became abusive. Most of it was mental but there was some physical also. I tried to be a good wife and prayed to God and Jesus that my husband would become a better person. We attended a joint meeting between the womens and mens groups on marriage and relationships. They spoke well and honestly on how people in a relationship should act. I was thinking: "Awesome! The Holy Spirit was there, speaking through the teacher to men and women who need to change. Things should start to get better soon." On the way home my husband told me that he knew that we both needed to change to make the marriage work but he wasn’t going to. I remember thinking “What the fuck?” I was stunned. I didn’t say anything but I didn’t forget his words. A few years later (yes, I stayed too long but I kept hoping Jesus would work a miracle) he lost his cool and put his hands where they didn’t need to be. I left a few weeks later once I had made living arrangements. The church sent us to a councilor (three free sessions) and upon his insistence I went to a shrink because he was convinced I had some issues with abandonment by my father that were making me want to get out of our marriage. I went to appease him as I knew good and damn well what my problem was and that a divorce would fix it. The shrink asked me questions and didn’t find anything wrong with me and said I was right to leave. I was told I was strong and that he wasn’t gonna take my money because I didn’t need his help. I also talked with our bishop and a person in the church I had admired greatly. They both told me that I needed to forgive my husband, move back in and make my family whole again.

I became…. angry. Incensed. Furious. Seething. I was the one being abused and had been “forgiving” it for all those years yet this was somehow MY fault? I needed to “get over this”? What about him? What about how the Holy Spirit is supposed to guide the church leaders and let them know who needs help? Bah. They didn’t do or say anything to him and somehow I was the bad person for leaving. I supposed he said he was sorry (yeah, I had heard THAT one before) and downplayed how long this had been going on. I didn’t care. They all had shown me their true colors. I was done with them.

Long story short, we got divorced and I have never looked back. I left that church altogether and researched other faiths. Buddhism looks good on paper but they and the Muslims there are happily killing each other and who knows who else so forget that. Islam was out of the question, though I understand that they teach a better land ethic than Christianity does. That may not say much since I don’t think Christianity HAS a land ethic. I thought about Wicca again but decided to just quit searching. All of them just tried to baffle people with bullshit, some more than others. I figured maybe I was agnostic. Agnostics believed in a god of some sort, right? Kinda maybe? I couldn’t prove there was one but I couldn’t prove there wasn’t either. And did it really matter as long as I treated people with kindness?

I went back to school to get a degree and happened across a book in the library there by Richard Dawkins with a garish, shining silver cover blazing on a shelf. I read the spine of the book: “The God Delusion.” It sounded horribly sacrilegious so of course I took it off the shelf and started reading.

I was amazed. So many of my questions and doubts from when I was six or so till I opened the book were here. All of the inconsistencies and illogical things I had noticed were pointed out and so were more that I had not considered. All of the stupid arguments and 'proofs' used by church leaders were shredded and so much more. This was the first book on religion I had ever read that made complete sense (I suggest you read that book if you haven’t). I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had grown up with sticky questions and I had finally found a new answer: None Of The Above. I didn’t have to believe in any god at all. What an amazing, liberating thought. I have no idea why that had never occurred to me before. Maybe because I wanted there to be a god somewhere to fix all that humanity is ruining. Maybe because I was raised to believe in a god. I don’t know. I do know that I felt as if weights were lifted off of me. I was free. Suddenly that shrill, edgy, background whine of cognitive dissonance that had been pulsing in my head for all my life was gone. I was able to wonder anew at nature and the planet and the stars and... everything. I gained an even stronger respect for life. This life is all I have. This isn’t a dress rehearsal, there won’t be Jesus coming with armies to slaughter the enemy (can you just feel the love?) and take his people home with him.

I escaped my religious monkey trap with the same method used to escape all monkey traps: I let go.