Image via Soulfountain
(Names have been changed/withheld to protect the living)
In 1973 I was seven and riding back home with my parents after spending a long summer with my grandparents. I don’t remember much before then, except bits and pieces, but after that was living hell, which I have no knowledge as to why. The thing is, as a child, none of it was my fault, but rather the adults in my life and it had nothing to do with a god. It was all on the humans.
My parents did not go to church, unless we were with my mother’s relatives, even after all the times my mother and I left the abuser. Yet the bizarreness of Evangelicalism, along with insanity plagued my childhood.
Being of short parents, I was small enough to lie down in the back seat of a Vega to watch the blue sky pass by overhead. As I watched, I thought, “We’ve been to the moon and back, but neither God nor heaven is there.” Thus began a long journey of learning that the god of the adults was not my god, for my god was numinous and one that human words cannot describe, but only seen through neurological scans. Yet, it never was an actual deity, not a traditional deity at least.
My father, Damon we’ll call him, was an abusive in many ways, as well as an alcoholic, and sometimes those memories still bring me tears, especially when old tapes, as a former therapist called them, play in my mind. A horror that combined with my Evangelical mother and her relatives only a psychologist could help me overcome to some extent, yet it still affects my life greatly and it is a story that needs telling, because religion can be a source of misery. However, only humans can put an end to that source that causes misery.
While the physical and verbal abuse was bad enough, the sexual abuse left some long-term affects in my life, the spiritual part that was most difficult to overcome. Granted I made the mistake, as the pattern usually goes, of marrying men who were abusive in their own ways and I have had bouts of severe depression all my life, but there is nothing like trying to find one’s self as an adult and who you are after such life experiences.
The first time I tried to tell my mother about the sexual abuse so she could make it stop, she confronted Damon and the next thing I knew he called me into the dining room where the two of them were talking. He dropped his pants and made me show my mother what he made me to do him. I didn’t want to do it and overwhelming fear hit me as he grabbed my hand and forced me to show her.
My mother just turned and left the room without a word and thus began years of horror and my mother being “born-again” three times. Yet there was no invisible old man trying to save me and I was all alone, save my pets that I loved dearly. After such incidents happened without her in the room or he beat me black and blue with much name-calling, my pets would come to comfort me, and I would feel something numinous between us that I called God. Except this deity could not help me or do anything, except give me feelings of transcendence, which felt good after such things.
Then one day, my mother packed some of our things and took me to her aunt and uncle’s home to escape this man. So I thought.
The following Sunday, we went to my great uncle’s church. This uncle was the minister of this church and his hell-fire damnation altar call preaching scared me to death. He would scream for everyone to come to the altar and “be saved” in a loud booming voice that was stereotypical of such ministers and he did not stop until everyone, except me, was at his altar. I wanted to run out of his church, but knew I would be in trouble so I froze while my mother went to the altar to “be saved”, along with most of his congregation.
Afterwards, my minister great uncle asked why I did not go up to his altar and I told him that he scared me. His response was he did not scare me, but the devil and it was the devil who tried to fool me. “NO!” my little mind screamed, “You scared me, not some cartoon red-tail creature with a pitchfork that scared me.” I cried as I told him, “No, Uncle Richard! You scare me.” Again, he attempted to reassure me that he was a man of God who preached the word of God and knew when Satan was working on people, because God comforts us. I knew that was wrong. It was the adults who frightened me.
This uncle had an affair while in seminary with a woman he never married, even after she became pregnant. He knew the child of that relationship, but did not have much involvement with him. Of course, I never knew this until years later and have only seen his son very few times in my life. However, this uncle and all my mother’s relatives sent us back to the man I considered a dreadful daemon, but he was human and not some cartoon character.
Needless to say, the abuse continued, but the next time my mother took me and left to her relatives, she took Damon’s guns with us, because he had threatened her with a knife and she was scared he would kill us all. This time was a little different though, even though she was again “born-again” at my great uncle’s altar.
This time, Paul’s works concerning wives were preached to my mother by my great uncle and grandfather, who was by this time a sort of lay-minister in his church. I found out later that they told her a wife is suppose to be submissive to her husband no matter what, even if he was cruel to her and her children. This was God’s will.
As for me, an 11 or 12 year old, by this time, who was beyond the age of accountability, I was told that a child had to obey their parents no matter what, because God said so and it did not matter what my parents wanted, said, or did. I had to do it or be cursed while some bird pecked out my eyes and I was shown the words in the Bible, as well as told this is what God commanded of children. These were from the Old Testament (Exodus 20:12, Deut 27:16, and Prov. 30:17) and the New Testament (Ephesians 6:1-3). Nothing was mentioned about fathers not provoking their children and when I mentioned it a few years later, I was shut down with a “Children must obey their parents, because God said so” and was not to forget that. I was not allowed to forget any of that.
As for the verses quoted to my mother, I never really knew exactly until years later when she started telling me she had no choice and talked about how it was obeying God. Even then, I had to figure it all out myself, because it made no sense for a woman to submit to an abuser. What few people realized, even now, was that by this time my emotional and psychological age had been stunted and probably my mother’s too, yet I still had the ability to think and silently think I did. However, I did not learn this until I was an adult in therapy, so what terrified me at that age, might not have terrified others of the same age and my mother might not have been mentally in her thirties at the time all of this happened.
The other thing that was different, was that Damon came to my great uncle’s church and was “saved”, so it was no surprised we were once again sent back to live with him. No, he was not religious at all, but an evil man who continued to do what he always done, except this time, he would leave the Bible where he thought one of us would see it and read what he marked. It was a means of control of course. I saw one of the passages he marked and it was a text for wives. I don’t remember the text, but I remember it was about wives, yet he treated me as his concubine. Oh, I knew the word at that age; I just did not know exactly what it meant, except it had to do with sex that much I knew. The thing was, according to my mother’s relatives, it was God’s will that we return to my father and what I wanted did not matter.
So my mother and I were sent back with this man, guns and all again. I was not happy and wanted to die. It was around this time, I developed anorexia and like the adults who quoted scripture to me, I read the whole Bible as I was told and discovered two verses (1 Cor. 6:19 and 8:8-9). Food does not commend us to God, for neither if we eat are we the better or the worse. I used one or the other of these two verses against them when they wanted me to eat and they would insist I was taking the Bible out of context. I was? What made what I did any different from what they were doing?
By this time, the numinous feelings I felt with my pets and nature grew stronger. Such feelings caused me to feel enveloped by what I considered a deity, yet I knew it was not the same and the only thing this deity could do was make me feel good. I was even told what I felt was not God, but something else. I had my own world and it said I did not have to eat what they gave me. It was full control over my own self and the Bible allowed me to do this. IF the Bible was the word of God, then it said quite plainly that I did not have to eat. It was only “a stumbling block” to my own relationship with what I knew as God and I was stronger for it. I could go for days without food and I felt good for it. I was in full control of myself and no one could force me to eat.
Then one day, Damon attempted to force feed me, but I held my mouth tightly shut. He was stronger and after he managed to get a bite of food in my mouth, I spit food at his face. This was a big mistake for his fist drew back and I fell out of the chair upon impact. My mother remembers me climbing out of the curtains afterwards. He then said, “Get the f*** out of here and feed your animals!”
Oh, I fed them and then I ran into the woods, leaving them behind, but hoping I could somehow get my pets back eventually. My four foot eight, forty pound, 12 year old body ran as I tried to think where I should go and then I reached the highway and sat down to think some more. Night was coming and I still had no idea where I should go. I cried because I felt helpless and scared, and then the sheriff saw me and told me to get into the car. He was nice, so I thought, but even as I tried to plead for help, he took me back to the bastard. I didn’t want to go back to him. The one person I was told I could count on for help did not help me.
Like the good parents they pretended to be, they gladly accepted me home, but then, after my mother went to bed, came Damon’s apology. “Come here,” he said with the niceness of an asp, wanting me to sit on his lap. I dutifully went to him and sat on his lap, even though I knew what was coming. I did not want him to touch me and I pushed him away, but he forced his hand down there even so and then he forcefully grabbed my hand made me touch him. Eventually, when he had enough of me, he let me go and sent me to bed.
I cried and wondered where God was and why he never did anything to help me. He just allowed people to hurt me and sent no one to help me. How could such a thing be God’s will if he loved all the little children? I was alone and hell was a place on earth. It had to be, because life was so miserable, but why was I forced to live in hell? I knew of nothing I did wrong and according to my mother, teachers complained I was too good. If I was too good, why I was I being punished? Why would this be God’s will?
Sometime later, my mother became sick and had to have a hysterectomy, but before she did, she talked to Damon in my presence. I remember the day very well, because I was sitting on the couch when she tried to tell him she wanted another child before the surgery. He shouted, “Why do you need another goddamn f***in’ shitty kid. You have one goddamn f***in’ shitty kid right there.” His finger pointed at me and I felt panicked. I had no idea why he thought I was so bad. I tried to do as the adults told me and followed God’s law. What did I do wrong? I thought I was a good little girl. Which was it? I was too good according to teachers, a good girl according to my mother and grandparents, but to this man I was a “goddamn f***in’ shitty kid”. Did I displease him? Is that why I was in hell? I was lost and confused. Why did he say I was a “goddamn f***in’ shitty kid”?
Well, my mother did not have another child, but she did have a partial hysterectomy and while she was still recovering from the anaesthetic, she scared me. I thought she was going to die, but an aunt told me God was taking care of her and should not to worry, but pray instead. After a while, Damon took me home and I was alone with him for a few days until my mother came home from the hospital. I cooked, I cleaned, I did whatever any good child would do for her mother, but he still touched me in ways I dreaded greatly while she was gone and it was not as a father should. I somehow knew this much and hoped when my mother got better, she would take me away, this time for good, but as much as I tried, I could not avoid the man.
There was no god to take care of me and take me out this hell. There was no one to love and take care of me, no matter what I did to please people. I was still trapped with no way out and death seemed preferable. I tried to think of the least painful way to make it happen, so I took several aspirins, which I was allergic too. Who cared if it was a sin, I felt dead already. I had no idea how many I took, but my ears rung loudly and eventually I threw up, but that was it. I was still alive and in hell. A few days later, I took a swig of peroxide and went to bed, but to my disappointment, I woke up that next morning and was mad that I could not do anything right.
A light over the horizon?
In 1980, we all three moved to St. Louis and I started high school there, still a “Twiggy”, but very much alive and thinking of my next move, especially since we were in St. Louis.
I went to school one day and called the national runaway hotline from a payphone. I told my story, but to my disappointment, I could not stay there without parental consent. I could not believe it, I was that close to getting help, but I had to have my parents give me permission to run to shelter and maybe help? “No, not again,” I thought. For the first time in my life, I skipped class, on school grounds, right in front of the principal’s office, and for a good cause, so I thought. I did not get caught skipping class, but I did not get any help either.
I went home after school and told my mother what I did, in hopes she would let me go, but she asked for the number and left our home to call it in private, which I found out after she returned. No, she still did not let me go, but a few days later, an officer and a child service worker came to our home. I thought I would be rescued yet, but they asked if we wanted to press charges. Damon answered with a firm, “No” and my mother did nothing. She just sat silent as the two authorities left without helping me, and later she told me she had no choice. She did have a choice though, regardless of a damn book, but that book, which she believed was God’s inerrant word, was more important to her than I was. No one listened to me and the Bible/God was more important than I was and I vowed that if I ever had children, I would never allow any man to harm them.
Once again, I tried to think of something, anything that would take me out of this hell. I thought of rubbing alcohol, but ruled it out because it would cause me stomach pain and I did not want to die in pain. I wanted an end to the pain. Aspirin and peroxide did not work before, but I tried a bigger swig of peroxide again anyway and went to bed, only to wake up once more the next morning. The monster was right, I could not do anything right, not even die.
A few days later, my parents announced they were getting a divorce and he informed me that I would live with him part of the time and my mother part of the time. I screamed at him and told him I would not, only to be knocked down and told I would do as he said or else. Even so, I vowed I would not live with him and once again plead to my mother when were alone not to make me live with him.
He left not long after that and my mother finally told my grandfather all that man did to me and FINALLY, he and another uncle, who was my godfather, paid for an attorney to get me away from that man. The attorney spoke to me and according to my mother said, he called the man “lower than a snake’s belly”.
It was about this time my mother finally told me that the hotline told her, if she did not get me away from that man, they would. She supposedly would never see me again if that happened. Not sure how that got her to let go of her god and be a mother, but it did, except it was short lived.
Judgment day finally came, but it was not all good. My grandfather told me I would never have to see that man again, but that man was not getting any consequences. I told him I wanted to prosecute him for what he did.
To this day, his words ring in my ears as he told me, “We have you away from him now. That is enough. God will take care of him.”
What? I was livid. I shouted and cried, “God? What about man’s law? I want him in jail for what he did to me!”
My grandfather got an angry look on his face and said, “Anger is a sin!”
“A sin? That’s not what it says. It says, “Be angry and sin not”, I thought. Where was he getting this? Was not molesting your own daughter a sin? Was not killing one’s soul not a sin? Why is a man who committed a crime, according to humans, not committing a sin? I was confused. How could someone so evil and cruel go free without any consequences, yet I was supposed to pay for what he did to me? It made no sense.
The following Sunday my mother was “born again” at my great uncle’s altar again. It was the third and last time, but this one came with baptism at my mother’s request. She wanted me baptized also. Not only that, she wanted her uncle to baptize us.
My great uncle approached me with my mother and asked if I wanted to be baptized. I knew if I said, “No”, they would get upset and their hellfire preachy wrath would be upon me, but at the same time, I did not want to be dunked in a river. However, the two of them stood there, anxiously awaiting my answer. Not wanting to get into trouble, I said, “Yes”.
The day came and my great uncle said, “After you are baptized the world will be different for you.”
What? No! I like the bright beautiful blue sky and everything else that was so transcending about nature. I did not want anything to change. I had no idea what he told me after that, but it was nothing but preaching. That much I knew.
My mother was dunked first in the river and then it was my turn. I wanted to back out, even run, but I knew I could not. They would be mad if I did, so I walked into the water with my great uncle until it reached just above my waist. Then he put his hand over my mouth and nose as he dunked me and said a muffled, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
I came up and looked around and up at the sky. Everything was the same. Nothing was different! I was so happy, except…
I got swimmer’s ear.
After that, my mother wanted to go to church regularly, but said she knew I would rebel if she took me to an Evangelical church. In the end, she compromised with the Lutheran Church, ELCA. It was during this time that I purchased some Humanist information and was reading it in my room. I had no idea that she had entered my room nor did I realize she would react in such a manner as she did.
I was reading with great interest because the description of a humanist was totally me and then suddenly it was snatched out of my hands with my mother angrily shouting, “THAT’S NOT CHRISTIAN!” She walked out of my room with it and I never saw that piece of information again.
Years later, I did stumble onto something similar, but not without a lot of searching as to who I am. I even attended the Episcopal Church for a few years, after I left home, just to please my relatives and say I was attending church. I researched almost every religion, myth, and philosophy during that time and once I ran into Humanism again, I decided I was a humanist. The thing is, that journey of finding myself, getting therapy, and all as an adult was not without hearing those words “That’s not Christian” shouted at me from time to time as well as a modern day inquisition from my mother and various reminders of my mother’s bizarre beliefs. Add to that, the infamous, “I had no choice!” I don’t know which is worse- “I had no choice”, based on her stupid religious views or her screaming, “THAT’S NOT CHRISTIAN!” and getting the Inquisition.
The thing is, by this time I knew it was humans who made earth either heaven, hell, or both. There is no heaven up there or hell down there. It is all right here and as for a god, that’s all in our heads. “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.” There are no greater words written so true than in the Humanist Manifesto II and IF there is a god, then it is not what my relatives attempted to drill into me as a child. The only people who saved me were humans, not some invisible being sitting the sky.
However, my grandfather believed in a heaven so much that, when he became depressed, he believed that his doctors were trying to keep him alive longer than God wanted and refused psychological help, because he believed those in psychology would steal his soul. Thing is, he never knew that his religious beliefs killed my soul and it had to be resuscitated by a psychologist, because he stopped taking his medications and a few days later, he died of heart failure. Even if he had lived, I doubt he would have listened to me.
The one thing I have learned is that religion kills on so many different levels and it is truly a source of misery. It does not save anyone, but only contributes to suffering and enables abusers.
Am I Christian? Maybe culturally, because I was raised to be one, but in actuality I believe it is all on us humans to relieve suffering and to improve our lives. Was I ever a Christian? I don’t know anymore, but what I do know is the god I knew as a child was not that of my relatives and after studying neuro-psychology, it was never actually a god, but rather feelings of transcendence that were, along with my pets, what kept me going in some respects. That feeling I get with nature, music, real compassion from other humans, and from my pets, I hope never leaves me, because it is a wonderful feeling, even if it is brain chemistry.
However, as much as those like Bishop Spong in the Episcopal Church showed me that not all Christians are the same, I cannot go back just please others. I have a lot of respect for them, especially those who put up with my rants concerning various things about religion, but I cannot stand human or animal sacrifices, along with other rites and the like. Human beings are not meant to be sacrifices to or for anything. No living being should be sacrificed for any reason, in any way, shape, or form. Life is too precious to sacrifice anyone and we should all be free to discover what makes us happy. Life is a gift and we should enjoy it while we are alive.
I do not believe for a moment that I am going to hell, because I have already been through hell and I do not expect any reward or punishment after I die. I do expect my sons to bury my ashes among roses after I die, for what greater memory could they have of me? Even here in the Bible Belt, I managed to shelter them from Evangelicalism and they never knew about it until they were in their mid-teens. They did not like what they saw and understand me better for it. One is a Buddhist and the other says he makes his own beliefs, but they know my life was filled with many thorns, yet I am glad for their love that was never compromised by sources of misery, even if I was not a perfect mother. Thing is, I look forward to one day watching them raise their children without religion or at least without corrupt religion.