My older brother, who was also the only person in the world I trusted, died when I was a teenager. I was devastated and began a search for the meaning of life. My older sister joined the Charismatic movement around that time and pulled me in. This was in 1975. I spent the next 25 years in fundamentalist, prosperity-gospel, misogynist churches.
I married in 1974 in my senior year of high school. I was not pregnant. It was my way of trying to escape a dysfunctional home—obviously, in hindsight, not a smart move. So I was already into a bad marriage when I joined the church. I should have left this extremely abusive relationship but didn’t. I was taught that God hates divorce, with scriptural backing of course.
When I was pregnant with our second child I caught my husband with another woman. I was crushed (this wasn’t the first time, or the last). I took our 2 year old daughter and went to my parents’ home to stay. I went to see my pastor and get his counsel and prayer for my situation. He told me I should go back home and apologize to my husband for leaving. Being the dumb, 23 year old brainwashed cult member that I was, and thinking this man really had God’s word and wisdom on everything spiritual, I did just that. I basically made myself a doormat. My husband was a sociopath, so he didn’t see the love and virtue in this. He just took full advantage of it for 21 years.
One pastor told me that if my husband wasn’t “saved” it was my fault, because if I were truly a “Godly woman” that he would have come around. In reality, my husband just disrespected me more every year for acting like an idiot and letting him get by with murder with no accountability to our relationship whatsoever.
One of my pastors over the years taught that babies who were aborted went to hell. To his thinking, obviously if a person had an abortion, they were not a Christian. And the biblical reference he tied to this judgment was from the Old Testament, where when God would send his people in to take a heathen (non-believing) city, he would have them slaughter the men, women AND children. So there. That proves it! I would have to write a book to recite all the stories of judgment, hatred, stupidity, fear, ignorance and emotional abuse I endured over that 25 years. But it was the eternal hell thing that finally got me.
After I divorced my husband of 21 years, I was poor. Since I had no money for entertainment, I would go to Barnes and Noble and sit for hours and read books. (Sorry B&N. I’ve bought plenty from you before that time and since then!) One of the books I read was If God is Love by Phillip Mulholland. It explained that it is God’s job to save us. Because if we have to ‘save ourselves’ even by just having to choose him rather than him choosing us, then we are not saved by grace. I discussed it with some friends and they convinced me I was dabbling with fire. So I put it down. But over and over I kept coming across this message when I wasn’t looking for it. I saw it as God leading me to a more enlightened understanding of him. And I began to trust my own heart and mind. Like Forrest Gump said to Jenny, “I am not a smart man, but I know what love is.” A god who would give a person (like my brother, who had a heart of gold, who I was told went to hell) 20 years on this earth, and then send them to an eternal torture chamber, no repentance accepted after physical death, no exit, because they didn’t choose Jesus yet before they went, is not a god of love.
Over time I lost my belief in Professional Christians (anyone who makes their living from preaching the bible), the Institutional Church/Corporate Jesus (all the various social clubs where people who agree on a particular doctrine get together to pat each other on the back and say, yep, yep, we’re right, and everybody else is wrong; also known as The Mutual Admiration Society), and I lost my belief in a god who eternally torments the people he loves. Sounds like a psychopath to me.
I still struggle with who or what God is. I do tend to believe that enlightened men have walked the earth as teachers of a higher way and that most people didn’t get it (Jesus for example) and always end up turning it into religion rather than a way of life. I’m not an atheist, but more of an agnostic. I believe in a benevolent presence, I think because I believe that where love and beauty exist in the world it couldn’t have been an accident. I’ve always felt insecure, not much confidence in myself, and sure don’t put a lot of faith and trust in humanity in general, so I need there to be something greater than myself, greater than the people on this planet, to believe in. Superstition? Maybe. But if that being exists, and I hope it/he/she does, I know that I don’t know very much about it. And at long last, I’m okay with that.