Story of Recovery: Mriana
Part 1 of 3
A Walk on the Dark Side: A Childhood Nightmare
(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 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 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 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 some bird would peck 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, Lev. 19:3, 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?.
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. She might not have been mentally in her thirties, but 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.
The other thing that was different, 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, but 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). 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? Food does not commend us to God, for neither if we eat are we the better or the worse.
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, which 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, 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 plea 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, the 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 antithetic, 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. After a while, Damon took me home and I was alone with him for a few days until my mother came home. 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.
However, 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 pay phone. 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 principle?s office, and for a good cause, so I thought. I did not get caught skipping class, but I did not get any help.
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 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, but 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 to be 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, even attending 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 by 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 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.
The thing is, 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 actually 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 alike. 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.
Part 2 of 3
Out of the Dark
I was born in May 1966, a few months before the Star Trek Original Series came on TV. From the very first episode, my mother watched it, with me on her lap nursing, without knowing or at least not comprehending the Roddenberry?s underlying message, which even Majel confirmed that Gene did use the media to convey a message to the public. I attribute this message as being part of what kept me holding on to some sanity, even though I did not figure out what the philosophy was until I stumbled onto it in my teens. This gift, which I now hold dear, was taken from me, by my mother, even before I had a chance to claim it as my own, but it was not lost forever, even though it became a long journey to make my way back to it again. I guess you could say I grew into their philosophy and they indirectly helped raised me. Maybe I did not better humanity in some manner, but I was struggling to better myself and it was indeed a struggle.
I read Sam Harris?s ?End of Faith? and Richard Dawkins?s ?The God Delusion?, but it left me flat and caused me to ask, ?But what are alternatives to theism that are fulfilling and satisfying, without dehumanizing the individual?? I know my search is not one size fits all nor would I think to impose it on anyone either, but it helped me and I feel it could give people, who are looking for an alternative philosophy some ideas to shorten their own search for meaning and recovery from Evangelicalism.
I am not going to bore people with my long journey out of theism, but rather my path to living life more fully without superstitions. However, I did learn from Bishop Spong to look at the subject of religion in a different way than the one in which I was raised. Even so, I will go from A to C, covering very little, if any, of B, except to say, that I do not agree with everything Spong (http://www.beliefnet.com/Video/Preachers-and-Teachers/Bios/Bishop-John-Shelby-Spong-Preacher-and-Teacher-Bio-Page.aspx ) says, yet he did say some things that caught my attention a few years ago. He made statements such as ?theism is dead?, ?Living fully, loving wastefully, and being all that we can be? (http://www.beliefnet.com/Video/Preachers-and-Teachers/Bios/Bishop-John-Shelby-Spong-Preacher-and-Teacher-Bio-Page.aspx ) and that we need to strive to be fully human.
What does that mean? How do we go about learning what it means to be fully human? While some Humanists look towards the religious to find out what it means to be human, I turned to Humanists ( http://www.beliefnet.com/Video/Preachers-and-Teachers/Bios/Bishop-John-Shelby-Spong-Preacher-and-Teacher-Bio-Page.aspx ) in order to become fully human. Mind you, I am not there yet and I doubt it is humanly possible to do so completely, because few of us know what it means to be fully human. The thing is Spong said many things, even in his books that sounded like humanism. Therefore, I wrote him one day a few years ago, without even admitting that I had left the Episcopal Church and became a Humanist, to ask him about his statements that sounded very much like humanism. His response to me was, ?Mriana, Humanism is not anti-Christian or anti-God. It is through the human that we experience the Holy, the Other. The Divine is the ultimate depth of the human.?
This Christian humanist, or humanistic Christian, was encouraging and his words said to me, that if I had admitted to being a Humanist in the fullest sense of the word, he would not be offended as many other Christians are. However, Spong did say in a different letter, which I complained to him about my mother and her religious views, ?Love your mother. She is acting out of the higher she has. What she needs is more love.? Oh, that last is very difficult given her theistic attitudes and dogma, but still, it was through Humanism that I learned to love myself. One has to love themselves before they can love others and in order to that, they sometimes need to recover from what other humans have done to them. In a process of reason, compassion, and education that contributes to bettering themselves and maybe others, of course. I would say science, but for me it goes beyond just science and while therapy helped, it was not until I returned to the philosophy of humanism that I recovered from an eating disorder. No, I would not use the word ?cured?. The word ?cured? is not an accurate term, but I no longer have the obsessive-compulsive behaviours of one with anorexia. Yet humanism is a non-theistic worldview that helped and it continues to help me to this day. The recovery from an eating disorder was only the beginning, because Humanism is not the end of a long struggle away from religious ideology and dogma, but rather a beginning. It is, for me, a sense of freedom to study religion critically, as well as any other subject that applies to the human condition. It is the freedom to acquire knowledge and to think for oneself, which I seem to crave greatly.
Another thing is Humanism is concerned with life, not the afterlife, which I was not actually living at the time. For me, it changes the focus of life greatly and gives it a richer meaning, without constant struggle to appease others or muddle through the misery that comes with theism. Instead of some deity being the center of things, the human is at the center and no one is forced to believe any ideology, creeds, or dogmas. This is something that is missing from the Christianity I knew, because it denied the ?human-being-ness? of the individual. There is no denial of scientific discovery in favour of superstition and one is free to express themselves as long as it does not degrade others or take away human dignity. The last thing, or rather the best thing, is self-fulfilment. Now that is something you will not hear much of in various religious ideology. Instead, there is no god or master to serve or please, but rather one has to please themselves in order to be fully human. This is not to say one does not serve their community or society. On the contrary, humans are social creatures and dehumanizing others does not help anyone reach their full potential. However, there has to be the freedom for everyone to better themselves as well as humanity as a whole, but one has to stand on their own two feet without any reliance on the supernatural, facing the present and future with courage and confidence (see Humanism: Beliefs and Practices, by Jeaneane Fowler or see: http://www.beliefnet.com/Video/Preachers-and-Teachers/Bios/Bishop-John-Shelby-Spong-Preacher-and-Teacher-Bio-Page.aspx RSP100 course).
While perfection is impossible an individual, and humanity itself, should be free to choose goals that are conducive to progress. Thus, humanism is positive, something I need to assist me in reaching my full potential, instead of the negativity of religious dogma. Referring back to Fowler, ?the essential element of the human being is ego, that ingredient of the human being that is all ?I? centred.? ??for Humanists it is not something to be denied in order to reach some kind of ultimate knowledge and state of equilibrium that transcends the world, as in much eastern thought. Nor is it something that has to be subjected to divine will as in western religious thought.? Something I needed greatly, but Fowler goes on to say much more, including, ?But it could be argued that without love and respect of self, how can the human being extend love and respect to others? Self-denial and self-humility are not the ingredients of a balanced person in the eyes of many Humanists. Human consciousness is of necessity egoistic identity, and to operate in life without ego is impossible. It is ego that is bound up in feelings and emotions of individuals and these are essential ingredients of humanity, not disposable ones.? To a person with even a minimal knowledge of psychology, this makes sense and the sense of self-worth was one of many ingredients I did not have. I did not have a sense of self at all for that matter, because I buried my own feelings for so many years and they were coming out in the form of depression and self-starvation. My id and super-ego were well developed, but there was nothing in between to balance the two, so there was a constant struggle between the id and super-ego with no fully developed mediator in between to balance the two.
This is pure Freudian psychology, granted, but recall what I mentioned about one?s development being stunted by abuse in my previous blog? Well, the superego develops between three and six years of age, while the ego is suppose to emerge in early infancy, and the id is found at birth. The ego, the conscious, rational part of the personality ensures the id?s needs, which are biological needs and desires, are satisfied in accordance with reality. The superego, or seat of conscience, contains values of society and is often in conflict with the id?s desires. The superego also develops from interactions with parents, who eventually insist that children control their biological impulses. Once the superego is formed, the ego is faced with the increasingly complex task of reconciling the demands of the id, the external world, and the conscience. In essence, my ego was stunted into pleasing the external social world to avoid harm from others, while my id demanded to be heard, metaphorically of course. My ego could not please the id as it strived to satisfy the superego?s ever-demanding insistence to make sure others were pleased to avoid angering them. Therefore, whatever happened to my own ego was not the norm and it did not develop, as it should. Luckily, our brains have plasticity, even in adulthood, and with effort, we can change our thinking processes.
If I was ever going to recover from the damage of Evangelicalism, as well as what my elders had done, I had to work on loving myself first, fulfilling my own needs, in an effort to better myself. The psychology degree I acquired, after my first divorce and while my sons were toddlers, was not going to do me any good, anywhere, no matter how impressive my grades are, until I worked on my own wellbeing. In a sense, the philosophy I claimed for myself was assisting me to get the mote out of my own eye. It still is for that matter. Something that theism could never do for me. Humanism, for me, is a change in my own cognitive thinking, which I call self-cognitive therapy. It was the final tool, I needed, to break free of the psychological damage that religious dogma and abuse did to my life. However, living in the Bible Belt and having relatives who are Evangelicals, I am not free from religious dogma. I don?t know if moving else where, even if I had the means to do so, would solve that problem, but other places have more Humanists, even Humanist organizations, which could also be beneficial, at least for me.
One could say I exchanged one religion for another, but Humanism is not a religion. It is a philosophy and way of life, which is dependent on reason and compassion, starting with oneself. If I was going to live this one and only life I have, I had to make changes, starting with my thinking. I made a complete overhaul of my own life as threw out those things that appalled me. Oddly enough, the first was following Mother Kathy?s advice. She was one of the Episcopal priests I ranted to about the paganism in Christianity that upset me so badly, such as the crucifixion, Maundy Thursday, the theophagy called communion, and all the other revolting bloody horrors. She did not deny any of my accusations concerning Christianity. Instead, she said, not in a hateful manner, but in a matter of a fact way, ?If it upsets you so much, don?t participate.? My response to her was, ?But what would other people think?? I was people pleasing again, yet she did not accuse me of that. Instead, she pointed out that not everyone partakes of communion or other rituals. Of course, I eventually took it further than she was suggesting, but since I could not believe any of it nor could I ever tolerate such violent and barbaric rituals, it all went. Religion as a lip service to others was out the door. It had to be my choice as to what I do believe, but no one died for my sins nor did I ever want such a barbaric ritual in the first place. However, due to my decision, it would seem I lost a friend in the end.
Secondly, was the aforementioned overabundance of people pleasing. There is a time and a place for that, but not on a constant basis and as a constant means to avoid people?s anger or any other violent action. It was time to decide what I want in life that would make me happy. Starting with my choice of what I do believe. Humanism is an affirmation of what I believe, instead of what I don?t believe. It is less confrontational than saying, ?I don?t believe in the god of religion? or ?I do not believe in the barbaric crucifixion or the supernatural zombie resurrection of Jesus Christ.? I?m sure people get the idea and there is a time and a place to express my feelings about religion too. I don?t need to tell liberal Christians that I don?t believe, but sometimes there is that annoying Fundie that just gets your goat. That is when expressing one?s feelings in a manner that is diplomatic can come in handy. Confrontation is not my thing, but I am slowly learning to speak my mind in a manner, which I can hope does not cause more friction, even if it would be easier to just to relocate.
The next steps were focused on human needs, especially my own, and attempt to label what I felt or wanted when needed or I was not going to better myself. I could not place everything outside myself, because it was not out there, but rather it is within me. Every thought, feeling, and desire I had to claim as my own, which included my philosophy. I had to focus on what is human, even acknowledge other humans, in a positive manner even though I was never an unfriendly person, in the process. This meant, I could not allow myself to fear other people?s reactions, which is still sometimes a difficult one. The list goes on and on, but it is all in keeping with Humanism, and I am still learning what it means to be human. I have not stopped learning just because I claimed humanism for myself, without the pressure of others. Eventually, I learned live life, enjoy the only life I have, as well as find meaning and beauty in it.
I also found new meaning in helping others, because I wanted to see them succeed. For example, I am not actually into politics, but during the primaries, our current president gave a speech that acknowledged people, not just some people, but all U.S. citizens. I knew, without a doubt, I wanted him as our president and it was the first time I got involved, by going to door-to-door and making phone calls. I ran into hateful people and was concerned my candidate would lose, but I did not give up and it was not just because of what Obama said, but rather my own desire to better humanity, which I felt Obama could help achieve that goal. In the end, I was part of making history that my sons can share with their children, which I never considered before I saw that he won and I did not get involved because Obama is charismatic, but because I wanted to assist in helping him achieve his goal. Therefore, the philosophy and goals are ideals that one can share with others, even if they are not Humanists, and especially if they are working for the greater good of humanity.
To make a long story short, because there is far more to the subject that could be potentially beneficial for others, once I returned to Humanism and claimed it as mine, it began a course of self-discovery and self-wellbeing, because it began a process of self-psychology without theism, which was very much dead for me. While Humanism was not what lead me out of religious theology and belief, it did become a new beginning and was for me an alternative, one that saved my life and I attribute the Roddenberrys for showing me the way at an early age. I went through a lot in between, but there was still that human drive within myself to keep living in order to find a new philosophy to live by and acquire what I needed in order to become whole. For me, it was a gift the Roddenberrys gave me, over four decades ago; long before they both died, and they left it open for me to choose when I was ready, unlike my Fundamgelical relatives with their brand of Christianity. What greater welcoming gift can one give an infant, knowingly or unknowingly, than to hand them the keys to what it means to be human? I only had to reach out and grab those keys, which I snatched them long before I left theism, but it took time to gain the courage to use them. I know I have the human potential, as well as the courage, to be all that I can be, to love wastefully, live life fully, and become fully human. Along the way, I hope to help others find themselves, regardless of the means one achieve this, and while Humanism may not be for everyone, it could very well be for others who are searching for some alternative that will be meaningful and helpful for them.
Some people find themselves, as well as meaning in life, through Buddhism, while others find themselves via other means. However, atheism, agnosticism, or non-theism alone is not something I find therapeutic for myself and I doubt I am alone in this thinking. Thus, I find books that do not give alternatives to theism rather unfulfilling and do not help to give meaning to an individual. After reading such books, I want to make my voice heard and say, ?Suggest alternatives to religion or they will never leave it, even if they want to leave it?. Non-theism, agnosticism, and alike words only state what I do not believe, but Humanism says what I do believe, which is the potential of all human beings to strive to better themselves and others, which brings us back to the old Star Trek mantra, ?We strive to better ourselves and work for the greater good of humanity?. What better way to live a fulfilling life or more life affirming than those two basic goals, which are in the Humanist Manifesto?
Part 3 of 3
Where I Came From and Where I am Now
What I am about to say is offensive to many of our Christian (and Muslim) visitors, but humans are apes and as such, we are animals. Some of us even behave worse than other animals, especially with how we treat each other, the environment, and even ourselves. Other animals sometimes treat the human child far better than humans treat their own species. Even at a very early age, before I comprehended Darwin, we would go to the zoo, and I would see in the chimps and gorillas, ?people? much like us, except with fur. Therefore, there was never a doubt in my mind that we have a kinship with other species, including our pets.
My relationship, as a child, with my pets was rather unique, as well as appalling to my religious relatives. My pets, for me, were my ?adopted? brothers and sisters. Now let us make something clear. As a human, I am an only-child, but I have always loved my pets as though they were my family. In some respects, they were/are and when I say things like, ?I was raised by animals?, it is not too far from the truth, on a scientific level, but this is not based on science, this time. Rather, it is based purely on one person?s view of the world, one that is more pantheistic than theistic.
In previous posts, I expressed my relationship with my childhood beloved pets. This relationship was comforting, consoling, and for me, a form of unconditional love. As I looked into their eyes during times of distress, I would have vivid numinous experiences, which had nothing to do with religion, but a oneness with nature. At times, they were helpful to me and sometimes, surprisingly acceptable to my relatives because they thought it was cute, like when I was four years old, spilt milk on the floor, and knew I had to clean up the mess; I got the cats to help me. http://www.beliefnet.com/Video/Preachers-and-Teachers/Bios/Bishop-John-Shelby-Spong-Preacher-and-Teacher-Bio-Page.aspx (picture of me as child) Such was my childish reasoning, but it worked, I loved it, and yes, I was four in that picture, not a toddler of two.
However, during the years after my mother?s second born-again experience when I was around ten or eleven until I left religion about six or seven years ago, I suffered from anorexia nervosa (for about 26 years), which took a toll on my health. Sometimes I fasted due to religion and others times due to a preoccupation with my weight. I did the whole gambit of laxatives, diet pills, even ipecac a couple of times. As an adult of 4? 11?, my weight was far below what it should have been for health and before I left the Episcopal Church, my weight did not go above 90 pounds and I was constantly weighing several times a day. It was truly an obsession, which increased during religious fasts, such as Lent.
Ironically, since I let go of religion six or seven years ago in favour of a naturalistic and non-theistic world view, my health has surprisingly improved, as evidence by a recent physical. While I prefer not to focus on the numbers, I am 4? 11? and now weigh 105 pounds on the doctor?s scales. At the time, I had no clue about my actual weight because the obsession of weighing several times a day disappeared a few years ago. I woke up one day and thought, ?I have not weighed in a very long time.? Curiosity and temptation almost got the best of me as I stared at my scales, but I left it right where it sat, as I told myself that this could be a step in the right direction in my own recovery.
My blood work returned and to my surprise, my electrolytes were no longer abnormal. While I did not force myself to go through the painfulness of throwing up, especially after the couple of times, I used ipecac to throw up and it built up toxins in my body, which almost killed me, I did abuse laxatives on many occasions in the past, thus throwing off my electrolytes. What this does, is not so much rid the body of calories, but rather rids the body of important fluids, thus dehydrates a person. Sure, one loses body weight, but it only water weight and not much more. I would not recommend it to anyone, because it does cause one to feel like, excuse the phrase, sh**, and with enough diet pills one can die too.
Secondly, my cholesterol was in normal ranges for a change. In the past, even though I fasted, my LDL and HDL were reversed and not healthy levels. The results of my recent blood test showed they are now at very healthy levels, including my triglycerides. I suspect that prolong periods of fasting causes one?s body to produce its own cholesterol in order to make up for famine.
Needless to say, with all I did to myself physically prior to leaving religion, I almost did not survive myself, much less what I experienced from others as a child. I almost unintentionally killed myself several times over with laxatives, diet pills, fasting- sometimes in the name of religion and sometimes due to just having an eating disorder. All of this does do a number on one?s own health and even one?s life, not to mention does not help one?s reproductive system, even and especially with a small frame.
My doctor, who shared the same church before I deconverted, as well as followed me medically for a very long time, was even surprised after she examined me this year, said I looked good, and even asked how I did it. She does not know I left religion, because I have not exactly told her. She only knows I do not attend anymore, but she did not mention not seeing me in church either. However, in response to wanting to know how I did it, I said, ?Well, I tell you, it is all in the human condition and the ability to do things for ourselves.? She gave me a strange look, but did not ask any more questions or even say anything more.
I do not know if there is a correlation between health and leaving religion, but I do know it appears to work for me. However, it would be interesting to see research on this subject. I now have a hypothesis, but researchers would need to rule out certain influences or use control factors and I am not sure what they would be. Does the philosophy of humanism need ruling out of the equation or does it need to be a control factor? I have no clue, especially since I attribute some of my recovery to humanism too. I would hate to see it removed as a control, because the philosophy is very important to me and I consider it very much a part of my recovery.
Besides eating and treating myself better, the other thing is, I returned to appreciating nature to the fullest, thus, where pantheism comes into play. I do not pray or meditate, but instead, and I learned this long before I started reading Marlene Winell?s book, I listen to Native American music while I relax. As I listen, for example, to Douglas Spotted Eagle?s ?Closer to Far Away?, I quite often envision a nature scene in which I relate to animals. In one scenario, I take myself back to my childhood, in which I had a black and white Shetland pony that I rode in a field bareback. This is one of my favourite imageries and even though it is not real, but only in my mind, I feel as one with the earth, much as I did when I was a child. For me, it is almost like a dance with nature as we gallop in a field of wildflowers in time to the music.
As a child, I always felt a transcending oneness with my pony as I rode bareback, because I could feel his every move. Not once did I care to use a saddle because I could not feel and anticipate his movements. Of course, I was much smaller than a jockey, so concerns about his back were not actually an issue. To put all this in perspective, when I was in Kindergarten, people were shocked to discover I was actually five and not two due to my size, as seen in the picture above. Therefore, when I was around ten years old, I probably did not weigh enough to do much damage, if any, to a Shetland?s back and he could run with the wind very well with me practically lying on his back and neck as I held onto the reins and his mane. Of course, all this took a certain physical communication and trust between rider and horse too, as well as an intimate relationship and skill. Not just anyone could ride him as I did and a certain uneasiness occurred when other children tried to ride him as I did.
Thus, this is one of many of my favourite nature relaxation techniques, but it goes far beyond that. I also allow myself a special appreciation for the world around me in the here and now, almost to the point of reverence, thus explains my lifelong vegetarianism, which I acquired long before I was grown. It is not just a dislike for the taste of meat, but imagine eating your pet pig Wilbur or your pet cow named Bossy or any other pet that is like family to you. As outlandish as it may sound to meat-eaters, and especially to Christians, one does not eat their ?relatives? and yes, I did have a runt pet pig I called Wilbur. On a more mature level, I cannot stand pain and suffering when I see it. It bothers me greatly and sadly, I have too much empathy or ?mirror neurons? or something. ?Sadly? might not be the right word, for this is not necessarily a bad thing, but I have spent a lifetime ?throwing fits? about humans inflicting pain and suffering on others, right down and including the crucifixion. However, like many others, I feed off others who are in a good mood also.
This last, this ?sisterhood?, or empathy, with animals was always a contention between my Christian relatives and myself, but even when I was in the thick of Christianity, I could not let go of my bond with animals or nature. I was always overly sensitive to living beings, regardless of what anyone else, including and especially the religious, had to say. It is innate within me, but it can be a disadvantage as well as an advantage. However, like my pets, I eat to survive, but I do it with a conscious and love for living beings, including myself.
There is also a therapeutic aspect to animals and nature, but this therapeutic nature is not exclusive to pets. Even humans can be therapeutic with their actions and even words. A simple hug or even a desire to give someone a hug has a means of helping another person emotionally. Even after the birth of my first-born son, as I held him for the very first time and we studied each other?s face, I experienced much similar numinous feelings as I did with my pets. All these examples are important in my life and my relationship to my environment. Compassion and reason appear to be lacking with many religious people, but those who are not religious, I often see more reason and compassion, even more understanding of the relationship I attempt to communicate about nature. (I will not start ranting about Palin and her love for aerial killing of wolves or killing animals in general, but she is a prime example of lack of compassion and reason, in my opinion and no, I am not a PETA supporter. More like ASPCA and World Wildlife Fund supporter.)
Finally, I also developed my own values, the first being ?Do no intentional harm?, which does not only apply to animals, human or otherwise, but to the earth too. Granted, I am not perfect with this ?vow?, but that is my second value. I do not expect perfection from anyone, not even myself. This does not mean I do not point out when others are being dehumanizing and/or inhumane though. I may be a pacifist with my actions, but not always with my words. This does not mean I judge others either. That is something else I strive to avoid, unless I see inhumane behaviours, then I speak out with vehemence. It is only human to get angry, but what one does with their anger is what makes the difference. Emotions are very much part of being human and should not be repressed, but instead expressed appropriately.
I am also very content to die and become plant food. What an ironic ending to the life of a vegetarian and great way to return what I took from the earth. This does not scare me or even bother me, especially if one considers our vast eco-system that perpetually recycles itself, even in the face of humans raping the earth of its natural resources and polluting it just by living on it. The thought that I will become part of the earth after I die seems like poetic justice to me, instead of a morbid thought.
Thus, I strive to better myself and the world in some manner. I strive to love others, the universe, and myself. I strive for compassion and reason too. It is not always easy though and I am still a work in progress. A work that still has a long ways to go and my own spirituality, without religion or supernaturalism, is still developing. It changes and grows as I grow, but the words of Tracy Chapman?s ?Heaven?s Here on Earth?, expresses much of what I believe and have always believed. There is no supernatural meaning with the words in the song, even though the religious try to claim many as their own. Instead, the words are placed squarely on the human and nature itself, not something that is out there somewhere in La La Land. Angels are nothing more than compassionate humans giving aide, from the goodness of their hearts, to someone in need and the earth is what humans make it while they are alive.
Even though my mother has a different view on animals, she has often said, ?It would not be heaven without our pets? and to that I say, ?We have that right here on earth? and we should cherish it in the one and only life we know for sure we have. If we do not appreciate what we have in the here and now, when can we?
Lyrics to Tracy Chapman?s ?Heaven?s Here on Earth?: http://www.beliefnet.com/Video/Preachers-and-Teachers/Bios/Bishop-John-Shelby-Spong-Preacher-and-Teacher-Bio-Page.aspx
- Recovering From: Both Free Methodist and Church of God (Indiana)/Wesleyan
- Hometown: Missouri
- Current Belief System: humanist/non-theist
- Current Location: Missouri
- Date: January 26, 2010
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