When I was growing up, my father was extremely harsh and controlling. He was never physically abusive in any way, but he was an emotional nightmare, and that nightmare tended to spread to anyone who got close to him. I don't hold a grudge against him any more; we've spoken and made amends, so to speak. As a small child, however, many of the things about him were terrifying -he was tall, his voice was deep and loud, and every time he got mad, it was an explosion of rage that had built up because he insisted on holding everything in. Additionally, his personality is such that even if he is not angry or upset about something, he often comes across that way. I was afraid to disagree with him, because his reaction was almost always quite inappropriately large.
He was incredibly demanding - if I was told (never asked) to do something, he'd come along behind me and make sure it was "good enough". If it wasn't, he'd point out where I went wrong, not with a gentle, corrective tone - but with an angry-sounding tone that made me feel insolent for not having done my chore properly. Eventually, it stopped frightening and saddening me, and it began making me angry. My diary from those days is full of "I hate my dad" entries.
In addition to fueling my "angry little girl" interior, my father's behaviour gave me the message that self-loathing was proper. If I was good at something, that was okay, but acknowledging that I was good was Bragging and it's wrong to brag. Accepting compliments was equated in my mind with an acknowledgement that something about me was good, and therefore qualified as Bragging. I learned that I wasn't deserving of any praise, from myself or other people. In addition to wreaking havoc on my social and musical life, the self-loathing thoughts I had all the time laid a perfect bed for a certain group of Baptists I befriended in high school to plant their seeds of doom in my heart.
I first started to really become spiritual in middle school. I started contemplating "God" as I knew him from church and Sunday School, and I started going to the youth group, where we talked in-depth about morality in general as well as Christian beliefs. I also became very interested in other worldviews in classes where we studied Greek mythology and world religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. I started to form a tiny little worldview all my own, discovering what spoke to me from each path I studied. In 6th grade, I went on my first church weekend retreat. I grew a bit, learned a bit, and started to connect to what I thought was the Christians' version of God.
Fast forward to high school and the introduction of B.J., a pagan in my year who had many of the same classes I did. He frequently spoke of his adventures using astral projection and aura reading, which intrigued me greatly. I was also interested in the tarot, having read about it in a Trendy Teen Magazine. I began researching all of these things online as much as I could. I tried a few times and found myself unsuccessful, probably due partially to the fact that I had been reading in a Christian pamphlet that "occult" things were Evil and Satanic and No Good Christian Girl would use them. I didn't know whether Astral Projection and Aura Reading counted as "occult" but I was positive that my Tarot Cards were, because I'd seen them mentioned by name in the pamphlet.
I didn't really think any of these things were wrong; they didn't feel Evil and I could find no good reason why anybody should say they were Evil, but I told myself that I was a terrible person for using them because some Christian organization told me it was wrong. I continued to progress along the Christian path, attending church events and doing many volunteer services at the church. My concept of "God" was forming, and I started to think about all of the people of the other religions of the world, and what would happen to them if they were wrong. Some of them would never even be exposed to the "truth" of Christianity; surely they wouldn't be eternally punished for that? I thought and thought and thought about it and finally I realized that all of the different religions I'd studied had such similarities throughout them - morality codes, similar historical events, and the like - that it only made sense that they were all talking about the same thing. They simply called it different names. This idea made sense to me and it was the only one I had been able to truly accept in my heart.
Fast forward to senior year of high school. I sat in front of a boy called Beau in humanities class, and we always talked all through classes and such. He invited me to a weekly Bible study and, seeing a possible way to "Strengthen My Relationship With God" I faithfully attended every week. The group was made up mostly of Southern Baptists from different schools in the area who all attended the same church. Some of my teachers from school were also in the group. The members of the group who went to my school also met at break every morning for Prayer Club and were joined by some other students at the school. This group was run (and as far as I know, probably still is) by Mrs. C., one of the Spanish teachers. Oddly enough, one of the other Spanish teachers actually went to the same church I did and was a priest's daughter, and she had nothing to do with it, so apparently she had some sense of the fact that teachers aren't allowed to lead religious worship in school.
The prayer/study group of which I was now a devoted member consisted of weekly studies of Bible chapters and/or subjects as well as daily meetings at school for short devotions, all of which were led by students and/or the teachers at school. They often featured the message that "We Are All Horrible, Dirty Sinners And Deserve To Go To Hell For Eternity Simply For Having Been Born". This was inevitably followed by something like "If You Believe In Our God And Act Like We Do You Will Be Saved From This Horrible Fate But If You Do It Wrong You Will Burn Forever In Hell".
Let's recap my neurosis for a moment here. Self-loathing complex as well as fear of upsetting my father. Both of these messages the Baptists were serving me played directly into these issues I had. I was highly fearful of doing anything wrong, and absolutely terrified of the Unforgivable Sin, vaguely listed in the Bible as "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" and not clarified at all except for the statement that blasphemy against the Father and/or the Son was forgivable. This made it all the more terrifying - how do I know which one I'm blaspheming against, and for that matter, how will I know if I accidentally blaspheme, even if within my thoughts or beliefs? I immediately swept all previous thoughts of truth in all religions under the rug along with any desire to question what I was told by these Christians. They taught me that gaining too much knowledge was detrimental to my faith and would put "lies" in my head, so I began to resent my humanities class because we were required to study non-Christian philosophers and sometimes pieces of other religions in class.
I went to two more weekend retreats during my time in high school. One of them happened my junior year, and it was during my "accepting" time. The second one was during my senior year - I had to miss a band event to go to the team training for it, and I bravely stood against my band director's orders that everyone was required to be there and told him it was important to my spiritual journey. I carried his entire clarinet section, and he was a Southern Baptist who was very in favour of leading his students to Christ, so of course he let me go. While I did rear my ugly Baptistey head during this one (it was an Episcopal retreat, as were the previous two), I got far more out of it by helping to bring good spiritual experiences to other people than I did from actually going through as a candidate. This, looking back, is really the only thing that I got out of Christianity. I thought I had a relationship with God, but really I had a relationship with a book, a denomination, a lot of fears, and the fuzzy feelings I got from helping other people to feel they had a purpose.
Overall, the whole period was terrible. Outwardly I don't think I showed too many signs of oddness or inner turmoil, but inside I was always questioning my salvation and fighting myself to keep my actual beliefs suppressed. I went off to college and for the first year or so I continued to travel back home to go to church nearly every weekend. I joined Legends Alliance, where I started debating in the Controversial forum. Speaking to people of various religious and political standpoints eventually forced me to open my mind back up. I realized that, while the church had taught me that "Homosexuality Is Wrong; All Gay People Are Either Doing It On Purpose Or Have A Mental Imbalance" I had to force myself to believe it, and after researching information about literal Biblical translations, historical contexts, and psychological studies I realized that what the church so vehemently preached at me was Incorrect.
Add on a few more experiences like that one, add a best friend who practices a form of witchcraft-based paganism, and don't forget the predisposition toward the occult, from early high school. Mix it all together, and you get Fluffy Christian-tinged Paganism. Episcopaganism, if you will. I fumbled around in this area for a while, trying to learn more things about paganism at large, not really realizing what it is. I still harbored many leftover fears from Christianity, however, and I wouldn't give myself permission to let go of my religious beliefs. I ended up believing in some bastardized form of Christianity that stole elements from many different pagan religions. I eventually got tired of trying to reconcile all of my beliefs, suppositions, fears, and curiosities and decided I was going to take a break from religion for a while.
This ended up causing me to be rather uneasy, since I knew that I really wanted to make up my mind about this. I decided that I needed to clear my head and start from square one - Why, exactly, did I believe in any gods at all? My mission was to figure out what my reasons were. Through a lot of evaluation and research, I realized that the only reasons I had were fear of punishment and a hope that someone was looking out for me. I have learned over the years that emotions are not necessarily good indicators of truth or reality, and as I could not find any reasons for belief that were not directly related to my emotions, I decided that I would suspend my beliefs. I would not call myself a believer until I had respectable reasons for belief.
The more I looked, the more I realized that there was more evidence pointing AGAINST a conscious entity known as God, and more evidence pointing towards a more empirical, natural way of things. Hence, I found it impossible to justify a belief in God, and could not, in good conscience, claim to believe in one any longer. I identify as an agnostic atheist, among other titles which I will likely discuss in future blogs, so I am not completely opposed to the idea of belief in God, I simply cannot believe unless someone presents me with very compelling evidence. And I don't think that any such evidence exists, so I don't see myself changing my mind on that anytime soon. ;)
If anyone actually read all of this, please drop me a comment and tell me what you think! I would love to hear from anyone who agrees, disagrees, or anyone who has had a similar experience with the church.