Before I could think, I was owned. My parents prayed for me before I was ever conceived to grow into a true believer of God. When I was a baby, I was dedicated to a life of service to God in a rite of passage ceremony at my church. My name was intentionally picked by my father and translates as ‘woman of the Lord’, and I was given a name plaque that hung in my room to always remind me of my true purpose. All of these things were done without malice, but I look back now and see it as the beginning of an all-encompassing campaign for my abject commitment to church doctrine.
When talking with people about my instilled religious experience, I have begun saying that I feel like I grew up in a cult. As Christian Fundamentalists, we had a narrow interpretation of the bible, accepting it as literally true and infallibly accurate, not to mention it being the ONLY true document of God’s words to humanity. All other texts and religions were inferior and could not save a person from the fires of hell. We focused on separating ourselves from ‘the world’ not just through our actions, but physically and ideologically separating from non-believers by creating our own schools which taught only our worldview and refuted any popularly held ideas that contradicted our beliefs, such as evolution and carbon dating. This schooling included college as well, so a person could conceivably go their entire life without ever seriously considering any alternate reality, having been inculcated by the church through the first twenty-some years of existence. Cults understand the power of driving all the narratives.
I don’t think I would have ever left my faith if my mother hadn’t succumbed to cancer when I was twenty-one, freeing me up to leave home and find myself outside of the confines of my church and school. I am certain I would be living out an entirely different life than the one I am consciously choosing for myself now, and this thought floods me with anger. My parents acted from a place of genuine belief and meant me no harm, but my mind was radically brainwashed and my free will was sorely abused nonetheless. Questioning was allowed, but there was only ever one right answer, which may be my biggest complaint about Fundamentalism: it is seriously confining. There is always more than one way to do anything, including relating to God or the Universe or Whatever is Bigger.
I am still working to claim and use my free will, having ‘willingly’ abdicated it to God for so long. It’s hard to explain how crippling being told to look almost exclusively outside of yourself for answers to questions about your own life can be. One can spend a lifetime praying to be told exactly what to do and never actually do anything at all. Trusting myself and my gut intuition has been a challenge, because I was taught that my nature was fallen and untrustworthy, that on my knees before God was my proper posture. These days I think about the parable of the talents and feel I was taught to bury mine in the ground. It becomes incredibly difficult to create anything of depth in this environment, whether it be good art or a fulfilling life, but that’s a whole other post. If I had to pick one word to best sum up the effect of all of this, it would be ‘stunted’ and I would apply it to my intellectual and social development, my creative voice and my ability to act with personal agency.
As violating as these things have been, everything is what we make it and there are some things I count as positives from my indoctrination. In choosing to believe the creation story over evolution, I gained the capacity for audacious belief in the face of overwhelming odds, i.e. all the collective weight of science and popular opinion. That means I now have the ability to believe the impossible is possible and I am learning to harness that power to pursue my dreams and create my own reality.
I believe in something bigger than myself, and that brings a lot of comfort to my reality. I am grateful to my upbringing for making me think about my eternal nature. I see meaning and cause and effect at work rather than randomness in the world, and I believe in the First Law of Thermodynamics which states that energy is neither created nor destroyed, so I choose to believe that there is life after death and as many lives as it takes to become your authentic self, and that doing just that is what living is about. The core beliefs I still hold from my former faith are: love your neighbor as yourself, do unto others as you would have done unto you, and that grace and compassion are the face of God made human.
I believe that whatever is out there that’s bigger cannot even begin to be known in six to ten thousand years. Its truth cannot be contained in a single book that I as a semi finite human can hold in one hand. It would never condemn a single one of us to an eternal hell of suffering and separation because It would allow all the time in eternity for us to choose freely of our own volition to seek out and cultivate relationship, or not. Whatever is out there is so big that it needs the vastness of space and time and petri dishes and atomic particles and subparticles and hundreds of billions of years to be known. Whatever is out there is waiting for us to quit being small and to join it in co-creation.
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