I just bought, and cannot wait to have delivered, a book titled “Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment”, by Janet Heimlich. I expect to see a fair amount of my background in this book, having been raised by fundamentalist, evangelical parents.
Ms. Preach and I were talking last night about my involvement in the freethought, atheistic and humanistic causes. She was with an unprejudiced eye asking why it meant so much to me, and a little about why it is something that I think about all the time. I was surprised that my answer was a revelation (pun intended) to her. After all, we’ve been together for over 20 years and atheism was one of the first things we talked about.
My parents church “brought it,” week in and week out. Fire and brimstone. Hell or heaven, son, your choice. I was run through an hour and a half of Sunday school first thing in the morning followed by an hour long church service. The service started with about 20 minutes of prayer, singing of hymns, fleecing of the flock (passing of the collection plate) and then 40 minutes of bible-thumping. Always starting with a different section of the NT, but always tying back to the theme, accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior or spend eternity screaming in agony in the eternal fire. This was capped with another hour-long service every Sunday evening. Then came Wednesday nights, where it was a couple hours of prayer service or in a Christian version of Boy Scouts. You think the real Scouts are God-pod people? You should have seen this group. Christian Service Brigade.
So I, not wanting to spend forever (how do you dare explain never-ending time to a child, let alone tell them if you don’t accept you’ll spend that time in excruciating pain?) I did it. Twice.
First, in Sunday school at about 10 years old. Overwhelmed with fear I told myself I better do this. I won’t have to worry about hell and, heck, this dweeby kid might just be more accepted within this social group that we now know more correctly to be a cult.
The second time was at a sleep-away camp when I was 13 or 14. Someplace where you spent the day enjoying all the usual outdoor activities, but after dinner came the service. All the campers in sanctuary, chapel, or whatever you want to call it, for a hard-sell on heaven vs. hell. They even employed the soft, give up your resistance, music that Billy Graham played to break the will of entire stadiums of people as they called, gently, for the un-saved to come to the front to give their life to God.
But the dreams never went away. The sliding boards. And they didn’t go away until I was in my 30’s. This recurring dream was a field of sliding boards, barely lit and no light in the background. I was on one of the slides. The trick was, I was presented with a fork in the slide every few seconds and had to instantly choose a direction. One slide would take me to hell, the other offered the opportunity to continue making choices.
This would go on until I woke up in a cold sweat. When still a child I would wake up crying and afraid. But having been through the process of accepting Jesus and asking forgiveness of my sins held no relief in those moments.
While I began to realize it was all a crock around the time I started to drive, it was a long time before I was no longer a broken person. I still have a filter on life that is not what those around me see and it is hard to explain to them.
The rest of my life will be dedicated to preaching atheism because of what I went through as a child and how it affected my life.