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Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Fight These Demons - Part 2

< Part One

Part Two
I grew up thinking I was unworthy.
Unworthy of love, nice things, friends, God’s favor. I strove to be the kind of person who would be worthy of these things, but always fell short. I did everything I could to look the part on the outside: I dressed modestly and acted like a godly young lady and played the part as best I could.
“Fake it til you make it,” my Mom liked to say to me.
My journals of that time are so filled with anguish and desire to be accepted and to be good. I can barely read them. I want to go back there and hug that girl and tell her that she WAS worthy, she WAS good, she was enough. But I can’t. I can’t go back there and comfort that girl with the broken heart that was broken by the ones who were supposed to protect it. I am left with the woman she has become. The woman who has had to teach herself how to be loved and how to accept worthiness and how to see herself and the world through different eyes.
When a boy fell in love with me, and I with him, they all did their best to convince him that I was a terrible, selfish person and he would be sorry if he married me. That they knew me better and I was just putting on an act to impress him. He was skeptical, but thought maybe they really did know better. So he watched me, befriended me, and realized I was every bit the person he thought I was and my mom and sister were crazy.
I couldn’t understand why he would persist in loving a person like me, but he did and it was such a wonderful feeling.
I was so afraid he would find out who I really was and would run far away. 
But that didn’t happen. We fought for our relationship against my parent’s wishes and we married very young and very in love. Not too long after we were married, we were talking and I said “Well, I am a selfish person”. He looked at me in surprise and said, “Why do you say that?” It was my turn to look at him in confusion and say, “Well, my mom and sister always told me I was selfish and I struggled my whole life to not be, but I guess it’s just who I am and I thought you knew that.” He took my face in his hands, looked right into my eyes, and said, “You are the most selfLESS person I have ever met. Never let anyone convince you otherwise. You can’t fool me. I know who you are. They don’t know who you are.”
I cried that day, at 20 years old, for the first time thinking that maybe I wasn’t the person my family had tried to convince me I was, that my religion tried to convince me I was, that I needed to hide and pretend not to be so people would love me. Maybe I really was loveable and the fact this man had married me wasn’t because I had fooled him into it. But it would be 5 more long years before I was able to clearly see how dysfunctional my past was, the part that fundamentalist religion and homeschool culture played, and began to heal and figure out who I was really and to fight for myself. It would be 10 more long years before I was able to put a label on the treatment I received from them.
Emotional Abuse. The systematic diminishment of another person….their worth, their dignity, their character.
“Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidating, or under the guise of ‘guidance,’ ‘teaching,’ or ‘advice,’ the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting than physical ones.” (University of Illinois, Counseling Center)
Spiritual Abuse. The use of religion and spirituality to control, manipulate, coerce, dominate, and beat down. To control behavior and thoughts by religion.
“Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.”   (Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse)
I can’t tell you what came first: the dysfunction or the religion.
But they worked together to create a complete brain-washing and erasing of my self-worth and self-concept. Our religion taught that self-esteem was really pride and God hates a prideful heart. We were not to think highly of ourselves but to remember that we were nothing without God and probably nothing even with His help. To be told that I was a selfish, horrible person but that they loved me anyway “because you’re our daughter/sister” is no different than this view of God that makes us all worms who are only worthy of anything because God created us and therefore must love us. Turning the idea of a “relationship with God” into an abusive relationship between a narcissist and a victim. A manipulative power-play. Is it any wonder that “God’s people” turn out abusive when they see Him as such?
If I try to say any of this to my family, to recount my experiences and feelings, I am told I’m overreacting, too sensitive, too emotional, that these things never happened or “didn’t happen like that”. I’m told that even if they did happen, I should forgive and move on because family is the most important thing in life and I’ll regret making a fuss over the past. That I was raised in a good home and was loved and am ungrateful. I am denied, belittled, and word has spread that I’m a crazy, unstable person who has a chip on my shoulder and is trying to tear apart our happy family. But I am done accepting their definition of who I am, their portrayal of my identity.
I am not who they think I am. I am so much more.
I am worthy of love. I am a good person. I am a human being, wife, mother, and friend. I love unconditionally and fiercely. I fight for the people I love and for people I don’t even know because I desperately want them to know that they are worth it. I fight my own demons to give my children a healthy mother and so I can explain the scars to them someday and they can know that I valued them by valuing myself
— That I fought for them by fighting for myself. That I broke the cycle.
“Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life-choices: learn to self-reference or remain a victim. When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.
It’s time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self-respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to “forgiveness”—forgiveness of yourself.”
~Andrew Vachss, taken from this excellent website: The Invisible Scar.

I Fight These Demons So I Can Explain the Scars

Note: Almost two years ago, I was in therapy, peeling back yet another layer of my story and finding help in processing it. Just having the therapist give validation and labels to parts of my story was amazingly healing. Part of me processing and working through some of the darker parts that I hadn't faced at that time was writing out this story. I asked it to be posted on Homeschooler's Anonymous anonymously at the time, thinking that it might help others but feeling far too vulnerable and afraid of repercussions to put my own name on it. Yesterday, I realized it was time, I was ready to put my name on this small piece of my story. Originally posted on Homeschooler's Anonymous, July 2014. 

Part One
I was never good enough.
From as far back as I can remember, I was never good enough. I was told I was selfish, lazy, prideful, rebellious, and argumentative. I was told I needed to ask God to forgive me and make me a good person through Him (because we could never be good on our own, only with Jesus’ help and then it was never to our credit, only to His).
When my little sister picked fights with me and I lashed out at her, I was the one scolded, grounded, spanked, had things taken from me, forced to spend time with her to “help us get along”, told to get along and be nice and stop being so selfish and be a better example because I was the oldest. She often got away scot-free, even when she started it. I was told numerous times that if I couldn’t learn to get along with my sister then I couldn’t have friends. Family is more important than friends and how you treat your family tells you how you will treat friends. And if you treat friends better than family, you’re a special kind of hypocrite. I tried to explain why it was easier to treat my friends better. Because they were nice to me.
I was then told that Jesus said “what good is it if you love those who love you?” but loving people who aren’t nice to you is much better in God’s eyes.
Everything I did was criticized. It was never good enough. There was always something to be fixed, some way to do things better. I remember being about 12 years old and telling my mom in exasperation, “All you ever do is criticize me. You never tell me what I do right, only ever what I do wrong.” She first acted surprised and denied it, then promised to try to notice the good before telling me the bad. That didn’t last very long and felt very fake even when she tried. Like she was straining to find something good to say to get it out of the way so she could go on to grasp “this teachable moment”. Of course, when I resisted the “teachable moment”, I was the one at fault for being “unteachable”.
To this day when someone says “teachable moment” I recoil.
I was always “unteachable” because I often argued with my mom’s criticism. Because her words stung and fighting them off was my only defense, as little as it was. I was good with words and knew how to wield them as weapons of defense. I often had Proverbs quoted at me that said that people that were unteachable were fools and only those willing to listen to constructive criticism were people of good character whom God loved. So I guess that was just another thing that God hated about me too.
I was told constantly that I was selfish, and it didn’t take long for my sister to take up that anthem against me. Of course, sister had “a servant’s heart” and was selfless and kind and I should be more like her. She was generous and I was stingy. I only thought of myself and my needs and God was not pleased with that. I should ask God to give me a servant’s heart. I spent many hours as a child crying to God to give me this elusive servant’s heart that I apparently lacked and needed before my mom would accept me and my actions. Then maybe my sister wouldn’t hate me either. We were given roles very early in life and we played them well. She learned early how to manipulate our parents against me and she was always believed over me.
I was a child of many emotions. Sensitive, thinking, opinionated, deeply feeling.
But I quickly learned that some emotions were not acceptable, maybe even a sin, and I was not allowed to express them.
I learned that if I was angry, it was “godly” to forgive and forget that anger and definitely don’t express it. “Be angry but do not sin” meant “be angry but never tell anyone or show it”. There were times I wanted to scream because of the pent-up feelings of anger at my parents, anger at my sister, and anger at myself for being angry with them. I must be the terrible person they said I was because I couldn’t stop being angry and sad all the time. I begged God to make me nice and happy and sweet. “Why can’t you be sweet like your sister?” was something I heard often. I often escaped with a book into my favorite tree, away from everyone I could possibly sin against, away from the constant criticism of my actions and “bad attitudes” and the reminders that I was rebellious against God and my parents.
When I was an early teen, things only got worse. Thanks to a cult leader called Bill Gothard and his seminars and his followers, my family finally found answers to all our problems and embraced the promises to have the perfect godly life if we followed the Basic Principles. I was 14 and I thought, yes! This is the answer! The rule list that will finally make me a good person whom my family will love, who will be worthy of their love and acceptance. I poured my heart and soul into the materials, spending hours praying to God to forgive me for all the ground I gave to Satan. For not accepting my parents as the hammer and chisel that were molding me into the diamond I was meant to be. My resistance of their umbrella of authority must be the reason I’m a bad, selfish person. I was determined to finally fix my broken soul. I befriended many “godly girls” who were homeschoolers and whose families understood and followed the secrets of a godly life, hoping their goodness would rub off on me. Eventually, those girls popped into arguments between me and my mom… ”why can’t you be more like them? They would never treat their parents and sister the way you do.” I wanted nothing more than to be “more like them” and tried even harder.
I had many teary confessions to my parents for being rebellious. They piled on the modesty books and the courtship books and all the books that told me I was a naturally bad person and needed my parents as my authority because I couldn’t trust my heart to know what was best for me. I ate them up, thinking I would find the answer to all my problems. When my sister would lie about me, get me into trouble, pick fights with me until I snapped at her, I would take a breath, search my own heart for any evil thoughts, and beg her to forgive me for being selfish. She always did, of course. It was very magnanimous of her as a good, generous person to forgive my selfish actions.
There were some dark times in there. For a while I was convinced that since I was such a terrible person and my family hated me so much, that maybe God hated me too and what was the point of me living? I began to fantasize about ways I could kill myself and relieve my family of the burden of me. I never went through with anything.
I was afraid of death, that God really did hate me and would send me to hell and I couldn’t die until I turned into a better person.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Not A Nice Story

From babyhood they said "You are a dirty sinner, there is nothing good in you, you are destined for hell because of your nature."

So we, small humans, awoke to a world where toddlers need the sin and foolishness beaten out of them with switches and wooden spoons and belts.

They said "Only with Jesus are you worth anything."

So as small children we begged Jesus to come into our hearts and make the dirty clean.

They said "Because of your sin, God cannot look at you, Jesus had to die. You killed him."

So we mourned that we were so sinful that God couldn't look at us without someone else standing in our place.

They said "You are human, a sinner, you cannot help it, only Jesus can make you worth anything."

So we felt that we were worthless, that no matter how hard we try, we will never be good enough, while some kept trying anyway and some completely gave up.

They said "If you fall in love with a boy, you are committing emotional fornication."

So we guarded our hearts lest sin defile us with merely a thought, and when our hearts betrayed us and we fell in love with a boy, we hated ourselves and knew we were worth less than before, we had lost a piece of our hearts we would never get back.

They said "Your body needs to be hidden because it is dangerous and if a man lusts after you because of your clothing or movements, it is your fault".

So we covered our bodies from head to toe, swathed our femininity in fabric hoping no one would notice the curves, and spent years of our life worrying that we may cause a man to stumble and thus defile our own hearts and his.

They said "Boys only want one thing, so be sure you don't do anything that makes them think they can take it from you. They can't help it, this is how God made them, we must help them."

So we lived in fear of men who God made pigs then placed the responsibility for their pig-ness on us.

They said "If you kiss a boy, you're like a lolly-pop that's been licked, a paper heart that's been torn, you are worth less than before, and you've given away a part of you that you can never get back."

So we spent our days afraid, terrified we would lose our worth and have nothing to give a future spouse.

They said "Virginity and purity give you value, don't give that away."

So whether virginity was taken forcefully or given lovingly, we were left worthless, used goods, and told no godly man would want us now.

They said "You cannot hear God for yourself, you must obey your authorities. They know what is best for you."

So we submitted to things that no human being deserves to suffer, because otherwise God would be angry and not bless our lives. Submitting to unjust treatment was what Jesus did, after all.

They said "You are rebellious. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft."

So we begged God's forgiveness for the ways we wanted something different than they wanted.

They said "You are a woman, emotional, incapable of leading, easily deceived. You must stay in your place, submit, and only then God will bless you."

So we felt loathing for our womanhood, wondering why God would make us inferior, and feeling guilty that we dare question the Almighty's plan, that we are not happy with his decree.

And now.....now we are told "Why are you depressed? Why do you have anxiety? Why the addictions, the anger, the rage, the self-loathing? Why can't you just be happy and normal?"

As if no one can connect the dots. As if their actions did not have consequences. As if a child can be raised to hate themselves in the Name of God and suddenly grow into an adult that is healthy. As if a lifetime of emotional trauma and spiritual abuse suddenly vanishes because a person changes their mind about who they are and their place in the world.

That's not how it works. That is only the beginning of a journey that could take the rest of our lives. A journey we are told not to speak of because it makes people uncomfortable, because they'd rather call us names like "bitter" and "unforgiving" than to look deep into the darkness of our hearts and hear tales of pain and see the rawness of souls taught to hate themselves. Because those stories aren't nice ones. But we will not change them in order to make others comfortable.

Do not tell us to "forgive". Forgiveness has nothing to do with it. Do not tell us to "get over it". One does not "get over" years of trauma and brainwashing and brain-wiring from babyhood just by making a single choice. We do not choose the nightmares. We do not choose the triggers and the gut-level reactions and the panic attacks. We had 18+ years of being taught that we are worthless, that God cannot stand to look at us, that we killed Jesus, that our worth is in our virginity or how well we obey our parents, that who we are is dirty and sinful. Give us at least 18+ years to re-wire our brains and heal those festering wounds and to learn to love ourselves where before there was only self-loathing. Some wounds cannot be healed. They can only be lived with. And scars do not disappear on a whim. But they can tell our stories and make us strong.

And tell our stories we will, and get stronger for the telling. We heal a little more every time we speak out loud what was hidden and decide that we are worth loving and our stories worth the telling.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I Am No Longer Afraid

"You're different these days."

It was a compliment this time. Though I usually hear it in a chiding tone from someone who thinks it their right to comment with displeasure on my life-journey. But this time, surprisingly, it was in admiration from someone who has known me a long time. It made me smile.

I am different these days. I am....happy. Confident. Free. Comfortable with myself and my place in the world.

But mostly, I am unafraid.

Fear has shadowed my entire life. I can never remember not being afraid. My earliest memories were tainted with fear, even the happiest of them.

But these days, that fear is gone. It's amazing how that changes a person.

I am no longer afraid of god. Afraid of displeasing him. Of not following his will for my life. Of making a mistake and disappointing him. Of him ruining my life because that's what god does when you rebel, it's how he shows you he loves you, by not letting you get away with your own selfish desires. His plans are so much better than yours, after all.

I am no longer afraid of hell. Of accidentally sinning and dying before I can repent. I had nightmares about that as a small child. I was terrified of spending eternity in hell. It seemed so easy to screw up and end up punished after you die. I was so afraid of my friends going to hell too. I was so afraid that I wouldn't get to tell enough people about Jesus in my life and would be responsible for them dying and going to hell.

I am no longer afraid of punishment. For most of my life, I lived under fear of punishment. From my parents, from god. Messing up meant harsh punishments. Spanking, grounding, losing friend privileges, having to do extra chores, writing out a hundred sentences that say "I will not blame-shift". But mostly spankings, until I became a teen. Then it was lectures, control of resources, and groundings that killed the small social life I had. For every little infraction, because all sins are the same, and foolishness must be driven out of the heart of a child. Afraid of punishment from god who could not only send me to hell if I died unrepentant, but he could make my life miserable too. He could do all manner of horrible things to teach me a lesson if  screwed up. He could even take my child's life if I loved her more than I loved him, if I loved her too much. That's what god does, because he's a jealous god. My entire life, death, and afterlife could be punishments if he decided I needed them.

I am no longer afraid of missing god's plan for my life. I make the plans for my life now. I take the responsibility, I pay the consequences, good and bad. No one is waiting to punish me for planning badly. I'm not going to ruin my life if I don't hear god correctly and take a wrong step. I'm in charge. If I screw up, I will try again. There are many different ways to live a successful life, I'm not fucked if I miss The One. There is no "hedge of thorns" sent to hem me in and bring me back to god's plan.

I'm no longer afraid of failing to be who god wants me to be. I don't have to ask permission to be me. To follow my heart. To love whom I want to love. To be passionate about what matters to me. I don't have to make sure my character fits someone else's idea of right. I choose my values, who I want to be and what that looks like.

I am no longer afraid of what other people can do to me. Of whether the ones I love and used to be dependent on will walk away, reject me, and break my heart. Because I realize now that giving my heart to them means they can hurt it, but they cannot ruin it. Only I can do that. I am not dependent on how others treat me for my validation or my success in life. I adore all the people that are part of my life, but my life is not dependent on them anymore. I am no longer defenseless and powerless.

I am no longer afraid of the darkness in me. That part of me that is just as much human as the light, happy parts. That part that scared people, that they taught me to fear. I am those things too, in all their rich glory, and they don't scare me anymore. I don't have to deny the darkness exists or pray it away because it turns out it's not evil. I know evil; and the anger, passion, depression, anxiety, rage, rain, storm, and shadows that reside in human nature are not it. I can be a whole person now.

I am no longer afraid of being happy. It's OK to be utterly happy with myself and my life. It's OK to love and to live. It's OK to feel satisfied and enough. Conversely, it's OK to be sad. To be unhappy. To want more. To wish and not be OK with how things are. I am no longer afraid of the entire range of human emotions. They are not good or evil, they just are.

I am no longer afraid of my passion. I am a passionate person, and that is perfectly OK. Though I still get shamed often for this, get sanctioned, invalidated, told I'm too much and not enough, told my passion doesn't belong or is misplaced, told to be quiet, be nice, sit down, shut up. But since I no longer need validation from others, I am no longer afraid of my own passion or what others think about it. I can shout from the rooftops or speak in whispers in quiet places, and it is enough and it is valid.

I am no longer afraid of so many things, fears that have been a part of my life for as far back as I have memories. And that changes a person. It takes a huge weight off their shoulders that makes every aspect of their life lighter.

So, yes, I am different these days. I am whole. I am unashamedly, gloriously me.

And I am not afraid any more. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

In Which I Wonder Why

I don't understand. Who tells a child the things that I was told? Who forms a child's self-concept in the worst way possible on purpose? What kind of person takes a sensitive, kind, loving, feeling child and tells them from birth that they are mean, bully, selfish, and unloving?

What kind of parent does that?

Was I a threat? Did they feel the need to tear me down because I threatened something? Were they afraid of me somehow? Did they look at me and feel fear and thus were driven to squash who I am? Was who I am that scary?

Selfish, unloving, unfeeling, mean, bully, harsh, hostile, angry, unkind, moody, vengeful, unhappy, rebellious. The words fill my head and keep coming, one after the other, all the words I was given as labels. All the words that they might as well have written in ink on my body as they were indelibly printed on my soul. But even permanent ink fades eventually and can be written over.

I am only recently discovering who I really am. And I am not who they said I was.

I am kind and generous. I am an empath. I feel others' emotions so deeply, like I am experiencing their pain in my own soul. I am a giver, I give til I have nothing left. I love with all that is within me. I am loyal to a fault.

But I am no doormat. I do not accept what I am told without proof. I am also a warrior. I fight for the people I love, for every person I come across who can't fight for themselves. I stand up for what is right and that is interpreted as "hostile". It's not hostility, it's righteousness. It's strength. It's ferocity. And it is who I am.

I am rebellious. I will claim that label, of all the words they slung at me. Some things are worth rebelling against. Rebelling has saved my life. "There's something wild in your heart, you need to pray to God to help you." There was something wild there. There still is. Did that scare them? Does it still?

What kind of person does that to a child? What kind of person teaches another child to do this to their own sibling? What was it about me that scared them so?

Whatever it was, they failed to eradicate it. Because here I am, in all my wild glory, and they can't do anything about it now, except keep trying to spread their lies and paint their own picture of me that I no longer recognize. Their picture of me looks suspiciously like their own self-portrait.

Was it religion? I fucking hate religion. Religion said I needed my will broken, beaten down, and taken away. Religion said to squash my glory because their pathetic god would be jealous. Religion said they had to take my rights, my ownership, my boundaries, because those things were not from god. Did religion make them try to break a child or did it just justify their own penchant toward insecurity and whatever the hell else was wrong with them? I don't know. I might never know. Does it even matter? The damage has been done, the healing has long ago begun.

As a parent, I look at my children in all their glory and life and I am completely baffled. The thought of telling them that they are inherently selfish with wicked hearts that need their foolishness driven out by the rod is painful enough to leave me breathless. The idea that I could take such amazing creatures and make sure they know how worthless they are unless they become what I dictate they must be causes physical pain and revulsion in my heart.

What kind of person does that to a child? I have no more excuses for them.

Monday, October 12, 2015

That Person Is Me

A few friends posted a quote on Facebook last week:

We have a God who sees hearts like we see faces, a God who hears ache like we hear voices, and we have a God who touches & holds & heals our wounds like we long to be held. ~Ann Voskamp

It struck me as something I once would have said and felt. Once, it would've stirred up the proper emotions in my heart and comforted me, like it was designed to do.
I used to believe this. With all my heart. It was comforting. No matter what happened, from the time I was about 14 until 8 years ago, I held on to this "promise" with my life. It got me through some very difficult things. 
Until the god I thought saw me and cared for me, stopped. Or maybe I just stopped being able to bullshit myself.
I can look back and see that the beginning of the end was when we lost our home to a fire 8 years ago, on October 22nd. God didn't save what little we had worked so hard for. He didn't help me find my wedding ring though I begged him, believed on faith he would help me find them, and dug through the ashes for a week. He let my babies' teddy bears and clothing and toys burn up; everything from the first 5 years of our lives together was gone. I praised him when our church got together and donated enough money for me to replace household goods and when they came with hammers to help us turn our garage into a home. 
But god didn't do those things, people did. Good people, who probably would've done it even without god (some of them weren't even Christians, just neighbors, good human beings).
That was the day my belief in a loving god who heals my wounds began to die, even against my will because I tried so hard to keep believing. It's symbolic how the ashes of my home became the ashes of my faith, me digging, trying to find something to salvage. Eventually, as things got worse for us, all the cliches about why god was saying "no" and why bad things happen to us even when we obey him and have faith and work hard, didn't work for me anymore. 
I sat thinking one day "what am I saying? I am bullshitting myself. This doesn't even make sense." And then I felt guilty because god hears your thoughts and he heard my lack of faith and maybe something bad would happen because of it. 
And then I got mad because how stupid is it to worry about god punishing you for being human? I had so much internal conflict, as reason and honestly looking at what was happening in our life started breaking through the cliches and the religious bullshit. It didn't add up.
I tried, prayed, cried, had faith, claimed god's promises, read the scriptures, forced myself to believe that he had a plan and it was good and he loved me, for 5 more years after that. 5 years of struggling and depression and loneliness and barely surviving and paying the bills. Through family betrayal. Through losing my best friend. Through foreclosure on the new house we'd worked so hard on. Through old wounds being ripped open. Through packing everything we had left into a truck and trailer and moving 2 states away just to get a job. Through being alone with 2 toddlers and a new baby for weeks on end. 
A little light came when we found a church with good people and they made us one of them and I had friends again and was leading worship again and loving it. Then the rejection after 2 years of throwing my life into these people, all because I believed the wrong things, like that gay people aren't sinners and god used evolution to create the world and women are equal to men. That was the end. I tried half-heartedly to visit other churches, but just couldn't do it. When my husband said he was done, no more church, I was relieved. I was tired of pretending that any of it mattered, or that I mattered to any all-seeing being who seemed unable to see me.
I wish sometimes I could still believe this and be comforted again. But I can no longer do make-believe fairy tales, no matter how good they sound. There is no deity out there who sees my heart or heals my wounds or cares about me personally. You know who does that? People. People like my husband, who has walked this road with me for 13 years now; people like many of you who read here, who though we've most of us never met, you still care about others on the other side of the computer screen; people like the new friend I'm making who hates religion and likes me; people like the various therapists who have shows empathy and understanding. 
People like me. I care. That person who cares about me and sees me....that person is me.
Some would be horrified at this, but to me, it's a relief. I don't have to go through mental gymnastics trying to figure out why shit happens, trying to convince myself that god has a plan for this shit, that it's divine shit, that I should be grateful for it, that god still loves me even though he's slinging shit at me (or allowing shit to be slung, depending on your theology). Shit just happens. There's no reason, usually. I didn't do anything wrong, I'm not the target of Satan, God isn't testing my faith, I don't have to pretend or try to convince myself of these illogical things anymore. These ridiculous cliches that people use to protest against doubt when, really, the doubt is right. 

And that's a huge relief. I alone am responsible for taking that shit and slinging it back at the universe. For forging meaning and making love and being resilient and rising from the ashes. That's on me. I am not at the mercy of the whims of a god I've never met that I'm supposed to just trust cares about me, even when everything in my life says otherwise. I can take control and make my own way and not look for someone to blame or someone to trust when life doesn't work. 

I write my story. I decide where to go from here. That is, perhaps, the most comforting and freeing thing I've discovered so far.

                                                                      (photo credit)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Parenting Beyond Religion ~ How Do You Know?

I’m reading an excellent book right now called Parenting Beyond Belief. It’s a collection of essays written by various people on parenting without religion and covers multiple topics related to parenting. One of the chapters stuck me as particularly useful given what my children and I have been discussion lately. The chapter was a letter written my Richard Dawkins to his daughter when she was 10. I found an online copy here and discovered it’s been passed around for a while now.

Dawkins starts by saying “Have you ever wondered how we know the things that we know? How do we know, for instance, that the stars, which look like tiny pinpricks in the sky, are really huge balls of fire like the Sun and very far away? And how do we know that the Earth is a smaller ball whirling round one of those stars, the Sun? The answer to these questions is ‘evidence’.”

He talks about three very wrong reasons for believing anything: tradition, authority, and revelation. I’m not going to talk about those today but I would encourage you to read the article as it is very good and helpful even if you aren’t a parent.

The question of evidence and proof is something I’ve been talking to my kids about lately. How do we know if something that someone tells us is true? Well, we ask for evidence. Tradition is not evidence. Revelation from someone’s god or goddess is not evidence. An authority figure saying so is not evidence. 

So the most important question I am teaching my children to ask when told something is true is “How do you know?”

My 4th grader came home last week saying a little girl in her class said that the world was going to end on September 27th because it would be hit by an asteroid. K, my daughter, was a bit concerned but still didn’t think that sounded quite right. So we got to have a great discussion about how to tell whether something is the truth or not. It went like this:

K: “Mom, Sarah said that the world is going to end on the 27th because of an asteroid.”
Me: “K., did you ask her how she knows this?”
K: “Yes, she said her mom said so.”
Me: “And how did her mom know?”
K: “Because she looked it up on the internet.”
Me: “And is everything on the internet true?”
K: “Well, no.”
Me: “So what should you ask if someone says something like that to you?”
K: “You should ask them to prove it.”

Then the rest of the kids and I talked about The Most Important Question: “How do you know?” And we applied it to all kinds of things, which got interesting when they discovered the Tooth Fairy isn’t real, which I didn’t actually know they didn’t know, but that’s another story.

We talked about how Moms can be wrong, so Sarah’s mom saying it doesn’t mean it’s right. We found a story on the internet about how a man said that God told him the asteroid would hit the earth on the 27th. I explained how that’s “revelation” and not a good reason to believe anyone and how he has no evidence for this at all. If the man has no evidence, then he could be lying or fooled or crazy. If the only answer to “how do you know?” is “God/Odin/Zeus told me”, that’s not good enough.  

This is a very basic way to explain to children how to ask questions and think through assertions. It empowers them to not only think critically but to not fear every time someone tells them unbelieving people go to hell, Jesus is coming to destroy the earth, or Yellowstone is going to explode. Critical thinking doesn’t have to mean diving into books on Socratic questioning or learning logic equations. It can be as simple and profound as teaching a child to ask “how do you know?” and to demand a good answer. Teaching them from a very young age good and bad reasons for believing something. Be warned: You will have to step up your game. No, you don't have to know everything and it's OK to answer with "I don't know". A good follow-up would be "But let's find out!" Teaching kids to question means being willing to question yourself. Don't worry, it's good for us. 

Can you imagine a world full of kids who are taught to question like this? High-schools full of teens who were raised to demand evidence and thoughtfulness? Colleges full of adults to whom critical thinking skills are daily used and expected? It’s not that religious parents can’t teach this to their children, it’s that they don’t. Because usually these questioning skills are a threat to a dearly held belief system based on tradition, authority, and revelation.

I can’t help but think how many adults need to hear Dawkins’ message and how much better off the world would be if they did. 

I'll end with this quote from Dawkins:

What can we do about all this? It is not easy for you to do anything, because you are only ten. But you could try this. Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: ‘Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?’ And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: ‘What kind of evidence is there for that?’ And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.