How I Left Christianity, Part Two: Family

The most common means of conversion to Christianity and subsequent membership of a church is through family. Many Christians are converted in childhood, and/or raised in the religion, and I was no exception. As I mentioned in my last post, my aunt and uncle were the conduit that drew me in to the church. Family was the foundation that begun my journey into Christianity, but it was also family that laid the foundation for me to leave.

Let me explain. My intermediate family, my parents and brothers, did not attend church. Because of this, I was free to ask questions. When I saw something at church that I didn’t find fair or right, I was able to come home and vent. I spent many an hour, in fact, in the kitchen with Momma Beemer talking about my various frustrations at church. For instance, the obsession with women’s clothing and the way that male-female interaction in the youth group was treated.

When I felt someone had gone too far, I had a reliable authority figure that would back me up, defend me, and if needed, withdraw me from the situation. Having that single source of validation meant that when I got that feeling that something was wrong, it probably was wrong. I was able to trust myself, my own internal moral compass. Unfortunately, all too often, Christians (particularly young ones) don’t have that authoritative source of validation. Rather than learning to trust their instincts, they’re shamed for questioning church doctrines, practices, or behaviors of authority figures within the church.

While my family did not attend church, my parents might have identified as Christian at the time. (I can’t know this for sure, especially in regards to my father.) Momma Beemer was very open-minded however, and extremely protective of her children. While others might have felt safer had their confidant not been a Christian in any fashion, it was enough that my mother listened to me without judgment, and backed me up when she felt someone had gone too far. My having a safe haven was absolutely necessary, looking back, for me to have been able to withdraw first from the church, and then from the religion altogether.

In a Christian church, especially fundamentalist, evangelical ones (my former church identified as both) conformity is vital, down to smallest and most insignificant of doctrines. Questioning anything was grounds for panic, which could result in counseling or ostracization, depending on status, length of membership, and your relationship to others in the church. (An important member or family could not be made to look bad by being associated with such a sinner.) The goal was to either draw you back into perfect harmony with the church, or to drive you away to prevent others from being “led astray.”

As it was, I was not completely in the fold. Having my intermediate family within the church would have ensured that I had continuous pressure to conform, to believe, to stay on the path. It would have made leaving much more difficult, because I would have had to choose between my own spiritual unhappiness or familial harmony. I might have even had to choose between my family or my spiritual freedom. But I didn’t–my intermediate family was a space for me to breathe, to question, and to nurture my own internal moral compass.

I never would have thought it at the time, but my family’s ambivalence when it came to organized religion laid the foundation for me to leave.

Insight into the Anti-Choicer Mind.

It’s been several hours, but I’m still stunned. A man posted on a friend’s facebook that, if he’s paying for (a hypothetical public) health care, then he should get to decide what procedures people get to have. This response was, of course, triggered by a news link to Texas’ ultrasound legislation for abortion.

Initially, he said this:

“But as soon as you made health care a shared social responsibility, which, you did, you made it so that anyone has a say in how you use it.”

Later, he clarified:

“It’s not your body, if you aren’t paying for the health care.”

This nonsense is shocking enough in its sheer arrogance and ignorance. But then, in the same thread, the same poster said this:

“[Requiring an ultrasound before an abortion is] a violation of the 4th amendment, I would think. You know, the people shall not be subject to unreasonable searches… I would think lubing up a paddle and sticking it on your belly to see if you are pregnant might be an unreasonable search. Just my two cents worth.”

In the last quote, he gets it. But in the thread, the latter quote is sandwiched between the other two.

A couple of hours ago, I find that this man is very, very bitter that he has to pay child support, and thinks that his ex having custody is her keeping their child “hostage.”

It all becomes clear now.

Writing in a busy world

I hate days like this. Days where I have no time to devote to writing are days wasted in chasing my dream. Other things occupy my time on the days where no posts appear, and sometimes those days turn into weeks. And what for? For the daily grind: to go to work, to run to the bank, the grocery store. For doctor’s appointments. Sure, good things can come of these: managed epilepsy, money to pay the bills and put food on the table, food to eat, but are those the things I’ve worked so hard for? No.

There are things worth sacrificing a day of writing time for: my family, for instance. My nephew is growing quickly, and I’m grateful to be able to get down on the floor and play with him while we’re both able to do so. Sadly, during the week, I see my family very little. They work during the day, and I at night.

I love writing here, and at LouisvilleKY.com. But it is a full-time job–whether the more corporate-minded think it so or not. It is a worthwhile endeavor. I only hope that society will remember that soon, and treasure it thusly. The day we forget the Humanities is the day we forget our humanity.

Experiences of a Divorced Kid: the Spy

The period between when parents separate and they move on, which may or may not be when the divorce is finalized can be a tumultuous period for the kids. I remember feeling almost like a spy—you had one identity you put on for the parents, for the judge, for the relatives and family friends, for anyone who knows about the divorce. Then, you have who you really are—the feelings you feel but can’t express, the things you want to do or be but outside circumstances prevent them.

You feel alone. A soon-to-be Divorced Kid must be very careful about what he or she says to anyone. Because, the kid quickly learns, everyone has picked a side: your Mom’s, or your Dad’s. You don’t have a side all your own. You’re supposed to pick one, too. Maybe you did, initially, but then everything became so complicated and muddled, and you can’t distinguish truth from fiction anymore. You spend every spare moment of the day, and the minutes and hours at night before you can finally fall asleep trying to figure out truth from lie. Until you can figure that out, you can’t trust anyone. Everything is suspect.

That is a horrible feeling—not being able to trust your own parents. But you can’t let that show, see, because Mom and Dad have become like hound dogs sniffing out these things. If they find out you’re suspicious of them? You’ll be grilled for information, for dirt on the other parent, or else cajoled into admitting why you don’t trust them, and forced to listen to that parent’s virtues, and the follies of the other. If the judge or outsiders find that out, that’s even worse, because you fear social services being called, and their being called is just one step from being taken away from your family—and that’s the worst fate of all. Being taken from everything you know and being put with strangers? And just think of how angry your parents would be at you.

All you want to do is talk to someone—but you quickly learn, that anything you say to anyone might make it back to one parent or the other. Family will listen a bit, then rail against the parent they oppose, then take that information to either the parent they side with, or directly to the judge on court day. Your teachers will do the same—tell a parent, or the judge, especially if you were ordered to go to a different school by the judge. Friends will either not understand, will distance themselves from you, or tell their parents, who will tell yours. You don’t want your feelings to become ammunition in the courtroom. You just want to be, to learn, to live, to love your parents and them you, unconditionally, without “the divorce” coming in between you.

If you’re lucky, you have That One Thing—yes, that thing that is yours, only yours. It’s safe from “the divorce,” whatever it is isn’t going to change or be taken away from you. It may be a sport, an organization, whatever—but no one in it knows about “the divorce” and you have no intention of telling them, either. It’s the one place you can be most of who you are, where you can relax, and put truth and lie, fighting, side-picking, and subterfuge away for a bit. You still can’t talk to someone about it, but here, it was your choice to do so. A powerful choice, because it’s one of the few you get to make in “the divorce.” It’s relieving to take that burden off your shoulders for a bit, but the dread at leaving, at getting into the car and it settling back on your shoulders is awful. There goes the identity-switch, too. Time to be a spy again.

A Message From a Divorced Kid.

Recently, I heard a story about a family. This family, you see, is on the verge of splitting. The couple is teetering on the edge of separation and divorce. Alcohol, separate sleeping arrangements, and fighting are part and parcel of their family life. Caught in the middle of this situation are two teenagers. Hearing this family’s story is eerily like my own. While I felt compassion for the couple, my thoughts throughout the telling of this story were with the teenagers.

Throughout divorce proceedings, you always hear about everyone’s concern for the kids. Frankly, I say bullshit and poppycock. It’s not about the kids. It’s about the parents, the property, the he said, she said, the money, parental rights, visitation rights, custody, child support, and a number of other things, but it’s not about the kids, no matter how much the adults involved pontificate about it.

The kids are stuck. They’re not adults. They have no rights. They have no choice. No choices, but to go along with whatever their parents decide. Or the judge. Or the lawyers. Or a therapist, or social services worker. Unlike the adults in this situation, they can’t just say “screw this,” drive off, and start anew. What should be their safe haven, their home, becomes little more than a prison.

No matter how much they speak out, rebel, or fight for their rights, their wants, their needs, someone else always knows better. “It’s what’s best for the child.” Let me tell you, as a divorced kid, that phrase makes me see red. The behavior of every adult involved with a divorce makes me see red.

In this story, and in mine, we weren’t children. We saw everything, no matter how many doors you closed in our faces. We heard everything, no matter how many ceilings you put in between us. We know what this means. We brace ourselves for the next week, the next day, the next minute, because we never know what’s coming next. We see the anger, the frustration, the hate, and feel afraid for what former lovers might do to the other in revenge.

We aren’t children. And our parents took advantage of it—using their children to vent frustration, to pass along messages, and to poison the mind of the child against the other parent. We know. We know the other didn’t throw a vase at you last night, so to speak, because we could hear it all. We know you didn’t refuse the screaming match, because we could hear you over our stereo, our TV, and the hands covering our ears.

When parents divorce, they don’t treat their children as people, with their own thoughts, feelings, desires, and humanity. We are a prize, the ultimate victory over the ex, mere possessions. Divorced parents everywhere pretend they are the one exception—you’re not. And us kids? We can see that, too.

This isn’t a tirade against divorce, let me make that clear. My family would have been a lot better off had my parents divorced a lot sooner.  From what I know, the same is true of the family I spoke of earlier. No, this is a tirade against the way divorce often plays out, and the way that children are treated. No matter how much adults think they’re shielding the children in the middle, they’re not. We are people, and people in the middle, at that. We see, we hear, we feel, and we hurt. We dream, we pursue, we want, and we need. Remember that.