Thursday, April 4, 2013

A long time coming ...

A weekly blog hop
where writers come together
to talk about whatever inspires them.

Do you remember when Skylab 4 fell to earth?

Probably not.

But I do.

In fact, I will never forget. 

It was July 11, 1979. I was eleven years old.

Everyone was talking about it in the days leading up, wondering when and where it would land. It was expected to land in the ocean, 800 miles southeast of Cape Town, South Africa. However, it landed near Esperance, Australia – without incidence.

So you may wonder why this event has stuck with me after all these years?

Religion.

Religion is a topic that can be controversial and even taboo. And it is a topic that is very difficult for me to discuss. Do you know what religiophobia is? It is the fear of religion. Very few people know of my fear, including family outside my immediate family members. I am sharing this story for a couple of reasons: I thought it would be therapeutic, and I hope it’ll help others to understand the reasons behind my fear.

Here is my story. My truth. How I remember it.

I was a good kid, polite and respectful. My parents had been raising us Catholic. We were not religious, by any means. We went to church a couple times a month, but I never really understood any of it. Honestly, I kind of tuned it all out.

I had a neighborhood friend that I played outside with once in a while. She was a year or two older. She didn't go to my school. She went to a Baptist school. 




On July 10, 1979, it was a Tuesday, she invited me to spend the night. I had never been in her house before. It was very small, with curtains drawn, and only a couple of table lamps casting shadows on the living room. There were five of us in the room. The father and older sister were sitting on the couch. My friend and I, on the floor. The mother was puttering around the room. I wanted to play a game or watch TV. But they had other plans.



The TV was off. There were no distractions.

“Jesus is coming,” the mother said.

I stared up at her and said nothing. I didn’t know how to respond to that.

“Jesus is coming tonight,” the father added with excitement. 

I looked to my friend and gestured to her that I wanted to go to her room and do something else. My friend didn't move.

Her parents continued, taking turns questioning … preaching … pressuring. 

“The Skylab is just a ruse. Jesus is coming to save us, because the world is ending. You want to be saved don’t you?”

Awkwardness turned to fear.

“Have you welcomed Jesus into your heart?”

I didn’t know what that meant.

“You must have welcomed Jesus into your heart?”

I shrugged, timidly.


“You want to go with Jesus don’t you?”

“No, I want to be with my mom,” I answered in a whisper.

“Well she must’ve welcomed Jesus into her heart.” The mother held an open Bible in front of me, pointing to lines on a page. “It’s right here. You must do it!”

“Say the words! Or Jesus won’t take you with him!” the father insisted. 

“What if I don’t?” I asked, my voice shaking. They were hovering around me. I felt trapped.

“You’ll be the only one here in the morning. We are all going with him tonight.”

“But … what about my mom? My family?” I asked tears welling in my eyes.

“She would want you to be saved – to go with us tonight. Say it with me now,” her finger moved across the page while she read a passage from the Bible.

They talked about the dead rising from the grave to meet Jesus in the sky, and the living to be raptured. They talked about tribulation, and the second coming. They spoke of millenniums – 1,000 years being equal to a day in Christ’s reign. And at the end of the second day, time will cease and believers will go to heaven. They said this could be my only chance to be saved before the end of the millennium – the year 2000.

I looked at the clock on the wall. It was almost 11 pm. This had been going on for hours. I was tired and scared. Finally, I jumped up from the floor, pushed passed the parents and flew out the front door.

I ran home in the dark, sobbing, afraid that I would be too late – that everyone would be gone. That my mom would be gone.

It was a long time before I could sleep alone, without a firm grip on my mom.

But the affect these people had on me that night will NEVER go away.

At first I blamed them. That family. Their interpretation of the Bible. Their use of scare tactics, especially on a child separated from family. But then I saw that it wasn't just their interpretation, but a whole religion. I was young, I didn't understand that there were all these different religions with different beliefs.

Add to that, countless wars and killings all over the world, all in the name of religion? It just doesn't make sense to me. I'm not saying that I don't believe there is a god. Honestly, I don't know what I believe. I just feel like organized religion can be a scary thing. It endorses herd mentality. Then the herds clash. 

Who's to say one herd is better or right?

Why can't we just live life with morals? Be kind to one another. 

Everyone wants to be happy, healthy, loved. We want to live, not just survive. 

This is the most I've ever shared. I don't want to be controversial or confrontational. That is not me. I am not judging anyone for their beliefs, and I hope that I have not alienated anyone.

Sincerely,
Michaele








25 comments:

  1. Wow, that's quite a story, quite an experience for an eleven-year-old. I guess it's an example of how not to convert someone. I'm sorry that happened to you. It's good you have writing to help process the event. We writers are lucky that way.

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    1. Thank you! It was a little weird to finally write it out like this -- kind of emotional.

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  2. A very scary experience for a kid and it absolutely explains your fear today. It was brave of you to share something so personal. Give yourself a hug!

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    1. Thank you! I was a nervous wreck after I posted it.

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  3. Yikes. I never had that kind of scary experience but my thoughts are very similar to yours regarding organized religion. I remember announcing to some kids in my 4th grade science class that we were Agnostics. Well, I might as well have said we were Satanists...

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    1. It's nice to talk to other Agnostics. :) I've never really met anyone else who has used that term before. I love my TC community! You all are so excepting. Thank you!

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  4. I think, though, that there's a huge difference between religion and faith. Religion contains the politics, culture, interpretation and manipulation of faith that leads to the conflicts you describe. But for me as someone who was raised by devout Catholics and turned to Judaism in adulthood (and simultaneously marrying a life-long atheist), faith and religion are two entirely different animals.

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  5. That experience would have stuck like glue to so many of us. As you know, I grew up Catholic and we went to church every week. I was baptized, made my holy communion, was confirmed. And now I am completely removed from that particular religion, by choice. I consider myself UU, with pagan leanings, if I choose to label myself. But I mostly feel as you do, that if more people lived life with morals in mind and were truly kind, we'd find a new kind of spirituality not based in any religion. I respect the faith of any person who does not attempt to control or harm others in the name of that faith. I think we're all wanting the same things, trying to reach the same place. We put different faces, voices and words with it, but in essence we want to believe in something bigger than us that can help us. I don't believe we need to be "saved." I don't believe in a punitive presence always judging us, either. I don't believe that if there is a presence larger than us, that it's only male, either. I believe in male AND female spiritual energy. For me, I feel most spiritual out in the natural world. Wherever we are in life, any beliefs or places or people which lead us to be our Best Selves- that's what's right. I also like the Wiccan "do as ye will, an' it harm none." Religion and faith should not be based in fear. They should be based in love. And for what it's worth, I don't think you can offend anyone by telling the story of your experience and how it made you feel (and still makes you feel). I hope it is cathartic for you. I hope you continue to feel blessed and loved in your life, and let spirituality flow as it will. You live a very happy, loving life- you live your beliefs already. That's more important than any spiritual path chosen for other reasons. I love you!

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  6. Oh Michaele! I'm so, so sorry that happened to you. I can't even imagine how terrified you must have been. I grew up Catholic, but I'm not a fan of organized religion. I don't have anything against it - it works for some people. However, the idea that other people think it's their duty to shove it down anyone else's throat enrages me.

    A few years ago, my son's friend invited him to go to her church to play "Pirates and Ninjas." It was around Halloween and I remember thinking to myself that her church was more relaxed than I'd previously thought. Fast forward to a few hours later when I picked up my son. As soon as his friend was out of the car, he burst into to tears. Apparently, the people at this church told him he and his family were going to hell because we're agnostic. He was absolutely terrified and I was furious.

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    1. What happened to your son is horrible! Poor kid. I think it's particularly skeevy for other people to discuss opposing beliefs with children without the parents' permission or presence.

      About a year ago I saw the mother and sister of the family who did that to me, in a store. They didn't see me. It has been 30yrs, but my heart started pounding and I froze.

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  7. I think you are very brave to share that and to face that kind of fear. I agree with you completely about herd mentalities and herds clashing. It's not necessarily all organized religions, but there is a tendency to so easily become self righteous and intolerant of other people, even not within religion. My motto is Be Kind, Find Peace, Give Love (and read books). We could all use more education and understanding about each other. I await the day when more people believe that love is the only true social justice in the world.

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  8. That must have been a terrifying experience at such a formative, vulnerable time in your life. I totally get how going through something like that could turn you off religion for good.

    I was raised Presbyterian, and my parents still are. I am not religious. My de-conversion story isn't as wrenching as yours. It was more a matter of having questions no one could ever answer. At some point, I was always told: "You just need to take a leap of faith". That sounded like a cop-out to me.

    Thank you for sharing your story! It takes a lot of courage to show something so deeply personal to people who might not understand or approve. Kudos, lady!

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  9. Wow, thanks for sharing this! I'm sure opening up has helped.

    The one thing I'll say is this: remember that religion is man-made, and is different than faith/belief. There are many people who use religion to do bad things, or to pressure people without giving them a choice. But that shouldn't affect your faith or beliefs.

    I say do some digging and reflecting on your own time. Read a lot, meditate on it, and try to wade into it on your own. But try not to let one bad experience, or the actions of others, influence your own choice.

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    1. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the advice!

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  10. Thanks for sharing such a personal experience. I went to a Baptist school for four years - "scaring" children into believing in religion was a pretty common practice, unfortunately. Your description was poignant and moving and I'm sorry you had to go through that.

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  11. Thanks for your honesty and for sharing such a personal and terrifying moment in your life. I think any kind of pressure on people whether it's to do with religion or someone wanting you to conform to their ideals has the opposite effect. I like what you said about why we can't just lead life with morals and be kind to one another - I couldn't agree more.

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  12. Oh Michaele - how awful! I wasn't raised religious (my family was 'new age-y', lol), but had a particular fundamental Christian friend. I can remember going to a 'kids night out' around age 8 and the youth leaders preaching for kids to come up who hadn't 'accepted Jesus into their hearts'. I felt like I was in the middle of the Twilight Zone! Luckily that friendship fizzled out. I'm now not at all religious (Agnostic here as well) and prefer to find my spirituality in nature, art, music, and of course words. XO

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  13. Oh my! What did you do? Did you go up? Those kind of practices make me so angry!
    Thanks for sharing!

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    ReplyDelete