Personal reflections · Psychology and mental illness · Religion and Spirituality · Science and Philosophy

When God Spoke to Me

“Descartes invoked God – in this case, a literal deus ex machina – to save himself…When people run up against something inexplicable, transcendent, and, most of all, ineffable, they often call it ‘God,’ as if that were some sort of explanation.” –Barbara Ehrenreich

“If you withhold information from your children because you would rather them not know what reality is really like, for fear that it is going to affect their beliefs, then you are doing them harm.” -Lawrence Krauss

I was the youngest person in the group to be baptized. We didn’t have a baptismal in our church, so my two older sisters and me were going to the 1st Baptist Church near Fargo, North Dakota for our baptisms. I had watched The Jesus Film dozens of times, begging to watch it more often. I was often disappointed with myself for falling asleep before the end, my favorite part, where Jesus died for my sins. I felt like a bad person for it being my favorite part. The important thing was that he rose from the dead, conquering death, but I was curious about the pain, the torture – the rites to being a righteous martyr were in suffering. At age five, I had read Joan of Arc, and related deeply with the young girl who begged to serve God, and succumbed to the flames licking around her crying, “Jesus! Jesus!”

My entire history was of people who had suffered and died for the faith. I knew nothing else about world and American history, because my entire K-12 schooling depended upon two people: my parents. I incessantly drew disturbing pictures in bright markers of people being martyred for being Christians, and even more of people being baptized. I understood that it meant I was drowning/dying to my old self, and making myself new, cleansed by the blood of Jesus and dead to sin. I remember waiting, holding my breath in that massive tub with the curtains pulled away, my godparents and grandparents and parents watching.

Our pastor was Dale Clifton, a balding man who always called the children up for a simple and fun sermon before his longer, duller sermon for the adults. Jeub kids were trained to sit still and be quiet, and when all of the other children were sent away to Sunday School, we sat in our pews quietly, knowing spankings awaited us if we were unruly in church. Many a parent would stop us and say, “Your children are so well behaved! How do you do it?” And dad would reach up to the pile of books in the windshield, several copies of the book “To Train Up a Child” by Michael and Debi Pearl. Dad bought them by the case, and the only chapter we didn’t follow from it was on training newborns to pee in the toilet instead of using diapers.

When I came up out of the tub, I swear I could feel angels singing, and the holy spirit descending upon me like a dove, Jesus’ white-faced smile welcoming me into his arms proudly. After I’d changed out of my wet clothes (with a modest swimsuit underneath them – even a child can’t be too modest during a baptism), my grandmother Judy gave me a book from her and Grandpa Bernie. It was a book called “Wise Words for Little People.” Simple rhymes describing Biblical virtues were depicted alongside charming illustrations of children and anthropomorphized animals behaving badly, with little bible verses to back up the truth in the rhymes. One read:

The Bible is a special book.
It helps us to obey.
So read the Bible if you can,
A little every day.

Another went:

If you’re acting naughty,
Your parents may spank you.
But when you get older;
You’ll want to say “Thank you!”

Because I accepted these poems as totally true, my young and words-hungry mind memorized these words and the Psalms and Proverbs they were based on, from the Bible.

The thing is, the average Christian in America would have zero problem with such a book. At face value, it’s so mainstream that my liberal grandmother didn’t think twice about the abuse she was reinforcing with the message. Everyone I knew, all of my authority figures, and everyone in my world knew that god was real. And why shouldn’t I have believed? My survival was dependent on going along with the people who controlled it.

In my recent writings, I’ve been trying to effectively communicate why I’m so angry with Christianity right now. No, it’s not because I’m mad at god – she and I parted ways on good terms. In fact, now that I understand that I simply had an imaginary friend, I’m getting to know the person beyond the “she” I always dissociated away from and projected onto the scared, pain-wracked little body that couldn’t possibly be myself as a child. These things weren’t happening to me, they were happening to Her. For twenty years, I planned to write my autobiography in the third person. I’m still sorting through those notes to tell stories in my memoir, and I see now what I was doing as I wrote then: dissociation, projection, escaping. I don’t blame myself. It’s all I could do.

After being baptized, I hoped that my sins would go away, but they didn’t. I felt like a worse and worse person, and began punishing myself for it, which I knew was sinful, so I would hide in the closet, pinching myself with clothespins and feeling like God was near to me, holding me, telling me that he understood why I had to torture myself. I had to be strong. I had to be strong for the torture someday. I had to be strong for Jesus.

When I was a teenager, I learned more about how to talk to God and listen to God. My family had been through multiple church splits, and had formed a small congregation that gathered in the living rooms of its members, switching between families each Sunday, when dad started preaching from a book called “Walking With God” by John Eldredge. I wanted desperately to feel close to God, the inspiration for everything that the people around me lived for. I prayed on my knees, I studied my Bible and read literally hundreds of books each year about how to be a pure-thinking virgin, a thankless servant to her parents and siblings, and tried to do what was being demanded of me – soft words, a cheerful temperament, and tireless energy.

Recently in my survivor groups, the conversation has come up that when people hear our stories, they think we’re exceptions. Oh, well, spanking isn’t the problem – your parents just did it wrong. But something we want to shout from the rooftops is that our parents are symptomatic. Our stories differ in detail, but the common theme is conservative politics among Christian homeschool families who staunchly oppose birth control. Chris and Wendy Jeub may have sixteen kids, and have gotten their sixteen minutes of fame, but the point is not to tarnish their reputation and sink their facade. That is Dobby’s collateral damage, thank you. The point is that at its base, teaching children that your reality is the way things are, and silencing alternatives, is child abuse. Spanking and using negative reinforcement that traumatizes children is the same in the hands of well-meaning parents as it is in the hands of cruel narcissists. And to break a child’s will, ultimately, means to colonize that child and exploit them of their childhood and full development as a human being.

How could I have made such an about-face, after writing so passionately, only a few years ago, about my worship of the divine? Popular posts from back in the day included reflections on how Christians are attracted to the dark, Christianity is a call to a unique and epic life, my theories about the reason an all-powerful deity would have a sadomasochistic crucifixion fetish, and how to talk to god. I haven’t re-uploaded these for the simple reason that I am done with spreading false information that encourages believers in their belief. Not just because I no longer agree with it – such a frivolous reason that would be – but because I was actively participating in self-deception.

I wrote more about this back when I wrote the series “How a Logical Girl Talked Herself Into Fundamentalism.” But since that time, I’ve also lost my faith in God. And what a devastating process it was, to grieve the biggest thing in the whole universe as far as I knew. It was terrifying at first, to imagine a universe where I am alone in my thoughts, with no ultimate being, no ultimate creator.

I want to write more about how I came to understand that science makes more sense than the bible, and about many of the various topics I’ve brought up in this word-vomit of a post. For now, I want to talk about the time that god spoke to me, to finally answer the question I left open when I wrote Taking the Atheist Prayer Challenge on Neil Carter’s blog – what was God? What exactly was speaking to me?

And at last, I can say with confidence that it was nothing like a divine thing. Instead, it was the natural projection of an evolved animal mind that associated god with wonder, emotion, splendor, authority, shame, and everything I felt, because my feelings were supposed to be in harmony with it. But I never found that harmony. I dreamed of the future. I heard a voice that told me to say to people, “God said this to me.” I felt convicted to wash my family’s feet one Christmas Eve, before I would be kicked out, making the mistake of doing exactly as I was told – listening to god with all my heart.

And everything about that, every detail, can be explained with science. I am no expert, because I have almost no formal education, but I’ve been devouring wonders beyond any I knew while reality wore the guise of god. Neurology tells me that my complex trauma can be observed, predicted, and medicated. Psychology explains to me how I could Otherize myself and recognize the feeling of thinking as the whisperings of a being who was intimate with all of my thoughts. Astrophysics shows me that I am made of the dust of stars.

I wouldn’t rather it be this way. I sometimes wish there was some giant out there, holding us all together, caring when we feel pain. Yet, without question, it beats the cognitive dissonance of trying to explain why such a being wouldn’t intervene a little more.