Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part One
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.
In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
Religious fanatics simply ruin children.
The quaint, happy, innocent life of a child can quickly be replaced by the stark absolutes of fanaticism. Muslim, Christian, and Jew are one in the same monster. Their fanatics take different names, they act in different ways, but they are all the same. Fanatics know no middle ground. They know no compromise – other than our mutual destruction. Bill Gothard turned my parents cultists and they focused all their energies “training up” a perfect son. My parents attended an Institute of Basic Life Principles conference and eventually joined ATI, Gothard’s homeschooling cult. I remember my mom coming in to tell me we were going to burn some things to remove the evil:
“Honey, your father and I have decided to make some changes around the house. We’re going to stop getting cable and we’re going to get rid of some of our things.”
“Ok, mommy. What are we getting rid of?”
“We are going to get rid of our evil books,” she said.
I had never thought a book could be evil. But I certainly wanted to get rid of all the evil books we had! My parents explained that we would be burning books, movies, and records.
“Of course, mommy! I’ll look through my books right now!”
There was only one book that stuck out to me as especially “evil.” I can’t recall the exact title, but I remember that the title had something to do with the devil. Of course, it was really just about a submarine voyage, or maybe some Moby Dick variation. It was part of a compilation, so my mother said we didn’t have to burn the whole book, maybe just the title page. Not many people have experienced a book burning, I must say. I guess that makes me special?
Children are so impressionable. In retrospect, most everything I was taught was ridiculous and mostly untrue. Rock and roll was not invented by the devil, or even just by the “evil Africans” who brought over their “demon beats” in an attempt to corrupt America. But what child is going to risk being possessed by demons just because they listen to rock music? I certainly wasn’t. It was easy for others to convince me I needed to proselytize, pass out tracts, and otherwise make myself a general asshole. My adolescence was little more than a protracted church service. When you’re homeschooled, the son of fanatics, and not allowed to even go in the neighbor-children’s houses, it’s difficult to think for yourself. I was always a well-mannered, funny kid, so I had friends, but I was beyond sheltered.
I always felt that “normal kids” had it so easy. I envied the kids that attended private school and my parents would not let me attend a school outside of our home. Of course, I did not envy the public school kids, because I was told that they were being brainwashed by a communistic system and God was being forced out. Before I became involved in NCFCA (a Christian, homeschool speech and debate league), I was a huge sports nut and I always craved the camaraderie and friendship of the people on my team. My parents did not allow me to go into my neighbor’s houses because I might see some television – yes, I am being serious.
Without the internet, without Wikipedia, or without message boards, it’s possible that I would be a mindless, fanatical robot. But, for a sheltered child with very little contact with the outside world, the internet is like heaven. Unfortunately, that internet usage was limited by firewalls, parental filters, and the like. However, Wikipedia was never blocked, nor was peer-to-peer downloading. Most children without sex-ed are left to flipping through encyclopedias and dictionaries to discover sexual issues. I knew the very basics from my parents, but they never cared to elaborate. I was taught that AIDS was a GAY DISEASE, that gay people received from being gay. I was taught that if I had more than one sexual partner, I would most likely get an STD. Reading studies, normal people’s thoughts, and seeing that my parents were crazy about just about everything helped me grow up a lot.
The internet was my trail-guide on the trip to knowledge and enlightenment. When you hear of the 18th century “Enlightenment,” some people might think that term is a bit ostentatious, but I disagree. There is nothing like the pure bliss of understanding the truth. Indeed, to cut through the bullshit that the powers-that-be throw at you on a daily basis. To rise above the propaganda. To cut through the paranoia. Some people call me arrogant, and I suppose I can come across that way. But really, I just want to share my enlightenment.
The strangest feeling is after your enlightenment, when you return home. My relatives had served in the military, been “around the block,” and refused to believe that my college education gave me any insight into the truth. To my reborn self, everything in my parent’s home became a symbol of my oppression and repression – all the books, the magazines, the religious rituals before mealtime, and the constant use of Biblical allusions in conversation. Every conversation with them eventually comes to a head with their religious beliefs – a black and white world. Every time I asked them for advice, I don’t get just a normal answer with life advice. It’s all about God’s will, his plan, his desires.
For the longest time, I could not even admit to my parents that I believed evolution was true. It took me three years to work up the courage to tell them that. I knew it would upset them because they spent so much time indoctrinating me about creationism. When we get into arguments and they start breaking out Bible verses and condemnation, I have an uncontrollable physical reaction. So many arguments in high school, which usually involved them telling me to stop talking to a girl that I really liked, ended with me feeling trapped and isolated. On one occasion, at the age of fifteen, my parents made me call the girl I’d secretly been IM’ing (because I wasn’t allowed to talk to girls over email or IM and they caught me) and break up with her. Then they sentenced me to a month of solitary confinement – I was banned from talking and hanging out with any of my friends. I could attend the weekly speech class held in our home, but that was it. I was stuck in my parents’ house, trapped by their ideologies, with no one to talk to. As you can imagine, that’s a lot for a 15 year old to handle.
Essentially, I was imprisoned and the people who put me in there were constantly there with me. I couldn’t go to school every day and get that escape and that’s all I wanted. My only escape was a Sony Walkman that included an FM radio. I remember laying in my water bed, with my headphones in, tears streaming down my cheeks. I don’t know exactly what emotion I was feeling at the time. I don’t know if there’s any worse feeling than being forced to not speak to the one girl who loves you and listens to you. Sure, I was only 15 and I wasn’t going to marry the girl, but why be a bitch about it, mom and dad? I knew my dad kept many handguns in his room and plenty of ammo. At the time, I was in total desperation. I couldn’t tell anyone about how I was feeling, not even my guy friends. This left the thoughts and feelings to run laps around my brain, never stopping. The only way I felt like I could be whole again was to kill myself.
Translucent, I wonder the halls,
In search of companion,
In search of purpose,
Cannot gain traction.
Reaching out, my hand passes through,
All the bodies,
All the walls,
Ironically, that’s when evil rock and roll saved my life. I don’t know if I would have actually killed myself, but I was pretty damn close. The fact that I heard that specific song at just that time seemed absolutely divine. The girl I’d been forced to break up with and I both loved Green Day, especially the song Time of Your Life (Good Riddance). Thanks, Green Day. Their punk asses understood my teenage angst and told me that everything would be ok. After this point, I decided I had to have privacy and I had to have an escape.
My laptop became my secret diary, if you will. It included all the instant messages I sent to the girls I wasn’t supposed to be talking to, all the movies I wasn’t supposed to download, and let’s not even mention all the evil rock and roll I wasn’t supposed to even own. As I said before, even my internet was covered with protections. If I ever visited a site that could be considered related to drugs, sex, nudity, anarchism, or full of profanity, my parents would receive an email telling them exactly where I went. The internet was also set to go off at 10pm. This was pretty shitty since all my girlfriends were long-distance (you just try to date someone who lives in the same city when your parents track your every move). I found a way to circumvent the Evil Firewall and talked to my girls on AIM or Gtalk.
I dove headfirst into books, films, and music. I wanted to learn about these beautiful expressions of self that touched me so dearly. I read books about what good films were supposed to look like and my friends and I made our way down IMDB’s Top 250 Movies. I obsessively began to immerse myself in popular culture. I went 15 years not understanding movie references, pop songs, and TV shows. I know it seems petty, but when everyone is talking about their favorite band, something they saw on tv, it’s easy to feel excluded. Even the other homeschool kids could listen to rock music, but not me. But after that I didn’t care because I just wanted to be able to cultivate healthy relationships with people who liked me.
To be continued.
Oh man, yeah I feel the thing about email/IM with people of the opposite sex. There was a guy whom I had liked since I was 12 and of course I could never tell him that I liked him as more than just a friend although I wanted to. From 13 to 15 or so we had been emailing each other daily, sometimes more than twice daily, and it was pretty innocuous things, like an email snowball fight when it was winter and where we lived it wouldn’t get snow. At any rate around 15 we were suddenly not allowed to contact each other. We hung out whenever we did happen to see each other, which became increasingly rare. Finally, when I was 17 or so, I stopped hearing from him completely. He was really one of the only people I considered to be a friend.
Today, we are back in touch however and ten years of no contact hadn’t changed things between us at all.
We never really did the “burning” thing; for one my family had always been pretty anti-TV anti-movies, and there were set guidelines on what books I could read. Sometimes I’d find a book pre-read and certain scenes completely whited out, but otherwise the book was considered fine. Of course, as an adult I found unmutilated copies and read through those scenes and laughed at things they chose to cover up: things like a chaste kiss in a book that contained romance but where romance was not the primary point of the book.
This is so familiar. We burned our cabbage patch dolls and trolls when we first joined ATI. I can remember a friend giving a friend a Rebecca Saint James CD for her birthday, and they burned that too. BURNED IT. Its insane.
I think that my sister was the girl you were forced to break up with. I wish you all the best, and I’m so glad you’re free now.
We didn’t burn anything but my Mom did occasionally glue strips of paper or sharpie over things she didn’t like and she’d say we couldn’t keep lots of things. Mostly she was lazy about it though, would just complain about supposedly “worldly” and “ungodly” stuff we did. We didn’t get Internet on any computer besides my Dad’s until I was about 16 and google wasn’t a thing yet (I’m 30 so a few years made all the difference in this arena I guess). Man, I totally get the Walkman thing though. It was my life. I remember listening to “Flood” by Jars of Clay and thinking it sounded subversive and loving it (I was bummed later when I learned that it apparently wasn’t). That got me into Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Garbage. I still love 90’s rock.
Yes, the sharpie thing or gluing paper over bigger portions of books! My mom did that. She didn’t like the cursing in James Harriot books, but the books titles were lines from hymns, so they must be okay. They were probably the only books with curse words in our house. I remember holding them up to the light at just the right angle to try to figure out what the curse words were.
I was nearly grown by the time my mom would approve any form of fiction whatsoever. We were only allowed to read history or religious books for most of my childhood. She threw away all the books I ever liked.
That is very, very sad. I’m sorry.
A less-fundie but still evangelical friend gave me a copy of Jars of Clay. It was forbidden, and I felt bad about the illegal tape copy. I felt bad for stealing from the band, but I felt like I had to know something about Christian culture at least. I would obsessively listen to flood on repeat in the middle of the night and then stop because I felt so much guilt for stealing. I knew normal kids listened to a band called Nirvana, and, when I was around those kids at church, I tried to pretend that I knew something about those songs.. I never found out what a Nirvana song was until I was 18, left home, and was able to look it up on painfully-slow dialup internet.
I see my brothers in your last paragraph. There all night consumption of music, movies, games, cartoons and desire to have a vast knowledge of pop culture over sleep during their 20s.
“My only escape was a Sony Walkman that included an FM radio.” Oh that cuts deep. When I was around the same age, I was basically imprisoned in my own homeschool home as well and my secret radio was my window to the bright world outside and the hope I knew was out there. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
“My secret radio was my window to the bright world outside…”
You don’t know how much that sounds like something you hear regarding World War Two German-Occupied Europe or Cold War Russian-Occupied Eastern Europe.
Yeah, that sounds like me.
“Ironically, that’s when evil rock and roll saved my life. I don’t know if I would have actually killed myself, but I was pretty damn close. The fact that I heard that specific song at just that time seemed absolutely divine. The girl I’d been forced to break up with and I both loved Green Day, especially the song Time of Your Life (Good Riddance). ”
I heard Time of Your Life when I was out in public somewhere one time. I clung to it. Every time I heard it somewhere, I tried to memorize it. It was stuck on repeat in my head. Eventually, a friend gave me a secret mix tape. I listened to it obsessively on my childhood walkman, which had originally been given to me to listen to bible songs. I clung to every scrap of music I could find. Music meant someone else had been in pain. Someone else had survived. Maybe I could make it until I could leave forever.
>Most children without sex-ed are left to flipping through encyclopedias and dictionaries to discover sexual issues.
Oh my god…I remember the exact moment I knew enough that I could cross reference in our 1970’s era encyclopedia and figure things out.
I finally figured it out in college (yeah, I’m a late bloomer). When I realized there was only one exit for the sperm from the male and one entry point to the uterus (and fallopian tubes) in the female. So tab A had to insert into slot B to make the connection — “THAT’S IT?”
I’d be sure you were one of my brothers, except my parents weren’t Bill Gothard. They came up with this insanity all on their own, with a little help from a control freak woman who thought she was the new prophet. Funny how all those control freaks end up with essentially the same doctrines.