Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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"I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists."
“I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists.”

There are two versions of me: my parents’ version of me and my version of me.  Before my high school years, I don’t think there were two versions of me.  Instead, there was just the version my parents wanted.  This is probably true of most children, but my parents were fundamentalist Christians involved in ATI – a homeschooling cult.

In my middle school years (I can’t really tell time by years, or by grades, my youth is blurred and marked by big events or debate resolutions), my parents plunged me into the patriarchal/men-must-be-leaders movements of the 1990s.  They saw homosexuality, single women, women in authority, and feminism as threats to traditional gender roles.  So they trained me to be a warrior for godly men.  ATI’s version of this was called ALERT (Ralph has written about it here) and they liked to play Boy Scouts – but with less fun and more Bible study.  I became a biblical scholar around this age, constantly studying passages, their Greek and Hebrew meanings, cross-referencing those passages in lexicons and study tools, and recording my observations on something called the “Meditation Worksheet.”  Ironically, these worksheets prepared me deconstruct my cultic worldview and to rebuild my own worldview– whoops!

I was that really Christian kid that probably drove you nuts.  I preached to my Christian neighbors that they shouldn’t be reading the NIV because it was Satan’s tool to undermine the divinity of Jesus.  I passed out tracts at restaurants.  I was not afraid to judge everyone, as a thirteen year old, and inform them about the Straight and Narrow Path to Holiness.  Some of my closest friends became the pastor of our small Southern Baptist church – we would regularly discuss theology.

In high school, I started to think for myself and form my version of me (I’ll call it “me-me” and my parents’ version “parent-me”).  Whenever me-me would discuss his thoughts with my parents, I would come into conflict with them.  Their Christian worldview permeated every sector of knowledge – biology, geology, and especially politics, history, and religion.  Throughout my high school years I vacillated between me-me and parent-me.  At will, I could “turn off” all the parts of myself that my parents disliked.  However, when there was something me-me really wanted that I couldn’t just “turn off” my desire for, it drove me crazy.  Usually it was girls.  It wasn’t a sexual thing, I just loved the intimacy and having someone I could share all my teenage angst with.  My parents and I fought for probably five years over girls.

My parents decided that I needed some relationship indoctrination, so I got to learn all about “courtship.”  Courtship is about as traditional and stupid as it sounds.  I was told that I was supposed to “guard my heart” against “serial dating.”  They made dating and breaking up sound like this violent emotional crime that left people with long-term scars.  This meant that, before I entered into any relationship, I was supposed to ask my parents’ permission before I asked the girl’s father for permission to date her.  Mind you, all power and authority over women was supposed to flow through men.  Like any good patriarchy.  Physical contact during a courtship is almost always a strict no-no.  You are not allowed to hold hands, kiss, hug, or even be together alone.  Some of the courtships I have seen have ended in terrible marriages and, in one case, double homicide.

This idea of courtship was huge and fixated on sexual purity and emotional purity.  It grew huge after Joshua Harris’ book I Kiss Dating Goodbye and it was advocated at basically every homeschooling event and by most institutions.  Some groups formed solely for the purpose of educating people about courtship and Patrick Henry College (started by Michael Farris to train homeschoolers to be influential in Washington, D.C. politics).  ATI was huge about courtship, they even advocate betrothal!  That’s where the children have even less power in their romantic lives and the parents “pick” out a decent mate for them, then they are forced into a marriage because it’s “God’s will.”  Of course, only fathers, and occasionally mothers, know God’s will

So commitment in my romantic relationships was usually propelled by the guilt of needing to be in a “courtship.”  Of course, you aren’t supposed to court until the man is financially able to support a woman, which meant I was supposed to avoid romantic relationships til my mid-20s.  This was unacceptable, so I just engaged in quasi-courtship with three different girls through high school – sort of promising to marry them all, planning our lives and futures together, and then usually they broke up with me because God told them to (though I was an ass).

I remember I would form a lot of what would become my identity on the car rides home from something.  My truck became my only escape on a daily basis – with my truck came the first time in my life I had literal freedom.  I could go where I wanted, when I wanted.  That freedom usually provoked thoughts and I would work big issues like courtship in my mind listening to music.  I’m always amazed at how my parents will dismiss me-me and try to guilt and shame parent-me out of the shell.  De-construction and re-construction your identity is not easy and my parents always acted like it was fun for me to rebel.  Yes, when I was a teenager it was fun to let the immature me-me out for a joy ride, only to be clamped down on and repressed.  But that excitement ended in college.  I slowly came to a peace about myself that did not depend on my parents, or their affection.  Finding the me-me was one thing, but synthesizing that into my emotions was much more difficult.

I say all this to try and explain both of the versions of myself.  I can be parent-me, I can turn it on, and turn off my own desires and personality.  It took years for me to even find out what me-me wanted from life and I found a tremendous peace when I discovered my desires and not my parents’.  Throughout college, I would go home and I would let a little more of me-me come out – it was a very slow “coming out,” to borrow a phrase.  I admitted to smoking tobacco.  That I wasn’t a libertarian anymore, I was a liberal – lots of these involved political discussions where my parents felt almost as betrayed that I no longer shared their political beliefs than if I had renounced the faith.  I never did renounce Christianity, only the corrupt vessel of the Christian church.  Admitting I was dating took awhile – I just recently admitted I believed in evolution.  Usually, each admission of the me-me ended in a fight or conflict.  Even in college, they could not let go.

When I first started dating my wife, I asked if she could stay the night in my parent’s house because I needed a ride back to school.  My father said he wasn’t comfortable with that because it would give my younger sister a bad example of “serial dating.  To put this in perspective, this would be the second girl I brought home to my family ever.  I said that I was really serious about this girl and if they chose to act like this, I would tell my girlfriend, and I would understand if she didn’t want my children around them.  This sobered them up quickly and they agreed to let her stay.  But it demonstrates the types of conflicts that would occur when me-me contradicted parent-me.

When my parents manage to convince me to attend their church, my mom always expects me to sing.  My mother and I spent a lot of time bonding in the church choir when I was younger, so she expects me to find the same joy in it now as I did then.  It simply does not work like that.  Me-me does not enjoy church because it reminds me of all the negative feelings of guilt, shame, and intense pressure to be good.  These days when it comes to spirituality, me-me cannot compromise.

Even now that I am married, my parents still want and expect parent-me.  I don’t like the same things, I’m not the same person, and when they laugh and reminisce about the great times they had with parent-me, I can’t help but feel uneasy inside.  They reminisce for parent-me because they know they may never see him again.  They still try to draw on the guilt and shame they instill in me by saying things like “that’s not what we wanted for your life.”  Or telling me the consequences of my sins, then questioning why I don’t think certain things are sins.  When they pressure me-me to revert to parent-me, I get angry, defensive, and emotional.  So I just stop expecting anything, sharing anything, being vulnerable.  I don’t want parent-me for my life – that should mean something.  And I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists.

To be continued.

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part One

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.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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Religious fanatics simply ruin children.

"Evil rock and roll saved my life."
“Evil rock and roll saved my life.”

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,

Everything.

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.