Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gentes Testimonium

So on facebook one of the alumni from my high school started an event that was basically a high school reunion for the people that managed to get out of high school and still be a human being. That may sound like a weird statement to make, but then you probably didn't go to my high school. It's an uber-conservative, fundamentalist Christian, private education school tied directly to the church it shares a parking lot with. It was actually a lot like that movie Saved! which came out in 2004.

The event page then exploded, almost immediately, with comments and memories from different survivors, mainly talking about how silly the place was (to put it kindly, in most cases). But then some people started talking about their faith - their personal religious belief system - and started posting their testimonies. For those who don't know, your testimony is basically the story of how your eyes were opened and you accepted Jesus into you heart and blah blah blah.

There were a lot of ways I could've responded, and for the most part I responded with nothing (except once, but I was fairly restrained). And then for a laugh I thought I'd post my testimony, or the story of how my eyes were opened and I saw through all the bullshit. And then I realized the post would be way too long for facebook (and also not very funny), but not, incidentally enough,too long for my blog. I'd posted bits and pieces of this story around the internet in other places, but I don't think I've ever slogged the whole thing down in one gulp. Certainly I haven't done that here.

Before I go on, a little disclaimer: I don't really have a problem with other people's religion. I think it's fine, and in many cases that belief helps people live healthier lives. So if you're a follower of any given religion, please know that this post is not about your belief, nor is it meant to disparage your belief. This is about my belief, and what the hell happened to it.

There were two major events in my life that led to the moment I turned away from Christianity. The first major event started when I was six years old, and lasted approximately six years.
People claiming to be experts in the paranormal state that 3am is "Dead Time", or the hour when supernatural entities are at their most active. In the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose they called 3am the "Devil's Hour" when demons are at their strongest. I strongly believe this to be true, whether it's ghosts or demons or whatever, due to my own experiences.

I guess I'm what you might call a Sensitive. I have a high level of empathy towards people, and will often get weird feelings in various places. When I visited Auschwitz this past month there were several places where I could "feel" the horrors of the place.
Anyway, when I was a kid we moved into a particular house in Santa Ana. I'm fairly sure now that the house was haunted. I say "was" because it seems to have been demolished and a new house built in its place (and I wonder if the haunting was part of the reason for that). Whatever the type of supernatural force that lived there was, it was also evil. Here's what happened:

It was a hot summer night. That kind of sticky hot where you're more likely to kick off the thin sheet you're sleeping under. My bed was situated next to a thin floor-to-ceiling window on my right that looked like it was made out of the bases of yellow glass bottles. About four feet from the foot of my bed was my bedroom door.

That night, I abruptly woke up. Something I sit up in bed and check the clock: 3am on the button. I look out my bedroom door and I can see into the next room just across the hall, and I see Something appear. This Something looked human, but slightly transparent and glowing like the ghost of Obi-Wan, except the glow was purple and like the weird glow you see around a black light. It doesn't so much illuminate as it appears to be swallowing light. And the Thing felt evil. When It appeared I felt a sharp chill, like someone dropped a sharp icicle sliver down the center of my backbone and I could feel my hair stand on end.
And then It walked into my room and stood at the foot of my bed, glaring at me.

I was so scared, so terribly afraid. And it felt like the oxygen had been sucked out of me. I tried to call for help, but I could barely gasp out a quiet whisper of a plea - I was that frightened.

The Thing looked over Its shoulder into the room it had appeared in, then back at me. It grinned, and then walked back into the other room and disappeared. Now that Its gaze was no longer directed at me, I felt I could move again. Being the terrified 6-year old I was, I dove under the covers and curled myself into a fetal position.
There was just one problem: because it was a hot summer night, my covers consisted of a thin bed sheet. And because my bed was right next to a window, I could see silhouettes through the sheet. That sharp, icicle chill running down my spinal column still hadn't abated, and when I dove under the covers the feeling intensified.
Suddenly, I see the shadow of a hand, like Thing from The Addams Family "walk" on the pointer- and middle-fingers the side of my bed in front of my face. And then the hand would walk back the other way towards the foot of my bed. Back and forth the hand did this, like it was taunting me to move. I just knew that if I did, the hand would grab me and my life would be over.
So I mouth a prayer to myself, over and over and over. "Please God save me. Please God save me. Please God save me." And I mouth, over and over: "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to leave."

In the Bible, the book of Joel 2:32 (chapter and verse) says "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." The book of Romans 10:13 says the same thing. The book of James 4:7 says "Resist the Devil and he will flee." I was taught in church and school that if you believe in Jesus as the son of God and renounce your sin, we can command the devil to leave in Jesus' name and he must obey.

That night presented two possibilities to me: The first was that the Bible was full of shit. The other possibility was that my faith simply wasn't strong enough. I wasn't a true Christian.

Following that dreadful night, for the next six years I became too terrified to fall asleep. That Thing never corporealized in my room again, but every night, without fail, if I fell asleep I would start having a regular dream, and then I would feel that sharp, icicle chill slide down my spine and the dream's hard to explain, but it would darken. If that makes any sense. And then It would appear in my dream, and I knew if I couldn't wake up fast enough, I'd never wake up again. And I would literally kick and thrash my way out of dream-sleep, clawing my way into wakefulness.  When I would wake up two things would always be similar about those nights: It was always 3am, and my bedroom door was always open. Even if I shut my bedroom door and made sure it was shut when I would go to bed, if I didn't maintain vigilance and fell asleep, at 3am I would wake from a horrific, terrifying dream and the door would be open.

Six years of self-inflicted insomnia is a hell of thing to do to yourself, even more-so as a six year old kid. I tried talking to my parents about it, but they assured me it was just my (admittedly vivid) imagination and they were only dreams. I tried talking to pastors about it, and they would pray for me or show me all the stupid Bible verses (that never did any good) about how to protect yourself from demonic forces and whatnot.
And because my pastors and teachers made it all sound so easy, that all you needed was belief, I grew up thinking it was all my fault. I didn't have enough belief for God to save me. And I was pretty desperate for someone to save me.
Throughout the years, there were various church services where the pastor would ask if anyone was ready and willing to commit their lives to Jesus. Not every time, but quite often, I would stand or raise my hand or walk to the front (if I could get past my shyness). I think I was the most saved Christian in my class. Well, "saved" being a relative term I guess. Not going to hell after you die doesn't mean much when you go through hell every night while you're still alive.

Eventually, I ending up saving myself. When I was 12, I got into a fight at school. Well, it wasn't much of a fight. A kid was acting stupid, I acted stupid back, and he threw a punch. I remember that it didn't hurt. But that didn't stop my vision from going red. I don't remember what all happened after that, but I know that several kids had to pull me off him because I was straddling his back and beating the back of his head with my fist like it was a nail I could hammer into the ground. I was pretty small and weak at the time (I'm sure six years of insomnia didn't help my growth and development), so I didn't do much damage, thank goodness. But I do know that if those kids hadn't pulled me off him I would've kept swinging my fist until I couldn't raise it anymore. It didn't matter to me if he was alive or dead or if I wasn't hurting him at all or if I was killing him. I just wanted to destroy something.
That kind of rage frightened me badly. I knew I had to get a grip on myself before I really did hurt somebody. But I couldn't get a grip on myself until I got a grip on my nights.

So I did some serious logical analysis (I know, "well duh". Keep in mind I was only 12 at this time). I realized that while I'd been terrorized quite nearly out of my mind for 6 years, I'd never actually been harmed by the Thing. Maybe it couldn't. Maybe it just liked the fear it created. I came up with a term for it, all by myself - I called it a Feeder Demon. I realize I'm not the first person to come up with the term, but the shoe certainly fit. It would create an emotion in somebody and then "eat" the emotion to sustain itself, like a closed-loop parasite. So maybe all I had to do to beat this thing was stop being scared. Easy, right?
I'm not sure what I did, or how I did it, but somehow I managed to take all my emotions - everything this Thing could use to scare me - and locked them away. Fear, Hate, Love, Joy, Anger, Sorrow. All of it. Boxed up and hidden where no one could use it against me.
Not exactly the psychologically healthiest solution, perhaps, but it worked. I started sleeping through the entire night. My bedroom door would still be shut when I'd wake in the morning.
And I never lost my temper.

I started to live like a human being again (a weird emotionless one, true). I started doing better in school. I started to develop physically. And through it all I continued to feed on and regurgitate the extreme right-wing Christian Fundamentalism ("we put the mental in fundamentalism" could've been their logo) being taught to me at church and school.
Fast forward to the end of high school. I've got great grades, I'm accepted into a four-year private University with some kick-ass scholarships, and I'm a Believer. You know the type. I had a Bible verse ready for any situation. I could pray and worship with the best of them. Democrats were godless, Socialist sinners.

And then I go to this private four-year University, and boy-oh-boy was that an eye-opener. For the first time, my education and my religion weren't coming from the same place. Not only that, but my education had many different points of view, many different beliefs. My naive, innocent, virginal Christian self was a bit overwhelmed. It wasn't that I started going crazy in the opposite direction or anything. It was just the first time my beliefs were really being challenged.

And then the second major event that contributed to giving up Christianity as a belief system occurred. A very close friend of mine and I were hanging out, and he decides to come out of the closet to me, and tell me that he finds me incredibly attractive.
And to my eternal shame, my very first thought was, "Oh no, my friend is going to hell." It wasn't gratitude that he trusted me enough to reveal something incredibly personal (and for him, deeply shaming, since he was a Christian as well).  It was immediate judgment and condemnation, like a reflex action.

To my credit, my very next thought was, "Holy shit, I'm a dick!" I had no right to make those judgments, the Bible says "Judge not." I had no right to condemn, Jesus charges his followers to live with compassion and acceptance for their neighbors, relatives, and friends. But my upbringing taught me otherwise. Taught isn't even the right word. Brain-washed. That's the word.

And so I started doing my research. Casting off the shrouds of right-wing religious fundamentalism. The Bible was the first to go.  There's some value to the book as a manual for moral teachings, but there is so much that it gets wrong, and also, the God of the Old Testament is kind of a prick. The only person who ever really showed me the God of the New Testament was Jesus. All the other books were about teaching me how to believe in and follow the God of the New Testament.
And there's Science and Philosophy and Art, and they taught me more about life and living in four years than my entire K-12 religious schooling. I became, essentially, a deist. And I found myself in very respectable historical company.

That's the story. My heathen testimony. I know some people who keep praying that I'll find my way back to God, but they don't understand that I never left God. I just left them.
There were some amazing psychological repercussions from boxing away all my emotions, but I eventually got past it. I feel like a relatively stable human being now.

I'll still get those sharp, spine-icicle dreams from time to time, but they happen only very rarely any more. I usually wake up from them on my own with no problems (strong flight reflex, how's that for childhood development?), but sometimes a girl I happen to be seeing at the time will shake me awake. After one of those dreams once, a girl told me I was whimpering in my sleep. That sounds about right.
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