| Sunday, May 06, 2007
| Religiosity IV: My Exodus
|Here we are - my final installment in the back story of my religious experiences, which all coalesce to make Zuska the bitter, or is it better?, person that she is today.
X [Like the new moniker? I'm trying it on for size] and I did find a church as soon as we were married. I think we were both uncomfortable with the church world at that time, but we weren't in any sort of all-out rebellion. We were newly married, knew we would one day be parents, and we wanted to do the "right thing."
We went to a relatively large church, but by far not the largest in Birmingham, which a friend of his parents recommended. I was quickly startled at the similarity between this church and all I had seen at Liberty. Liberty was my first exposure to church as a stage, and I thought it was unique. Turned out it was NOT unique. The pastor in Birmingham had the same hair sprayed man haircut that all the men at Liberty had; the sermons were cookie-cutter; the parade of people walking down the aisle so they could "rededicate their lives to Christ" was just as persistent; the fear of hell was just as consistently evoked. I was not impressed.
For a little while, we were just less than enthusiastic about attending. We had initially tried the "young married couples" bible study group - but I found no real connections with the girls [no, we were most decidedly not women, no matter how desperately we were playing at it] and all of their hairspray. X found no connection to the boys. In some ways, looking back, the "young married" bible studies I had come across in those years give me the absolute creeps. I almost feel like it was on the same spectrum as the training of boy soldiers we saw on Blood Diamond last night. They didn't hand us a gun, of course, but they handed us the ability to bind ourselves to one another, to bring children into the world, and to think exactly what they wanted us to think. We were painfully young, and so wanting to do good in the world, and with our lives, and each other, and our future children. But we were so little. I was 21! X was 22.
X was concurrently embarking on another major relationship in his life [our lives], which I think contributed to his discontent with the Church. He was heading into a much more "intellectual" phase of his life, and I think he was ready to be done with the emotionalism. I just thought it was fake, and I was sick of all the damned hairspray. I also thought that the repetition, and the 'sameness' of it all made it suddenly less credible. I was squirming. My world view was starting to crumble and shift.
So we started looking around at other churches. The first thing we tried (which, really, is 100% in line with X, his field, his interests) was the Episcopal Church in town. I was uncomfortable with that church. First of all, there was a woman .. what? priest? pastor? reverend? Had they not read the bible?? Women can't head churches. Hello, sin much? Second of all, they were having AIDS fundraisers. This was absolutely, positively pushing things too-too-too far. How could they support homosexuality like that? I couldn't do it. I felt like there was no point in attending a church that didn't even bother to crack a bible open (which, oddly, was also a complaint I had about Jerry Falwell in that he spent so much time on politics, I would seethe over the fact that there was no real preaching going on).
I think, instead, we just stopped going to church.
Then we moved to Berkeley. E was born 25 days later. Once a kid was in the picture, I felt like we were missing something by not going to church. I had heard somehow about a Presbyterian Church in town, and I wanted to try it.
In the meantime ....
I had a very close friend from college. We will call him T. When we were in college, T was just the life of a party (a very alcohol-free party, of course). He was fun, he was funny, he was warm. He was a very very best friend of mine. He had an excellent sense of fashion, he loved to sit and tease girls (and boys) for their lousy clothing choices, he used to just revel in the fact that he, myself, Rose, and our other friends were considered "beautiful people." I was so comfortable with him all the time.
At one point, X and his friends told me that they walked in on T kissing another boy. I told them they were full of shit, T was not like that, and they were a bunch of macho fucks [okay, I probably said "jerks"] who had too much testosterone. T was my friend. Of course he was not gay.
At another point, T called me to tell me that someone else had accused him of being gay [I think it was X's friend - X was/is a jock, and his friends were of that sort. He was, too.]. He asked me what I thought. I said, "it doesn't matter, because you're not." Maybe I said, "well, we'll tell them that you're not."
I wonder how quickly I knew that I had failed a major test of our friendship? Was it that day? Or was it not until much, much later?
After college, T floundered around a lot. He couldn't settle down. He was flitting from NYC to Atlanta to D.C., and then at one point, he landed in Maryland, at some camp or something. Why a camp? What is he talking about? he said he was trying to be more spiritual. There were things in his life he needed to deal with, and he realized that, and so he was trying to deal with things. I think it was a place like this.
By the time I hit Berkeley, it was clear to me that T was gay, that he had been hiding it, that he had been making up the fact that he had girlfriends over the summers at home, and that he was in the world's shittiest situation. I was angry. How could this be? How could someone try so damned hard, and still not be what everyone around him thought he should be? I felt that there was something fundamentally unfair about a religion that served to make people hate themselves, and put people in a situation where they could not live up to the standard - no matter what they did. No matter how many damned CAMPS they went to. T was T. And he wasn't going to stop being himself because this religion said that he was sinful.
That was Issue Numero Uno -- my doubts were huge at that point, and had nothing to do with hairspray and face make up. [An aside to say that during my last days in Berkeley, T moved to San Francisco. We got together, he officially came out, I told him, "I know, T!" and I apologized for not being more accepted years before. We had a great 6 months hanging out before he realized that San Francisco was not and could not be home for him, and he went back to the Southeast. We still talk occasionally, and every time, it's like home again.]
A second thing: I had made a couple of friends through the Presbyterian Church. They were Very Christian. They used their beliefs (separately, though) to craft a parenting style which I saw as mistreatment of their children. Spanking their babies for crying when they were told to stop. Creating a puppet of an 18 month old who would practically walk in place crying and frustrated because he was afraid of what his mom would do if he didn't listen to her, but wanting to run over to her and grab her legs. The spankings, though! So many spankings.
And my own parenting journey also pulled me away. Dr. Dobson's parenting missives were nothing but child abuse in my mind. Why was I being told that my children were horrid sinners at the age of 2 months? Why was I being told that my job is to teach them to get in line; to obey; that when they cry in their cribs, they're not unhappy or hungry or lonely -- they're rebelling?
This went 100% against my instincts, and I was unwilling to take any of it on for myself.
How much was I influenced by the town I was in? I like to think not at all. I don't think it mattered that I was in a town with co-sleeping, bare breasted, baby-sling wearing mommas who would have had me arrested if I dared raise a hand to my child - because I didn't know them yet. I was alone - other than these two women I met through the church. Who were scary.
There was also the time that I went home to my parents' church while visiting. E was in my arms - she was probably 9 or 10 months old. An ex boyfriend of mine was their with his wife and their 6 month old child. His father was a deacon or whatever in the church, and he got up to pray, and in his prayer, he said to god that he knew that both my E and his grandson were sinners. That they had been sinners since their conception, and until they accepted Jesus Christ at their lord and savior, sinners they would remain.
I walked out. I would have nothing to do with a place that told me and my child and the heavens above that a 9 month old child was a sinner.
So, that was Issue #2.
I believe my final big issue - other than some other episodes that worked to seal the deal - was the Welfare Queens. Another big lie which I had uncovered.
X was a student, and we didn't have that much $$. I wasn't willing to give up my goal of staying home with my baby, and so I decided to try to start my own business. I posted fliers, I sent out letters, and I made phone calls. I ended up with a few lawyer-clients, a few mediator/arbitrator-clients, and a few professor clients. And a couple of students. For the lawyers and mediators, I did paralegal work - summarizing transcripts and depositions and other legal things. For the professors and students, however, I did straight transcription.
Oh how boring, you may say.
But really, not so much.
I worked on a project about sex ed in schools; a project about sex workers; a project about welfare reform; a project about father's involvement with their kids if he was never married to the mom, and it also ended up being a LOT about welfare; and a project about college admissions.
I listened to tapes of conversations with people who were experiencing a poverty I had never imagined. Women with 2 or 3 children and no income other than welfare. I learned what the welfare system really is. I learned about the lack of opportunity given to people who find themselves on welfare long term. I heard the voices of women who were absolutely trapped, and had nowhere else to go.
There were no welfare queens. There was no cheating of the system. There were poor women, poor children - suffering from a true lack of food, education, opportunities, self-respect, respect from others, and on and on and on.
I could not believe how the principles I was taught varied from the truth. How could people just say "if you want a job, go to McDonald's and get a job!" - and put the kids in what daycare? And get there with what car? And wear what clothes when we get there? And when we can't do the work because we left school before we could read - not because we were rebellious, not because we made bad choices, but because we did not have the examples that you had, Mr. Falwell, and your children, and your students who pay $10,000/year [yeah, that was all it cost then] - we didn't have those examples, and those lessons. We had schools that were falling apart and we didn't have textbooks and we didn't have buses, and we were hungry all day.
And I knew that I was lied to.
I was lied to about people who need help; I was lied to about the fact that they are out to take from me - and that if they only TRIED, they would be able to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and have everything my parents had.
I was lied to about homosexuality.
I was lied to about human nature, and the sin in babies.
And I found that when it came time to talk to E, as she got older, about the universe, and about church, and about god .... I couldn't do it. I had piles upon piles of books that were full of religious bullshit - written for kids, sent by the grandmas - and I couldn't read them to her.
Because I knew that if I did, then I was lying.
I did spend some time reading the bible on my own. I thought that perhaps the people who I had learned from had contorted the message. Perhaps it's not the religion itself, but rather, the religious. I looked closely at the passages about women not teaching men. I didn't see it as succinctly put as I was taught to think it was, but I still wasn't won over by some new, and newly beautiful, truth. I put the bible down.
1. When I found out that X had lied to me about how and why we were in Berkeley, I felt like it was all a freaking sham. I thought I had "found god's will" and in fact, I had found that someone wanted my husband -- really bad.
2. When I found out that when he was 8, my brother had been molested by our "worship leader" at church - a man who I had felt so close to, and whose family (wife, son and baby daughter) was so important to me during my later teen years. I was so angry - but less at him, and more at my parents and the general population of the church. At their blind trust because this man stood up at the front of their church every week with his hands raised to the ceiling made them turn off their other filters. I know that I didn't have alarm bells going off about him, either, but -- I think they were there. I hated the idea that someone can just say, "yes, I'm born again" and wa la! Come to my house! Eat at my table! Have my children at your house whenever you want! You are a Christian, and therefore, you are "okay."
3. When I realized that if X hadn't been a virgin when we married, I would have known that for some reason, having sex with him gave me yeast infections. Every fucking month. Yeast infections that made me feel like I was on fire, all the time. That made sex hurt more than any other painful ordeal I had been through (including childbirth!). I would also have known that X didn't give a shit if sex hurt, that he wouldn't be willing to change a damned thing (I don't know what would have worked), and he wouldn't be willing to stop having sex.
And he wouldn't have been a virgin if we weren't told that sex was evil and bad and gross and that we would go to hell if we did it. We would have been able to find out whether or not we made a good couple. Hell, we could have moved in together before getting married, and I would have known that he was not just a tall boy with a high level of intelligence who played Division I baseball, but rather that he was a selfish son of a bitch who had a lousy sense of humor and loved to manipulate people into thinking that they were stupid and that he was so smart that they should never think to disagree with or argue with him, or else he would laugh at them, for being stupid. (Which his daughter, E, has recently pointed out to me - and which made me very, very, very sad. Because while I was able to file for divorce - there isn't anything that I can do to help her avoid that condescension, as infuriating and hurtful as it is.)
So, if you take all of these issues and episodes, mix them together with the fact that I never really "got" the spiritual vibe of the religion, you get Zuska today. There were times, while X and I were still together, that I wondered if I made the right choice. Was I snatching my kids from heaven's promises? Those doubts are gone - they were fleeting. I never wonder if I was wrong. Never. I have been to my parents' church on a few occasions since I fully turned my back, and I was not at all pulled by the message or the "truth" as they see it. I went once with my sister, and she pinched me and said, "Z! You need to stop looking so angry, I swear, you look like you're going to explode!" because I just can't fathom believing that crap. Why do people choose to sit down in a town hall or a high school or a store, just to be told that they're evil sinners? When they're not.
I don't think I'm articulating this last piece as well as I'd like to. I want to talk about the brutality of this god of my parents', and about the absolutely SICKness of revering a being who killed his own child. I want to talk about the promise of heaven as it is described by the churches I was a part of: a place where you spend all day every day on your knees praising god. Huh? That's heaven? What the hell is up with this god character that he keeps creating new people, trying to convince them to live their lives in this manner while thinking themselves (and everyone who doesn't agree with them) vile, just so they can die and then fall on their knees and worship him forever and ever amen? No thanks.
I'm going to sit on it a bit - the story's still the story. I'll see if I can revisit the conclusion when I'm more refreshed ... which will likely be on May 19th, after I hand in my last exam.
There may also be more story in how my parents a) found out that I'd turned my back; and b) reacted.
Labels: homophobia, liberty university, parents, religion, sex, X
|posted by Zuska @ 10:39 PM
I think what upset me the most about this story is how these Christians are treating their children. I don’t know where their parenting instincts are. When you hear your baby cry, your first instinct is too comfort, not spank.
BTW – I have become addicted to your blog. So much so, I told myself I couldn’t read any more of the archives until I got a project at work done. Well, the projects done!