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True Freedom

By Strong Enough Now ~

My childhood in the 1950s-1960s was spent in a very rural, very poor area. We had no running water or phone, we didn’t get a TV until the 1960s. My parents were very uneducated as children of the Depression-- my mother made it through the eighth grade, my father only the third grade. My mother was raised on ‘fire and brimstone’ as a Southern Baptist. My father’s family were all members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and religion had been drilled into my siblings and myself since birth.

As I child, I was exposed to and practiced some of both religions. We knocked doors and had more than a few slammed in our face. We had to go and witness, my father insisted and I hated every second of it. (To this day, I maintain it is child abuse.) But, in addition, I attended different churches with relatives and neighbors, my mother wanted me to explore religion. The religions my relatives and parents friends attended were as crazy as my parents’ religions. Among other things like scary 'Going to hell' revivals and Bible school, I did get to see a female ‘holy roller’ performing what I now understand was a sexual act with the floor. Who else other than a child of religious people can claim that as part of their childhood?

Most of the kids I went to school with were Baptists, so it was easier to fit in under my mother’s religion. We had prayer in public school then, before school, before lunch and before going home. What I remember about school prayers were that kids were busy punching each other while we bowed our little heads. Not one of us understood a bit of the rote we were taught to pray. When Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s lawsuit caused the ceasing of the dull school prayers in the early 1960s, all of the parents were furious that kids could no longer pray in schools. That woman was Satan! We kids were just thrilled we didn’t have to do that rote crap any more.

There is one thing the Jehovah’s Witnesses taught me at a very young age, that took. Not the way they wanted, but it took. They encouraged the study and questioning of all other religions and how they were formed. Of course, they used their religion to compare, to try to show why they, and they only, had the academic key to the ‘word of God.’ Problem is, when you start teaching kids to think, sometimes they don’t stop.

By the my teen years, I had concluded that there was no God. My sister was married to an extremely abusive Baptist and he eventually murdered her and another sister when I was 15. My extremely religious father had insisted that she stay in the marriage and try to make it work, and my other sister was there to help; that Christian act got her murdered. I hated God as much as I hated my father for making me participate in religion. I really did.

But, when you are in the middle of a picture, you cannot see the frame. Everyone, and I do mean every other human that I knew, was religious. I thought I was a failure and didn't get it. I thought everyone was praying all the time and, looking back now, I realize that my parents were more concerned about getting food than going to heaven. I didn’t realize my mother had doubts, too; she just went along because she did not know how to research her questions. So she lived in that place where women were all seemingly delegated--’no questions’ land. I was well over 21 before I met anyone who openly didn’t believe in God and/or Jesus. I had heard of evolution, but our school did not teach it. Parents didn’t want their kids exposed to such stuff. We did have a library, and at 15, I read I knew in my heart that religion was practicing nothing about nothing for nothing. But a 15 year old girl living in poverty has extremely limited life choices. I had to do what was required of me. I was so confused.

Eventually, I got sucked back in to religion. I was not strong enough to know that I could and SHOULD think for myself. By the time I was seventeen, I was getting married to a nice boy from a religious (Baptist) family. Life lay before me, I was told anything was possible with God. I so wanted to believe it to be true.

But seventeen year old's have no business seriously dating, much less getting married. The marriage did exactly what one would expect: It fell apart. I was definitely guilty in ending it, I was so sick of being the only adult in the marriage. (It didn’t occur to me then, but we were both children.) Of course, everyone flocked to defend my (now) ex-husband. How could I leave such a fine Christian man? My own father never forgave me, he was still a dedicated God believer til the day he died. My ex husband was one of his pall bearers. (I could, in my mind, hear the church ladies saying: "Obviously, we know who was the black sheep of that family....")

My ex-spouse was actually was a decent man and eventually a good father. But it was not real, it wasn't my truth and I knew in my gut I was lying to myself and to him. I would always be miserable if I stayed; I was going to be trapped in a nightmare of never ending church services and numerous children and pot luck suppers and I knew I had to revolt. I was lucky enough to go to work during the women’s liberation era; I had a career and was making enough to support my daughter and myself. Why did I need an extra weight around my neck at age 23? I decided I didn’t and I ended a supposedly good Christian marriage from a good Christian home. It was like I finally came up for air. Until the Christians descended on me, with their guilt and 'you didn't live up to God's expectations' and Pray, pray, pray! I had gotten stronger, just not enough to make them go away, then.

A friend kept dragging me back to church. (If there were a God, that girl should have the best karma around. But she doesn’t and I digress....) I went to church more and more often. It was comfortable to hang around other confused and miserable people, in a weird sort of way. They separated us by age and divorced or not. Divorced people were not mixed with the never married singles at the huge church. I went there for years and never met any of the 'pure' singles. I knew that was wrong, but I was not strong enough to fight it then. I just knew that I was always a member of the ‘used’ group, and I carried a lot of guilt dumping what everyone told me was 'a perfectly good marriage.'

As many of you know, breaking away from religion indoctrination is a long, difficult process. The obvious act of just quitting going to church doesn’t work if you have been indoctrinated about God since birth. Quitting the actual church turned out to be easy. I knew I was over as soon as I heard the minister say: “God doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews.” The whole country got in an uproar, I finally realized that it was OK not to believe the preacher, it was OK to think, it was OK just to live. I never went back.

Later, I realized that I was very angry because the church had made me part of the Scarlet Letter metaphor. How dare they judge me like that! Because it was a social outlet, I missed my friends from church. But they wouldn't budge out and I wouldn't go back. The dogma was still smothering me so I fell back to an old standby: books. I started reading. Scholarly religious works (thank you Jehovah's Witnesses, you actually saved me in a way you will never understand although I tried to tell the guy on my porch the other day) became my forte. At last, I truly understood how religion had been put together and why and concluded that I had been had. I understood--finally--why I was angry at religion and its liars.

Now as I sit on the cusp of my golden years at 60, I realize I am stronger and I am a free thinker because I was miserable with church. I would never have questioned anything if I hadn't been put through so much religion. I love science and the potential of discovery of how it all really came together. Studying the cosmos or possible parallel universes is much more thrilling and real than any Bible verse, quote, sermon, or testimony I ever heard or read. Even with all the bad, I can now say I have a wonderful life simply because I learned to question. And I question everything.

Never accept anyone else's dogma. Never accept anything as true just because someone says it is so--even that statement! And, finally, the most important, that took a long time to discover: “Everything in this book may be wrong.”I know in my mind and heart that I was misled, because my parents and their parents and their parents before them had all been misled because they could not read. When she got very old, I realized that my mother doubted, and always had--but she ran into the same brick wall of everyone else she knew was in religion. But I had an advantage my mother or any other ancestor never did: I could read and had access to all the books I wanted. I view it as my responsibility to let new generations know it is not only OK, but it is required that you think and study life and find out why we are here for yourself.

Never accept anyone else's dogma. Never accept anything as true just because someone says it is so--even that statement! And, finally, the most important, that took a long time to discover: “Everything in this book may be wrong.” Perhaps my truth is not your truth. But I know this, I found my truth, and I will not rest until I am sure my granddaughter can find hers.

There is a big secret that no religion will tell you: Living without religion is freedom. Freedom from fear, freedom from hell, freedom from heaven, freedom on earth. Freedom to think, freedom to explore, freedom to live, freedom to have simple pleasures such as a glass of fine wine. And in complete opposition to my early teachings: The freedom to live an outstanding, law abiding life and pay your taxes and not go to church because it is the right thing to do, not because you are afraid of a God you will never see, hear or touch. It is also freedom not to show reverence to a God that supposedly blesses America, because we are richer ergo better than everyone else. No religion means no limits on thought. Freedom from religion expands the world to help us understand a far greater connection to all other beings than any religion ever offered. After all this experience, I cannot imagine how any God could have gave us a greater gift than the ability to reason that there is no God at all. That is my truth and the purest freedom I have ever known.


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