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Climbing out of a black hole

By Habiba ~

Firstly I would like to introduce myself, I’ve been lurking for over a month having found the site through the 50 Proofs God is Imaginary, and it had already been a great source of strength and encouragement. I would like to thank all who contribute here for offering help, support and a feeling of community.

I would like to share my extimony with you all. I was inspired to write out my journey after reading numerous accounts on here. I’ve found it a cathartic exercise, and as such it may appear disjointed, and angry in places. I must admit I am still angered and frustrated by the situation I am in. I feel that I have broken free of the bonds of ignorance, yet a single cord still has me fettered. I am personally “100% religion free” however parental issues are preventing me from fully shedding the scales from my eyes.

My first memory of church was being chastised for brightly singing “Twinkle twinkle, little star” along to a hymn, as opposed to the actual words. I was 4, and at a Methodist Sunday School my hitherto nominal Christian mother felt I should attend. Despite having a gone to church in her childhood, my mum had abandoned religion as a young woman and married my father, a non practising Muslim. I seemed set for a multicultural upbringing free from the trappings of religion, sadly, this was not to be.

A year later my mum somehow got ensnared by the Open Brethren. (For those not familiar, these guys are super conservative , fundamentalist evangelical protestants.)And so trouble came to paradise, my father was outraged at the beliefs of the Brethren, their treatment of women, and “brainwashing” of my previously open minded mother. My mum refused to give up attending the church and so began 2 years of family strife, starting with constant arguing and descending to death threats and domestic violence. Throughout all this, I became estranged from my father, my mum made sure I was kept away from him and taken to all the church meetings. The domestic issues sadly sent mum even further into the arms of the church.

It was during the first year in the Brethren that my mum urgently instructed me to repeat the “salvation prayer” after her one night before bed. I remember asking naively if I should repeat this every night along with my other prayers. I was confused when she irritably told me not. The next few years were rocky, set against the backdrop of unrest at home and bullying at school, church was not the refuge I had hoped it to be. As all other members of the church had been born into it, my mother and I were treated as outsiders to a degree. They were also all white, middle class and largely well off, the fact we barely ticked any of the boxes led to further suspicion. I was openly ridiculed by older children, and completely ignored by the majority of adults. Somehow my mother managed to sail oblivious through all of this, still entirely enamoured with her new found faith and the “true” way of worship. Despite the less than ideal situation, it was pretty much all I had known, and I believed it all to be normal with childlike acceptance.

Around this time my father became terminally ill, and the ever Christ like folks at church came to the house to tell him it was judgement from God/affliction from the devil/his just desserts. After ridiculing him in his own home, they rolled out the preaching. I honestly do not know whether my father truly accepted their teachings or if he acquiesced for the sake of my mother. He did offer sincere apology to the church for his previous behaviour towards them, which they snubbed. Sadly, 2 years into his illness, my father passed away.

With my dad gone, my mum could throw herself wholeheartedly into the church. We began to attend every meeting (church 2-4 times per week), have Bible devotions and prayers morning and night, and complete lengthy Bible correspondence courses. As a result of this doctrinal barrage I became very fearful, not of hell, but of the rapture. To a child who had already lost one parent, the perceived threat of the remaining one being whisked away in the blink of an eye was terrifying. I cried myself to sleep with dread on numerous occasions, feverishly praying for forgiveness and salvation.

It was during these “fear years” that my mum told me (just like that) that I had to get baptised. At age 9 I was baptised by full immersion and my testimony was read out by a random bloke, because as a female, I had to cover my head and keep silent at all times in church. My fear was somewhat assuaged as I was sure this ‘step of obedience’ had earned me some favour with God, and for one night only, everyone at church was pleasant and smiling, at last, I’d earned acceptance!

A year later, and the bullying at school had escalated. It was common knowledge that I was a “Christian weirdo” as my mother basically forced me to witness to my classmates. As well as unwelcome preaching, I also spammed the entire class with tracts (the infamous Chick Tracts) and stationery emblazoned with bible verses. Needless to say, these stunts did not add to my popularity! In a last ditch attempt to ease the bullying, I began to act like everyone else – difficult, as I was not allowed to watch TV or listen to any contemporary music, my knowledge of pop culture was zilch. The sure fire method I took to shred my Christian image was to swear like a trooper, almost to the point of Tourettes. This was the start of my double life – trying to fit in at school, and playing the perfect Christian at home. From time to time I was racked with guilt about my behaviour, but soon rationalised it as necessary survival tactics.

I began to resent having to go to church, and the amount of time spent on reading the Bible. This only grew when my mum used The Brethren as an excuse to veto nearly all the fads of the 90s (Pokemon, Power Rangers, Tamacotchis, Harry Potter) as all were “demonic”. I began to question the basis of these claims, and in turn, everything that I was being taught. When I received no answers, only more preaching, I rebelled by utterly switching off. I would catatonically stare into space during Sunday school classes until my teachers gave up on me, calling me “stubborn “and “wilful”. I withdrew from Sunday school on the condition of yet more correspondence Bible classes, which I also resented mightily.

By the time I went to secondary school I had stopped any pretence of being a Christian, wherever I could I greedily grabbed any snippets of mainstream culture – much harder in those pre internet days- to ward off bullying. We moved house, but sadly not church, and I began to attend a school with a large Muslim cohort. By now Christianity was truly dead to me, but felt I needed to pursue some belief - I decided to try my father’s religion on for size. Over the next 2 years I learned Arabic, read the Qur’an in English and Arabic, prayed and fasted for Ramadan. While I had the support of my friends, I was lambasted at home, my mum treating Islam and Asian culture as a whole as “the great Satan”. I was not allowed to cook or eat Asian food, wear ethnic clothes, speak my father’s language, or further my Arabic in an attempt to stamp out my perdition. Looking back I think some of my Islamic exploration was fuelled as much by rebellion as by soul searching. However, I didn’t find what I was looking for in Islam, the schisms and superstitions wore thin very fast, at 14 I was not going to believe stories about children turning into monkeys for not reading the Qur’an with due care, or that a snake would strike me to hell after death for listening to secular music.

At this point I truly began to dwindle in unbelief, neither Brethrenism or Islam sat well with me. While I retained a belief in some sort of higher power, I knew it was not present in either religion. Throughout all this, I was unceremoniously dragged through church meetings, devotions and courses, no protest could get me out of it. Any hint of reluctance was met with verbal abuse and emotional blackmail, until often at the point of tears, I would crumple and give in. After several rinse and repeats of this fiasco, I decided to relent to give myself a bit of peace. I’d perfected my zoning out over the many wasted hours spent in church,while there in body, my mind was miles away.

Unsurprisingly by the time I was 16 I had developed some strongly anti-christian feelings, and I was beginning to realise that the emotionally abusive environment at home was not the norm I had always taken it to be. To compound the problems, my mother began suffering severe bouts of depression, and showing mental anomalies. Her reactions to any “departure from the scripture” became even more severe and the emotional blackmail heightened, often accompanied with her trashing objects around the house to express her anger and disgust.

I pretty much fled to university in another city, desperate to break away from it all. However, before I could leave, I was pressured into “coming into fellowship” by mum. This was where I would take communion, and, allegedly behave better on pain from actual physical punishment from god. I had to do this, or stay at home, so I bit the hypocrisy filled bullet and did as I was told, so I could escape. As ever mum was one step ahead, and frog marched me round a few Brethren churches, taking the numbers of the elders, so she could keep tabs on me. I was trapped. I chose the church nearest to me and put in as little attendance as I could. “Concerned” and “out of love” they called mum on more than one occasion to notify her of my poor attendance. I began to bullshit (my second nature after years of living a double life) that I attended regularly, pretence I am ashamed and disgusted to say I am still keeping up, despite having not attended church in over a year in my University city.

Despite my incredibly repressed childhood and rebellion against Christianity, I did not leap headlong into hedonism. I spent most of my first year enjoying allowing my bible to gather dust, listen to secular music (I went straight into extreme metal) and discovered (without experimentation) that I was bisexual.

After a peaceful first year, I began to drink (though was yet to be drunk), and met my first boyfriend, who introduced me to sex and recreational drug use. It was here that my upbringing began to rear its head. Both Christian and Muslim cultures place huge emphasis on female purity and I was highly conflicted about surrendering mine, leading to irreconcilable problems with the now ex boyfriend.

Encouraged by both friends and (ex) boyfriend, I decided to take the drastic step of coming out in my unbelief to my mum. I didn’t give full gory details, I just said I didn’t believe in the Brethren set up, and would no longer be attending meetings. I may as well have thrown a grenade in my own face, the fallout would have been more bearable. After hours of screaming and crying on both parts, my mother calmly and eerily said that I was brave to tell her as “I didn’t know how she’d react”. She asserted that my unbelief was even more reason to attend the meetings and before I knew it I was in the same cowed position as in my years at home, despite legally being an adult. As is her way of coping, she went on to pretend my whole coming out never happened – for the most part.

Any advice on how to approach this from those who have gone before would be greatly appreciated!While on holiday in a remote village, my mother went, for a want of a better description, totally psycho. Out of nowhere she began demanding who had “taken me away from Christ”, as though my coming out had just happened, though it was now almost a year on. She began raging, saying I must name them, and she “wanted to kill them”. I told her, calmly that it was all from within myself. In the following hours she unleashed endless mental abuse, punctuated by slapping at my legs and grabbing me by the hair to make me look at her. I was terrified. Eventually, as quickly as she had started, she backed down, stroking my head like I was a baby and saying “The Lord bless you”, over and over while she wept. I lived in terror of a recurrence for weeks.

I realise now that I should have got up and walked out. While I would say I am normally a confident person, when I’m with my mum I can’t stand up for myself at all, and I am truly afraid of her reaction to my unbelief.

It’s now 5 years since I initially made my declaration of unbelief and in the last year I have finally picked up a bible again, this time to see the scriptures damn themselves. Studying the contradictions, the vile themes etc is helping me piece together why I began to doubt at such a young age. Knowledge is power, and the power is helping me overcome the occasional fear that my old beliefs are right and I’m going to burn.

I would now identify as an atheist, and I revel in the freedom that irreligiousness gives me. However, I still feel fettered to the church that sickens me more than ever; I don’t have enough hands for the face-palm I feel. I am still dragged along when I visit my mother, and I still bullshit that I read the bible, and attend church as I live in terror of the backlash if truth were known.

Equally, I am feeling increasingly compelled to reiterate my unbelief to my mother, I feel (justly or unjustly) that religion has ruined a large portion of my life and I want it to stop. I also have a truly great boyfriend who I would like to tell her about, but equally cannot.

Any advice on how to approach this from those who have gone before would be greatly appreciated!