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By Cecelia ~

Now that I am free of religion and church, I look back and wonder why I allowed myself to be so controlled by both.

I am definitely not a leader but neither am I a blind follower. I'm not a 'group person' who goes along with the crowd for the sake of it. I hate the mentality of 'everyone else is doing ... such and such so you should too.' I balk at that sort of faulty logic. I hate being manipulated and coerced. It makes me want to do the exact opposite of what everyone else is doing.

For better or worse, I like to make my own decisions. I am my own person.

When I found God in my twenties, I was still that person. I didn't turn into a total sheep, baaing away obediently to every command. In fact, there were many times when I felt that I was the only one who could see what an unhealthy little cult we all belonged to. Nevertheless, something had shifted in me. It's as though a big chunk of my personality had fallen off and got lost.

I was horrified to find myself yielding to many of the expectations of those in authority--the minister, elders and all their henchmen.

As I write that sentence, I feel repulsed by the whole idea. I wasn't a child; they weren't my parents; I wasn't an employee; they weren't my bosses. They weren't the government, the police or the army.

I wasn't a prisoner; they weren't my wardens. But it sure felt like it.


Why did I put myself under the authority of the church leaders? What authority did they have, anyway? God's authority...apparently.

I believed the authorities when they told me they were in authority! They told me they were chosen by God. The bible told me they were chosen by God. Disobeying the church authorities meant disobeying God. I didn't want to do that. As a Christian, especially a new one, who had, only recently, been a poor, wee lost lambkin, it seemed sensible to heed the advice of seasoned Christians.

I trusted them.

They wouldn't have stood up in front of the whole congregation and said things that weren't true, would they? They were speaking the inspired words of God, weren't they? They had my best interests at heart, didn't they?

What a lost sheep I was to be so gullible.

The frightening belief held by almost everyone at that church was that we were special. We weren't like all the other bland Baptists around us. We were more spiritual, more committed, more cool and groovy. Anyone who left the church was seen as either a rebel or a wimp. The only way out was to 'be called by God' to go off and do something even more noble than staying.

Really? Was it really the only way out?

It sure seemed like it.

Why did I stay in such a suffocating, stifling environment? I envied the 'fringe dwellers' who had the freedom to just pop along to church when they felt like it, then just... pop off when they'd had enough. Nobody minded when they left. They weren't proper Christians anyway. Proper Christians go to church every single week. Proper Christians stay, not just for morning tea, but lunch as well. Proper Christians go to bible studies, prayer groups, church picnics, film nights, women's groups, men's groups, camps and anything else they can squash into their busy Christian calendar.

Proper Christian women are casserole ladies who wear floral dresses and floppy sandals. They make sponge cakes and pavlovas from scratch.. They don't wear make-up, pierce their ears or enjoy being single. They get married at the first available opportunity, then have five children in seven years.

Before I started attending that church, I had quite enjoyed having my hair cut by my local hairdresser, Janine. She was a lovely person and a lot of fun, the way many hairdressers are. But she had one glaring fault. She wasn't one of us. Six months after joining the church, I was told, "We all have our hair done by Janine so that we can witness to her. You should too."

I changed hairdressers.

How dare I do that! How dare I be different! How dare I rebel against their authority. Who am I decide, for myself, where I have my hair done?

But the question I ask myself, now, is: "Who were these people to me? Why did they have such a hold over me? Why couldn't I just walk away and go somewhere else? Why did I stay in such a suffocating, stifling environment?"

Initially, I stayed because I longed for the fellowship of other Christians. The unspeakable joy in finding Jesus bound me to other Christians in a close and intimate way. I was so happy to have found my spiritual home.

Eventually, I stayed because I felt an obligation and desire to do the right thing. It seemed to me that belonging to a church community was the minimum requirement for being a Christian. I was afraid to leave.

In the end, I stayed because I was lonely.

I'm still lonely, more so, now, than ever before. But I'm no longer depressed. I'm no longer tormented by the fear of hell. I'm no longer tormented by other Christians and all the garbage they talk.

If I wasn't a 'group person' before, I'm even less of one now. Most groups of people are dysfunctional in some way. Most end up being controlled by the most influential person in the group.

I have a very healthy, scepticism, now, of anyone who even smacks of wanting to control me. I make my own decisions.