My Experience of Religion and the Family

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potrokin
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Oct 17 2017 18:17
My Experience of Religion and the Family

My biological family are mainly 'born again' christians. My dad was convinced that metal music was 'satanic' and wouldn't allow Black Sabbath records in the house for years, not until I was in my late teens. This isn't the deep south in the US in the 1950's by the way. This is England in the 1980's-90's. He seemed to think the records had some kind of evil power and he said that it could summon demons. He allowed my older brother to have metal records eventually but when my brother did something he didn't like he would punish him. Once I remember my dad smashing up all his Iron Maiden records- and he had all of the albums and the singles. My older brother was an artistic and creative person and I remember him making this costume with one of his mates, they were goin through their acid house phase- that too was deemed 'satanic' by my dad and the costume was destroyed on a bonfire in the garden. He also did this amazing mural of the Iron Maiden mascot, Eddie, that covered his bedroom door and the wall surrounding it. It was destroyed for the same reason.

Unfortunately, my older brother is no longer such a non-conformist. He doesn't question things anymore and he actually goes along with all this christian nonsense and is somewhat of a religious conspiracy theorist who watches God TV etc and reads the Bible and believes in all the prophecy bullshit. It's like something has sucked all the creativity and individuality out of him. I remember him laughing when Israeli troops going into Gaza was on the TV. I remember him saying that homosexual people should be put in prison like they are in parts of Africa. When I was only young, he told me that if I turned out to be gay when I was older, he would have to kill me.

When I was about ten years old my family took me on a 'holiday' in Sussex. It was in the middle of nowhere in the countryside in Sussex in a big manor house. It was a complex, there were different buildings, the place was called Ashburnham. What I didn't realise, what they didn't tell me was that this was a religious holiday. I figured that out only when I got there and everyone was going on about Jesus. The parents were separated from the kids and we had to attend these groups with christian minders who made us do these activities based around Jesus and the Bible, they were basically religious teachers. Everything was related to Jesus and stuff from the Bible, even playing football and watching films. It was basically brainwashing. It was horrible and I couldn't leave and had to endure the whole thing even though by then I didn't really believe in christianity. I have looked up Ashburnham on the internet and have found it,it is still a place for christian retreats.

A part of my upbringing was being smacked, sometimes with a wooden spoon or slipper, when I did anything that pissed off my dad. It could have been swearing, or lying, or when I was thought to be lying. My dad once smacked me for pretending to be an IRA terrorist when I was playing.

My mum believed in all this and believed it stronger than my dad at times (for a time he wasn't deeply into it and questioned it- something she would mock and berate him for) but sometimes objected to the way he treated her as the patriarchal 'head of the house', a title he was keen to remind us of, especially in his deeper religious phases. He once explained to my mum that according to the Bible it was allowed that if a women hits a man, it is written that he is allowed to cut off the hand of hers that struck him- and he was serious, finding it amusing also. My dad would make a thing of emphasizing how my mum should stand by him when one of us kids was being awkward, this is when she would be sticking up for us over him- again, the fact that he was the 'head of the household' was brought up. I remember one night at the dinner table, my dad was angry with my mum and was furiously banging his fist on the table and shouting at her. Myself and my mum were very upset and I think it was that night that she had her second psychotic break. Later on in the relationship she would stick up for herself more and not take any shit from him and they would argue most of the time, which was very unpleasant to live with. Despite objecting to how she was treated by patriarchy, my mum's views on women could still be very conservative. She would state, for example, that women should dress a certain way, or else they were 'asking for trouble' or 'only had themselves to blame' if they were abused and she would say the same about them being 'too drunk'.

Religious people really are very far from logical in what they believe and it can be very stupid, to hilarious extremes. My dad, for example, once tried to convince me that god existed by stating that he knew someone who had one leg shorter than the other and that after someone prayed for this guy, the shorter leg grew back to a normal size. My dad believed that unquestioningly and was convinced that it was the truth. He was also convinced that god had instructed him to do missionary work in Afghanistan ,of all places, in the 1970s , but that then he was instructed that this was not a good idea after all. His 'proof' for god 'changing his mind' was a fellow worshipper telling him that it was not what he was meant to do. I have also heard that my dad has tried to argue that the sun could be god and that there is no proof that it isn't.

I have been a witness to every kind of bigotry and chauvinism you can imagine from my biological family, genocidally racist views included. My Dad, in a discussion I had with him about the Iraq war, stated that the Iraqi children who died because of the sanctions that were imposed on Iraq in the 1990s was a punishment from god because of stuff in the bible that he thought was real. They all believed that arabs were evil and that they were 'satanic' and that Israel had a right to oppress and kill the Palestinians and take all their land and attack whoever they pleased. I remember my Mum ranting furiously about how gay people thought they could do as they liked but would "get a suprise after they die". They also very much believed in 'exorcisms' for gay people. They would say that they hated the sin and not the sinner but this was contradicted at other times by their out and out hatred of gay people with them saying that homosexuals would burn in hell. They were very zionist and they would 'talk in tongues' (and not just at prayer meetings) which was really creepy. I am convinced from what I have experienced that their belief and the way they practice their religion is a type of mental illness, aswell as fanaticism.

My parents got divorced in the end. Their marriage couldn't survive the pressures of raising a family under capitalism, my dad being very busy with the dual tasks of working alot for not much reward, trying to provide for a family and trying and not getting anywhere with renovating the house (which needed alot of attention), I don't think religion helped their relationship either. Myself and my other brother don't believe in the religious nonsense and have nothing to do with the family anymore. The experience made me vow to myself that I would never have children and never marry (much to the disappointment of my Mum who told me so) and that religion was seriously toxic for humanity.

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Chilli Sauce
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Dec 22 2016 04:43
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My dad was convinced that metal was 'satanic' and wouldn't allow Black Sabbath records in the house for years, not until I was in my late teens.

I have an uncle who, when he moving house when he was younger, gave me a Pantera CD. Years later, he sat me down, informed me it was Satantic, and asked me to throw it away.

Anyway, solidarity. FWIW, I have a lot of fundamentalist relatives (although not my immediate family) and I do my best to try to build relationships with them based on things other than religion. I do have to challenge them when they say outright racist or Islamophobic stuff - or when they stopped talking to a cousin of mine for years when she came out. There have been some pretty heated arguments, but over the years we've come to a fairly stable understanding that, more or less, holds.

Don't know if that's so applicable in your situation but, from my experience, it is possible to maintain relationships with fundamentalist family members.

potrokin
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Dec 22 2016 13:08
Chilli Sauce wrote:

Don't know if that's so applicable in your situation but, from my experience, it is possible to maintain relationships with fundamentalist family members.

I don't feel it is, no. My dad stated several years ago that I live in house that I don't pay/work for (I didn't speak to him for while after that) and more recently my mum expressed her feelings about me not being married and having kids which was the final straw for me and the family. Really though, I've always found their bigotry disgusting and not something I want in my life. Plus, we don't really have anything in common. It's nice not having them in my life.

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fingers malone
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Dec 22 2016 13:41

Just to say that I made massive effort and went through a lot of heartache to put up with my racist right wing horrible relatives and their bullying until they died, and afterwards I thought, maybe I could have just not put myself through it?

Also relationships between many other extended family members improved massively after they died and we were free of their malign influence. But as a massive caution, I think how people respond to this is gonna vary massively based on several factors, including how the horrible relatives actually treat other family members on an individual level, and also no one should feel that they 'should' or 'shouldn't' do anything apart from not mistreat family members and not allow others to be mistreated.

And these family members put their money where their mouth was and put their right wing beliefs into action bullying any member of the family who was poor, unemployed or single mum, not all right wing people do this, some treat people they actually know differently and reserve their hatred for 'those bad people' they read about in the Mail, I understand this is a different situation.

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Craftwork
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Dec 23 2016 16:19

I was also raised an evangelical Christian, but abandoned it in my sixth-form days, when I was 17, with the help of Bertrand Russell.

My experience wasn't completely negative. In the more fundamentalist strains of Christianity, the source of authority is the Bible (as opposed to the Church, as it is with Roman Catholics or Anglicans), as such, my view of Christianity/reading of the Bible was very much a "social justice"/"religion of the oppressed" one, this included the view that earthly wealth/luxury = sinful, and feelings of contempt for a rotten society. The negative aspect of this was the moral conservatism w.r.t. marriage, gender, sexuality, etc.

I became an atheist and socialist at pretty much the same time.

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Noah Fence
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Dec 23 2016 18:18

My sister is a racist, islamaphobic, anti immigrant fucking nightmare. I'd pretty much cut myself off from her after a big public bust up.
Then, when I was very ill in hospital recently she travelled nearly 400 miles to be at my side. She was so kind and caring and looked after me in a wonderful compassionate way and also took pressure off Jane which was invaluable. As a fully trained nurse she was very useful and she worked well with the almost exclusively migrant nursing staff.
I have no point to make here, just logging the fact that bigoted relatives are not one dimensional. I can't understand my sisters views, I think they are despicable, but I've come to accept it as I do with many people in my life.

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Chilli Sauce
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Dec 23 2016 21:09
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Then, when I was very ill in hospital recently she travelled nearly 400 miles to be at my side.

And posted on libcom as your proxy at one point, IIRC?

Also, loving that new avatar pic, Noah. It's a really nice shot of you.

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Noah Fence
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Dec 23 2016 21:37
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And posted on libcom as your proxy at one point, IIRC?

Sorry, I'm a dummy, you'll have to explain?!!!

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Chilli Sauce
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Dec 23 2016 21:49

Oops, I was thinking about your partner.

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Noah Fence
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Dec 23 2016 22:32
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Oops, I was thinking about your partner.

Haha, even I would draw the line at a racist girlfriend!

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jesuithitsquad
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Dec 24 2016 19:51

potrokin-- thanks for sharing. your upbringing sounds very similar to mine, and i've found that verbalizing (or in this case writing about) your experiences and feelings can be helpful as a form of closure. i think a lot of people are hesitant to refer to this kind of religious indoctrination as what it often is--emotional/religious abuse. i am sorry you had those experiences.

my family was apostolic pentecostal. like your experience, they believe in speaking in tongues. women must wear skirts or dresses, are not allowed to cut their hair, and are taught as a point of doctrine that they are required to submit to their husbands as the head of household. there are also restrictions on men's clothing, though not nearly as strict. playing school sports was always interesting because while the uniform included wearing shorts, we always had to have some manner of pants on, creating an embarrassing moment pretty much every time we practiced or played a game. they refer to these requirements as holiness.

we were not allowed to go to the movies, school dances, or public swimming pools. friends from outside of the denomination were discouraged unless you were attempting to 'save' them. our dating pool consisted exclusively of others with the same beliefs. young women were often lead to think their number 1 goal in life was to be married to a 'godly' man.

most all of our vacations were also religious holidays. since many of the churches for this denomination are very small, and often located in tiny towns, these gatherings were often opportunities to meet new potential dating pools.

our pastor ruled with a combination of beatific kindness and a flip-side iron fist of fear. several times in my teenage years he would show up in the middle of the night, knocking on the door. sound asleep, my parents would call for me to come downstairs. the pastor would never just say, "i'm here because you did 'x' thing." instead, he would ask if i had anything to tell him. given that i didn't want to confess to anything he didn't already know about, i would never come right out with a confession. ultimately, he would remind me that the only unforgivable sin was lying to the holy ghost, and as our pastor he represented the holy ghost on earth. this would always lead to an immediate confession. keep in mind the sum total of my sins was always just making out with girls. i would then be unable to participate in the church band or choir, and was required to stand up before the entire congregation to confess and show humility. at no time during this process did my parents ever advocate for me or stand up for me in any way. much like the husband is the head of household, the pastor is the head of the church. his authority is absolute; particularly when speaking from the pulpit, they believe his words are the expressed words of god.

most of my childhood was dominated by extreme feelings of fear and guilt. i was constantly afraid that i wasn't 'right with god' and that when the rapture came, my brothers and i would be left alone with no family or any other adults to help us get through what they believe happens after the rapture--the tribulation, which is essentially hell on earth.

when i turned 18 i told my parents i no longer believed the way they do. it was very difficult on many levels, but none more so than the fact that due to the church being involved in every aspect of life, one's entire support network is self contained. without the church, one essentially loses connections with friends and family alike.

my parents and i had a strained relationship for quite awhile, but it continues to heal over time. i'm basically saying, definitely make sure your relationships are healthy for you, but it isn't always impossible to repair relationships that are damaged due to religious abuse.

potrokin
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Dec 25 2016 00:04

Thankyou for sharing your story, which is brave. I think you are right about it being emotional abuse and I find what you were put through truly shocking and wrong. I think it's upto each individual wether they want to maintain a relationship with religious fundamentalist family, but it's not something I want. I found that maintaining the relationship caused problems and frustration and that there wasn't really a proper relationship there- there was nothing there of value that you could actually call a relationship. Now, however, I am happy and I am with like-minded people who I actually have much in common with and we all look after each other, it's mutual aid in action and there is no religion.

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jesuithitsquad
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Dec 25 2016 02:40
potrokin wrote:
I found that maintaining the relationship caused problems and frustration and that there wasn't really a proper relationship there- there was nothing there of value that you could actually call a relationship. Now, however, I am happy and I am with like-minded people who I actually have much in common with and we all look after each other, it's mutual aid in action and there is no religion.

-it sounds like you're in a good place!

potrokin
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Oct 17 2017 17:56

Just a quick update on this- since I posted this I have had talking therapy and the psychiartrist I shared my experiences with was a really nice guy and was very helpful, I guess I was rather fortunate with that and he was even from a working class background like me. This guy offered some really helpful insights into what I went through and told me, as jesuithitsquad also told me, that it was religious and emotional abuse and I just thought I'd share how helpful I have personally found talking therapy. I didn't just discuss my upbringing with him either (I had depression at the time and it's suprising and interesting what can go back to my upbringing and early years) and he was even sympathetic to my politics. My views on religion probably haven't really changed but talking to a sympathetic, knowledgable, like minded person about stuff is definately recommended by me.

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Khawaga
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Oct 15 2017 14:24

I am happy to hear you've gotten help.

And I second that recommendation. Therapy is really a great thing and it's horrible how much stigma there is attached to it. I suffered from depression for about a decade and when I finally sought help, well, my life gradually got much easier; I even started smiling more (or again, I should say).

potrokin
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Oct 16 2017 06:31
Khawaga wrote:
I am happy to hear you've gotten help.

And I second that recommendation. Therapy is really a great thing and it's horrible how much stigma there is attached to it. I suffered from depression for about a decade and when I finally sought help, well, my life gradually got much easier; I even started smiling more (or again, I should say).

Thankyou Khawaga, I'm glad it helped you aswell.

potrokin
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Oct 18 2017 06:19

I feel what I missed out though, what I haven't gone into with this thread, is my dabbling with the more 'spiritual' sort of faith that I took on later in life as a young man. Although I became an atheist at a young age, in my late teens I unfortunately got sucked into pagan 'spirituality' (basically celtic paganism) and a bit of gnosticism (gnostic christianity and paganism) thrown in later on. I think this somehow came out of me being depressed or alienated, probably both, and just made my mental health problems worse. So, I don't recommend getting into that shit either, it really did just make me go weird and created paranoia and superstition and dogma aswell. Thinking that I was ever that way really makes me cringe now and it feels strange that I fell for it but I guess I didn't know what I was doing and it was a long time ago, I've learned so much about things since then and I'm sure me believing that stuff came from a bad place, basically depression and despair. I was spending money on stuff, on all this spiritual stuff from spiritual gift shops, even if it was just books and it was not only not helping but making my problems worse. There was a lot of stuff I was really unhappy with in my life and out in the world and I was still infact living with my parents at the time, and in the end that really stressed me out to the point where I had a psychotic breakdown (although there were other factors at play including by beliefs), and I've had a few of them in my life.

Like I say though, I have always found talking therapy with the right person very helpful, aswell as, in my case, anti-psychotic medication. I've found it very useful to get another perspective on things that I hadn't seen before, an explanation that helps me understand more about myself. I also believe that becoming an atheist was a great support to my mental health, it didn't resolve everything ofcourse but it was a serious improvement and made me less susceptible to psychosis etc it was very liberating and freed me from dogma and the belief in the supernatural etc. Learning about evolution was very important and changed my life and I'm afraid Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens were a part of that, aswell as Bertrand Russell and groups like the National Secular Society, whose website I would look at. Ofcourse, anarchist comrades, who tended to be atheists, were a part of it aswell, as was David Attenbourough's documentary series on Darwin and evolution, which helped. Unfortunately Hitchens supported US imperialism, which never sat right with me as someone who attended anti-war protests and was a leftist (and later on- an anarchist) and these days Dawkins appears on the Dave Rubin show- sad to see! Despite this, I have still found the work of those two men of value, though I don't always agree with them ofcourse and don't share the same outlook politically and never have done really. Nevertheless, going atheist has been a great help and an important part of my life and living with non-believers now is where I belong.