Monday, January 25, 2021

Fear Tactics: The Root of Religious Trauma


My first real memory of church is of being scared to death. Or being made to be scared to die. However you want to say that.

Actually, my first memory of church is of having the car break down on the way there. I was probably four or so, and we were going to some church way out on the edge of town, and we broke down on the highway. The next time we went to church was at this tiny little Southern Baptist church a few blocks from our house. We didn't drive; we walked. I think I was five. Not older than that, for sure, but I don't think I could have been younger unless I'm misremembering which house we walked from, not that that is important other than establishing the age.

This church was so small it didn't have any kind of childcare for during the service, so I was in "grown up" church. I was probably wearing my suit, because my mom believed at the time that you should always wear your very best to church. I had this little, light blue suit that I absolutely hated. Writing this, now, I'm wondering if it was maybe even Easter or something and that's why we were there. It's not like we went much to church when I was a kid. At least, not yet.

Now, I'm not going to try to pretend that I remember what the sermon was about. I have no clue. What I do remember, though, is that there was some hellfire and damnation in it, because I left that service deathly afraid that I was going to die and go to Hell. Seriously afraid. So afraid that I had nightmares for years of being chased by the devil... He was in a rollercoaster, by the way. I was running on my legs, and he was behind me in a rollercoaster chasing me so that he could catch me and drag me away to burn forever in a pit of darkness. That was the sermon that started my obsession with bedtime prayers, as if praying "now I lay me down to sleep" was somehow going to keep me safe through the night and keep the devil from getting me.

I was five.

I was traumatized. Not that I knew that. I mean, I was five! I can still remember that fear in my chest when I think about it. The terror of going to Hell.

I would like to say that what happened to me was an accident. That I wasn't supposed to be in that service and that that message wasn't meant for me. I would like to say that it was "parental error" due to the fact that we hadn't been to that church before. But it wasn't. There were no childcare services offered. Children were supposed to be there, and I'm sure I was not the only kid in that service.

And it wasn't just that church. The putting the fear of Hell and Satan into kids so that they will want to convert is standard operating procedure for fundamentalists. They teach it as part of their fucking preaching programs. "Get 'em while they're young" and all of that.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of raw data out there about religious trauma, but I spent a lot of years working in the church-industrial complex, and I can tell you that of people I have known who were childhood converts that the vast majority have said that their reason for becoming a "christian" was because they didn't want to go to Hell.

That's just sad.

Let's look at this another way for a moment:
"christianity" is supposed to be about love, so much so that Paul says that non-"christians" will be able to tell who the "christians" are by their... love. So the religion that is supposed to be, above all else, about love instead uses fear to drive conversions. The vast majority of people claiming "christianity" converted during childhood. That point was driven into us over and over again. Seriously, "Get 'em while they're young." And the way to do that is to make them afraid of the consequences.

Ironically, it's those heathen liberals who tend to appeal to love and fellowship and building people up. If you're going by Paul and looking for love in the world as identifiers for "christianity," you're not going to find that in "the church." You're going to find it with the liberals. "christians" are most certainly not known for their love.

To get back to the point, though: The vast majority of "christians" became "christians" because of a traumatic fear experience as a child, at least those in the USA. Maybe it didn't cause nightmares for everyone, but, when you feel the need to let some strange man, even if he is your pastor, dip you backwards into a pool of water to keep you from going to Hell, there is something wrong. Especially considering that Hell is make-believe, anyway. You may as well tell kids that Santa won't bring them any toys... oh, wait...

All of which is compounded because "we" want kids to believe that God/Jesus loves them and, yet, God/Jesus is also going to throw them away into Hell for all eternity for being bad. And, even after you're "saved," there is some unknown unforgiveable sin that'll get you sent straight to Hell no matter how good you've been, so you have to be the fucking best all the time, because you don't know when "god" might pop out and say "Ha ha!" and toss you in the pit.

This trauma is so deep and so pervassive that there may not be a way to heal it from those who have been affected. I'm 50 years old, and I can still have moments of fear and second guessing before I remember to engage the very rational part of my brain and talk myself out of it. I'm not convinced that most people have a very rational part of their brains or, if they do, it has never been used enough to be worthwhile. Possibly, the only thing we can do is to start trying to prevent this trauma from being visited upon future generations of children. And it's time that we start doing that.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Trauma Nation (part two)

I'm not going to try to get into the science of all of this. Seriously, it's just too much. Too much picking apart of every piece of information I want to talk about, and too much data to try to introduce in any kind of concise way, and I want to do this in one post, not 40.

The thing about trauma is that you don't always know you're suffering it. This is especially true if the trauma has been caused by a series of small incidents built up over time rather than one large trauma event. It's even more true if the form of abuse has been institutionalized so that the people around you are telling you that it's not really abuse.

So you don't like the way the old geezer in your church is always touching you? Putting his hands on your shoulders or, maybe even, patting you on the ass? "Oh, don't worry about him. He's harmless. He does that to everyone." Eventually, you do quit worrying about it because you get numbed to it, and who are you going to tell, anyway? Once your parents have dismissed the inappropriate contact as harmless, and your church leaders have as well, and your friends are all putting up with it, what are you supposed to do? Who do you tell? These are the people you trust, so you learn to ignore it no matter how it makes you feel.

When the message from the church is that women should keep their mouths shut and shouldn't be in leadership and it must be true because the Bible says so (and the Bible is NEVER wrong), who do you turn to? No one. You learn to keep your mouth shut because, if you don't, you face disapproval from everyone.

You wonder why your whole congregation is white, and the message that you get from the people you have grown up with and have learned to trust and who are your family is that White People are the chosen People-of-God and will be the ones to inherit God's Kingdom, you accept it and, without realizing it, you look down on black people and any other minority, especially Jews, because Jews were the Chosen People, but they spit on God and killed his Son, and the Bible says that they deserve all the punishment of the world for the rest of time.

But most fundamentally, you are a worthless piece of shit. You are a piece of shit who is destined for Hell where all of the pieces of shit go. This particular message is pervavise; after all, it is how the church survives. It needs to convince you of your shittiness before it can offer you the only chance you have of escaping Hell: Jesus (and $20 in the offering plate). This is the root of the trauma we face as a nation, the buy-in of "christians" that we are all pieces of shit and deserve to burn for it.

Of course, "christians" have their "get out of Hell free" card, but that doesn't change the fact that, at their core, they have bought into the idea that they are worthless pieces of shit. Only "Jesus in their hearts" makes them valuable at all. And, since they are worthless pieces of shit, everyone else, all of us heathen liberals and minorities and gays, are even more worthless pieces of shit.

I know how this works, because I grew up in this, with this belief that people are worthless and that it's only through "the precious blood of Jesus" that anyone has any value. Everyone else is just going to get heaped on the fire, so you need to save everyone you can. The problem is that it becomes so ingrained, this notion that people are worthless, that you can't separate it from your actual feelings and thoughts.

I grew up with this idea that the inherent state of people is one of depravity. I'm just going to say that middle school and high school may not be the best places to learn that that might not be true. By the time I was in college, my whole world view stemmed from this place of people starting in the negative position and not even being able to get to neutral without some kind of divine help, not even the very best of people.

Was this view mine? Or was it just ground into me at church? How do I separate out from that what my own views even are? Because, now, I know that people are just people. They may not be inherently good, but they certainly aren't inherently evil, even if people do tend toward being selfserving. I know this in my head, but I can't just pick out of myself the feelings around all of this. It means that I have to always be on guard against my own emotional reactions to things, because they may not be my emotional reactions, just the reactions implanted in me by the fucking church.

This is trauma. And, for at least some portion of my life, I visited this trauma upon other people by allowing my reactions to them be ones of suspicion and distrust or mere avoidance. During high school, I enmeshed myself with my church and my youth group and forsook, basically, all of my other social connections. Staying in your church group and not socializing outside of it is part of the paradigm. And you can't see or feel your own trauma while you're stuck inside of all of this.

This is the state of being for a significant portion of the US poplation, right now. They are living in the trauma that the church has buried them under and have no idea of what their own thoughts or feelings might be, because they have never known any other thoughts and feelings than those the church has given them. And, so, they visit this trauma on those around them because they don't know any other way.

Trauma Nation, it's what we are.
And we can't begin to heal the trauma until we can break the hold that the church has over the nation; specifically, the hold it has over the politics of the nation. This was never supposed to be the state of things in the US. The framers of the Constitution came from a country where religion cohabitated with government, and they knew how dangerous it was. It's time for us to, to co-opt the phrase of another moment, defund "the church." "christians" already think we are at war with them, just for wanting to live our lives in peace without them moralizing to us, but I think it's time for a real war against "the church," one in which we take an active stance and depowering the church and deprogramming the cultish thinking they're living with.

Because, make no mistake, "christianity" is, indeed, a cult. It is a cult that is bent on bringing about the end of the world (I'm not exaggerating, but I'll get to that in a later post) so, if we want a future, we have to start taking an active stance against "the church" and religion in politics. It's time to work on healing the trauma.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Trauma Nation (part one)

Back during my college days, I had a friend who was a "philosopher." Who didn't, right? He was, of course, a philosophy major and fancied himself the "last true philosopher." Because no one can be more pompous than a philosophy major. Unless it's Rudy Giuliani. One of my other friends used to say that "The Philosopher" was just shy of being an oxygen thief.

On the one hand, having The Philosopher around often prompted interesting discussions. The Philosopher was, of course, agnostic, because one cannot be a true philosopher and have an actual answer to anything. Not even to your own existence, because, well, who knows, right?

One night, one of these "interesting" conversations led to the The Philosopher declaring that the church had been the greatest force for good throughout history, which prompted the rest of us to... stare. And stare hard. So hard that, eventually, he was all like, "What...?"

Let me make a thing clear, here:
In this group was, of course, me who, at the time, was deep in Christianity. I was a fucking youth pastor, so I was a True Believer and stuck in the ways of converting all of my friends all the time (there were many late night conversations with The Philosopher about his lack of faith).
An atheist.
A Catholic, who loved being Catholic because he could go to church twice a year, do confession, and be considered an excellent Catholic. He also supported bombing abortion clinics because that's what the Catholic church suggested was appropriate without actually saying it (much the way Trump #failedpresident urges his followers to violence).
A couple of Cultural Christians. You know, those people (MOST "christians") whose parents took them to church when they were kids, maybe they got baptised, and who, maybe, go to church every few years for whatever reason and drop $20 in the offering plate, and think they're good. You know, "Once saved, always saved," and all of that. Or they have young kids whom they want indoctrinated the same way they have been.

All of that to say that the statement that the church had been a force for good would have been expected from any of the rest of  us (probably, especially, me (or the Catholic)) other than Atheist.

Ironically, I responded first: What about the Crusades?
[You do know about those, right? When the Catholic church went on a Holy War against Muslims and Jews to take the Holy Land away from the heathens and "return" it to Christians, where it belonged. Except it was really all about a land grab the Catholic church wanted to do because any lands belonging to any of the knights they sent to the Holy Land became the property of the church when they died. Plus loot. Plus weeding out the European nobility. It was a big win/win/win for the church no matter what happened in Jerusalem.]

Then Atheist: And the Holocaust.
[Look, if you don't know about the Holocaust, you have serious educational issues. And if you're a Holocaust denier, you have serious personality issues, starting with extreme racism.]

Then everyone (everyone!) else started naming other evil things "the church" had done over the course of history (Spanish Inquisition, anyway? what about some witch trials?), a conversation which spread out to include religion in general and how, really, religion had been the greatest force for evil and harm throughout history. Because it has. Almost all of the great atrocities in history have been done in the name of some religion or another.

The Philosopher was completely caught off guard and, actually, had to admit that his statement had been foolish. He was, he said, thinking about people like Mother Teresa, individuals who had, because of their faith, done some amount of good in the world. And, yes, it's true that there have been individuals who have, because of their faith, done some good in the world, but it doesn't come anywhere close to balancing the scales against the evil done in the name of "God."

And we haven't even gotten to the individual people who use their "faith" as a reason to inflict abuse upon people who don't believe the same way they do or who do it as way to maintain control over someone else, frequently children and spouses.
-- Like the parents of one of my teenagers when he came out. Oh, if you could have heard the vile things they said about him. Before disowning him.
--Like the Catholic parents who disowned their teen for becoming Protestant, kicking her out of the house with nowhere to go.

Well, I was going to give many examples, but what's the point? They are all over the news all of the time for anyone who wants to see it.

In fact, the huge schism we are suffering as a nation is due to religion and the desire of "christians" to inflict abuse upon people who don't believe the same way they do. Having grown up in that, I have firsthand experience with the "repent or die" attitude that Republicans have about liberals. And, well, they know we're not going to repent, so it's time for us all to die. They've had just about enough of allowing other people to go about their lives and live them they way they see fit. It is, for some reason, very onerous to them, the knowledge that other people might be living "outside of the will of god," whatever that even means. And, especially, the thought that two men might be off having sex together somewhere drives "good christian men" crazy.

Basically, we are, as a nation, suffering from religious abuse and have been for... well, probably since the First Great Awakening but assuredly since the Fourth. I would say since the First, but the abuse changed in tone during the Fourth, switching from what I would call a personal abuse model preached and taught by the church for more than 200 years (beginning in the early 1700s) then switching to a more institutional model of abuse beginning in the 1960s. As with all abuse, the result is trauma. We are a nation being torn apart by religious trauma.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Mank (a movie review post)

I don't know that I've ever mentioned on here before that I almost went to film school. After The Empire Strikes Back came out, I was intensely interested in special effects and, for many years, that's what I wanted to do. When I say "almost," I mean it. I was accepted to USC but, even after a very sizeable scholorship, it was going to be more expensive than I could afford, especially considering that my parents took on a "no help" stance if I chose to move to California to attend. All of that to say that what was left to me at the college I did go to was one intro to cinema class.

But we did cover Citizen Kane in that class.

Orson Welles was a fucking genius. I wish I had half of the marketing savvy he had. A tenth, even. His genius was not the movie Citizen Kane but that he was able to invent a mythology that said he was soley responsible for that movie, which was a work of genius. And it's true that he had some very important roles in creating the movie, both directing and starring in it. But he would have us believe that the story came from him as well and so devoted himself to creating that mythology that people are still arguing about it today. In fact, when I studied Citizen Kane in college, Herman Mankiewicz wasn't even mentioned.

The fact is, though, that Mankiewicz was the preeminnet screen writer/doctor of the time. He shaped the way the movies of that time period were written and was responsible for creating the dialogue heavy, witty movies of his day, movies that became the stereotype of the "American movie." He was also responsible for the Kansas sequences in The Wizard of Oz being filmed in black and white.

And, most importantly, he was chums with William Randolph Hearst.
I'm not going to explain the importance of the connection. If you don't understand from me saying that, you actually need to know more about the time period than I can tell you in a movie review.

So... the movie.
The movie is excellent. By what I am sure is not an accident, it is remarkably timely, the main conflict dealing with a conservative push, led by Hearst, to keep a progressive candidate (Upton Sinclair) from becoming governor of California. Yes, you will get to see back into the days when California was unenlightened and the "coastal elites" where all Republicans. Republicans bent on protecting their wealth just as they are today. The movie suggests that it was this political race that caused the falling out between Hearst and Mank (easy to believe considering that Hearst caroused with Nazi sympatthizers and Mank was personally responsible for funding the escape from Germany of hundreds of Jews) and became the catalyst for Mank's writing of Kane.

In short, Citizen Kane was a revenge piece.

Gary Oldman is... well, what can you say about Oldman? He was perfect in the role. I have no idea whether or not he was accurately depicting Mank or not, but his performance was amazing.

Having now seen Tom Burke as Orson Welles, I can no longer picture anyone else as Welles. He may be a better Welles than Welles was. So, yeah, I have a Burke bias because of The Musketeers, a series which ended much too soon.

And Amanda Seyfried was endearing as Marion Davies.

It might even be the kind of movie that I would watch again, not that I think I will, because I don't often re-watch, just as I don't often re-read, but I certainly wouldn't plead "I've already seen that" as a reason to get out of a second viewing.

Also, just to say it, this movie has "best picture" written all over it. Not necessarily because it is the best picture of 2020 (how is that even a thing for this year? do "movies" even still exist? what even is a "movie theater"?), but it's about Hollywood, and we all know that the Oscars loves movies about Hollywood.