Revolution #49, June 4, 2006
I Didn't Know I Had the Choice: Confronting Reality as It Truly Is.
The following letter was sent to Revolution from a reader.
Confronting reality as it truly is in order to transform it. This is probably the most profound statement I have ever heard and it is impacting me in ways that I could have never imagined. I was a fundamentalist Christian for thirteen years. This was the leading force that determined my thoughts and actions since age eleven. Even though my Christian faith would waver, I did not know that I had any other option. I am a Black woman living in the South, if I’m not religious then what am I?
I want to go back to the beginning of what made me decide to become a Christian in the first place. I was being abused at home and in the context of a society that has shown no value for me as a female and as a Black person, I was getting hit from all sides, though I did not know it at the time. I attended a church camp where a majority of the girls were already “saved.” I felt very uncomfortable because I was the “odd man out.” Place that in the context of the constant preaching that if you weren't saved then you would go to hell, and add to that the "fact" that Jesus loves you and for any emotionally wrung out child, walking down the aisle makes sense. I could have never imagined the pain that decision would cause me for the next thirteen years.
As a Christian, it was hard for me to be “on fire for god” for any length of time. My life was going in a direction that did not reflect the praying and fasting I was doing. My family ended up homeless, my father was still abusive and I became so depressed that I thought about ending it all on more than one occasion. The thing that gets me is that in the depths of my despair, I was calling out to god to save me from all of this and now I can see how misguided I was to think that a god could save me from anything. I was existing in a realm that was based on outside forces guiding me, the proverbial puppet pulling the strings. My faith had taught me that everything was pre-ordained so in one context, this pain and suffering I was undergoing could not be changed. But at the same time, we are supposed to call on Jesus to help us so that life could be better. I’m still confused about this point now as I write this, but back then I just accepted things that made no sense at all.
I told my mom once that I was depressed and I didn't know what to do. She paused for a moment and told me to turn to Jesus. I was livid. What had Jesus done for me except confine me to rules I could never follow which in turn made me angry and depressed because I was never good enough. I could never be good enough and it was in these low points that I questioned the existence of god, but could never make the transition to atheism. On one hand, I didn't know I had a choice. It wasn't like the church is going to teach me to think critically about what they are teaching. It wasn't like my parents or family, so devout themselves, are going to lead me to taking the time to examine what it is I was actually believing. I could only go so far as to say that god did exist, but just not for me.
I want to make a point that I feel encapsulates the “born again” experience and the backsliding phenomena. During my thirteen years as a Christian, I would never be able to keep the level of faith that was required so I backslid a lot. During this time I would become depressed and then go back to church, to come back into the fold if you will. I would get fed up with church, god, religion and "backslide," and this would continue. It’s a cycle and it can keep going and going. But what starts this cycle is what I call the boot camp syndrome. Just like in boot camp, when a person becomes a Christian, they are broken down. Where in boot camp, you might hear drill sergeants yell that the newly enlisted are “maggots and scum of the earth,” etc. In church, you would hear, “You're a sinner!” and “You're dirty, unclean!” So you are broken down, you're vulnerable and the only ones who pick you up are, in the case of boot camp, your drill sergeants who just broke you down, or in the case of church, it’s your pastor or teacher who now tells you all is good once you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior. I think it’s an apt simile and it speaks to what is really going on. People are feeling so low and weighed down by this capitalist system and they don't know what to do. They try and medicate themselves with drugs, alcohol and religion even to try and make sense of what’s going on. But if you're not taught how to critically think, you remain in this vicious cycle.
This is where Chairman Avakian comes in. I listened to “God Doesn't Exist & We Need Liberation Without Gods.” I could get with everything he said politically, but when it came to religion, I had to take a step back. I was like, let’s not go there. Because you see, with religion, you are taught to not go there. To not critically think about such things, because if you actually did think about what you are believing, all the inconsistencies, all the hypocrisies, all the times that this bible makes no sense because it was written in a different time by men in the desert who would have no concept of life today and were using this book to control and manipulate and to validate their own vicious behavior, then no one would believe it at all.
I thought to myself, after hearing Chairman Avakian’s speech, how dare he demand that I think critically about my faith! Not that my faith was this strong thread connecting me with reality and truth, it was just that I wanted to hold on to the little bit of string I had left. After I got over myself, I came to realize that the problems I was facing, and had faced in my past, were exacerbated by the fact that I was not confronting reality. And by not doing so, I was being held back from allowing myself to be an active participant in life and in determining the future that I wanted for myself and for humanity as a whole. This was really heavy for me because once I understood this, I could not go back.
For me, whenever life was too hard I would retreat. Religion is very good in fostering the ability to not have to confront things as they really are. You don't have to transform society, you don't have to transform your own life because god will do it for you. This is a very dangerous thought process and it allows people to accept the unacceptable. It also paralyzes people and I want to give a personal example of how confronting reality as it is in order to transform it, helped me through a very difficult time.
I came home from work one day to find my mother on the floor of her room. She had suffered a heart attack and stroke. Obviously this is something that is hard to deal with and I really wanted to just run away. To physically leave because I could not deal with my mother hurting in this way. Just months earlier, I would have been praying and fasting. Now that I was considering myself an Atheist, what was I going to do? I felt very torn. I ended up talking to a friend who helped me to see that I actually can face this. I can confront reality and that I didn't have to run away and hide. I sat down with myself and had to face this. What are the possible outcomes of my mother’s stroke and heart attack? What can be done? What can’t be done? I had to face the real choice of whether my mom would make it through this and what would happen if she didn't and what would happen if she did. I had to sit down and face reality; how was I going to respond to the various outcomes that could happen?
By confronting reality in this way I was able to navigate the first weeks of her hospital stay in a much more sobered way, one based on reality, and this has helped me a lot emotionally. And I am really surprised by this too. I have told people that if I had to rely on prayer and god to get me through this then I would have been a wreck. I would be existing on a level that is not based on reality, one that gives what power I have to a god I don't believe in anymore and I would not have been able to participate in life because I would have been switching from blaming god for this happening to begging for forgiveness and for him to heal my mom. Needless to say, this would have not been a good state to be in.
We know that the direction this society is going is wrong, and there are a lot of religious people who feel this way too. In this sense we have common ground. However, this administration has used religion to drive a wedge between people, especially Black people. They are playing on the fact that Black people are traditionally Christian and by bringing up propositions and ballot measures that play on religious themes, they assume that Black people will vote in lock step with their direction. Sadly, Black people have been too accommodating. Because religion plays such an important role in the lives of Black people, their continued support of the theocrats will only create situations in which the lives of Black people in this country will become far worse than what it is now. The treatment of Black people from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina will be the norm if those in power continue to use religion as a basis for public policy.
I know that John Lennon wrote the words to the song “Imagine,” but let’s take some time to imagine a world where there is no religion. People would not be mentally held down by “sin.” That load would be lifted. People could change the world and not be bound by ancient laws that have been used for centuries to control and manipulate the masses. People would realize that they have the power, not some spirit in the sky. They would be motivated to be a force for change not held by the notion of someone else pulling the strings. Without a god and religion to hold us back we could create the society that would allow us to see things as they really are and it would benefit all of humanity. It is this losing of religion that would truly free us all.
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