I recently attended a freethinker meet up in my area. I was looking forward to the meeting since we were all bringing food to donate to a local food bank called the Freestore Foodbank. This is a cause I’m always up and ready to contribute my time to since I know pretty often what it’s like to live on a scrap food budget. My cupboard is chock full of discounted food like scratch and dent can goods, re taped dry good boxes, and tons of dollar bags of beans and rice. Yes, I appreciate all too well the assistance of a food bank.
This group get together wasn’t just about the food drive though. There was also a guest speaker by the name of Derrick Strobl, who was visiting on behalf of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio. His visit was to better clarify what humanism was all about. In that process, he shared quite a bit of his personal experiences as a youth that brought him along the path to becoming a humanist. There were several stories he related that I had completely identified with. I was probably shaking my head in agreement during most of his talk without even realizing I was doing so. One story in particular was to do with a Sunday school class, and being taught via a construction paper book, the colors of salvation: black is sin, red is the blood of christ, white is purity, and gold represented Heaven.
I distinctly remember this same lesson, but not with a homemade booklet. My teacher used large cuts of fabric in those colors, and he would drape himself with them as he explained each one. Except, he had two black drapes instead of one. This youth pastor would always start with the black of sin, explaining how it permeates every aspect of who we are. Then he would wrap over Christ’s redeeming blood, which cancelled out the sin for those who repented. White, being purity, was the result of said redemption. And then he would drape the yellow-gold cloth on the cross on the wall by the podium, explaining we had eternal reward waiting for us since we accepted God.
Then our pastor would get very quiet, still clutching the mis cut draperies around his body, nothing showing but the toes of his shoes and his stern face bobbling on his exposed neck. He would walk over to the second piece of black cloth, telling us how once we accepted God there was no going back to sinning. If you went back to sinning? He would then dramatically cover the previous three layers with the extra piece of black cloth saying seriously, his eyes looking almost wrathful,”You get nothing but darkness in your life. No rewards. No blessings. Nothing.” That son of a bitch would walk around like that the rest of the lesson! I must have seen this routine at least half a dozen times while attending that church, and it always riveted me.
It did more than that really. That black cloth quite literally colored my thinking. It covered every redeeming quality I thought I had going for myself. Just knowing that any good I had done could be so quickly discounted to nothing because of sin really upset me. I already was living in a home of impossible standards. Now this? I was overwhelmed. Of course, I knew that all I would have to do was pray for forgiveness every time I sinned, but how many times were allowed? Was there a limit to how much sinning I could be forgiven for? And I was also skeptical. If you pray for forgiveness, part of your motivation is trying to keep on God’s good side, so was it really genuine repentance if part of your brain evenly remotely worried about going to Hell and wanting forgiveness to avoid it?
I believe in my case, lessons like the colors for salvation do more harm than good. At least, the way my youth pastor delivered it wasn’t the best example. I left those speeches always focused on trying to be rid of sin. I never invested time in the purity part because I was constantly praying to be forgiven for thinking about my mom in mean ways, or for sneaking into the pantry and having eaten half the canister of the French’s fried onions. There was never any purity because all I saw were the mistakes I made. That programming is still very much present my mind today. It is very hard for me to recognize any benefit I bring to the table in relationships, whether they are personal or social. For my entire childhood my home echoed with constant criticism of who I was.
Some have often told me after hearing this part of my Bible studies as a child that obviously my church focused more on “talents” than grace. Grace, which according to some and not others, should be all you need to get into Heaven. Which never made sense to me either. Why have a judgement day if I accepted God? Does it matter how much I sinned if I’m automatically saved by grace? I thought you didn’t lose grace. These were questions I never received a good answer to simply because no one could completely agree. I walked away from the question with the idea that I’m saved by grace, but the palace high life is optional. After all, why should I care if I had a nice palace or lived on the streets of Heaven? I mean, we’re talking about Heaven here. Anywhere in Heaven. A street corner was suitable enough to me so long as I didn’t burn forever.
This type of psychological abuse was taught to me in church, and taught to me at home. This is all I’d come to learn about understanding myself in the first twenty-five years of my life. The phrase “It’s all your fault” became “It’s all Kate’s fault” and I embraced it wholeheartedly, totally believing that there was always something I was doing wrong that was ruining the happiness of others. But it didn’t stop at just letting myself be the whipping boy so to speak. No, this programming took an even more sinister turn as I got older.
So, if I was black with sin, God could reject me. Essentially, He could potentially take away that which Jesus–which is ironically part of Yahweh in mortal form–granted me. Kind of like the way my parents would take away their approval of me over the littlest of things, and it was such a bear to earn that favor to begin with. Or like the way a lover demands the return of all he has invested after a break up, even if the relationship lasted nearly fifteen years. And sure enough, my distrust of those offering help, gifts, and even love, was born. Everything had a hook, and I decided that I just wasn’t a good risk to bet on. The hook wasn’t a normal type of tit for tat catch though. The hook was something worse. It was a disbelief that this person really knew who I was and still wanted to be with me, and at some point I was going to trip a switch and send this person running for the hills angry and hurt by me. This led to a very controlling nature about my environment, my personal possessions, and willingness to be vulnerable. Distance became my best friend. Despair flavored every sip of life I tried to drink.
This is just one small layer of the damage I’ve been peeling away year by year, day by day, sometimes hour by hour. I went through a lot in order to get myself out of the emotional battering of my mind in a religious community, and the physical abuse still follows me around. But there are those who have it worse. There are those who are stuck. Completely helpless at the mercies of a doctrine they don’t even want to believe! Some of the things these closeted skeptics go through easily dwarf my own experiences growing up religious. Can you imagine being denied contact with the outside world if you don’t attend church? What about mandatory corporal punishment when you’re nearly twenty years old? There are things that go on in this country that many in the atheist/skeptic/humanist societies do not realize. Some say,”How hard can it be to say no and just move out?” If you aren’t raised in an environment where you have personal liberty, it’s hard to even realize you can say no to begin with.
Take the story of Lauren and Jennifer. Home schooled in a Christian setting. Mother controls nearly every aspect of what they think, do, dress, eat, or even read. No major extra curricular events. Total isolation. No freedom. The eldest sister gets out, but had to leave her younger sister behind. Her sister almost didn’t go to college because her parents took the liberty of planning her life for her. No choice in the matter. The sisters had to communicate secretly since all email and phone calls were monitored. Christ, the younger sister wasn’t even allowed a key to the house. It took until her 18th birthday to get out, and her older sister had to come and get her. That mad dash for freedom still ended up in a physical altercation with their mother. Without her older sister, Jennifer might not be attending college, possibly set up for marriage by a man of her father’s choosing.
Now, this isn’t the norm, but it isn’t uncommon either. Most religious families aren’t going to let one of their members “just say no and move out”. You’re their property because you’re their child. That’s how you are viewed, even in biblical doctrine. And I’ve seen instances of extreme control like I showcased above in families where all the children are grown and in their thirties. If you substituted mom with boyfriend or girlfriend in the story of Lauren and Jennifer, one would automatically think this was a notable domestic abuse situation. And this is where the problem lies. Many atheists do not recognize that the type of control exerted on Lauren and her sister is indeed domestic abuse. The only difference is that the violence is being perpetrated by a parent in the name of belief. In this country, it’s pretty much a protected type of abuse unless it makes headlines because of a “God told me to drown my kids” type of situation.
I ran into this the other night at a Freethinker meeting I had attended. At the end of the meeting, when everyone kind of wanders around and takes a few minutes to talk with the guest speaker or event organizers, I took a few minutes to ask a few members about what the group does to help those wanting to escape, or are just biding their time while hiding their growing disbelief. Looks of confusion greeted the question. I clarified a little bit, explained I was wondering if there were any support for individuals who were literally trapped in religiously abusive situations, like with family that won’t let them leave the home, or those who are subjected to excessive priest interventions because a mother cannot handle her child rejecting God. The reply I received from one was,”I wasn’t aware that these kind of situations occurred.”
Now, I’m not in any way trying to criticize someone’s ignorance. How can I? If you didn’t know, you didn’t know. To clarify, it was explained to me that Recovering From Religion has branches within both of these skeptic groups, which I am thankful to hear. The guest speaker’s own organization has crisis line information to be offered as well, but not in relation to domestic abuse. This initial lack of understanding was probably a surprise to me and these two members I spoke with. More than anything though, it really highlighted what I’ve been seeing in attitude around the web and at other skeptic groups the last eighteen months.
I’m not talking about money here. I’m talking about privilege of personal freedom. While atheist and humanist groups all over the United States will have guest speakers who escaped cults like the Branch Davidians, or former ex-Muslim soldiers who are now atheist, there is almost zero dialog about those escaping the mainstream Christian faith. I expect this lack of coverage if I were attending a faith ministry, but not a skeptic society. There is a genuine need for activism on the parts of the helpless in the Christian faith community. If you read the story I linked to Lauren and her sister, you can see that even their own faith community didn’t want to step up until after things had reached critical mass and their mother had physically struck Jennifer in the face. And it seems the skeptic community hasn’t even reached that place yet.
I don’t know if it is a situation where unbelievers want to see that others in their community have “earned their stripes”, or if religious domestic abuse isn’t a territory we’re ready to start addressing head on. But for all the cries of how religious indoctrination shouldn’t be forced on the young, that religion doesn’t belong in the classroom, and teaching children that they are grievously imperfect is abuse, how can we not be ready? I would wager if more cases of domestic abuse of a religious nature were brought to court, we might see a clearer path to more definitive legislation that guarantees the right to choose what you believe without abusive retribution.
Look how we rally against towns that have a large Haredi Jew majority that won’t allow their women to drive? The cause for the disbelievers at the mercy of religious parents isn’t any different in importance, regardless of the brand of faith. Right now there are grown men who had to move back home to be able to finish college, and if his parents have made it clear he must renew his faith or leave to the streets. Don’t you see? We do have a social form of Sharia being practiced in this country already, and it isn’t just utilized by some members of Islam, but by its sister’s believers in Christianity.
Atheism is about liberty of thought. The freedom of self to decide what you want to believe or not. There are many who know they don’t believe, know they need out, but they don’t know how to accomplish this. This is where many humanism and atheism groups could step in and at the very least have information to succeed in doing so safely. I’m not saying we need a team of special atheist forces to storm castles and rescue people, but sometimes just simply having a resource to vent with, a regular meeting once a month, or even an anonymous online group, just to have a haven for information to be shared can make a huge difference in the lives of those who are trapped.
For those who would like to read more about the types of difficulties today’s generation of youth face when coming out atheist, please check out this link. Here is a prime example of the absolute extortion some grown adults go through even when they are out in the open atheists. The problem is real.
It seems my workplace has a never-ending fount of social no-no’s and religiously related eye rolling. This is something I kind of value about my job in a small Southern federal office in the Bible Belt. That attitude kind of bit me in the ass the other morning, and it took me a few days to process this because I was completely caught off guard by a supervisor’s audacity during a conversation. I really had to take time to reflect on his motives behind his words.
A little background is in order, I guess. First of all, this supervisor is just temporarily wearing the big hat, but he takes the role seriously and is overall likable guy. Yes, he’s religious, and I would even say sometimes a bit pushy about it, but not in a proselytizing kind of way. It just shows through during general conversation sometimes, but he generally doesn’t push his beliefs at you, just shares them. And that is a difference I really appreciate him demonstrating. It’s hard to find folks like this fellow in my area of Kentucky.
So, let’s go back to Saturday morning. I was pretty miserable when I woke up, didn’t want to work, but I am responsible and know there are bills to be paid. I show up, start putting the onslaught of Good Housekeeping and Vogue magazines into their assigned case holders, and try to ignore the growing ache in my abdomen. I have uterine tumors, you see. I can’t afford a hysterectomy right now, so am just miserably existing with good days and bad days when it comes to cramping, bleeding, and nasty medicinal side effects. I’ve been floating in between pain gauges for almost a year now, and that has obviously affected my depressive side a bit more than normal too.
And I have hay fever. I live in the Ohio Valley. You get the picture of me in Spring pretty clearly now, right?
Cramps, nausea from pills, and sneezing like crazy. This Saturday morning is a bad one, and I’m not really bantering back and forth that much with my case mates like I normally would. Finally, a particularly nasty round of sneezing hits, and a co-worker next to me asks if I’m going to make it. I offhandedly remark that I would gladly take a bullet at this point, he laughs telling me I am awfully dark that morning, and I join him in laughing, making it clear that some days a bullet isn’t so bad to what I have now. After all, a bullet means no more pain a split second after it scrambles my brain against a wall. I was immediately agreed with in my logic, and the two who were agreeing with me know how I am.
I do genuinely wake up hating life sometimes. I do contemplate finally being done. Like many in this world, I’ve lived way too much life for my own good in such a short span of time, and it can be overwhelming sometimes. My coworkers know my dark humor isn’t an attention tactic whatsoever. They know if I could guarantee no pain or hardship for my children, family, and friends, I’d already be gone from this world. There isn’t anything wrong with feeling like this. There isn’t anything wrong with acknowledging this kind of thinking. Obviously I have my priorities straight because I am still living and participating in life. I don’t sit at home and stare at bullets all night, and I most certainly am making the most of my life. I am not a danger to myself or anyone else, so leave my darkness to be what it is. A release of pain.
My supervisor doesn’t understand this about me though. While we’ve had some interesting conversations, they are shallow in nature. Typical discussions of the weather, the volume of magazines we have to deliver, or vacation plans. The big issues of politics, faith, and society rarely grace our talks because he’s a listener of sorts. He’s overheard me interact with others who pushed the lines with me, and I think he already knows what direction I lean if pushed on issues like sexuality, God in schools, and so on. He can’t handle that level of a discourse and doesn’t want to, because it’s work and he does know that work is my sanctuary from such things. Firsthand he has watched me run off Jehovah Witnesses that were harassing us in our vehicle lot. He has watched me step out of my case and identify myself as one of the government benefit receiving “moochers” that my coworkers would rant about being lazy, abusers of the system..
This Saturday morning though, he tried to step into my head, and I know he was oblivious to the fact he stepped into an ocean of melancholic whirlpools and not just a small puddle of humor because he proclaimed, quite loudly I might add,”Kate, if you ever feel that way, you call me.” He cocked his head slightly when he said that, his tone being like someone explaining how to properly slice a cake into eight pieces. An instructor’s voice.
“I mean it. Kate, you call me if you ever feel that way.”
My buddies next to me that were still dealing with their copies of Time magazine quit laughing. I think they realized how just utterly out-of-place our supervisor’s expressed concern was, let alone the manner in how he showed it. All I could do was just awkwardly laugh and shake my head, thanking him and mumbling,”You have no idea…” He immediately went back to his desk work, the incident two seconds in the past and out of sight.
The whole event struck me off guard. Not because someone disagreed with how I express my tired attitude with life, but the way in which this person displayed their disagreement. I couldn’t tell if he said it so loudly because that is what supervisor’s do when it comes to work matters, or because he was trying to exonerate himself of any responsibility. It’s in the book of wearing the big hat that if an employee shows signs of self harm, counsel them, and I can understand his feeling the need to do so. Generally though, these counseling attempts are privately done, and most certainly not in a teacher voice. The issue never came back up later after I returned from my delivery route either, so it made me question the whole situation even further.
That’s when it occurred to me what happened, and he’s done this in the past right under my nose. He was being a hero in the name of his own conscience. I see this a lot because it’s a typical human trait. We all do it. We see someone making a bad decision, and we just simply advise them not to without any deeper explanation or insistence not too, and wash our hands of the situation. We have absolved our personal responsibility in our own minds. The thing is, there are certain times and places for doing such a thing. On the main floor of your workplace in response to someone’s morbid humor about desiring death? That is not one of those appropriate situations of flippantly washing your hands of someone’s expression about life problems. Sometimes, keeping your mouth shut is the best tactic.
But much like feeling there is a need to express a belief in God when good things happen, or say “Bless you” after every sneeze, my supervisor went into auto pilot mode and responded in what he deemed socially necessary and appropriate to keep his inner voice at bay. He is wearing a big hat, so every situation must have a response, despite the reality this isn’t necessarily true. Keep this in mind before you insist on making yourself feel better about someone else’s situation. When you function in auto pilot, you lose depth, and there will be times you have zero clue how far down to Davie Jones’ locker you have plummeted, which can make a situation far worse than if you had just kept your heroics to yourself.
For the last few months, I’ve been scrimping away money to restart my tattoo collecting. I currently have three altogether, all from different shops in my area, and out of the three who did the work, I decided to return to one in particular. I liked the artists that worked there, and trusted their professionalism so much so that I’ve unfailingly recommended this tattoo parlor to everyone that would ask me where to go for quality artistry.
That all changed this morning when I received a response to an inquiry I’d sent a week ago. now, I’d already contacted the shop prior to the message I received this morning, and even had a Saturday appointment set. The email said the following about the piece I’d requested to be done:
“What on earth did you request to be tattooed?” , you might be wondering. Take a look for yourself, and keep in mind where the turtle is, I was wanting a stack of holy books instead. You know, the Bible, the Qur’an, and probably the Talmud. Essentially a sci fi Alice in Wonderland being depicted as having conquered religious fantasy. I really wanted her as a centerpiece to my science fiction themed sleeve I planned to create.
Now, I found his response to my original design inquiry to be preposterous. Especially as this refusal is on behalf of the entire shop, and not just a particular artist not wanting to do it. Even more frustrating is the fact they’ve already done an anti religious fashioned tattoo for me a few years ago, and Alice is a sweet picnic in a park compared to the previous tattoo I am talking about now. Check it out.
So, I responded as civilly as I could muster. I mean, I felt my anti religious attitude was being equated to racists or gang behavior. I was angry and confused at the change in standards. I wanted to know why anything anti religious was taboo, and more importantly, why this shop didn’t recognize the hate inspired by crosses, bible verses, and so on. All I got for an answer was a whole lotta avoidance.
At this point, I realized it was hopeless to argue, but I called out his obvious discrimination, and made it clear this kind of supported societal “correctness” flew in the face of the freedom of expression that is intrinsic to tattoo art. And of course I said I’d quit crediting his shop.
Now, in my mind this discussion has ended. And frankly, I am the one ending it, so this is a business owner’s dream scenario when disappointing a customer. He wasn’t going to really explain why he lumps anti religious material in with gang art or racist propaganda. I was wrong about that. In fact, Godwin’s Law came into full display. Yes. He played the Hitler card! Insert the Reductio Ad Hitlerum.
Sci fi Alice in Wonderland conquering dogma? Bad.
See this big pond full of what looks like excrement? It’s a mile deep, and he went for a dip in it. Hitler, as a historical reference is okay, he claims. Alice stepping lightly on neatly stacked holy books is a no go.
I could understand if she were resting a foot on the executed corpse of Christ, and you have Allah laying on the other side of the ground with his head cut off while she towers over them both with a gun in one hand and her trusty light saber in her other. I just wanted holy books, but you’d think I was asking for the head of John the Baptist.
Even more insulting is he then turns it around like he is doing me a favor for refusing to do the work. He is somehow protecting me from the bad things people do because of images and words they are exposed to. He is saving the entirety of northern Kentucky from my anti religious inspired blood bath by insisting he will not create my requested art. I guess he figured how ridiculous that sounded because he ended the whole poorly thought out philosophized excuse by declaring we all are entitled to our own opinions.
So, here is my opinion that I am entitled to. This wasn’t a professional denial of service at all. It was a personal one. I would bet money he started perusing my social media profile and didn’t like it. It has nothing to with being worried about offending the public or going against whatever barely believable social correctness he wants to follow. Look at the tattoos this shop has gladly put to skin over the last eighteen months.
I see anti religious content.
I definitely see gang related art.
Oh, and the politics he claims to not like tattooing? Funny. Seems there is that too.
The bottom line here is that I was blatantly discriminated against on a personal level. There’s no other way to ice this cake, but I did manage to sweeten the frosting to something I like. I went to four other equally rated shops in the area, all of them agreed to do Alice, no problem. THEN, I showed them this shop’s bullshit refusal. Now the competition has a nice little edge in competition to show clients who considered this “politically correct” shop.
Now, in the spirit of not trying to create another Memories Pizza incident, I am not naming the parlor that has caused me so much disappointment. I think my sharing with other parlors what has happened will be good enough. And to the tattoo shop owner who believes in opinions over how the world really works?
Yeah, I ‘ve got a right to my opinion, and I hope your business feels its bite, pal.