Growing Up

When Dad first got us back from the cult (as I wrote about in the previous entry), I believed he was Satan’s son. Mom, Grandma, and the cult members were convincing in their indoctrination, which made interactions with him awkward.

As Francie mentioned in her blog, the cult said Mom could live with Dad as ‘brother and sister’ in order to be near us, and keep us indoctrinated. During that time Mom and Grandma gave us scapulars and other items to keep us on the path to salvation. We hid some of those around Dad, in order to try to miraculously convert him. Of course he found them, leading to fights, as did Mom’s insistence on praying with us and taking us to cult outings.

I don’t remember going back to public school to finish second grade, although I probably did. The following year we changed schools, though, and all the friendships that formed before the cult experience were gone. In addition, I must have picked up a ‘martyr complex’ from the cult’s teachings. One day at lunch a kid across the table said his muscles were strong. I replied that mine were, too. When he challenged me to a fight, I couldn’t make myself return his punches, and ended up gaining a bully that lasted through elementary school, and had effects even into high school. As a result I never made deep friendships, and even now am a fairly solitary person.

After a couple years Dad couldn’t take it any more, and filed for divorce. With much hard work he was able to show the court the extent of Mom’s indoctrination, and its effects on the family. Because of that he achieved something quite rare at the time: he got custody of us except for every other weekend. Montana courts almost always gave the kids to the mother, regardless of circumstances.

But even that wasn’t enough to stop the cult from interfering with our lives. Mom took us back to Idaho on those weekends, to attend mass. In the summers the priests and nuns made a trip to my Grandma’s farm, outside town, and more praying took place.

Eventually Dad sued the cult for alienating the affections of Mom and us kids. When his lawyer didn’t do his job, Dad had to take the case on himself. It took years, but he succeeded in teaching himself law, and getting a million dollar verdict at a jury trial. Then the judge overturned the unanimous decision for some reason that didn’t make sense. In spite of that, Dad succeeded in the big goal: the cult stopped interfering in our lives.

Like I said, in the beginning I believed their teachings. As time progressed, I slowly turned away from those ideas. Part of the reason is Mom’s programming couldn’t keep up. Dealing with school and the world brought new thoughts into my life, and the cult became less important.

The second reason was I started to discover that the cult lied. Dad was not the evil being they made him out to be. I began to realize he loved us and cared for us, in spite of his sometimes demanding nature. As an example of that nature, he made us go to other churches, and my refusal resulted in a twisted ear, which changed my heart about going (but not about converting).

Probably the biggest impetus for change is my rational mind began working. The cult, like all Christian religions I’m aware of, stated that God is All-Powerful. If he was so powerful, why was my life so screwed up? If He loved me like everyone claimed, he would never have split Mom and Dad up.

I listened to the priest’s hypothesis about free will, and the fall from grace, and eventually I came to see the Jesus story as proof that God could not be the being preached to me. A truly All-Powerful, All-Loving God would never create a system where his only son had to get killed.

That doesn’t mean I turned to atheism. The world works in ways that are awe-inspiring, and the idea that everything is a pointless accident doesn’t fit in my nature. Instead, I started considering myself to be spiritual, not religious. I viewed Nature as God, and being part of Nature myself, things made sense when I considered that we were all growing, and learning from our mistakes.

Being spiritual, not religious wasn’t a terribly comforting thought in the beginning, because Grandma still believed I was part of the cult, and would become her ‘little priest.’ I was in the seventh or eighth grade, so it was about five years after mom ran away with us.

Telling Grandma I was no longer part of the cult was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. Her will was unbendable, and in spite of her craziness in the name of religion, she loved me deeply, and I loved her.

Rebellion is better from safety. I used the phone.

The first time I told her I didn’t want to be a priest she just shrugged it off and said she would pray for me. “Your father is making you say this. I know you. You are God’s chosen one. Tell your dad that he is going to burn in hell!” She was unfazed, like a planet in it’s orbit.

The next week she used her favorite nickname again and pushed me to the limit. Once again I lacked the nerve to tell her face to face.

“Grandma, I can’t take it anymore. I have to say something, and don’t know how to say it. Dad is not forcing me to say anything. In fact he isn’t even here! Grandma, I do not believe in your religion anymore.”

“Oh David, you don’t mean that. I know your father is forcing you to say this. He is listening, isn’t he?”

“No, he isn’t listening. I don’t want to be a part of your religion anymore!”

“Oh David, you are just saying that.”

“No, I’m not. I love you, but I can’t go on like this. I don’t want to be a priest, and I don’t want to be part of the religion.”

“If you loved me you wouldn’t be saying this.”

“I do love you, but I can’t be part of the religion anymore.”

My hands were shaking. Oddly, I started crying. Maybe it wasn’t so odd, as she started crying too. It took twenty-five minutes to convince her. And then it was over. No more raisin cookies. No more prayers. Once in a while we talked, but from then on it was always superficial.

I was free. I could do what I wanted. Except help those I loved go beyond the religion their fears held them in. Perhaps my intellectual journey since then will make a difference to some who are still in those shoes.

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