I grew up in a faith healing cult. They believed that there was no need for doctors, since the Bible says, “I am the Lord, thy Healer.” If you got sick, and prayed to get well, and did not, it was because your faith was not strong enough.
In my formative years, I watched as about 100 of the church members died. Although the church was nearly 2,000 people strong in its heyday, and I did not know everyone’s names, I knew most of the ones that died at least by sight. Many of them were friends of mine, or younger siblings of friends of mine, or close friends of the family. And the weird thing is, the ones that died were scorned, (or the family of the baby that died was scored) for not having enough faith.
Being extremely lucky in that I had some intelligence in me, starting in about third grade, I started to spot logical inconsistencies in the doctrine of the church. Around the third grade was the stage that I first considered turning my parents into the authorities.
The only two things that deterred me were the possibility of going to a strange foster home and being away from my younger siblings. I thought that I probably would end up at my dad’s parents (who were not in the church and were quite sane), but the possibility of never seeing my siblings, or ending up in a foster home deterred me from contacting the authorities, or simply even speaking up to a teacher at school. I don’t know why I never brought up my thoughts to my grandparents, but I guess I was just a terrified little boy.
The preachers at the church and my parents ingrained into me deeply a vivid fear of hell, the sort of fear that would give me awful mind numbing nightmares that occurred almost nightly. Throughout most of my life, most of my dreams have been ‘bad dreams’, and it is only quite recently that this ugly pattern has been broken.
My father was a ‘song leader’ and one of the preachers at the church, and when in the company of others from the church, a pious man, indeed. He learned Greek and Hebrew enough to translate the original language of the Bible text and taught classes on that to other church members that wanted to learn.
At home, or any time away from other people, it was a different story. He ruled the house with an iron fist, and seemed to some sort of twisted satisfaction out of making my mom cry. We all lived in fear of him.
Although we were spanked, and occasionally even brutally with a belt or a paddle, it wasn’t the fear of physical violence that we were afraid of. Rather, it was just the meanness in him, and his sharp attacking tongue. I don’t know where his anger came from, but he was a very angry man, with a short fuse. He’d rationalize all of his monstrous actions with a Bible verse, here or there. I remember dreading coming home with a near perfect report card, because I knew there was a good tongue lashing coming up for the A minus.
The bottom line is that my dad was the essence of the word hypocrite. Cheerful, nice, helpful and a saint while in the company of church members, but a ‘holier than thou’ tyrant at home. He was manipulative, and controlled everything that happened in the house when he was there.
Needless to say, I got angry. All of my siblings did, too. I was angry that if I didn’t stop to repent of sins every few minutes, and if I happened to die, I might go to hell. I was angry that my ear infections in both ears didn’t heal, and persisted for 7 years. I was angry that I had to carry a handkerchief to wipe the puss coming out of my ears, and that I had to be sneaky about it so no one would see, and tell the school nurse.
I was angry that I was the best athlete in my class in third grade, but was not allowed to play basketball (yeah they start at third grade in Indiana). I was angry that I was not allowed to go play touch football or team sports with the neighbor boy Tommy next door (“Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers.”)
I was angry that in first grade, when I heard the word ‘fuck’ spoken for the first time (by a girl on the bus), and asked my dad what it meant, I was beaten. I was angry that when I was seven years old, and did something wrong at my grandparents, my dad pulled down my pants in front of all my aunts, uncles, and cousins, with my privates showing, and spanked me.
I was angry that every answer to every logical fallacy or inconsistency that I spotted and questioned my parents about was, “because the Bible says so,” thereby remaining unanswered.
I took it all out on my brother, 20 months younger, and sometimes my sister too. I copied my dad’s manipulative behavior, often goading my brother into hitting me, so I could hit him back and say he started it. When we got in trouble, I usually made it look like he was the culprit.
I dealt with it by becoming a total bookworm. Having no TV at home, I lost myself in the fantasy world that was reading. I read at least a book a day. Reading was my escape, and reading was my therapy.
This anger hit a new high in sixth grade, when we moved from the Ft. Wayne area to Indianapolis, so my dad could be the #2 preacher at a satellite church. I knew that I was not like other kids at school, because I had to go to the office during Christmas and other holiday school celebrations, and had to sit in the hallway if they watched a movie; but it did not hit home how weird I was until I was the new kid in school. It is natural to seek acceptance by one’s peers, and since I didn’t have that the anger kicked up a notch.
Finally, at some point in my teens, I said to hell with it, ignored my parents and did what I wanted. They finally left the church when I was in my late teens, and I got to go to a doctor, and my ear infections of 7 years were finally gone.
But, the anger persisted for several years. It started to subside once I went to college, got away from my parents, and did only exactly what I wanted to do for the first time in my life. What I wanted to do was do every drug I could get my hands on, drink as much as possible, and rarely attend class.
My anger has continued to subside since my college years, and now, at age 34, I have nearly none left.
At least that’s what I thought, until my youngest brother, who I love deeply, started to get involved in a church very similar to the one I grew up in. Now, I rise up in righteous anger. I foresee his path in that church, I’ve already lived it, and I am angry indeed, and feel helpless as to what to do.