Confused religion

Please note that this entry might trigger due to the issues of child abuse and religion being discussed.

Over two years ago, I wrote the post Religion and Karma.  In it, I shared some of my confusion around religious concepts.  Since I wrote that piece, my confusion has, if anything, deepened.  Conflicted and distorted messages about religion, and my self worth, have driven much of my dysfunction over the last two months.  I have been bombarded with messages about being evil and not worthy of being here, or of this healing journey.

To give a bit of background as to where much of the distortions come from, my father is Roman Catholic and attended a Catholic school.  It was a strict (or traditional) school, with his left handedness being beaten out of him, and intimacy a taboo subject.  In contrast, my mother based her religious affiliations on which church had the best outdoor basketball (netball) team – Baptist won.  When they married, my mother converted to Catholicism and regularly attended church.  My siblings, and myself, were all christened, and my brothers confirmed.  The families pathway through Catholicism ended after my mother had me.  She was advised that if she had any more children, she would probably die in childbirth.  When the church heard of my mothers decision to use birth control, she was asked not to return.  As she was the driving force behind our going to church, this meant that none of the family returned.

This is what I now know of the families leaving the fold.  But, as I was growing up, my brothers told me that we were asked not to return to church because I screamed too much during the service.  Being a sensitive and trusting child, I took those stories, and internalised them.  I became convinced that I was the reason that the whole family was going to go to Hell for eternal damnation.

Later, I had several encounters with religion…  My sister attended an extremely devout and divisive youth group… I attended religious camps during the school holidays; where, along with John 3:16, we were taught Matthew 25:46 – my sensitivity meant that I took both as signs that I was a sinner…  I later joined Rally (similar to Girl Guides), which had a strong religious basis.  It was here that things became very confused, as I was old enough to be aware of the messages and expectations, but failed to live up to them.  I was told that I needed to pray for God to come into my heart, and I would know that this had occurred when I felt a warmth and peace.  Well, I was so disconnected by this stage, that there was no way I was going to feel any warmth in my heart, or anywhere else.  This was the final blow, and I turned my back on any further attempts to connect to a higher power.

Throughout all of this, I was being abused.  Some of the abusers used phrasing with religious connotations as part of the abuse.  I now realise that this had nothing to do with me, but I still internalised it at the time, and took it as further proof as to why God had turned his back on me.  I was evil and a sinner.  I was beyond salvation.

One of the system, W, has great problems with anything religious.  I had never really understood why this trigger was so big, when I had never been abused by a religious figure.  Then, last Thursday, Allison asked W what her role was within the system… her answer “to pray”.  To pray for forgiveness.  To pray for help.

When I was eight, I was abused by some teenagers in the school grounds.  The location of the event is significant, because on the rise, about 50 metres away, was a church.  About 3 metres away from the structure I was being abused in, there was a thoroughfare for pedestrians and cyclists.  It wasn’t busy, but there were usually some people walking by.  As I was being abused, W was created within my mind to pray to the church on the hill… to the God she had heard about… she prayed for help from the people walking by… she prayed for salvation from what was happening.  When no one answered those prayers, she saw it as proof that we were evil, and therefore not worthy of God’s help.

I was never really exposed to the positive side of any religion.  It was all doom and gloom… damnation… selfishness, and selfish acts.  My God was a very fearful, vengeful one, and he wasn’t pleased with me.

As I learned about God, I was getting hurt, as were millions of others in the world.  That didn’t seem fair, or just.  I never liked the overly simple explanation of free will.  I still don’t understand how such evil can be in this world.  Then, if you have evil, then surely there must be a counter balance to that; and what is that counter, if not a God?

As you can see, I’m still very confused.  I initially made this private because I don’t know if I can handle comments on this issue.  But, after a couple of people read what I wrote, I realised that maybe I need others reading this in order to challenge my thinking around all of this.  I still don’t know what I need to help me understand all of the distorted and confused messages in my head, but this post was one step in trying to sort it through.  I don’t know how much help Allison is going to be on this, as when she was questioned last week, there was a sense that she wasn’t firm in her beliefs, so therefore can’t be believed.

I do know that they seriously effect my self worth.  The messages about not being worthy of being here, are tied to the messages about religion.

I finish this post, not knowing why I wrote it, let alone published it on the blog.  Maybe to show you how bad I really am.

—————-
Now playing: Sarah McLachlan – Angel
via FoxyTunes

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14 thoughts on “Confused religion

  1. I know how hard it’s been for you to confront this issue. ((hugs)) You’re so so brave. 🙂

    Religion never featured strongly in my upbringing, so when no one answered my “prayers”, I just assumed it meant that God didn’t exist, or didn’t care.

    I know that many people have found peace and comfort in Christianity, but for me, I can’t help think of all the evil done in its name. Putting the fear of a vengeful God into little minds is right up there in my mind.

    I was a bit reluctant to comment because I don’t want to trigger you, so please know that I’m sitting with you on this one.

    • Hi Kerro,

      Thank you for commenting and the support… I appreciate it 🙂

      I’m not sure why I internalised all the religious messages… maybe looking for a way in which I could be saved and worthy of being here, I don’t know. I know a part of me had a similar reaction to God as you did, but there was also this huge confusion through the rest of me.

      I respect other peoples beliefs – as long as they don’t hurt others. So I can accept other peoples faith, it just confuses me.

      All so very confusing.

      Take care,
      CG

  2. I think you hit on one of the crucial reasons why you are confused about religion: that the lessons, teachings or what have you did not jive with what was going on in your life. For me, I never was aware of this as a kid. I mean that’s why things were partitioned. But looking back now, this is what it is all about.

    This is going to ramble a bit, and this is me thinking out loud about things I haven’t thought so directly about even though a lot of these issues are ones that I do spend a lot of time working on. So bear with me and I’m not sure it’s going to help. And may be a bit triggering, but I think this is important and I want to address it well.

    Our life experiences around religion are obviously different, but also similar. The messages of religion are powerful, in any religion, and often I think they are used as a way to reality check what is happening in the present (meaning the past). Maybe I have oversimplified, but I have long thought Catholicism has, and this is a bad metaphor, a split personality. There are the “old” teachings about evil and sin and hell, and there are the “new” teachings about love and be kind. That is a source of difficulty for many (leaving apart abuse). Intellectually, I came to a place that the old teachings were really more about politics or theatrics or about “keeping people afraid” (a la how Galileo was ostracized for saying the Sun didn’t resolve around the Earth) and I tried to disregard them because this was clearly not the message of Jesus.

    In the context of abuse, as a child, those messages get confused. Kids who are abused have a sense of what evil is because they are exposed to it and hurt by it. For kids who are not abused, those “negative” messages have much much less weight and therefore the conflicts are far fewer, if registering at all.

    I can appreciate the message you internalized that you were unable to live up to the expectations. But you were not the one abusing. You were an innocent. You are the one that Jesus spent so much energy trying to help. It was the abusers who did not measure up.

    There was no way to resolve these conflicts (in the past) because the conflicts were very real.

    In the present I am able to somewhat resolve them, but also by partitioning. I think a good chunk of me (whatever that means) has strong ties to some of the fundamental messages in the New Testament. I’ve read the Bible front to back many times. It was a huge focus of Catholic high school and we had progressive Jesuit teachers. The teachings of Jesus, at least how I interpreted them, are all really rooted in beliefs that are at my core. I try to hold those beliefs as a sort of “safe space”. Those are totally in line with my healing journey.

    But there are the opposite beliefs that are in line with the conflicts that are contained in parts. Those are just as real. But healing has come for me by helping those parts see the “safe space” but from a non-religious context. Does that make sense?

    Somehow for me I’ve been able to shift what were very real religious good-vs-evil battles between parts and frame them in a healing journey context. While that context is totally in line with the “new” religious teachings, I’ve not injected the religion aspect of it into things or imposed it on those parts.

    That, for me, has where the progress has come. It’s de-escalated everything because there is a middle ground.

    Thank you for providing an opportunity to help me think about something that’s very important for me but I have not in this way. This is why I value reading what other people write. Even though this is such an issue for me, somehow I can make more progress personally by reacting to what someone else wrote. That’s extremely interesting and speaks to the community process we all share online.

    • Hi Paul,

      I’m glad the post helped you think about the issues from a different perspective.

      I’ve had to read through your comment a few times to let it sink in. This issue affects many parts of the system in different ways, and there was a range of reactions to reading what you said.

      There was the intellectual – Allison has helped those who were subjected to so many religious based mixed messages, that they needed long term therapy. So it’s not just the physically or sexually abused who internalise the negative messages. I think it can be the way the message is given, and the context of that message within the persons life. I was a sensitive child, who took on the negative aspects of anything as if I was responsible for it. So it makes sense that I only picked up the negative in any part of the Bible.

      There was the emotional “catch” when you said that we were an innocent. Some within the system believe that we were born evil, and that is why we were targeted for the abuse. The catch was positive, but confusing… I think confusion about religion is possibly a good thing right now.

      There was the usual attempts to minimise and make unfair comparions, in that what I experienced was nothing compared to you, so what am I complaining about.

      So, lots of reactions. I’m still trying to sift through everything in my head, and make sense of it all.

      Thank you, I appreciate the the gentle challenges to my ideas. W isn’t particularly impressed with some of your conclusions, but still respects them, I think.

      Take care,
      CG

      • I definitely understand about the core beliefs. But because large chunks of you believe something it doesn’t make it true. In a big way I think that’s what healing is about. I think a lot of people use language like challenging those core beliefs. But that makes it sound too combative. I like to think of it as healing those parts so those beliefs can change.

        • Hi Paul,

          I was just thinking of the core belief idea… if I was truly evil, why don’t I intentionally hurt people? You’ve seen how badly I can react when I find out that I’ve unintentionally hurt someone, so why do I think I’m evil? I don’t break the law, I pay my bills… I’m pretty boring really; so why hang onto this evil label?

          I understand what you mean about using the word heal versus challenge. Maybe that’s where I need to use the term you mentioned in one of your posts – friction. I’m not sure if the word sits right for me either… have to think about it…

          Take care,
          CG

  3. Hey CG,

    I think that your reactions and confusion make so much sense.

    There are many things I could say here, but I’m forcing myself to keep it simple. Let me try this and this is *my* personal belief: I’ve learned that the idea of a vengeful God is a tool used to try and scare people. It’s not the truth. Paul is right, the people who hurt you are the ones that failed him and while he’s not the “fire and sulphur” God that some religions would like you to believe, He does have a sense of justice for the abused and the oppressed. Things will work out in the end, I’ve learned that through studying the Bible.

    Actually, when I think about it, believing that we’re “bad” or “evil” is a tool that abusers use to get us to stay silent or feel guilty or to confuse us. If we are abused at a young age, before we have the ability to start being able to sift through lies and truths, we internalize all of that and we end up applying it in other aspects of our life.

    If we’re programmed by abuse to believe that we’re evil, we will continue to believe that we’re evil and we’ll take things that we see as “evidence” to back it up. It’s a normal reaction to a terrible circumstance. Totally understandable. It made me want to hug you when you said you were a “sensitive child”.

    I used to say that ALL the time. My mother told me, my whole life, that I was “just being sensitive”. No matter what she did to me, I was “just sensitive”. They try get us to believe that so we’ll dismiss what they do or we’ll question ourselves and our perceptions of their actions. I no longer say that I was “sensitive”. The way I see it, I was taught from day one, to see myself as the cause of everyone’s problems and I was taught that my reality was not what really happened, it was my point-of-view that was wrong and everyone else was right.

    What is a kid supposed to do with that kind of input? Your feelings about all of this are normal. And I think that it’s good and healthy to explore that aspect of your life when it’s safe to do so.

    Was that preachy enough? Ha! So much for keeping it simple lol!

    • Hi tai,

      I agree with you that the vengeful God is an idea created to scare people. I always wondered why you would need to scare people into being nice… surely that’s how people want to be? I don’t understand it, as even when we thought we were so evil that we would never be saved, we always tried to be good, just on the off chance. Those who do evil, are unlikely to care about what any God thought of them, they’re too self-centred to think of anything beyond themselves. So seems all very counter-intuitive.

      I was called evil a couple of times within an abusive setting, and told that if I told, I’d be sent to jail or the local psychiatric hospital. So I internalised it all… but I was doing that before those threats were used. No overt threats were needed, it was all starting to be packed up and locked away in my head.

      I think I was sensitive, in that I learned to pick-up on the emotions and needs of others. This was part of my survival mechanism… scan the room for danger. I know this set me up to look for danger where there wasn’t any, but I couldn’t rationalise that. It was pure survival mode. So was I sensitive, or was I “made” sensitive, I don’t know. I was also told I was too sensitive as a child, but like many things told to me, I had no context for them, or knowledge of how to change it.

      Thanks for making me think tai…

      Take care,
      CG

  4. Religion is a tough subject. My early years were spent surviving ritualized abuses at home, to then be sent with a kind family to a church down the road when neither of the parental figures in the house attended church. I then went to live with my mom who is still to this day a very liberal catholic, and stressed the importance of faith. Then I met my ex who was a very fundamentalist christian when it suited him but he could discard bits and pieces of it at will, while still telling me how “unchristian” I was being by my behaviors. He then converted to Islam and I allowed myself to be dragged into it as well. I’ve broken with religion. I still believe in and have faith in God. Others don’t and that’s ok. My faith has nothing to do with religion, it has to do with a gratitude for surviving the things I have. It has to do with looking at all of those small moments where soemthing or someone stepped in to keep a bad situation from becoming much worse. It has everything to do with my ability to connect with my alters now, and with the people who surround me. That ability to love and to care, to desire to make things better than they are for as many people as I can… that’s God. That’s not me. That’s God, at least in my puny little perspective of this world.

    I don’t know the answers to your questions and confusion. The answers that work for me may very well not work for you. And that’s o.k. That’s where religion misses it, that it’s o.k. not to be satisfied with someone else’s answer, and to seek our own. I have no use for religion.

    • Hi Storm Dweller,

      I’m so sorry about your past experiences with religion, and people who were misusing it.

      I appreciate what you’re saying about being grateful. I can see how this is a gentler and more open approach considering your past.

      It’s odd, but for some reason I see love and caring as coming as part of being human, yet I saw evil as a religious concept. I never thought of that until reading your comment about the ability to love and care coming from God… The total opposite to my thinking, yet I’m so quick to attribute the bad things to a God. I’ll have to think more about that.

      Thank you for your openness and willingness to share your opinions. I agree, what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.

      Take care,
      CG

      • No problem, just please let me know if I ever over step my bounds. I have a tendency to project and be presumptuous, and to assume that what works for me should work for everyone. But I have to remind myself that’s not necessarily true. I want to help, not to hurt, so please let me know if ever anything I say is harmful and not helpful.

        • Hi Storm Dweller,

          I know that fear, as I have it with some of the comments I make on others blogs too. It can be confusing when you overthink things as well… I like honesty, and as long as there is respect for differences of opinions, then I think most people can communicate and reach some sort of understanding.

          Take care,
          CG

  5. Dear Castor Girl,

    I just wanted to thank you for posting so honestly about your struggles with religon. It helped me feel more validated about my own struggles with religon.

    My abuser was “god-on-earth” in my childhood and as a consequence, I wanted desperately to reject everything he stood for.The “upright”, “righteous”, “holy”, “un-worldly”, “full-of-integrity” blurb that was forced up my siblings and I was so inconsistent with the way things really were.

    Thankfully (I think, although I feel kind of selfish saying this, especially when I think of my siblings) the parents got more and more involved and comitted to a cultish-deviation from Christianity, so this has helped me completely reject and walk away from their beliefs, but still maintain the belief in a Higher Power that I struggle at times to hang on to.

    Despite the fact that I attend a standard Christian church and am married to a Christian, I fall on an extreme end of Christian-libralism! Yes, I believe in God, I believe in Jesus and His redeeming sacfrifice, yes I have a (very flexible, loose and often-changing) moral lines, of sorts, but hey, so your moral lines are different? So what?! You’re a lesbian … should that make a difference to me?! Oh, so you’re sleeping with your boyfriend before marriage … so did I! And you being a homesexual should make what difference to me precisely?! You’re a man wearing women’s clothes … if that’s what makes your world go round, go embrace it boy!

    I guess what I’m saying is that I have my own very individual version of faith and if the family-of-origin voices a belief/position/view, trust me, I’ll take the oposite one!! 😛 Not exactly a good image of conviction, eh?!

    Basically, I guess what I wanted to do was agree with you and say that, for me too, my current, personal experience of religion is HUGELY, MASSIVELY determined by the religious experience I recieved from my abusers.

    Keep on keeping on and thank you for your inspiring blog.

    • Hi Lizzy,

      I’m sorry for the warped messages that you were exposed to as a child, but glad that you could walk away with a belief in a higher power still intact.

      It’s interesting that all of the examples you give, are about judging others… it shows how people can use the idea of a religion for being unforgiving and intolerant. Whereas, my idea of Christianity is about acceptance and understanding. I’m a firm believer in that if your beliefs or way of life doesn’t negatively harm yourself or those around you, then what you do is ok. It’s when those beliefs and life infringe on the rights and safety of others, that I have a problem with it.

      I can understand the need to take the opposite position to that of your family of origin…

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting 🙂

      Take care,
      CG

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