On three: One, Three, Two…
I know, I know, I already published part 3. I winged part 2 at the meeting, but I want a complete set so here goes
So purely from a faith standpoint, I had a pretty great early childhood. But unfortunately as I got older, the adults around me felt the need to teach me theology and religious polity.
But in addition to my wholesome religious education, they threw in some crazy wing nut theology. Looking back, some of this was the religious equivalent of pornography. It was designed to scare the bejeebus out of me, so that I would not stray far from the straight and narrow. Worked like a charm.
I have dozens of examples of religious abuse, but here are two that forever scarred my psyche. In 1972 a movie took the evangelical movement by storm. The name of that movie was “A Thief in the Night.” This little cinematic gem was shown in my home church shortly after it was released. I would have been the ripe age of 5-6. And for reasons that are unclear to me to this day, my parents thought it was a good idea for me to see the film.
Here is the basic premise of the flick: Jesus has returned to Earth in the “rapture” and taken all the good Christians to heaven. Those who were left had to endure the “tribulation.” Worst of all, in order to function in the tribulation economy, everyone had to be ID’d with “The Mark of the Beast” (represented with a barcode tattoo). Here is the thing, if you took the mark; it was a one way ticket to hell. There was no chance of redemption once a person took the mark. At the end of the movie, the main protagonist is forced to jump off a damn in order to avoid damnation (genius!).
Now let’s break this down in the mind of a six year old. My best friend, who I carried on a constant dialogue with, Jesus, was going to come back to Earth some day and take all the good people away. But if I sinned, which at age 6 could be as simple as a lie or stealing a cookie before dinner, my friend Jesus would leave me…an orphan…I would face starvation or taking the mark…in either case, I would most likely go to hell where I would burn for all eternity. I am sure I was not quite as succinct at age 6, but I did ask questions. The basic answer was yes, if I sinned and had not had the opportunity to tell Jesus that I was sorry, then I would be left behind and possibly burn for all eternity. Good to know!…thanks!
As if this message was not clear enough, my church did a little drama for my benefit. The “drama” was a skit/play about judgment day. I was really excited because my friend Todd was in the production. Todd and his mother were at the “judgment seat.” I don’t remember any of the dialogue, again I was 7 or 8 at the time. The bottom line, Todd got to go to heaven, his mother went to hell. Nice!
So as it turns out, my friend the son of God was kind of a dick! A couple of things changed about my faith. First, I was afraid of God. On numerous occasions, I came home to an empty house and my first thought was that God had rejected me. Second, I started having reoccurring nightmares involving Jesus and the Devil. I will save those little nuggets for a future post.
In spite of all this, I remained a committed Christian. The relationship had changed from innocent love to Stockholm syndrome, but I still “loved” god. I also developed two separate lives. There was the sinful Ben who drank, smoked and shoplifted. And there was the Ben who was a devout little follower of Jesus.
I think I would have gone crazy were it not for the friendships I developed in church. To my knowledge, NONE of them are still members of the Assemblies of God (AG). And only a couple of them would still call themselves Christians.
I wish I could close this posting by saying this kind of abuse no longer occurs. But sadly, it still goes on. My parents to this day attend the church of Keenan Roberts who is best known for his “Hell House” and the “Hell House” kits.