Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/
When I decided on the title for this article I knew that it would be an especially difficult and personal one for me to write. While in the past I have sought to make this more of a blog more about investigating religion, philosophy, and psychology from a purely hypothetical kind of stance, elements of autobiography nevertheless make their way into my writings. In my post “Co-Occurrence and Effects”, for example, I tell about my personal experiences during a worship service. In “Build Your Home” I skim over difficulties with faith and family during my teenage years. (I’ve also been fairly open as well about my mental illness).
As I’m sure it is for many people who either consider themselves to be “deconverting”, or “recovering from religion” visits with ultra-religious family members can be extremely taxing. I have a father who almost never ceases to rant about his hatred of “the educational system”- of which I, of course, am a participant- the evils of modern medicine, and God’s judgments on America, or just judgment on individual people in general. He has his own ideas of what I should be doing with my life and is not hesitant to express those views, usually stating that this is “God’s will for me”.
In our family, my dad led- and for my siblings still remaining, continues to lead- Bible study every single night. We sang, read the scriptures, and he would preach in a kind of “open forum” format, making points about various scriptures in the Bible while allowing us to ask him questions (and he asking us questions). Sometimes these “Bible studies” would go on for hours and hours and my mom and sometimes some of my siblings would be falling asleep.
I know why my dad is so adamant that I have a special “call” on my life as they say in Evangelical circles. I won’t go into details about the full story because it is necessary for me to continue to maintain my anonymity here, but the way things went as I was an early teenager are reason enough to see why he has such hope for me.
My dad would give out prizes- usually a dollar or something else- for those of us who could memorize certain scriptures. Feeling like I knew a lot and gaining the accolades of my father was as important to me as the actual prize so I soon learned to memorize tons and tons of scriptures. Also, during the year that I was thirteen I began my own empassioned study of the scriptures and trying to decipher what the grace of God in Jesus Christ really meant. Even though the Bible studies lasted hours, I would often approach my dad afterward and continue talking excitedly with him late into the night about everything that we had been discussing in the Bible study.
In many ways, I realize that I haven’t yet really mourned the loss of that closeness with my father. It felt good for him to be impressed with me, even though I had various grievances with him, like him forcing me to be schooled at home and not really letting me to go out and do things. I never expected my “good”, Christian nature to become so at odds with my thirst for knowledge and my desire to experience the world. I thought as long as I pursued Biblical knowledge, that I would find the answers that I was seeking. Now i see that that just wasn’t- and isn’t- true for me anymore.
Anyway, I’m kind of getting away from my original train of thought. My dad is still the same as he always has been for years and years, so going home means sitting through another Bible study. On my most recent visit, there would be no study- instead my dad said that God had instructed him to show me testimonies of people who had been healed through the ministries of some ministers in Africa.
I watched the testimonies with a degree of skepticism, but with a few of them I had to acknowledge that something had happened to some of the people who were saying they had been healed. In spite of myself I started crying, while my dad, touched by my show of emotion began to assure me, “This is real. God is real.“I wanted so much to be able to believe him.
That’s when it dawned on me that all of this time, and through all of the pain he’s caused me in the past, by previously advising me to cut ties with my therapist, telling me to throw my medication away, etc., my dad really believed that these things would help me. My dad believes that Jesus is alive in heaven literally responding to people who use his name in prayer. He really believes that I’m poisoning my body with medicine, as well as making it difficult for the Almighty God to move in my life due to my lack of trust in Him by trusting “man” as he likes to say. He really believes that I will be more prosperous and happier if I leave school and stop pursuing my degree. He has paid multiple times for me to learn a trade of his choosing because he seriously wants me to be well off.
This is a prime example of how “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” In my opinion, my quality of life has greatly improved since I’ve been stabilized on medication, therapy has made me a stronger person, and at school I am excited and stimulated because I am doing something that I love. I might not have a lot of money, but by no means am I going hungry. I have a car- thanks to my dad, actually- and so transportation really isn’t a problem. As far as I’m concerned the sky is the limit. My dad, however, doesn’t think that I can continue to do well unless I do things his way- which in his mind is indistinguishable from the will of God. He seems totally blind to how my life only began to take a turn for the better when I moved away and got out on my own. I couldn’t be happy with secluded lifestyle my parents were- and are- still living. I am not happy with their religion, either.
My mother shares a lot of the same beliefs as my dad, though she is less aggressive about it. Earlier, before my dad showed me the videos that he did, my mom showed me video of a woman who was supposedly possessed by a demon. When she got into the presence of “the man of God” she began to shake and when he asked her identity she said, “I am her husband” and began rattling off a list of ways she had interfered in the woman’s life.
As I watched that video, I was reminded of one thing- Sybil.
Sybil was the name of a woman who was one of the first to give rise to the diagnosis of “Multiple Personality Disorder” or “Disassociative Identity Disorder” being added to the DSM. People with MPD/DID will often “lose time” as they act out the characteristics of the other personalities, supposedly “coming to themselves” after an episode is over and not remembering anything they’ve said or done. Some of the “personalities” talk about each other and are aware of the “primary” or “host” but it seems like the “host” or “main” personality is not at all aware of them.
It is a controversial disorder because some people disagree about whether or not it is a real mental illness or if most of the people who exhibit the symptoms are actually schizophrenic or dealing with some other type of mental illness. There is also some speculation about whether some people who claim to have the disorder are acting.
I was so convinced I even started to say, “That looks like disassociative identity disorder” but I couldn’t get the words all the way out. I knew that telling my mother that I believed the woman was suffering from a mental illness and not a demon would sound as ridiculous to her as the idea of a possession was starting to sound to me.
Either way, this woman exhibited all the symptoms. Once her episode was over and the “demon” was dispelled she looked as if she had awakened from a sleep and asked why everyone was looking at her. She was dazed and remembered nothing of what she’d said or done.
It is said that DID is caused by the “host” or “primary” having an extremely traumatic experience which causes them to split into the other personality(ies), and this woman definitely qualified as having had a traumatic enough experience to have split into these two selves.
What makes me have doubts either way, however, was that this woman, after her exorcism, no longer seemed to have the problems that she had. She had reviewed the tape of her “deliverance” and was convinced that she had been possessed by a demon and that it was now gone. She didn’t seem to have any problems after that.
I remember my mom saying “there are demons in Africa that we don’t even hear about over here” and I can hypothesize this. Maybe the reason why they experience more “demons” is because they are far more willing than Westernized cultures to attribute any unexplained mental problem or phenomenon to a spirit, and therefore far more likely to accept a spiritual answer as the solution to the problem. The fact that the mentally ill respond to this treatment could be because of deep-seated beliefs and superstitions about their own problems (I already have gone into “co-occurence doesn’t mean causation” arguments over here).
I have seen on the MTV show True Life a woman who experienced debilitating panic attacks and benefited from hypnosis. I don’t think you’ll hear the average healing pastor endorsing hypnosis, but it could be more closely related to what they’re actually doing than anything else.
I’m not saying that God isn’t real, or that prayer is useless. I’m just saying maybe we should be a little more critical about things before we’re willing to endorse one thing over the other.
Anyway, my mom sent me home with some of the blessed water from Africa that was said to have been used in some of the healings and exorcisms performed by these ministers. She admonished me that God had told her to give me the “blessed” water, and I felt very warmed by her concern and wouldn’t dare think of turning it down.
I’ve been reading the pamphlet that was sent with the water, which tells the person that of course, they had to believe in order to join their faith with the people who prayed over the water to get it to work. I have been reading the testimonies in the pamphlet, and really, in the case of the financial miracles I don’t see how you can connect the use of the holy water with the breakthroughs they experienced.
I think though, that the main thing that casts the shadow of doubt on all of these healing ministries is just a lack of consistency. There are always prayers that seem to go unanswered, people who seem to have all the faith in the world who die anyway, or in the case of some of the African ministers people who travel thousands of miles and are turned away on some excuse. My dad said that the reason some people don’t get healed is because “God sees the future and he sees if you’re going to sin. He won’t heal you if you’re going to serve the devil” which really doesn’t seem to be the way that Jesus is said to have ministered. Either way, it seems that blame is always being passed around. Either the minister didn’t have the faith, or the congregation member didn’t have the faith, or God didn’t have the will. I guess though if prayer is like medicine, not all medicine works on every person. This seems to suggest however that somehow God is not powerful enough to transcend our differences, which, is in direct opposition to the concept of God that Evangelical Christians present to the world.
Anyway, even though it seems that when i come home I can “logic” my way out of all of these things and know exactly what to do or say, I struggle against what I feel is a “conditioned response” when I’m with my parents. I go through the whole Bible study, reciting the words, singing the songs, saying the prayers, taking communion. On rare occasions if my dad’s “preaching” gets too much for me I excuse myself and go to bed but mostly I try to just persist through the whole thing.
When my uncle asked me if I was “blessed” by the testimony of the possessed woman I went ahead and said I was, and that wasn’t necessarily a lie. If her “deliverance” really improved her quality of life then I can’t really knock it, but there are many sad cases like hers where the “demons return” and the person has to go through the whole traumatizing experience again and is then preached to about how/what/why the demons came into them again.
By the way, when someone is acting out demonically the Evangelicals call this “manifesting.” My dad half-joking, half-serious told me that they were going to spray some of the holy water on me and that maybe I would start “manifesting.” I managed to convince them that that wasn’t necessary. My uncle was laughing and asking if I was scared to be sprayed. It was a really awkward moment, but I think for the most part I can look back at that humorously. Honestly I really just didn’t want them to spray me, have nothing happen and then just start praying vehemently over me anyway while I sat there awkwardly. Another part of me was scared that maybe something really would happen to me, and a small part of me had hope that if maybe something evil was inside of me and I got “delivered” i could just become a Christian again and all of this would be an unfortunate remembrance. I would delete the blog, shake of my heathenistic past and everything could go back to normal.
Once you’ve taken the red pill, though, there’s really no turning back.