Image by pyota via FlickrI have not said very much about this because I find it a very painful and upsetting subject, even though it comes out in bits and pieces sometimes. However, I do not think my story would be complete if I did not touch upon the subject of taking religion so far that it causes death. Not just death, but even attempted suicide in some cases. For me, my grandfather was the first in a series of such things and I was twenty-three years old with a newborn son at the time.
About twenty years ago, my grandfather killed himself. He did it in a manner in which my Evangelical Fundamentalist relatives could excuse it and say, “God called him home”, but I cannot believe that. In my honest opinion, it was suicide, pure and simple. In my opinion, they are making excuses and denying what his death really was.
What exactly happened to this strong man that he would take his life? Well, first, he believed in an afterlife, but granted that alone is not enough to trigger suicide in most believers. Secondly, he had a heartache, one in which he did not do something that he should have done and that was save his granddaughter from the hands of sick man and I think he lived with this pain for a few years after he finally granted my mother permission to divorce her husband.
He apparently had an idea of what was happening, but did nothing for seven years. Why seven? I do not know, but every time he offered me a hug, even after the end of my parents' marriage, I could see pain in his eyes, because I did not feel comfortable giving him a hug. If I had a bad dream while spending the summer with them as a child, instead of allowing him to comfort me, I went and crawled into bed with my grandmother. They had twin beds, but still, I did not want to lay beside my grandfather, no matter how innocent his intent. I was scared of him because he was a man. I dreaded the thought of what he could do to me, even though he never laid a hand on his own daughters, not even to spank them.
Was he really a righteous man? He was human, but righteous is not exactly what I would label him, even though he finally allowed my mother to divorce and helped to get full custody of me. He paid for the divorce, but would not allow me to press charges against my biological father, stating, “We have you away from him, that is enough. God will take care of him.” God? I retorted angrily, “What about man's law?” It was then he firmly informed me that anger was a sin. I knew that was not what the Bible said. It says, “Be angry and sin not.”
I had a lot of anger towards the man and I believe that might have been part of his depression that led into a psychosis. A depressive psychosis is not funny, especially when it leads to suicide, but my assessment of what led to the depression is probably only a small part of his depression and not the whole of it.
His doctor diagnosed him depression and suggested that he see a psychologist. My grandfather spouted that psychologists are of the devil and will steal one's soul. He refused treatment and even began to say that the doctors were playing god and insisted that God wanted him home a long time ago. He then stopped taking his heart medication and died a few days later.
My mother, grandmother, and aunt would not allow me to say what he did was suicide, but in essence, that was what it was- suicide. It has been only recently my mother has conceded that if my grandfather had not stopped taking his medication, he might have lived longer. I finally got her to admit that much, but the truth is, there was far too much religious delusion in his psychosis that I cannot deny that religion was much a part of his suicide.
A few years later, just before my grandmother died, my mother began to speak of wanting to “go home”. I am not talking about the apartment she lives in, but rather her concept of a heavenly home. She truly believes this is not her home and she is just passing through, just as her sister does.
My mother did not tell all her doctors what each of them was giving her by way of medication and she admits to knowing better. She even admits that she did not care at the time, because all she wanted was to “go home”. I cannot surmise the trauma she might have been experiencing at the time or what might have led her to wanting to die, but something did. However, she frightened me once again because she was sounding much like my grandfather before he died with her talk of wanting to “go home” and she would not leave her home, not even to go out to dinner with her own mother. Even her mother, before she died, said, “It's not healthy to stay locked up in your home all the time.” My grandmother knew something was seriously wrong with my mother too, but did not attribute anything else to it.
The landlady found my mother passed out on the floor of her apartment, which is one for the elderly and disabled, and called 911. The emergency room staff saved my mother's life, but at the time, she refused psychological help and sadly, she attempted suicide a second time and her excuse to me was that she did not care, she just wanted to “go home”.
However, between myself and her doctors, she finally went into counseling and a day or so before she went, she called me saying she did not know how to call a cab, which is a simple thing really. Then she asked me, “What if my counselor is not Christian?” I tried to convince her that that is not an issue to be concerned about, unless she wants to deal with that topic.
I do not know how long we were on the phone talking about all her phobias and insistence that she did not know how to do various things. It seemed like forever to me as I exhaustingly used all my own knowledge of psychology on my own mother, trying to treat her as I would anyone else who needed to get help. I was worn out by the end of the phone call, but she did go to therapy, only to call me again a few weeks later about a group the psychologist wanted her to attend. Again, I found it tiring to push aside the fact I was talking to my mother and just consider her a person who needs psychological care, but once again I did it and reassured her that her psychologist probably would not refer her to the group if she did not think she needed it, but again, she feared the others in the group might not be Christians and feared they could damage her faith. Again, I reassured her that was not why the group was recommended to her and nothing like would happen unless she wanted it to happen.
Well the psychologist got my mother to socialize again and it appears she is better in the respect of not wanting to commit suicide. Her religious ideology is still over the top though, but unlike her father, she is still alive and did get psychological help for her death wish. I managed to help my mother with what I learned after my grandfather died, but sadly I was not so lucky with a step-cousin.
Mike attended my grandmother's funeral, but I did not know that his extreme sadness was more than just our grandmother dying. He had more issues happening with him than what I realized at the time, but I do not believe the sermon the preacher preached at my grandmother's funeral was of any help.
My grandmother, who was extremely religious, lived a very long life only to die in her sleep a few weeks after her 94th birthday. The story about her is that she sat at her mother's knee and gave her life to Jesus at four years of age and she never once backslid. Cute story, but in all honesty, I do not buy that she willingly turned her life over to some fictional character. She was brainwashed at a very early age, but she was not exactly hammered by the religious like they did my step-cousin.
My step-cousin had four back surgeries and was still in a lot of pain. The people at my relatives' church tried hard to convince him that if he turned his life over to God/Jesus, his back pain would disappear. They constantly bugged him about giving his life to Jesus and of course there was the sermon about “The Path of Salvation” at my grandmother's funeral.
Now, I do not remember the exact words of the sermon, but I can say this, it was, to my older son's disappointment, not about my grandmother. He had hoped that he would have learned something about her at the funeral, but it was not about her. It was about God, Jesus, salvation, religion, and more religion. When my aunt and mother invited us to attend church with them the next morning, I turned them down without consulting my eighteen year old son. After we were in our rental car, I asked my son if I had spoke for him instead of allowing him to say he wanted to attend. He shouted, “NO!” Then paused to say in a softer tone, “I mean no, I didn't want to go, so it was OK you did not ask me.” Several days later, maybe months later, he said, “I am glad you did not take us to an Evangelical church when we were children. What exposure I got from great grandma's funeral was more than enough and I am beginning to understand you more.” His words gave me comfort and reassurance that I did well raising them when it came to religion.
It was not long after he said that to me that my mother called me with news about my step-cousin. She was talking about Pastor Betty almost convincing him to turn his life over to God and all sorts of crazy babble. I finally said, “Mother, what happened?” She said, “Mike shot himself in the head.” I thought, “What? You bitches drove him to it!” Then she continued on about how Pastor Betty was trying to get him to turn his life over to God while he was on full life support while the doctors were trying to convince his half-brothers to pull the plug because he was brain dead. I said to my mother, “Mike was brain dead and your pastor was still trying to get him to convert?” She said, “Oh yes and she believed she had almost done it too when they came to pull the plug.” My mind screamed again, “HE WAS F*****G BRAIN DEAD! DON'T YOU GET IT?” I could not believe how stupid people could be nor could these people see that they helped lead Mike to committing suicide with their constant talk about conversion and “The Path of Salvation”. They pestered him to death and beyond, literally. Between his sever back pain and their constant pestering clear past brain death with false promises and conversion, it is a wonder the doctors were even able to pull the plug.
We finally hung up and I told my sons, “Well, your relatives and their crazy friends drove another relative to suicide.” I told them what had happened and they were sadden, but could see how religion was once again involved in another death of a relative.
We did not go to his memorial, but my mother called with exuberance and stated that Pastor Betty preached on “The Path of Salvation” again, adding that she wished we had been there. Then she said the most ignorant thing I have ever heard. She stated that Pastor Betty believed that Mike had turned his life over to God just before they pulled the plug. I thought, “OH COME ON! He was brain dead! He shot his brains out of his skull with a gun. Give me a break!”
While my grandmother's neurology just shut down like an old computer when she died in her sleep, my step-cousin blew his brains out with a gun. In essence there was nothing left to even hear with because he severed the mother board from the rest of the computer. That is a crude, but almost apt analogy, but I did not dare tell that to my mother. He did not scramble the circuits, he cut and destroyed them by blowing them up and out, yet they are convinced there was still a soul that could hear, a human being to save and convert. Honestly, sometimes I think people are really ignorant of their own bodies and these particular Evangelical Fundamentalists took the cake concerning ignorance.
Sadly, it was his younger brother who saw him kill himself and according to him, there was no talking his brother out of shooting himself. Of course, this younger brother is older than I am, but still, I worry about him because he saw it and he lives among these crazy people. Who knows what will happen to him.
However, I have not been able to tell my surviving step-cousins, my mother, or my aunt, that I truly feel that their pastor and all the members of their church, including them, led Mike to kill himself. They would take great offense to such a statement, no matter how true it maybe. The thing is, all this insanity as led my older son to say, “Mama, please don't tell Grandma I'm a Buddhist.” I do not even dare to tell her that I am a humanist, much less tell her my son is a Buddhist, because I know what these people can do to one's psychic. It gives me a headache just thinking about all of what has happened, even within my sons' lifetime, and so much of it involves religion.
Some may question as to why I attribute my relatives' religious beliefs and alike to pushing them and others over the edge. Some may say that religion does not contribute to mental illness and/or suicide and make some sort of excuse, but I truly believe that religion was part of the suicides and attempted suicide of my relatives. I believe this because I too had a depressive episode that involved a psychosis before I even finished a degree in psychology, only my psychosis did not involve religion.
I fell into a deep depression a few years after my first marriage, which involved a lot of abuse, ended in divorce, but before I finished getting a bachelor in psychology. The thing is, I did not know I was having a psychosis until it was over and my therapist explained it to me.
I lived in a world where the characters of Star Trek were so real I could touch them, but reality felt unreal. I especially lived The Next Generation episode “The Loss”, although I cannot tell you what I lost to this day. I could quote almost every single line Deanna Troi said and a few more of the other characters too. I could also quote lines from other episodes and oddly enough, my therapist saw that I was living this fantasy of Star Trek. However, she did nothing to destroy the fantasy because I was of no harm to myself or others.
My grandfather spouted that psychologists are of the devil and will steal one's soul. He refused treatment and even began to say that the doctors were playing god and insisted that God wanted him home a long time ago. He then stopped taking his heart medication and died a few days later. Gene Roddenberry buried a lot of humanist's thought in Star Trek and even though I had not yet declared myself a humanist and was still attending the Episcopal Church, I was following via Star Trek, humanism. I followed it clear up to the point I felt like killing myself and beyond. What stopped me from killing myself? The words still ring in my head to this day, especially when I look back on the incident and those words were of Deanna Troi to Worf when he was about to kill himself in the episode where "one moon circles" and no one but Troi reached REM sleep. I forget the title of that episode, but Deanna ran into his quarters and shouted, “Worf! NO!” just as he was about to kill himself with a Klingon ritual knife. She managed to stop him, tells him it is just an illusion, and guided him to Sickbay.
With Troi's words, ringing in my head, I snapped out of my delusion and began crying, wishing I could die, but somehow that did not seem like bettering myself. I felt lost because I could not touch the characters I loved so dearly any more. They were not real to me any more, but reality was and I could touch it again. Something at the time I did not wish to do.
I do not know how hard I was crying, but I managed to call my therapist and told her I wanted to rip every Star Trek picture off my wall and destroy all the memorabilia I had. She told me not to do that because I would regret it. I do not know what else I said, but in her opinion, I was obviously suicidal and she wanted me to call her every day at said time, whatever that was for I cannot remember now, except on the days I saw her in person until she deemed I was not a threat to myself any more. She would have hospitalized me, except because of my sons, she knew I would not go and she also knew I had no help with my sons either. The other thing was, it was my sons who were keeping me alive also.
Here is the difference between my relatives' psychosis and mine- theirs dealt with an afterlife, mine had no afterlife. This is it and once a person is dead, there is no bringing them back. That is also another aspect of humanism- no afterlife and no reliance on anything supernatural. Humanism uses reason, compassion, and science to solve our problems. A lot of this can be found in Star Trek too. There was no religion in my psychosis nor was there anything supernatural or an afterlife. So, in a sense, Gene and Majel Roddenberry's philosophy indirectly saved my life, even though my psychosis was purely a creation of Gene's mind.
A few years after I snapped out of my psychosis, I started exploring humanism more thoroughly and although Gene and Majel are not gods nor were they all-knowing and all-powerful, they indirectly saved my life also, by introducing me to humanism at few months after I was born, via the media with the very first episode of The Original Series. I had not realized, until I began researching humanism, just how much of the philosophy Gene put into his show and how much it influenced me over my lifetime. If it had not been for this influence and subsequent psychosis, I might have had a religious psychosis and then my story may have turned out differently. Thus, I feel I owe them both a debt of gratitude.
When I asked my therapist why she did not snap me out of my delusion sooner, instead of allowing it to run it's course, she explained to me that at the time, it was keeping me alive and from self-harm. To force me out of it would have done more harm than good. So in a sense, she too saved my life and afterwards we did address some of the religious issues of my relatives, but not all of them. She was a Christian, but explained to me that they corrupted religion in a way that was harmful and she did this without preaching her own theological view point, which was good, because I probably would have stopped listening to her. However, she gave me my first clue as to how mentally damaging religion can be, yet a non-theistic view could be less harmful mentally.
No, she was not trying to lead me to atheism or humanism, but her approach was very humanistic in that it was centred on the human. She set aside her own beliefs in a god in favour of treating the human and in my case, given my history with religious ideology, she did well to point out how it was corrupt and damaging to me as a person. She knew my case history with my biological father and my other relatives, including their religious beliefs. She also had met my mother at least once, because we invited her to a session or two and knew how she reverted back to insane doctrine. Right in front of my therapist, my mother insisted she had no choice concerning my father, because it was all God's will and other crazy dogma, even though I asked how child sexual abuse was “God's will”. My mother's statements were truly bizarre and even illogical.
The therapist even knew what my grandfather said to me when my mother finally gained full custody of me. She knew all the crazy ideology that I experienced growing up, even my grandfather's psychosis when I was twenty-three, and she still allowed me to have my psychosis that had no God or afterlife in it for better or worse. I think it was for the better though as I look back on my life, because in the end, it saved my life and did not end it like it did my grandfather's ended his nor did it lead to attempted suicide as my mother's psychosis did hers.
The other thing was, she eventually stopped inviting my mother to my counseling sessions. So, in a sense, she also pushed the religious dogma out my life during therapy and even suggested I avoid my mother as much as reasonably possible, until I was better.
Thus, my conclusions about religious extremism and beliefs. My life experience has led me to believe that, in some cases, religion does more harm than good, contributes to mental illness, and can even lead to suicide, where as, a non-theistic belief can actually save a person's life. Granted, this is not necessarily true with all Christians and other people of belief, but in the case of Fundamentalism, it very well can lead to death. Humanism, on the other hand, is very much life-affirming as it inspires one to better themselves. I never did see any of that in what my relatives believe(d). All I saw was degradation and dehumanization concerning their beliefs and that is not healthy.
Some say the wages of sin is death, but I say, the wages of extremism is death. I do not like extremism of any sort, not even extremism in disbelief for that matter, even though I am not a believer of any religion or deity. That too is also another part of the Roddenberry philosophy- having some tolerance for other people's beliefs, but I doubt either one of them accepted extremism, because there were times that even they poked fun of religious beliefs, even in Star Trek.
The truth is, religion can be very degrading and very dehumanizing and sometimes, in order to find one's humanity, a person has to let go of superstition, in favour of reason, compassion, and science. Religion can also contribute to mental illness and lead to tragic consequences, where as, a non-theistic philosophy can lead to living life and a very fulfilled one at that. I would not have it any other way for myself, because I have seen what religion does to my relatives and it is not good. I have no intentions of dying as they did nor do I wish to make religion or a belief in a deity the main focus of my life. For me, there is nothing more fulfilling than striving to be fully human, living life fully, trying to better myself, and having compassion for my fellow human, as well as myself, all within reason, of course.