Image via Wikipedia
As I mentioned before, I was born in 1966, a few months before the season premier of Trek the Original Series. I grew up with the saying, “We strive to better ourselves and humanity” among other sayings that are very much similar to what is found in the Humanist Manifestos and all prior to age seven.
The age of accountability among Christians is seven, but for seven years, I saw reruns of TOS and I remember sitting in a Lazy-Boy chair when I was four watching a “laughing Vulcan” who was sprayed with some powder from a flower, as well as Tribbles, and Apollo (see “Who Mourns for Adonis”). At the same time, we rarely went to church around this time, but there were rare occasions that we did. I have an idea of how old I was because we lived in Alton, IL prior to me going to first grade. We did not live in the country until after I entered first grade, so I have some demarcation of age.
There was a moment when my mother pointed to a time of drastic change in my parents’ relationship and as a preschooler, my mind was vivid with something that few adults my age seem to remember and no generation afterwards even has seen on TV. It was a night that was very creepy for me as a child and one in which my mother allowed me to stay up with her in the kitchen as someone knocked and knocked unceasingly on our door. In my mind, this was the dancing Butterfinger elephant knocking at the door incessantly. This was not good, because that elephant was very creepy to me even in the advertisements, but it was not some evil person or demon. That thought never occurred to me even when I started crying during the commercials that I saw this cartoon creature.
No doors, except the front door, were allowed to be closed, as per my father’s rules. Thus, I was exposed to almost everything, even to what many children should never be privy to between their parents nor did I ever get to take a bath or shower in private until my parents’ divorce- again as per my father’s rules. However, aside from not being able to close any door, except when we had company, I cannot remember any sexual abuse before I was seven, but the therapist I had after my first divorce, suspected there might have been, besides what I do remember around seven years of age to around fourteen years. I am also not sure why things happened in sevens when I was a child either.
Now my mother was still under the idea that a woman had to submit to her husband on everything, even if she disagreed, yet somehow she did read some atheist literature prior to her first born-again experience that occurred when I was around seven. She also read many Dr. Spock’s book and raised me by his professional child rearing guidelines. I know this because when I learned to recognize the name Spock and the abbreviation for doctor at a young age, probably around five or six, I went to her and said, “I didn’t know Spock was a doctor.” She laughed and said, “No, not Mister Spock. Dr. Spock. They are two different people. One is a character from Star Trek and the other is a real live doctor, fully human. Not a Vulcan.” I was a bit perplexed, but I quickly learned the difference that one was fiction and the other was not. This incident my mother and I have not forgotten and we occasionally still talk about my discovery of Dr. Spock and Mr. Spock, so the memory of her response probably lacks little difference. Ironically, Dr. Spock was a humanist too, but I am not certain my mother ever knew this nor have I told her, but maybe one day I will.
Like my older son, I guess I was a brilliant child. I often jokingly call my older son “my Wesley”, for he did many things early too, including learned how to read at the age of three, thanks to my help. I learned to read via Dr. Seuss and he learned to read via Dr. Seuss also, who was yet another humanist. Neither of us liked Bambi. In fact, my mother could not read Bambi to me without me screaming in tears, “It was the humans who did it!” However, she could read the Lorax to me and I was quite content. So, were my children who wondered after they got into school why they never heard the story of Bambi, which they both found disturbing too. That was precisely why I did not read Bambi to them. I could not stomach it due to the human element, yet we do find that in the Lorax, but the cute little guy is giving a message- UNLESS. That message is still important to me to this day, especially when it comes to Rapturists and Dominionists teachings. Unless they change their beliefs and attitudes, there will be nuclear war, from my point of view, and I have said this many times.
All the earmarks and influences for raising a humanist were very prominent from day one of my birth and I often half jokingly remarked that the Roddenberrys had a hand in raising me- as well as other well-known humanists. Yet, there is some irony in that joke too and I seriously doubt to this day, my mother realizes that she raised a humanist. This is not to say that the little exposure to my relatives’ Fundamentalism I had prior to her first born-again experience did not have any affect, but it was not as profound as it was after my mother’s first born-again experience. She actually talked to me and communicated with me before her born-again experiences, even knew what bothered me most too. She heard my tears and fears prior to her born-again experiences and actually tried to remedy them in little ways.
After her first born-again experience, she burned many things, literally in a bonfire. We lived in the country by this time, so this was not illegal or even prohibited, at least not in the early ‘70s. I watched wide-eyed as she burned the 8-track tape of Jesus Christ Superstar and our Ouiji board. I dearly liked JC Superstar because it was not gory and I could stomach that version of the story. I also played with that board, in which nothing happened unless I moved it. Yet when I asked her why she was burning those things, she replied, “They are demonic.”
I observed my mother and thought she gone crazy, because I never saw a thing wrong with them. I asked the board a question and it just sat there motionless, until I decided to move it to whatever answer I wanted it to give. She even played with me sometimes. In my young mind, I thought my mother had gone crazy as she burned everything she deemed demonic. I was a child on the outside looking in to something and I could not comprehend what it was, but I became very afraid of her and to this day, I cannot forget that incident anymore than I can the other profound things that happened.
On top of it all, I had a fiery-orange spaniel dog that I watched being born before we left Alton and my mother named him Satan, but because his name was “Satan”, my grandmother insisted his name be changed to Satin because we were calling “Satan”. Funny, I never saw a little red dude with a pitchfork when I called my dog. I always got my dog when I called the name Satan and I swear that poor dog of a few years old, was just as confused as I was because of it. Regardless, I was the only one who continued to call my dog Satan after all the insanity began, even though the adults told me not to call him that anymore. I saw no reason to change his name and their reason made no sense to me.
I also had a dog, named Sirius, named after the Dog Star, who unfortunately disappeared. The adults told me that someone must have took him and ran off with him. I thought there was something strange about that, but I chose to believe he disappeared because he was a special mix, a Chihuahua and Boston terrier mix. However, I look back and wonder if my assumption was true at the time. He could have very well disappeared for some sort of bizarre reasons.
None of it made sense, even when I told my mother what my father did to me prior to us leaving him and after we left I watched her go to my minister great uncle’s altar in utter fear. To me, he was frightening as he screamed and yelled, much like my abusive father. His demeanor was just as demanding and forceful as my father’s insistence when he touched me, which commanded all authority. While I froze where we had both stood, she went to his altar in tears.
I learned the difference very early in life between anger that was due to pain, such as my atheist great uncle’s during an argument with my grandfather over God and anger that insisted that you do something or else. The last scared me into a non-moving paralyzed state, like a doe in the headlights, and I knew in my mind it was “the adults who did it”, as Wesley once said in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The last time she went to my minister great uncle’s altar, when I was fourteen, I dared to go up and comfort her. While she kneeled and cried, I patted her on the back as a means of comfort, yet somehow, to this day, I think the adults misinterpreted my intentions, yet no one thought to ask me why I went with her. There was no religious intent on my part with my actions, but the next thing I knew, my mother told my great uncle she wanted me baptized too.
Uncle Richard came to me with this weird grin and asked me, “Do you want to be baptized?” Now I was scared again. A child does not tell their elders “no”, so I was taught, even by my father. They must do what is expected of them and I knew I was expected to say “yes”, even though I did not want to do it. It would seem the moment she was born-again even the first time around, I lost my freedom to think and suffer the natural consequences of my action, something I understand to be part of Dr. Spock’s child-rearing practices. I was dragged along simply because I was her daughter was not actually given a choice in the matter.
So, where were all the Evangelical religious teachings? Well, I got some of it when I spent the summer with my grandparents, mostly after I was seven though. I knew about Jesus prior to seven, but not exactly indoctrinated prior to that. It was after that, that I everything became topsy-turvy in my world and church became a little more frequent, but not as frequent as it did after I turned fourteen and my mother had her last born-again experience.
One summer after I was seven and prior to fourteen, I sat in my grandparents’ church during a sermon studying the picture of Jesus behind the minister. He was White with straight blonde hair. This made no sense, because I realized he was Middle Eastern, given the location of the story. Thus, I remember thinking that he probably had the complexion of a Middle Eastern, as well as the hair and eye-colour, and possibly course dark hair much like someone from Africa. I could not comprehend why the picture made him White with straight blonde hair. There was no way that man could have had a White complexion. He was Middle Eastern-looking, African-looking, or somewhere in between, not White.
Therefore, between that and my grandfather’s version of the Bible in his home, I did get a good dose of Evangelicalism and even remember the words. I just cannot tell anyone the jest of it, or even what it meant, probably because my attention was not fully on what was said. This could have been due to boredom and lack of mental stimulation. Prior to my leaving religion, there were some things that bothered my psychic, such as John 3:16 and more recently while reading Marlene Winell’s book late at night and dozing off, I heard the words, “You need God”, thus some of it did sink into my mind. I was not completely oblivious to it even though I was paralyzed with fear as I observed the adults.
Now there was a difference in my concept of god and their God. The god I knew could not be described in human words, but I felt it when one of my pets sympathized with me after my father gave me a beating, physically and verbally, or forced himself on me (since it was not voluntary and between consenting adults, I do not view this as taking from my virginity, though some might). Each time I cried from such things one of my pets came to me, placed him or herself in my lap, and licked my face or purred. I looked into their eyes and got the most powerful numinous feeling that was beyond words. That was god to me.
When I played outside on my tire swing that sat in a position that when you swung, you went out over a hill. That feeling within nature was purely awesome. The same was true when I rode my pony in the field, because I had this feeling of being one with nature. I even felt as one when I received an honest and warm loving hug from others. As an adult, I still adore those transcendent experiences when they happen, whether they are mild or strong.
However, every time I attempted to express this, the adults told me that was not God and proceeded to informed me of what God really was. Regardless, I never let go of those feelings I so adored as a child and to this day, even though I now realize that it is all neurology, I appreciate those feelings, because they have meaning to me- a feeling of being part of the earth and equal to all living things on this planet. These feelings are my spirituality and they go deep into appreciating all life.
While I appreciate the words “do onto others”, I do not believe it was the teaching of those words that gave me a sense of “do no intentional harm”, but rather what I saw adults doing to animals and other human beings, including to me. It pained me greatly when my father harmed my pets that I loved so dearly. It pained me when I saw the other pigs trying to kill the runt and begged my mother to rescue him for me- yes, I named him Wilbur. It not only scared me when my minister great uncle went into his altar call, but I felt my mother’s pain when she was crying at his altar and knew it was related to his diatribe. I saw my atheist great uncle and knew he was hurting from what my grandfather said to him. I knew what it felt like to be hurt by others on so many different levels and could not bare to see others, be they human or other animal, being harmed. I still cannot bear to see others harmed.
Finally, and most vividly, it was the humans who tortured Jesus on the cross. I always said this even as a child. I did not care what others said, it was plain as day that the Romans, Jews, and many others beat him, spit on him, whipped him to a bloody pulp, and nailed him to a wooden cross! No one has ever convinced me differently and I even said it did not have to happen if the humans were not so mean. This of course was long before I knew the story was a myth. Of course, when I told my mother sometime between seven and fourteen years old, Jesus did not die for my sins and I did not want that for anyone, she started ranting that it had to happen, was glad it happened because if it did not happen blah, blah, blah, John 3:16 blah, blah… You fill in the rest, because I somehow quit listening and started focusing on her emotions, which were frightening to me.
I do not know how I got this odd sort of compassion for others or when exactly I learned to fear others when they exhibited certain behaviours, but I did learn this probably due to observing the adults around me as a child. As an only child, it was very rare when I was not surrounded by adults and rarer still were times I played with other children. Oddly, my other playmates were my pets, not by choice, but due to being sheltered not just by my parents, but other parents who felt something was very wrong in my family, thus did not allow their children to come over and play without them present. Thus, I learned to observe others and their behaviours very quickly.
However, I received a good dose of fear and guilt from the religious and my abusive father, but I never conceptualized the various dogmas and alike in a way I could put them into words. However, I know the actions and behaviours of humans very well and the reactions/results of those things. Throw out words or concepts such as “The Path of Salvation”, “the fruits of the Spirit”, and whatever other saying and I feel clueless. I even told my mother recently “I have no concept of “The Path of Salvation”,” she was utterly shocked. Ironically, this was after my grandmother’s funeral, in which I sat through that preacher’s sermon on the topic. I cannot tell you what she said, not even in my own words, yet I can tell you what some professor lectured on in his class the week before and after that. My older son could not make any sense out of sermon either, but I think, due to fear and observing people’s behaviours, I learned to put up mental shields or a mental force field, in which such things were more or less filtered and what little that did penetrate my mind was not as much. Thus, I ended up having my own diatribes concerning what disturbed me, instead of becoming part of a collective, yet at the same time I found means to appease them so that I would not experience their anger. Resistance is not futile, but that does not mean such things do not still have an affect on a person. It just means that when I hear Assembly of God/Pentecostal, Evangelical, Fundamentalism, or various dogmas there of, my mind raises a red flag, or goes to red alert, to stay uniformed with Trek metaphors.
Now that I am an adult, even after my mother entered my room and yanked the humanist information that I was reading out of my hands, when I was fourteen or so, I believe I have gone full circle. I have developed my own spirituality, rules, morals, and values that are not based on any religious text or dogma, but rather from personal experience. I am a Humanist, but it was not for lack of adults attempting to indoctrinate me into Christianity, but probably due to the years prior to age seven, in which humanism unknowingly was part of my life and my mother actually paid attention to me. There was little by way of religion in my very early years to stunt my curiosity or imagination concerning the world. Rather, prior to her first born-again experience, there were a whole lot of humanistic influences- not just via the media, but also parenting books, which my mother read to guide her in parenting, and children’s stories.
The years prior to seven are crucial to any child’s development and even if there was abuse and/or Christianity prior to that age, what I do remember are the things that stayed with me for a lifetime, which involved many humanists’ influences from different sources. However, there is a sense of irony in Proverbs 22:6, for my mother did not spend my early years indoctrinating me into Christianity, but rather raising me as a humanist. So what does this thing called “age of accountability” mean? I have no clue, but I do know reason and compassion are very important things and I probably knew something about it when I was young too, but lack the cognition to express it in words anymore than I knew what humanism was as a child. Yet, try as my relatives might, it is my guess that my mother did not raise a Christian, but rather, as the Rational Response Squad once said on the Humanist News Network podcast once, “a chicken-shit atheist”. Oh well, I am proud to be a humanist, even if some think it means I am “chicken-shit”, because I look back at Dr. Seuss, Dr. Spock, and the Roddenberrys, and think I’m in good company.