(In loving memory of a WWII atheist in a foxhole; one of my heroes)
"I want you to be all love. This is the perfection I believe and teach. And this perfection is consistent with a thousand nervous disorders, which that high-strained perfection is not. Indeed, my judgment is, that (in this case particularly) to overdo is to undo and that to set perfection too high (so high as no man that we ever heard or read of attained) is the most effectual (because unsuspected) way of driving it out of the world." —Works, vol. vi. p.715. ~ John Wesley ( http://homepage.mac.com/craigadams1/WESPERF/SECTN02.html )[sic]
"'The pure in heart,' are those whose hearts God hath purified even as He is pure'; who are purified through faith in the blood of Jesus, from every unholy affection; who, being cleansed from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfect holiness in the (loving) fear of God.' They are, through the power of His grace, purified from pride, by the deepest poverty of spirit; from anger, from every unkind or turbulent passion, by meekness and gentleness; from every desire but to please and enjoy God, to know and love Him more and more, by that hunger and thirst after righteousness, which now engrosses their whole soul; so that now they love the Lord their God with all their heart, and with all their soul, and mind, and strength." — Sermons, vol. i. p. 199. (ibid)
It is Sunday morning and, as I do many Sunday mornings, I contemplate various things concerning religion and/or humanism. This could be anything from Gnostic texts to Tao texts or various Christian doctrines and of course humanism is always the final conclusion. Not to mention, my mother is constantly giving me food for my book that I am working on and this week was no exception. Thus, there is a reason for my madness in quoting John Wesley, because it relates to what I grew up with as a child and to what I believe contributes to mental illness and even contributed to the anorexia I suffered with for years.
One of many recurring themes, even here on Ex-Christian, has been the idea of “Freewill”. I think this doctrine is more in Calvinistic doctrine than in Wesleyan, but it does exist to some extent even within Wesleyan theology. However, even though I was raised among those who followed Wesley's ideology, I have no clue what freewill is, at least not in a religious sense that is, and I will explain as we take a trip through two very human lives and some church doctrines, specifically Wesleyan doctrine. It is a means of sorting things out to come to some sort of conclusion, no matter if it is right or wrong in the eyes of others.
Webster's dictionary states freewill is voluntary, spontaneous, a voluntary choice or decision, and freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention.
How many of us can actually say they had that freedom when it came to religion, especially as children? I cannot and I suspect many of us here can attest to not having the freedom to choose for themselves also.
Like many, I was dragged to church, especially by my grandparents and then by my mother after she rededicated her life to for the third and last time. I was fourteen and went up to the altar during her third time “of being saved” to comfort her because she was crying and hurting. I placed my hand on her back to soothe her, only for the adults to assume that I was at the altar for the same reason she was. Quite the opposite, because I knew my mother was in pain... emotional pain that is and that is just me when I see someone in pain. However, that was the first and only time I dared to venture up to my minister great uncle's altar and I regretted it greatly afterwards.
Shortly thereafter there was my baptism. My mother told my minister great uncle that she wanted me to be baptized and then she and my minister great uncle approached me to ask if I wanted to be baptized. What does a child say to her elders who she was trained to follow their orders or rather trained to be a people pleaser or rather in their eyes, trained to “please God”? If she says “no”, she will be plagued with many questions, guilt trips, and so much more. Something that is not very appealing. On the other hand, if the child complies and says “yes”, then the adults stay off her back and more or less leave her alone, except for the act of baptism itself. To comply pleases the adults and makes them happy, thus the child does not experience their wrath due to displeasing them.
Finally, there was my grandfather telling me that anger is a sin, when I expressed wanting to prosecute my father for sexually abusing me, even after my relatives gained full custody of me. Surely you see a pattern here with the above quotes, but regardless, of what my grandfather, who had no college degree, said and the quote above, the Bible states, “Be angry and sin not”. Wanting to prosecute my father in the here and now was not a sin nor was my anger towards him. It was a perfectly healthy and normal emotion concerning what he did to me, but my relatives' religious beliefs were to supersede anything that is natural and normal to the human.
Now according to the doctrine of freewill, one is suppose to choose it freely. In this case, “it” would be God/Jesus/Christianity, of course. However, in reality, this is not something that is made out of freedom or personal choice. It is imposed and to not comply could mean serious consequences- from other humans, not some divine supernatural being. A child, especially a teenager, is not stupid concerning this and if she does not want to get in trouble with the adults who have authority over her, she complies. It was no wonder I suffered with an eating disorder and even depression, not to mention my many relatives who suffered with depression and committed or attempted suicide. There is no control over one's choices, or even life for that matter, when such abusive, degrading, dehumanizing, self-defeating, and self-denying religious dogma is involved. It is a recipe for insanity.
Now, let us go forward about thirty years. A future that also reveals the past that is.
This week, my mother sent me a copy of a letter my atheist great uncle wrote in March 1983 a few years before he died (b. Feb. 25, 1911 and d. July 30, 1997, as well as “an atheist in a foxhole” during WW II, U.S. Army Corp, as well as had a Ph. D.). For now, we will ignore what she wrote in the margins of his letter and start with what he wrote and revealed concerning the Borgish behaviour of the religious. It would seem he saw a lot of what I have seen all my life and was trying to tell those who read the letter something.
He starts with a salutation that says, “Dear Children.” Now you know any letter that starts in that manner, especially one that was written in later years is going to reveal something about the author. He even stated he was encouraged to write the letter by his wife and daughter-in-law and then added “you maybe in for a rather boring account.”
However, he reveals some very interesting things in his letter and I share as follows:
My atheist great uncle mentions some kissing cousins marrying, which is not unusual in my family tree, and describes some of the genetic issues of those relationships. Thus I was not surprised by any of that and know of many of the genetic problems in my family tree. After he finishes with the physical genetic issues, he mentions one relative, who at 80 "escaped the family curse altogether by putting a bullet through his head," which left me to wonder what the “family curse” was. Needless to say, very recent memories of my step-cousin shooting himself in the head, in relationship to his physical pain, depression, and dogmatic religious ideology ran through my mind. Then he tells of an aunt, he called an unusual woman and a great church-goer, who believed she was right and everyone had to believe what she believed and even insisted they all go to church, less "the boys" (my grandfather, great uncle, and their brothers) become heathens. That was the first he ever heard of the Free Methodist Church, which is Wesleyan in its doctrine and oppressively dogmatic.
According to him, this aunt said to the brothers' mother, my great grandmother, "Now, Carrie I tell you, it's your bounden duty to git them kids in Sunday School! Do you want 'em to grow up to be heathens?" He goes on to say, "Now, we-uns had never been noted for church attendance; we kids thought growing up to be 'heathens' had its points. Dad was neutral, but finally said, "I suppose you'll have to go; there won't be no peace around here until you do." [sic]
What was meant by "escaping the family curse?" There was, as far as I have been told, no dementia in my family medical history, but there is, without a doubt, depression, and it seems quite obvious that he and his five brother did not get a say about church or religion in general for that matter. Was my atheist great uncle giving his children, which may or may not have included great nieces, a warning about religion? He was obviously giving us a glimpse into his own atheism, but was the family curse actually related to what he was saying? Was he making a point that emotional suffering and religion, whether imposed or accepted, went hand-in-hand in our family? How did this other ancestor “escape the family curse altogether” by committing suicide like so many others in my family have? Was he approving or was he, like myself, disapproving? I could not tell just by reading what he said, but I knew there was some relationship between the genetic disorders, religion, and his statement concerning that particular ancestor, who did not have a noticeable physical genetic disorder.
Then there was a more alarming revelation that my thought concerning 'the curse' maybe right as I read my mother's notes in the margins of his letter. Her statements included many dying in a mental institution- such as my great grandma Carrie, who was my atheist uncle and devotedly religious grandfather's mother, along with four other brothers. She makes another note that my grandfather "was saved, that is gave his heart and life and eternity to God in the mid-1930s," and ends with "Uncle Lawrence died in a rest home in Alton, Illinois. Aunt Mildred, his wife, said he was saved just days before he died." Like I said in another blog post, my atheist great uncle has a "death bed conversion" story, which I seriously doubt is true. Adding to that, she wrote her own short letter, full of religious dogma, stating that both my grandparents were afraid of doctors and my grandmother would not even cooperate with the doctor. Before she finished she said another one of my grandfather's brothers died of heart surgery, which of course made no sense to me. He might of died of the heart problem the doctors were attempting surgery on, but no necessarily the surgery alone. Now keep in mind, these are the same grandparents who believed that those in the psychology field are of the devil and will steal your soul. This is also the same grandfather who believed the doctors were keeping him alive long than God wanted and subsequently stopped taking his heart medications. My mother is the daughter of these two and never received a satisfactory education, because the Bible is all she needs to know concerning science. So, the statement about heart surgery in and of itself killing one of my grandfather's brothers is stated with very little knowledge about said procedure, much less the heart condition that uncle had.
If some emotional disorder with religious delusion is the “family curse” it would appear history repeated itself with my step-cousin, who shot himself, even though he is not a blood relative. This “curse” repeated itself with my grandfather and almost repeated itself with my mother twice. It is a horrid thought to me, but it would appear that such suicides, even my grandfather's death, plague my family tree. Somehow religion always seems to be mixed up in some fashion concerning the mental disorders and deaths of my relatives.
I cannot imagine why suicide would not be part of the insanity, given that Wesleyan doctrine includes the idea of striving for Christian perfection ( http://www.theopedia.com/Wesleyan_perfectionism ), because the flesh is filthy and vile. Human thoughts are also vile and should be silenced. Start doubting or questioning god and you become imperfect. Sin, which includes foul language, you backslide, and become imperfect, thus must rededicate your life to God/Jesus again. Thus repeated visits to the altar and “being saved”. Also the reason my minister great uncle had a weekly altar call for sinners to be saved. In my opinion, life would be, and was when I involved in such doctrine as a child, a miserable existence. If one believes there is a life better than this after death, then why not knock yourself off the face of the earth. This life and our bodies are such hideous things, why bother living?
I am being sarcastic of course, but striving for sinless perfection is virtually impossible, unless you are Mother Teresa and even she sometimes doubted, but such ideas can only contribute to depression and potentially suicide.
Disbelief is imperfection in the Wesleyan theology, so I am damned unless I dedicate myself to whatever vile human concept they have. If they were to know that I do not believe in their god, they would pester me, much like the Borg, with their beliefs, until I complied and conformed- just like they did my step-cousin and my atheist great uncle and his parents. After all, why would anyone want to be imperfect? Thus, we are back to freewill not actually being freewill because one is threaten with the idea of being imperfect and of course hell, because religion is being imposed, with a threat of course. The words imperfect is not something that sounds good to another human and thus you are incomplete without God, without salvation, and on the path to hell. One needs God to be complete, according to their philosophy- “the Path of Salvation”.
Of course, with such a doctrine, one gets a sense that they are not good enough and begin not to like themselves. Thus there is a plague of depression that ensues after being brainwashed into such a vicious circle of backsliding and dedication, especially if one has a predisposition for such an illness. It is as bad as the Borg and resistance is futile, especially if you are family, because you MUST be saved, following “the Path of Salvation”, and striving for that Christian perfection. So, did great grandma Carrie end up in “Bedlam” solely because of the genetic predisposition for mental illness or did such beliefs feed into her mental illness? Who knows, but such doctrines cannot be good and are easily corrupted too. I can see them as contributing to depression and making it even worse than a philosophy that gives one human dignity.
If it sounds like there is a lack of understanding in what Wesley called Christian perfection, it is because he was never clear and was constantly re-explaining and redefining what Christian perfection is. It would appear he could not nail down his own doctrine very well and Calvin often criticized the doctrine. Not to be outdone of course, Wesley criticized Calvin's doctrine too and it has been going one since Calvin and Wesley departed from the Anglican Church and started their own churches with their respective followers. To this day, both groups still criticize each other and people who are neither, see the insanity in both doctrines and criticize both of them.
When Wesley was alive criticism from the Anglican Church of his thought happened too and as shown in “The Nature of Christian Perfection” website (http://homepage.mac.com/craigadams1/WESPERF/SECTN02.html), Wesley made a statement to the Bishop:
Letter to the Bishop of London: —
"What, it may be asked, do you mean by 'one that is perfect,' or, 'one that is as his Master?' We mean one in whom is, 'the mind which was in Christ,' and who so 'walketh as He walked;' a man that 'hath clean hands and a pure heart;' or that is 'cleansed from all filthiness of flesh and spirit;' one 'In whom there is no occasion of stumbling,' and who, accordingly, 'doth not commit sin.' To declare this a little more particularly: We understand by that Scriptural expression, 'a perfect man,' one in whom God hath fulfilled His faithful word: 'From all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. I will also save you from all your uncleanness.' We understand, hereby, one whom God hath sanctified throughout, even in 'body, soul and spirit;' one who 'walketh in the light, as He is in the light,' in whom 'is no darkness at all; the blood of Jesus Christ His Son' having 'cleansed him from all sin.'
"This man can now testify to all mankind, 'I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live yet I live not, but Christ liveth in me.' He 'is holy, as God who called him is holy,' both in life and 'in all manner of conversation. 'He 'loveth the Lord his God with all his heart, and serveth Him with all his strength. He 'loveth his neighbor' (every man) 'as himself;' yea, 'as Christ loved us;' them in particular that 'despitefully use him and persecute him because 'they know not the Son neither the Father.' Indeed, his soul is all love, filled with 'bowels of mercies, kindness, meekness, gentleness, long suffering. 'And his life agreeth thereto, full of 'the work of faith, the patience of hope, the labor of love.' And 'whatsoever he doeth, either in word or deed,' he doeth 'it all in the name, in the love and power, of the Lord Jesus.' In a word, he doeth the will of God 'on earth, as it is done in Heaven.'
"This is to be 'a perfect man,' to be 'sanctified throughout, created anew in Jesus Christ;' even 'to have a heart so all-flaming with the love of God' (to use Archbishop Usher's words), 'as continually to offer up every thought, word, and work, as a spiritual sacrifice, acceptable unto God through Christ' In every thought of our hearts, in every word of our tongues, in every work of our hands, 'to show forth His praise who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.' Oh, that both we, and all who seek the Lord Jesus in sincerity, may thus 'be made perfect in one!'" — Works, vol. v. p.342.” [sic]
OK so we are all Christ crucified, obviously, or as Wesley said, “crucified with Christ”, without thoughts from our brains, but from our hearts. In other words, no brains of their own, doing nothing that is sinful, not even cursing the crap out of perverted fathers, even though the the Bible states that fathers should not provoke their children. What a miserable existence to be nailed to a tree by other human beings and forced to suffer in silence. It is also no surprise that when one of my atheist great uncle's brothers apparently stubbed his foot and “said a bad word the preacher was horrified”. That is showing imperfection and things that are of the nasty and vile flesh. How long can one take “suffering” before they snap? In some respects, Wesley borders on Gnosticism with what he says, but be that as it may, it is cruel and harsh doctrine to follow. Even so, it is far better to express anger and/or pain rather than hold it in, ignoring it, and suffering from depression or some other mental disorder.
However, children born or forced into this doctrine do not get a choice, thus there is no actual freewill. They are told what to say, how to think, what to do, when to do it, what to read, what to study, follow the Bible for it is the inerrant word of God... A foul word, rebellion, disrespect, and even anger, from a child especially, is shut down and even scolded as fast as it starts. The children are dragged to church less the the parents be harassed constantly and sometimes unceasingly by others. Even the adults are not free from harassment if they do not comply and conform. Thus many find ways to “go home” sooner, rather than later, because this lack of freedom contributes to so much depression, as well as a delusional belief that there is an afterlife.
Clinging and sticking to human freedom and dignity is the most logical answer to escaping “the family curse.”Even as an atheist, I cannot say my great uncle was always happy, because my grandfather, his brother, would always be venomous with him concerning his lack of belief in God/Jesus. However, it is obvious my great uncle and I shared a common bond and it appears it was not my imagination. It is also obvious that he saw what I have seen in my lifetime. Thus, the “family curse” could very well be a combination of depression or other mental disorders and religious dogmatism, even religious delusion. Oddly enough, if you read my first quote from Wesley, he stated that this perfection is consistent with a lot of nervous disorders, which back then could have been anything from hysterics to depression to bipolar disorder. Such beliefs are consistent with a lot of mental illness and apparently a small handful of us saw this, but fought “the curse” to our deaths, be it a natural one or suicide, while others succumbed to it without a fight and died via suicide or if they were lucky, a natural death.
Resistance is not futile though. I do not believe it is futile and I do not think for a minute that I need escape with “a bullet to the head”. My great uncle did not and while he might have thought himself weak or something, I do not think of him as a weak man. I never thought of him as a weak man, but I do think my grandfather was horrid with how he treated his atheist brother and weak for relying on the supernatural and committing suicide. As for my mother... she is not only weak for relying on the supernatural and with her attempts of suicide, but probably sees her one and only child that she prayed for as flawed, imperfect, because I am without her deity and lost to a world of fleshly sin. That is, if she knew for a fact that I do not believe. Must be awfully painful to her, when there is no need for her to put herself through such suffering, especially when I am quite comfortable in my own flesh. With a little soap and water I clean up very nicely.
However, this does not answer the question concerning freewill though. Maybe, especially when it comes to Borg-like theology, freewill is rejecting irrational, imposing, and dictating theology that you never did choose for yourself to begin with. Maybe freewill is researching other philosophies and choosing for yourself which one you will ascribe to, instead of blindly following in the dictates of your living and dead ancestors. The reality is that one cannot have freedom OF religion, without freedom FROM religion and that is truly what this is really all about. Such imposition of religious dogma on anyone is not freedom of or from anything, so it is not freewill, but rather the exact opposite, which I believe would be oppression and oppression can lead to depression.
To have “freewill” is to have freedom to chose and decide for yourself what philosophy to follow and it is inhumane to force anyone, especially children, to ascribe to a doctrine that is not of their choosing. Such doctrines deny an individual of their humanity, whether it is god-given or not. To not allow them freedom OF and FROM religion is to take from them their right to be human and to think for themselves as a human being should. IF freewill is to be a voluntary decision and choice, then they should be able to choose to be free OF and FROM religion as well. To do otherwise is not freedom or freewill, as well as inhumane. Calvinist or Wesleyan theology does not allow for freewill, at least not according to the behaviours of the subscribers of such doctrines.
This takes us to Dawkins' idea that imposing religion on children is child abuse and in a sense, it is, because so many children are not free to chose. They are most often forced to ascribe to what is handed to them via a platter and chalice, along with a piece of wood used to symbolize torture and suffering. On the platter is a book written by primitive people, with primitive thinking, meant to be used as a guide to living life. This book is now archaic, because it is full of so much superstition, ignorance, bigotry, violence, hatred, and tribal thinking. In the chalice is death, because if it filled with symbolic blood of thousands who suffered in the name of tribal superstitions.
The adoration of the suffering and killing of even one human being is not human perfection, but rather behaviour that is worse than many animals in the wild. If humans are to strive for anything, it should be to strive to be fully human, not subservient to a concept created by humans. Humans are social creatures, but they are also a curious lot who, if not suppressed and oppressed, strive to find answers to their questions and acquire knowledge. They are fallible, but they are not fallen creatures and should derive their morals from human experience. They are children of the earth, not children of some mythical being, and as such should tend to the issues of this life, the only one we know for sure we have. “Traditional religions often offer solace to humans, but, as often, they inhibit humans from helping themselves or experiencing their full potentialities. Such institutions, creeds, and rituals often impede the will to serve others. Too often traditional faiths encourage dependence rather than independence, obedience rather than affirmation, fear rather than courage. More recently they have generated concerned social action, with many signs of relevance appearing in the wake of the "God Is Dead" theologies. But we can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves. SECOND: Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful. They distract humans from present concerns, from self-actualization, and from rectifying social injustices” (Humanist Manifesto II, 1973). People should not rely on superstition, because that does not bring about progress, but rather impedes it. Parents should encourage their offspring to think for themselves and make their own choices in life, free of and from dogma, and therein, I believe, lies the real definition of “freewill,”
Of course, I am obviously “preaching” humanism, with such thoughts in the last paragraph, but to me it seems the most logical choice and gives an individual the most freedom with the least amount of contribution to depression. Anything else seems “most illogical” to quote Spock. So now the question is who has “escaped the family curse?” Have I, even though I still get profound headaches from the imposition of religious dogma and suffer from occasional bouts of great sadness? Did my atheist great uncle? I hope he did and I can only hope that I have or am at least working in that direction and never succumb to such ideologies ever in my life, but I still have my living relatives, specifically my mother, to deal with and that is not an easy task.
However, clinging and sticking to human freedom and dignity is the most logical answer to escaping “the family curse”. To do otherwise would be to deny my own humanity and fall prey to that “curse” and I do not believe my atheist great uncle fell prey to that “curse” either. The retired WW II Army doctor fought many religious battles with his believing and god-fearing brother, my grandfather, with no truce before my grandfather committed suicide, but I believe my great uncle remained true to himself to the day he died a natural death. He was too well-educated and battled scarred to give into superstitious dogma, instead of thinking for himself. I also think my atheist great uncle was, in some respects, mentally stronger than my god-fearing grandfather who fell into a depressive psychosis and committed suicide, regardless of any genetic predisposition for depression.