I found this post on Adam Lee’s Daylight Atheism, I just hadn’t had the chance to put my thoughts in order about it. Titled #RaptureAnxiety: Evangelical Torture of the Mind, it deals with the anxiety of living with the fallout of emotional trauma. I can’t do this piece justice; you really need to head over to Patheos and read it yourself.
Before you ask: no, I didn’t live in a doomsday cult. The churches I attended? They never discussed the rapture. It was a nonissue. But I can’t say that I don’t understand the anxiety. The worry came not from the church, but from my own mother.
When I was a child, my mother would tell me stories of how soldiers would come and they would hurt us, because we were god’s people. The soldiers, it seemed, hated god and they hated anyone who knew god, so the soldiers would hurt anyone who said they knew god. Which would be us, of course, because we couldn’t lie and say that we didn’t know god, or god would abandon us. So we would proudly say that yes, we were believers and the soldiers would kill us. My mother often wondered why I didn’t sleep terribly well when I was younger.
Yes, you are reading that correctly. I was told that eventually, I was going to die a painful death, but it was going to be okay because I’d be in the kingdom of heaven afterwards. Yeah, there’s no way in hell that sort of imagery isn’t going to mentally screw up a young child. It’s little more than a horror movie, only it’s being called reality.
As you can imagine, I had nightmares about this sort of thing. I remember a nightmare involving two dogs–one sweet and kind, the other vicious and mean–and the soldiers who owned the dogs, dressed in German fatigues straight out of the Second World War. That dream ended with gunfire and the feeling of bullets piercing my skin.
To this day, thirty-seven years later, the dream disturbs me. I know it isn’t real, but it still creeps me out. It probably always will.
Now, if confronted, my mother would probably say that she was doing her best. That she didn’t mean to scare me but that the end times would be terrifying and she was trying to be honest about it. She was concerned for my eternal soul, she would say. She’d want to see me again after we “left this world”. It was all in my best interest, she would say.
In other words, she had no intention of hurting me. But she did so anyway.
This is why I can’t criticize people who are afraid of that sort of thing; it’s a “been there, done that, got the lousy tee shirt” sort of thing. I know just how damed paralyzing it can get. The idea that a child’s plush Smurf might actually be possessed by Satan and walk out of a Kingdom Hall might sound ridiculous to you, but to someone who believes in the supernatural, it makes sense. If angels can exist, then so too can demons. For everything good, there is bad. And if you aren’t careful, you can be tempted by the evil out there and led astray. Then, you will be tortured for all eternity for that mistake.
As Adam Lee put it: “By design, they make it almost impossible to experience feelings of true happiness or peace.” That’s probably the most accurate thing I’ve ever read about this. It’s also another reason why I can’t poke fun at the people who believe in it. Ten to one, the were indoctrinated at a young age, much like I was and they too are dealing with crippling emotional baggage.
The religious leaders who spread this garbage? Well, they are not off the hook.
Remember Harold Camping? The guy who claimed that the world would end in May of 2011, then when nothing happened he said that the end was coming in October of that year? I ended up with one of his pamphlets while I was working at Wal-Mart. I paged through it, mumbled about how May was a bad time for the world to end that year–Transformers: Dark of the Moon would be released a month later and I had no intentions of missing it–then I promptly tore up the leaflet and threw it away. I chuckled at the silliness of it all as I ripped the paper apart and thought, “Primus, what a freaking nut.” When that day in May arrived? I told my coworkers that for the end of the world, it was a rather ordinary day. Where were the people floating up to heaven? Where were the planes falling out of the sky? The hordes of demons? Weren’t we promised some demons?
Blasphemous? Oh, yeah. But everyone laughed at my pointed jokes. Some even said that if Gabriel’s trumpet sounded, they were grabbing some beer and slamming down some cold ones before the end. We laughed at the goofiness of it all. We weren’t afraid.
Will I ever not be freaked out by that dream I had so many years ago? I don’t know. But I can say this: learning to laugh at it–and the ones who fueled that sort of hysteria–has been cathartic to me. It’s helped me cope, helped me deal with the conflicting emotions. I may never be able to rid myself of that fear, but I can, at least now, look at it with skeptical eyes and laugh at it. In that way, I have some modicum of power over it, rather it having power over me.