By now, you’ve heard about the group of christians who honestly believe that they can pray away Dorian. At first blush, you want to laugh; who’s really going to win this battle, a group of people calling out pleas to a god who seemingly doesn’t care that it sent a potentially dangerous storm towards a populated area or a category three hurricane? Most are going to say that the hurricane will be the ultimate winner, laugh, shake their heads in disbelief and go on with their lives. A good number will wonder, “Just how dumb do you have to be to believe that?!”
There’s only one problem: these people do not see themselves as dumb. In fact, they probably are not. Far from it. However, they’ve been sold a bill of goods that they’ve accepted as “The Truth” by authority figures who claim that they know best.
In other words, years ago, I was one of those people.
Twenty Years Ago
Back in the 1990s, I was a fairly typical teenager/young adult living in the deep south: I attended high school, hung out with my friends, started dating when I turned seventeen. (In this regard, I was a fairly late bloomer; I didn’t see the point of dating boys in the first few years of high school. Dating and the resulting jealousy made people go crazy and it was a perfect way to fuck up a good friendship, so I wasn’t into that.)
My parents, as well as my grandmother and great-grandmother, were tacitly christian, even though my family had stopped going to organized Sunday services years prior. But my parents, my friends’ parents, damn near everyone I knew would insist that the bible was an absolute fact and that god and Jesus was real. It was just something that was accepted in that part of the country: god absolutely existed and was for realsies!
I believed that for a long time. Until 1997. That’s when things changed.
If you’ve followed my blog for long enough, you know that I refer to October 1997 to November 1998 as “The Year of Hell”. I gave it that name long before I knew that Star Trek: Voyager existed and had an episode with a similar title. But that was the yearlong period of time where I tried like absolute hell to repair the failing relationship between myself and my ex; he had cheated on me in mid-October of 1997 and didn’t ‘fess up until about two and a half weeks later.
Devasted? You better believe it.
However, I was willing to give him another chance and told him as such that very night. But it wasn’t a free pass; he’d have to work at it, just as I would. There was something fundamentally wrong with our relationship and we both needed to work at it in order to fix the damage.
Of course, he agreed. At first I thought it was because he actually gave a damn about me but later on, he revealed it was because he enjoyed having sex. Seriously. I should have kicked his ass to the curb months prior but then again, you know what they say about hindsight. But I digress.
Not only was I trying to work things out here in Reality World, I was also hard at work in the Land of Make Believe. Every night, before I retired for the evening, I sat on my bed and with tears streaming down my face, I prayed and prayed hard for god to heal my ex.
At this point, my ex–let’s call him “Bobby”–was in the middle of a full-blown depressive spell. He was having suicidal thoughts, had become extremely paranoid (he claimed that our best friend was out to “get” him but that wasn’t the case at all), could barely eat, had disturbed sleep patterns, you name it. All the major and minor symptoms of depression? He had them. In spades.
Since Bobby was legally an adult, there was nothing that could be done if he refused any treatment for his mental health issues and refuse he did. Worse, I would beg and plead for him to please, please, PLEASE get some, any, kind of help because he absolutely wasn’t healthy.
His response? He wasn’t crazy. I was.
Since nothing on this plane of existence seemed to help, I turned to the supernatural. It was ‘known’ that if you had ‘the faith of a mustard seed’ that you could absolutely ‘move mountains’. So I prayed for Bobby and I prayed hard.
My prayers never beseeched god to bring Bobby back into my life. Far from it. I just wanted him to not be depressed anymore. This should have been a slam dunk for god, right? I mean, god was able to heal lepers and brought Lazarus back from the dead; healing Bobby should have been a snap! Besides, I was sincere about it. I didn’t pray unless I was focused only on Bobby and his health and I didn’t dare ask for anything that might seem selfish. No, this wasn’t about me. It was about Bobby, dammit and I made sure to remember that! Because if I made it about me, the healing might not take place.
I’m sure you know exactly how this story turned out: there was no ‘magical healing’.
Bobby never shook that particular depressive episode. Although he didn’t take his own life, he was more than happy to make terrible decisions, lie to me about his sincerity towards repairing our relationship, and chase other paramours. Not once did he offer me any true closure to our relationship. Instead, he strung me along until I’d had enough and I basically stopped talking to him. But there was no sudden breakthrough, no ‘IZZA MIRRORCAL, Y’ALL!’ moment. He and I slogged through our now separate lives, no divine intervention ever occurring.
Cue the lack of surprise.
If I can point to any one particular moment that made me question the validity of the bible and its teachings, this would be it. For obvious reasons.
I was told, ever since I was a child, that if I prayed and prayed hard enough, that if I believed and believed hard enough, if I trusted god and trusted god completely enough, miracles would happen. People would be healed. Lives would be saved. Our god was an awesome god and there literally was nothing that he couldn’t do!
Except help Bobby. He couldn’t do that. But ‘mysterious ways’ and all. You know how that goes.
Choking On It
This isn’t the only story I could tell. There are others. Some will be told in due time. But stories like these are a literal dime a dozen in churches across the US. It’s happening now, with hurricanes threatening the east coast. Yet still, the believers pray and they pray without ceasing because they’ve been told a lie.
If you were any sort of believer, you were told that god loved prayer and he’d give you what you needed. All you had to do was ask. So we’d ask, but when nothing manifested, it had nothing to an incompetent, petulant, moody god-child throwing a temper tantrum. No, the onus was on us: we weren’t praying with enough sincerity, or we were asking for the wrong thing(s), or we didn’t have enough faith, or god saw it was best to not answer that prayer, you name it.
It was never god. It was always us.
The bible itself says that if you pray, it’ll happen and you don’t need a helluva lot of faith for it to happen. Hell, according to the bible, believers can absolutely move mountains with their belief! But nowadays, how often have you seen a mountain move without the usage of explosives or earth moving equipment?
Someone is wrong here. Or maybe everyone is wrong in different ways. But someone, somewhere is definitely wrong.
Spitting It Out
That’s why I can’t make too much of a joke about that group in Florida. They were told by people they trusted that if they had faith, they could absolutely bring about change. So that’s exactly what they’re trying to do; they’re trying to protect their loved ones in the one way that they’ve been told will never fail. But it does fail. It fails repeatedly. But it’s never god’s fault that it fails; he knows better than you and you weren’t doing it right in the first place!
Church leaders make damn sure to absolve god of any guilt, while trying to say the right thing to the faithful so that they won’t start thinking too hard and leave their religion. Sometimes, they do say all the right things and the flock stays. Other times, they say the wrong thing and they begin to lose sheep. But other times, the sheep start to do something a little dangerous: they start to think for themselves.
That’s when the sheep walk away, heading to greener pastures. It doesn’t happen overnight; unlearning religious indoctrination takes a long time.
My first few steps were twenty years ago. I’ve been walking ever since.