What Strain of God Virus Was Spread in Your Home?

I was raised in a genuine American cult. The made-in America kind of religion that is unique to the spirit of this country. If you don't fancy the religious offerings of the day, invent a new one. Eventually, people will begin to follow you if you've got the courage to preach your truth and the intestinal fortitude to stick it out until the right group of people stumble across your church and decide to cast their lot with you.  

Nothing about the way I was raised made it easy for me to become an unbeliever. Everything about the way I was raised made it easy for me to become an unbeliever. 

Two diametrically opposed forces in my life that put me at odds with my own self for several decades. That I ended up where I am today, a woman leading the life of an independent thinker wasn't a sure thing. In fact, psychologists would say that to overcome the trauma of such heavy duty indoctrination may be a kind of modern-day miracle. When you're raised by a man who believes that he's been handpicked by god to be the sole prophet of the last days, you've just been handed a heavy burden. To go against such a calling at a time in human history when everything is set to end with the rapture of the saints and the destruction of the wicked who are left behind, takes courage. 

By the same token, the sheer and utter absurdities of my family's belief system clashed so sharply with reason that I was constantly forced to question everything. 

While I may have been of average intelligence, certainly not a brilliant child, I was fortunately endowed with a generous portion of empathy and a strong sense of fairness. These two qualities continually forced me to challenge my father's core beliefs. I witnessed too much cruelty in the name of god. It bothered my sensitive nature. I couldn't accept a vast number of scriptures in the Bible at face value. God seemed like a monster to me at times. I wanted explanations for how a loving heavenly father could do such mean and heartless things to his own creation. Whenever I questioned my earthly father, I was met with a stern rebuke. 

I never received one satisfying answer for any of my questions. God remained a mystery to me, an unlikable dictator with little sentimental attachment to his earthly children.

When I finally did leave home and the religion, I was excommunicated from my family. I had two choices. I could side with god's anointed one or defy him. By leaving, I had spit in the face of Jesus Christ and trampled through his blood. If I continued on this path, I was destined to burn in hell for eternity.

For quite a few years after I left home, I had nightmares. 

I was afraid that I'd die in a car crash or that god would strike me with an incurable disease as a punishment. I was afraid that the rapture would occur and I'd be left behind to suffer the terrible tribulations. These were very real worries. In fact, we had been raised to believe that the world would end soon. Maybe not today or tomorrow but soon. I was shocked when I made it to my thirtieth birthday.

Every year that passed without the rapture, gave me courage.

I eventually began to notice that not once in the decade plus since I had left home had I ever been concerned about any of the other religions available to me in the United States. If a Mormon or a Jehovah Witness came calling at my door, I easily turned them away. I didn't lose a minutes sleep over it either. If a Catholic spoke to me about their experiences growing up in the church, I never found myself wondering if I should become a Catholic. I didn't have nightmares about Seven Day Adventists nor did I feel guilty when confronted with a Methodist. The Episcopalians bothered me not one bit. I met the Amish and easily forgot about them. There was nothing that Lutherans could say that made me feel properly chastised. Pentecostals literally creeped me out. Talking in tongues seemed almost demonic to me. Baptists appeared as deep south hillbillies in my estimation. Once saved always saved — a ludicrous idea. The evangelicals might have been the most similar to my father's cult, but he'd spent decades deriding the Nazarenes, the Pilgrim Holiness church and other evangelicals as worldly hypocrites. 

Nope! There was no  other religious denomination that tortured my brain with doubt and fear. Only the religion that I had grown up with had that kind of power over me. 

Why was that? With an entire smorgasbord of religions to choose from, all practicing hundreds of different rituals, embracing different doctrines and even condemning different sins, you'd think I might have been drawn to one or two. Yet, they held no power over me. I could go to bed at night with a clear conscience when it came to all religions except one. I never wondered if I should celebrate the sabbath on Saturday, join a convent, wear magic underwear or genuflect when I stepped inside a church. My conscience was totally unscathed in such matters. In fact, I thought it all ridiculous if truth be told. How could anyone fall for such silly ideas. 

The religion I practiced while growing up required that I wear a long gray dress to the ground, only gray. Open the door to my closet and you'd find four or five identical dresses hanging side by side. 

We were plain and modest to the extreme, although we did expose our hands, necks, faces and heads. I didn't love the dress, but I had been told that refusing to wear it was a sign of the spirit of prostitution. Never once, however, did I feel that I should cover my head like Mennonite or Muslim women. Nor did I feel that I should shave my head and wear a wig like some orthodox Jewish women.

When I took off the gray dress though and donned jeans and a tee shirt, I felt like a great temptress.  

Looking back all these years later, I clearly recognize the power of indoctrination, especially the kind that starts in childhood. A relentless telling and retelling of a parent's particular brand of religion becomes enmeshed in the very wiring of a child's brain. Since the brain isn't fully developed until around age twenty-five, I'm left to marvel that anyone can rid themselves of the particular god virus spread in their household.

If I had been raised in a more mainstream religion with fewer rules and only a short list of sins, I might not have felt as compelled to kick the habit. 

The sheer eccentricities of my father's cult plagued my empathetic nature and thus resulted in my questioning its validity. Once the connections were broken in my brain, I was gradually free and the torture subsided. That's when I also began to recognize the same virus in all religions, Christian and otherwise. 

Cultural expectations are more powerful than laws will ever be. 

Often, we don't even know that we have choices. We accept what we've been told as the truth and all other points of view seem lacking even ludicrous. To become an independent thinker requires a well-developed sense of awareness. With that awareness questions begin to formulate. Although we benefit immensely from learning to question everything, questions are not encouraged in most cultures. On the contrary. People who ask questions often place themselves in a precarious position with the very people who have raised them to think a certain way. 

I am grateful to have found my way out of the labyrinth of religious indoctrination into the light of day. 

If anything deserves a heartfelt glory hallelujah, it would be the independence I've achieved. I love my freedom and personal autonomy. I treasure the ability to ask questions and form opinions based on the best information available to me. Most of all, I'm thrilled to no longer be limited by harmful belief systems that keep me tied down and inhibited. I would wish this for everyone from the Lutherans to Baptists to Mormons or any other genuine American cult percolating behind the scene just waiting to find a following. They are all one and the same, a long line of manmade gods designed to control us. 

Shun them all. 

Teresa Roberts is a myth buster. Her recently published book - Have We Been Screwed? Trading Freedom for Fairy Tales - can be purchased on Amazon.