Thank you Dr. Dawkins. You and Dr. Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris have all been such important instruments in my journey from believer to nonbeliever. Many years ago, I began the foray into this worldview, however I stayed clear of the term Atheist. I am now no longer afraid to make that claim. Before, I felt that if I said it out loud, I would have to accompany it with an apology, âÃÃºI really am a good person with morals,âÃÃ¹ etc. Thanks to you I now feel proud and righteously unapologetic about Atheism and, truly, it is the dogmatic and ignorant that keep people enslaved to fear that should be apologizing.
If there is a “god” gene or a “believers” gene, I have it âÃÃ¬ two probably. 🙂 On my father's side, I was the 5th generation of Seventh-day Adventists, my ancestors being original converts of William Miller's Millerite Movement which predicted the second coming of Jesus to be on October 22, 1844 and on my mother's side, Adventism was brought by my Step-Grandfather to my poverty-stricken Grandmother and her four children. My Step-Grandfather also brought with him domestic violence, drinking, gambling, and terrorizing sexual abuse to my mother and her older sister. Ah, sexual abuse in the 1940s, no understanding, no help – just the gift that keeps on giving and giving down through the generations. Sexual abuse combined with a staunch and controlling religion has some very, very – shall I say – interesting consequences.
Adventism, like all religions, does not promote autonomy. It is very controlling and dominates your entire existence, telling you what you can eat and drink; with whom you can associate and with whom you cannot; what you can and cannot wear (Did you know that red, for example, is just not a Christian color); what you can and cannot read (novels are the devil); theatre, music, literature, art, sex – all of the things that make life worth living are either entirely forbidden, or so constrained, confined and limited as to make them inspirationless and dull like a gluten steak served at a four star French restaurant. We knew exactly how the world began, how it was going to end, and how everyone must live in the meantime. We stayed emotional and intellectual children fed on a diet of bland pabulum with our heads forever bent in shame, because no matter how hard you pray, you cannot shake the desires and impulses and thoughts that I now understand are gloriously human and not evil at all.
I know I have the “god” gene because I bought it hook, line and sinker. I never questioned it. I was devout, and at the age of 18 had the real born-again ecstasy experience and went to college to become an Adventist minister. I was told this was impossible because I was a woman.
At the age of 23, my parents divorced, my husband left me for another woman, and, with the trauma of these events, all of the seemingly random crazy events throughout my life (which could fill a book) fused together and I saw the church for what it was – false. You'd think this would be a relief, but it was extremely frightening. There were times when I wanted to just go back through the door (Nora Helmer reference), but I couldn't close my eyes to my new consciousness. My entire identity was gone, and I was left extremely vulnerable. It was really a quite dangerous time. I was a 23 year old, quite beautiful, woman/child with no boundaries and no self-esteem, no identity, no education beyond an Adventist Education, which in my book is an oxymoronic phrase. I had no concept of how the world worked or the dangers in it. I didn't understand sexism or how alcohol made men behave. In some respect, if literacy is the ability to make connections and meaning beyond the literal, I believe I was quite illiterate.
Over the last 25 years, I have gone to colleges and universities to unlearn what was taught me by Adventism and to learn what they could not teach me. What a wondrous experience. At the age of 26, I saw my first play – it changed my life; I sat in a biology class and heard for the first time the term Natural Selection, and I sat daily at my little table and cried form happiness. It was so beautiful. My University teachers joked that I needed a pad on my desk so that when my chin kept dropping I wouldn't get hurt. 🙂 One of the best years of my life was a post BAC year immersed inn nothing but literature. I wrote hundreds of papers and read and read and read. This is heaven…right here…right now.
For those of us that have the “god” gene, the road is long and sometimes painful, but oh how worth it. I am free. I still have Adventist glitches – waves of unexplainable and random guilt. When they come, I simply say to my husband, “I feel guilt!” He'll say (now that he knows he doesn't have to fix it) “Why?!” I'll say, “Don't know! Just do!” He'll say, “Breathe!” and I breathe….until it passes….and I smile. Healing is attainable, and I am grateful.
I am now a high school theatre teacher.
Ronda Joan Parmele Mitchell McBeth