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Shitty Kids

I saw this show once on TV when I was about five years old, and it always stayed with me. I have no idea what it was called or how I would even go about looking it up. I want to say it was some kind of 10-minute short or something. I don't even know how much of this is real or written into my memory by my own imagination.

Anyway, it was about these kids in school where apparently, it rained constantly. It was always dark and dreary and always raining. There was this one little girl in the class who the other kids picked on and they locked her into a room or something. I don't know if they pushed stuff in front of the door, or what. All I can remember is the little girl was stuck in there and it was dark. Then, suddenly, the rain stopped and the sun came out. The teacher let the kids outside, and they all ran out cheering, celebrating, playing around. There were rainbows, the sky turned blue, the sun was shining. I seem to remember flowers even blooming. Crazy shit. All caught up in their excitement, no one thought of the little girl locked in the dark room. While everyone else was outside playing in the sun having the time of their lives, the little girl was trapped inside, crying. I don't know how I knew, but this sun thing was a rare event at this school. Here, all it ever did was rain, and I somehow knew that it would end soon and not happen again for a really long time. So, my heart really hurt for this little girl.

At one point, a small sliver of sunlight came in through a crack in the room and she put her hand in it. That's it. That's all she got out of this super-rare sunny day while all the other little fuckers were outside playing. I can't remember anyone coming in and getting her out. In fact, I think that by the time she got out, it was over and raining again. I have no idea what the point of the story was, either. That kids are assholes, I guess. But to this day, when I think of it, I'm sad.

I wish I knew of some way to find out what it was that I watched and if there's some way to find it online. Maybe it didn't end as shitty as I remember. Maybe the little girl got to catch the last few minutes of the celebration. Or maybe she went all Carrie on their asses.

How I Got Here

So, before I begin here, I have to say that as I went over everything I had written, I felt a bit of a conflict. On the one hand, I wanted to tell the truth about my spiritual journey - how I got to where I am now. I wanted to be honest and blunt. On the other hand, in doing this, I realize that certain people will be offended if they read it. I don't know of a way to get around that without telling my story. I worry about hurting feelings but at the same time, I wonder why it is that we have to walk on eggshells around people when it comes to their religious beliefs. Everyone always goes on about how you have to respect people's religious beliefs, but why? I know I've had countless instances in my life of religious people freely telling me how I should live, how I was doing something wrong, or how what I believed was flawed. Why do we have to tiptoe around their beliefs for fear of offending them when they don't do it around others? I didn't write any of the following with the intention of stepping on toes or making anyone angry or upset. I don't look forward to any backlash it may cause, but at the same time, I don't want to censor myself, especially when the main theme of this has to do with self-honesty. To anyone who feels offended or guilty by any of the following, I apologize in advance. It wasn't my goal.

I didn't really grow up with any religion in my house. My mom believed in God and had told me a couple of stories from the Bible, like the one about Adam and Eve. We went to church sometimes on Easter, and this would confuse me. I knew that most of the other people in the church were regular attendees, so why weren't we? Why was that day a good day to go to church and not the other days? I had a curiosity about religion at an early age. I don't know if other kids go through this, but I would spend a lot of time wondering what the purpose of my existence was. Why was I alive? Why was I born as a human and not a bird or something? I assumed God was real because that's what I had been told, but I didn't understand why we didn't do anything about it. Sometimes, I would ride my bike to a church in the neighborhood that I had never been to, look at their service times that they had posted, and make a point to attend on Sunday. It was probably weird for them to see an 8 or 9 year old kid just show up by himself and want to check out their church. I'd usually stick around for Sunday School or whatever little activity they had going on afterward. Sometimes, I'd go back, sometimes, I'd go check out a different church.

That's actually how I found out that Santa Clause wasn't real. One lady teaching Sunday School let the cat out of the bag and explained that Santa was a lie and was actually a false idol. A little girl asked how, if Santa wasn't real, she was able to talk to him at the mall and stuff. The lady explained that some guy who wasn't Santa was posing AS Santa, that the whole thing was a sham, and that our parents were in on it. I also learned what "commercialism" meant. It was pretty brutal.

Another time, at an apartment complex we lived in when I was 10 or so, there was a lady who would come and hold little gatherings on the weekends for any kids who wanted to attend. She'd spread a blanket out on the grass and talk to us about Jesus. I always made a point to show up for that. I think she had snacks, too. And little worksheets for us to fill out to help us understand the lesson. She was really nice.

Any time a friend or someone invited me to church, I took them up on it. It was usually at least somewhat enjoyable. There was usually singing, listening to someone talk about God, and snacks. Sometimes, we were obligated to attend church as a family. We were homeless a few times, and shelters and some families have a way of using that type of situation to force you to go to church with them. Oh, you need help? No problem, but you're gonna have to worship like we do. Those experiences were a little weird. Usually they were the more energetic churches, where the people screamed a lot, spoke in tongues, and generally acted crazy. Those churches didn't really resonate with me as a kid. One of the families we stayed with, the dad actually kicked us out. He said the devil was tempting him concerning my mom. He didn't make sure we had a place to go or anything. Just said we couldn't stay there another night. My youngest sister was a year old.

There was one shelter, where I had what I guess religious folks would call a spiritual experience when I was 16. I was sitting by myself next to a river with a Bible they had given me and was reading Psalm 23:4-6. The pastor there had asked me to memorize it, so I did. The words invoked certain feelings within me. Gave me goosebumps, you know? (Of course, I got the same feeling from some Metallica lyrics, but it didn't occur to me at the time.) I felt like there was something THERE. I did some work around the shelter and got to know some of the people there, who were pretty nice to me. One of them gave me a baseball cap that said "Got Jesus?" on it. A friend of mine came to pick me up from there and when he saw the hat, he said, "Dude, if you're turning crispy, I'm gonna kick your ass!" That's what we called people who suddenly became super-religious. It was a play on "Christian." I don't know which one of us came up with it. One friend of ours had decided he was going to dedicate his life to God hardcore and everyone started saying, "He turned Crispy." Anyway, I sort of took offense to him saying that to me. I felt like I was discovering something awesome and that he wasn't much of a friend if he was going to get angry with me for it. In hindsight, I realize he didn't want me to change so drastically that the friend he knew was no more, which is what had happened to that other friend of ours.

It turned out to not be a problem, anyway. At least, not then. It didn't stick. I still believed that I was onto something, but I did not believe that that church was right. Or that any I had experimented with were. I partied a lot - drank alcohol, smoked weed, listened to a lot of loud heavy metal. I acted out a lot because I lived in a pretty fucked up environment with an abusive druggie, alcoholic step-dad, and some other negative elements. I'd disappear for days. I would try to get into whatever it was that I thought I wasn't supposed to be doing, but I wasn't really a bad kid, so to speak. I had a good heart, but I was angry at the world, confused, depressed. I don't think it was apparent to a lot of people because I masked it with humor and wild behavior, but I was sort of a wreck.

Then, I met someone with a religion I hadn't heard of before. A Mormon girl who I quickly had a crush on. She made it clear that she didn't want to be more than a friend, though, which is what we became. At first, I had no interest in her religion. She invited me to church once, and I went, and hated it. Everyone was dressed up in suits and ties and dresses and I felt out of place with long hair and holes in my clothes. Plus, I really wanted a cigarette. It was on the first Sunday of that month, so it was what they call "Fast and Testimony Meeting." Instead of a prepared sermon, members just walk up individually and talk about how they feel about their relationship with God, their life in the church, etc. I thought it was the weirdest thing. It really was a bad time for me, though. I just wasn't open to it at all, and felt really out of place. I swore I'd never go back.

After a while, things started to get out of hand with my depression. I had gotten away from my home situation, but I began having morbid dreams that were starting to disturb me. I really felt like I had to do something. I'm not sure why, but I felt like I needed to go back to this girl's church, and not just go back, but really research it and make sure it was either right or wrong for me. She was a generally happy person, and so were her Mormon friends. I felt like maybe their choice of religion had something to do with it. I think some of my friends thought I was taking an interest in the church in order to impress her but please, I'd been rejected before. I had accepted that nothing was going to happen there. I was genuinely looking for a way to cure my depression. Maybe I was meant to meet her so that I could find this church. Maybe they actually had the answer. I knew they had this whole other book that they used on top of the Bible. Maybe that was what was missing from the other churches I'd been to before.

I started meeting with the missionaries. They went through their little pamphlets with me, and man, I soaked that shit up like a sponge. It was what Oprah fans would refer to as an "Aha! Moment." This was the one! God was real and he had a purpose for me! I WAS meant to meet this girl for this reason! When I had seen her house the first time I visited, I had a feeling of deja-vu. This was why! God was using the Holy Spirit to talk to me and put me on the right path! They explained Joseph Smith's vision, and how the church was restored. Jesus had visited the Americas. We all existed in the pre-existence and chose to came here. They asked if I wanted to be baptized and I was all "YEAH!"

The good thing was that I was no longer depressed. That was gone pretty much instantly. I was so caught up in the magic. It felt so good to feel like I had found meaning in my life. Everything was a sign to me. I really felt that God was guiding me along, and I was fully prepared to give it my all. I had even decided I was going to serve my own mission when I turned 19, like the two missionaries who had taught me about the church. I was really caught up in a whirlwind. I hardly got any sleep that weekend. I got baptized and became a member. The very next day, out of the blue, I got a call from my father who I hadn't heard from since I was four years old. I'd found my grandparents a while before that, and they had passed on my number to him, but I didn't expect to hear from him. (I had tried to get in touch with him as a kid and he never responded. We communicate now days and he's on my Facebook. He recently apologized for the way things went back then and I truly believe he regrets how he behaved. I don't mean to write this to make him feel guilty or anything. It's just a significant part of this story to me.) Of course, this was another sign, right? Why would I just now hear from him, just a day after my baptism? He asked if I wanted to fly to Indiana where he lived so we could get to know each other and I excitedly agreed. I just joined God's true church and now my dad wanted to get to know me! How awesome, right?

I went to my grandparents' house so so they could take me to the airport and send me off to meet my father. My grandfather told me that my father had become pretty religious, and that the whole me-being-Mormon thing might cause some kind of conflict, and that I should probably call him and make sure it wasn't an issue before I went up there. (I was quickly learning that people HATED Mormons. HATED! I'd already been told several times that I had joined a cult. I didn't get it. Everyone in the church was so nice to me. I didn't seen anything really weird going on like animal sacrifices and stuff. How was it a cult? When I would ask people, they would say things that didn't make any sense, like how Mormons didn't believe in Jesus. What? His name is in the name of the church. They ALWAYS talked about Jesus.) So, I called him, explained that this church meant a lot to me and that I wouldn't be able to visit if he had a problem with me attending it. He said, "No, as long as you come to our church when you don't have services going on at yours." At the time, as a 16 year old, this seemed like a reasonable compromise to me. So, off I went.

I got to Indiana and met my dad who I hadn't seen since I was a toddler - I could barely remember anything about him, and his wife, my step-mom. They were both super friendly and obviously very religious. They went to a non-denominational church in LaFayette, Indiana - the same church Axl Rose went to as a kid when he was known as Bill Bailey. The church reminded me of those I went to when we were homeless - speaking in tongues, loud, hands to the sky, falling down on the floor... You have to understand, this was the polar opposite of going to an LDS church, where calm and relaxed behavior was seen as respectful reverence of God. In the morning, I'd go to my church and there would be peaceful discussion in a relatively quiet atmosphere. To me, that felt right. In the world, there was noise and chaos. In church, things were calm and clear. Then, I'd attend my father's church in the evening, and the way they worshiped God was like going to a rock concert. I'm not saying one is right over the other. I mean, I know which worked for ME, but hey, I am of the belief that people should be able to practice their own religion however they please as long as it doesn't involve sacrificing virgins on an altar or something. But I hated going to their church in the evenings. I felt like it was a betrayal of the peace and reverence I had experienced in the morning. In my faith, I was taught that going out partying and stuff after church wasn't good. And here I was doing it. The Holy Ghost, as I had come to understand it, was completely gone when I went to my father's church. It was pushed away by all the noise and crazy behavior. To me, my church represented order. Theirs was disorder. I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. When I went to my church, there were philosophical discussions, thought provoking topics. I felt like I was thinking when I was there. I walked away feeling fresh and new, like I'd just been cleaned. I'd go to my father's church and it was the opposite.

They'd tell me things that just did not make sense to me, like how feeling the Holy Ghost was like being drunk, and that alcohol was actually Satan's attempt to mimic it in the form of liquid to lead people away from God by tricking them. Huh? I didn't feel like acting like a drunken idiot when I felt the Holy Ghost. I felt calm, happy, inspired. What was their version of Heaven like? An eternal party with non-stop, loud music and jumping around, yelling? I didn't want any part of that. Granted, I was a fan of heavy metal music and loved to hear that stuff played loudly, but I believed that was a conflict, that it was in contrary to God wanted for me. Heavy Metal had gotten me through tough times when I lived at home, but after discovering the LDS church, I believed that it actually was bad for me, and was an addiction I was having a hard time shaking, a guilty pleasure, like cigarettes. So going to this non-denominational church and hearing all the noise, it was difficult for me. It felt sort of blasphemous, but I would sit through it because I had agreed to before going there.

My dad's family preached to me a lot and made a major effort to show me the error of my ways. So much of what they told me just struck me as insane. They claimed to actually be able to see angels and demons. I'm serious. They even described what some of them looked like to me. One of my father's step-sons described one demon to me that was as big as a house. My step-mom told me about one that was in the form of a serpent and was wrapped around the neck of a man who knocked at her door once. Because they were so close to God, they could see these things the way Roddy Piper could see aliens with his special sunglasses in the movie "They Live." When they would speak gibberish (speaking in tongues), that was a special language that Satan couldn't understand, but God could. I couldn't swallow any of this. My step-sister said to me once, after telling me about how she'd been outside watching angels fly around, "You think I'm crazy, don't you?" I couldn't say no. With all these crazy beliefs they had, they would make fun of me for things like not drinking tea.

I had problems with other things about their church, too, the less-crazy stuff. Like, the fact that their main pastor would brag about the money he had, money that was given to him by a congregation that seemed, to me, pretty poor. He would wear flashy suits on stage. He once went up to some of the youth, opened up his wallet, and said, "How much money do you think this is?" If I remember right, it was something like $5,000. He said, "This is my play money." Then, he quoted a passage from the Bible that justified it, something about how God's prophets will be rewarded. This just didn't sit well with me. My step-mom had talked about how some rich person was giving a couple of houses to their church and how they were going to give them to some families that needed them. She said SHE would give them to prophets instead (that's what they called the pastors and leaders in their church, although they would claim not to have leaders). I asked her why and she quoted a similiar scripture about how giving to God's chosen prophets would bring you blessings.

They would say, "We're not religious. We're Christian." I've heard this come out of people's mouths even recently, and it blows my mind. Christianity IS a religion. How can you attend a church on a regular basis, constantly preach to everyone you come in contact with, and say you're not religious? I even heard Bill O'Reilly say recently that Christianity isn't a religion, it's a lifestyle! This still is spectacularly stupid to me, and I argue against it every time I hear it. Not that it does any good, but I refuse to let it slide. Some things are too stupid not to be challenged.

My dad made it his mission to move me away from my religion and into his. He refused to actually read the Book of Mormon because that was evil, apparently, and he didn't want Satan to dig into his brain somehow by reading its words, but he did study anti-Mormon literature and read some from the Doctrine and Covenants and the book Mormon Doctrine. Now and then he would approach me with discrepancies like, "Here, it says that Jesus was born in Jerusalem but everyone knows he was born in Bethlehem." Stuff like that. I'd go to the missionaries and ask them the questions he had asked me and they would give me their explanation, which I would take back to my dad. I didn't know shit, really. I just knew the church was true, and that was good enough for me. I didn't know a lot of the deeper beliefs yet. The missionaries explained that Bethlehem was a part of the "land" of Jerusalem, so both were right. It would be like me saying I was born in Texas when I was actually born in Houston. I told him this and he looked at me and said, "I'm very disappointed in you. I thought you were smarter than that." Really made me feel like shit. In fact, the more time I spent there, the more I resented him for this. Here was a guy who was never around in my childhood even though I had tried to get in touch with him. I had gone through all kinds of hell growing up with an abusive step-father around and stuff, and now that I had found something in my life that made me happy, he was trying to take it away from me. Not only that, but here was a guy who believed that Satan made fake Holy Ghost, put it in bottles and mass-marketed it! And he was telling me that I was being stupid?? I'd later learned that a lot of the things he pointed out as problems with Mormon beliefs were actually in the Bible as well. Of course, it's all moot now.

I told them I wanted to go back home to Houston. It seemed like problems kept coming up to delay this. They'd call the airport and the computers would be down. Something. I believed that there were forces trying to keep me from leaving, trying to keep me from growing in my faith. Their pastor, when he heard about the complications that were delaying my leaving, said, "Why don't you listen to the Lord, son?" I replied that I didn't believe it was the Lord who was trying to keep me there. I'm sure that chapped their asses. The only things that saved me while I was there was the members of the church in that area and talking to my Mormon friends back home. Of course, this ran up my dad's phone bill (I think it was something like $300 or $400 total, I later heard from my uncle) but I didn't care. My father never contributed a dime throughout my childhood, and it was helping to keep me sane while I endured the constant conversion attempts and non-stop preaching from his family, so I felt it was justified. The TV was always blasting evangelical preachers and if any music was playing, it had to be Christian music. (I once tried changing the station on the radio to a soft-rock, mix station while we were doing work on their church grounds and my dad got mad and threatened to turn it off. They did NOT listen to "worldly" music. He said it was nothing but sex, drugs, and rock& roll. I was like, "Dude... It's Roxette.")

Eventually, of course, I did get out of there. I got out and I didn't look back. When I told my grandfather how my dad had spent the entire time trying to convert me rather than just get to know me, he was angry. I jumped back into the Mormon thing with both feet. My experience in Indiana just fueled my desire to be a better member of the LDS faith. I actually felt that it had all happened for a reason, and that God had chosen me for something special and that whole mess in Indiana was orchestrated by Satan, meant to confuse me and shake me off my path. Obviously, something was at work to try and stop me from doing what I was doing, and since what I was doing felt right and good, then the opposition I was facing was obviously of an evil origin and I was meant to overcome it. The more people tried to convince me that the church wasn't true, the stronger my faith became and the more I was convinced that I was meant to do wonderful things. I was a young man with a mission. I had pretty much alienated my friends from before because I wouldn't shut up about the church, and God, and Jesus, and everything. I did convert a couple of my friends and got them baptized into the church. (They're both atheists now.) I was baptizing people, blessing sacrament, going to seminary, going on splits with the missionaries, coordinating youth events, and attending every single church activity they'd let me go to. I had so much focus and drive. One of the young women in the ward told me one day, "You're so awesome. You're going to be bishop one day." As I got deeper into the church, I not only resented my father but I resented that whole evangelical type of belief system. I believed it was operated by Satan himself and was designed to screw with people. Which is funny because that's what they thought of Mormonism.

So, that girl I had a crush on before who had introduced me to the church? She later admitted to me that she had developed feelings for me. It completely took me by surprise. At this point, I was dating different girls (the LDS church recommends that young adults date many different people so that they can be more likely to find that one person that God wants them to marry one day) but when this one girl told me how she felt, I stopped all other dating. This one was "the one." I think maybe it had to do with that fact that I wouldn't have found this thing that had brought so much happiness into my life if not for her. If the church was true, then so was she. I had a lot of respect for her when it came to the church, too. I looked up to her in that way. To me, she was so spiritual and strong. Later on, we split up and she moved to Salt Lake City, which is the headquarters of the Mormon church. Mormons are all over the place in Utah. There are seriously LDS churches just a couple blocks from each other. Shortly after moving to Utah, she told me she'd started to lose her testimony (A Mormon's way of saying they are losing their faith). This shook me hard. How could SHE doubt the church? I'd heard of other members "going inactive" or even becoming "anti-Mormon" but I always assumed they weren't very faithful members to begin with or something. The fact that someone I looked up to spiritually was now questioning the truth of it all kinda put a little crack in the foundation of my beliefs.

She later moved back to Houston and we got back together. We had pretty strong feelings for each other and we had gotten intimate a few times, which, of course, was wrong. I don't want to go into detail because I don't know if she would be comfortable with it, but basically, I felt I wasn't worthy. According to the church beliefs, I needed to confess my sins to a bishop, stop doing it, and get back on the right path. For a kid who has had sex before, is still being controlled by hormones, and is in love, abstinance is a bitch and a half. I've heard a lot of stories about kids who served their 2-year missions faithfully, came home, and then went on crazy sex-sprees. It's natural. But I carried so much guilt with me. I just felt awful a lot of the time. In hindsight, I shouldn't have, but even if Present Me when back in time and tried to explain this to Teenage Me, it wouldn't have done any good. I was giving in to temptation and unworthy of God's blessings. That was all that mattered.

One Sunday, something happened that broke me. There was a boy in the church who was being given the Aaronic priesthood. (You're gonna have to Google that if you want to know about it because I'm not explaining it here.) All the priests gathered around the boy to do the "laying on of hands" in this ritual, and they were short one person. Guess who they asked to help out? I felt that I should have declined. I should have said I wasn't worthy, but I was scared to. It was a lot of pressure. Here was this little boy and all these men who I respected looking at me expectedly, waiting on me so this boy could become a priest himself. I joined in and I felt like such a hypocrite and a liar. What the hell was I doing? Was I ruining the ritual somehow? Would it still work even though I was so unclean? Did I just screw up this kid's whole spiritual journey? If so, I was a real piece of shit, right? Afterward, one of the missionaries patted me on the back and said, "Thanks, brother. I could feel your power." He might as well have shot me in the proverbial face with a shotgun. I went outside and could barely contain myself. It was everything I could do to not just start bawling. My girlfriend knew something was up and came out after me. I told her, "I can't do it anymore. I can't try to be this spiritual person and this worldly person at the same time." And I stopped going to church. I still believed it was true, but I felt I wasn't worthy of it. God had a divine plan for me and I had overcome great obstacles, but now, I screwed it all up because I couldn't overcome sexual temptations.

As I write this, I'm embarrassed for myself. I want to drop my head on my desk. It's not like I was a sex-addict. I was sleeping with one person, someone I was in love with. But I might as well had been a pedophile for all the guilt I felt.

She and I split up again (We did that a lot) and I slipped back into my old lifestyle a bit. Not hardcore, but I did a little drinking, a little smoking, a little partying. I was worldly again. I still carried some guilt, but I was dealing with it. I felt that the church had helped me to become a better person, and it did, and I still believed in God, but I left my religious crusade behind. I told myself that if any true religion existed, it was the Mormon one, but if I tried to be a decent person and still believed in God, I'd be okay. I dated an atheist later, and sometimes it would piss me off when she laughed at people who believed in God. I'm still friends with her and would love to talk to her and her husband (who's also an old friend of mine) about the whole religion thing one day.

I tried the church thing again a couple of times later. I was still young enough to serve a mission and decided to give it a go. I really made an effort, but there were things that I couldn't quite get myself to accept. Other members would talk about how they had that defining moment when they KNEW the church was true. They would tell stories about literally hearing the voice of God speak to them, or having some type of vision. Something that confirmed everything for them. I wanted that experience. I wanted to KNOW, like they said they did. I spoke to people about it, people in the church who I looked up to and respected. Their response would be along the lines of, "Well, are you reading from the Book of Mormon and praying about it every day?" I was working, going to school, and going to church. Some days, I would forget to read my scriptures, but I was doing it ALMOST every day. (Reminds me of Ash from "Army of Darkness" - "Look, maybe I didn't say every single little tiny syllable, no. But basically I said them, yeah.") I was reading the BoM a LOT and praying a LOT. Their response was, "Well, you have to do it every day. Keep it up." There was a little voice of logic in my brain (Or Satan, depending on who you ask) that said, "Wait... If you read something and pray to a god of its truth every single day, you'll start to believe it. It's called self-brainwashing."

I was reading a book for young people who were preparing to go on their missions. Something in the beginning of it hit me as so wrong, I couldn't let it go. The author talked about people who were uncomfortable with telling non-members they thought the church was true when they didn't fully know it themselves. How do you try to convince someone of something that you're not fully convinced of yourself? He said not to worry. He said, "You will gain your testimony through the bearing of it." He said that the more you tell people how you know that the church is true, that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, etc., you will be blessed with the knowledge that it is true. That little voice in my head spoke up again. "So wait... you will learn that something is true by lying about it to people? Does that really sound right to you?" I'd heard lessons about how your behavior could change who you were as a person, how actors sometimes took on personality traits of the characters they were playing in movies, that it was very important that you control your actions. They taught me that we were creatures of habit, and that it was important to develop good habits in order to be good people. So they knew that your actions shaped who you were and what you believed. How did they not see that this process was exactly what they were relying on to develop their beliefs?

The whole self-brainwashing process became more apparent to me as time went on. My sister became a Jehovah's Witness and as I did a little research on that particular belief system, I was pretty disturbed by the self-programming those members put themselves through and the way they shut down when presented with information that contradicted their beliefs. It's almost robotic. Their rebuttals are very specific. This happens in a lot of religions, but I've never seen it as creepy as I have with the JW's. They receive their Watchtower magazines and their entire congregation all over the world studies the exact same lessons simultaneously each week. They go over the same questions and answers before they go over them again as a group on Sunday. Every week. It's very methodical, very Borg-like. They learn about other religions, but only through material published by their own people. I've heard a lot of members and former members talk about how they're even discouraged from reading their former publications because it contradicts current teachings. They censor their OWN shit.

I fell away and then gave it one more go before I finally gave up on the Mormons. I had no ill feelings towards the church. In fact, I was disappointed that I couldn't make it work for me. I loved my Mormon friends. A lot of people leave the church and they have a lot of bitterness, but I guess that didn't happen for me because I was not raised in it. It was never forced on me in any way. At the age of 25, I was staying in Del Rio, Texas and didn't really know anyone I would want to hang out with. Without any kind of social life, which was normally unusual for me, I started going onto chat rooms online and talking to people. AOL was still a thing back then. One room I started frequenting a lot was Mormon Chat. It's funny because maybe only half the members were actually faithfully Mormon. A portion of them were anti-Mormon evangelists trying to convert people away from Mormonism and another portion were former members who for whatever reason, couldn't leave the church alone. Kinda like me. That's where I met Lori. We started talking a lot in private IM, which lead to talking on the phone, which lead to meeting in person, which lead to us getting married. We had our 10th anniversary a few months ago. So, if all this other stuff hadn't happened, she and I would not have met, and who knows where I would've ended up?

For years, I've noticed hypocrisy and irrational behavior from religious people, and I've commented on it publicly from time to time, but I still felt that I believed in the existence of God and Jesus. I just felt that people missed the message of Jesus, you know? I've said before that Jesus was a bleeding heart liberal. He healed the sick without question. He talked about forgiving everyone, turning the other cheek, giving to the poor. He didn't tell people to fight, go to war, or that He could only help those who helped themselves. He didn't say a WORD about gays. He didn't tell people to shun their families. He was all about tolerance, acceptance, and love. How awesome would the world be if people REALLY tried to be Christ-like?

As time went on, and as I learned more about science, history, and how things actually work, religion altogether made less sense to me. I've come to understand Christianity as something that man came up with in the bronze age to explain the world around them. Humanity is the only species that questions its own existence. We need something to comfort us when nothing makes sense. So much so that we are willing to embrace something completely illogical as long as it makes us feel good and we don't have to keep searching and feeling lost. Just as I came to realize as a child that believing in Santa Clause was silly, I've come to see the stories of the Bible as silly. Talking snakes, women turning to salt, a guy living in a whale, another guy somehow stuffing two of every species on the planet into a boat that he made so a pissed off God could wipe out life on the planet because he didn't like the way his creations were behaving. It's not a whole lot crazier than a fat dude living in the North Pole compiling a list of good children to deliver toys built by his little elves to. It's just stories. Some of them have good messages, sure. Some, not so much. But in the end, it's made-up stories. The stories of Jesus were written by men who were not eye witnesses. They weren't even there. The story of the crucification was written something like 30 to 80 years after it supposedly occurred. And THAT story was actually written several times in other religions long before the stories of the Bible were written. There was no Internet back then. No TV. No press. But somehow, some men were able to accurately depict the story of Jesus decades after it took place by word of mouth? It just defies all logic. Some people say, "Well, a lot of the Bible is symbolic. It's not all meant to be taken literally." And then they turn around and treat other parts of the Bible as literal. How do they know what is meant to be taken literally and what isn't? God tells them? Personally? And they call atheists arrogant.

I've become a skeptic on a lot of things. It's interesting how, when something happens that we can't understand, we leap over the logical explanation to eagerly grasp the supernatural one. Why? "I heard a noise down the hall. It must be a ghost!" Why? "Those pyramids are amazing. How did they build that back then? Aliens!" Why? "That animal is complex. Obviously, it's a result of intelligent design!" Why? Because you don't understand it, it must be magic? Is it that hard to accept that there are things beyond our understanding at this time? Are we so insecure that we can't just say, "Huh. I don't know why that happened. I don't have a full comprehension of all the laws of physics. I don't know all the secrets of the universe."

That's the realization that dawned on me this past year. I don't know everything. And I'm okay with that. I don't HAVE to. This doesn't mean that I should live out the rest of my life in blissful ignorance. On the contrary - I want to learn all that I can. I want to research what people smarter than me have worked out and challenge myself to THINK and REASON and decide what is best for myself. My brother-in-law, in a recent conversation pointed out that people much smarter than me believe in God and some don't. Of course, this is true. I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed by any means. I have friends that worked all this shit out when we were KIDS! My step-brother was throwing this stuff at me when I tried to preach to him as a teen. I'm in my late 30's. Compared to others, I'm pretty late in the game. But that's okay.

This most recent development in my journey has been about honesty. Honesty with myself, honesty with others. I can clearly see now that I wasn't always honest with myself. I recognize this behavior in other's, too. So many people who still claim to believe actually don't. They're just scared to cross that line. And I understand. Some people have a lot more at stake than I do. I'm lucky that Lori isn't a hardcore religious person. She has beliefs that don't really fit into any one box. I don't have children looking up to me as an example of faith. I read stories all the time from people saying, "I don't believe, but I pretend to because my family will cast me out if they find out. My wife will divorce me. I might lose my children." There are closet atheists everywhere. I never thought about this until recently. They have so much to lose if they come out. Some of them can't handle this and they even lie to themselves. "Atheist" is a scary word. It's like "Hitler" or "Devil-Worshiper." You say you're an atheist and people go for their pitchforks. You think it's hard being a practicing Christian in America? Try being an atheist. I've been on both sides of the fence and lemme tell you, it's night and day. You hear lately about how Christians are oppressed. What a laughable statement. If you think you're being somehow oppressed in this country because you're Christian, you don't know what oppression is. You've got religion controlling politics and dictating what everyone does with their lives. Talking about traditional marriage, the way it is in the Bible. Really? You mean with the multiple wives? Or when you rape a girl and then pay her father money to marry her so everything's cool? Or how you only marry a woman if she is a virgin and if it turns out that she isn't, you kill her? That kind of traditional marriage? They get so bent out of shape if someone denies them the right to shove their beliefs onto everyone else but if someone of a different religion tries to practice their beliefs in front of them, they freak right the fuck out. I can give such a long list of examples, but bottom line, so-called Christians today act contradictory to the teachings of Jesus while trying to control other people's lives in the name of that same Jesus. It's absolutely insane.

In finally being honest with myself, I feel like I've broken chains. I feel free. I'm happy. When you're on the other side, you feel like giving up your faith will make you miserable. That's part of how they keep you in, actually. Thinking of yourself as "faithless" or "godless" is a scary thing. As it turns out, it's not bad at all. I'm still me. I still have empathy for others. I still have compassion. I'm not suddenly going on a kill-crazy rampage in the streets. I still love life and see beauty in the world around me. MORE so, now. After the shooting at the school in Connecticut last year, people I know on Facebook were quick to point out that it was because God was taken out of schools. What a stupid conclusion. I don't have God in my life and I don't want to hurt anyone. Hell, I don't even own a gun even though I live in a country full of gun-wielding nutjobs. I'm a hell of a lot more scared of self-proclaimed believers than those who aren't. You either have a moral compass or you don't. And if the only reason you're not murdering and raping is because you think your god tells you not to, or it's written in a 2,000 year old book, you're not a good person.

I know it's pretty obvious to some who follow me on Facebook and read my posts where I stand as far as my beliefs are, but I never really came right OUT. I've gotten a few concerned comments and e-mails, people saying, "I'm sorry if something happened to you to make you feel this way." I can't think of any one thing that happened. There were good and bad experiences. People do good and bad things to each other. I've met some mean-spirited Christians and asshole atheists. More of the former than the latter, really. I do feel that my involvement with the LDS church made me become a better person and without it, I wouldn't have met my wife who I love with all my heart. I've been calling myself an agnostic because I've been open to the idea that there could be an intelligence out there interacting with our lives. I just don't think it's likely. The evidence just isn't there. I had mistakenly thought that being an atheist meant you are absolutely sure that no god exists, but I've recently been corrected. Most atheists, at least from what I have read and seen lately, leave that possibility open, but, like me, don't think it's probable. If that's the case, then an atheist is what I am.

It doesn't really matter what label others choose to place on me. I just know what I believe, and I can rest comfortably knowing that I'm being true to myself to the best of my ability. I know that I stand for a lot of things. I stand for treating others with kindness and respect. I stand for letting others live how they choose. I stand against racism, discrimination, and bullying. I'm not the best person I can be, but I strive to be. I don't need to cling to an old book full of contradictions and impossible stories to tell me who I should be. I don't need to pray to a man-made invisible being in another dimension who demands constant praise and worship and punishes those who don't give it with an eternity in a fiery hell, being tortured by non-existent demons. I am me, and if it offends you, I'm sorry. I've only got this one life, and I'm not going to spend it following something that isn't real. I'd much rather spend my time laughing, loving, learning, and seeing all that I can see.

Magnetic

When I was 19 and lived in Abilene, I was friends with this guy named Sam. He was in the Air Force but worked part-time at Pizza Hut, which was where I worked. For a while, once a week, we'd hang out at his house, drink beers and watch live Metallica from the Binge & Purge box set.

I'm sitting here now, 17 years later, watching this Quebec Magnetic Blu-Ray and it reminded me of that guy. He was such a smart-ass and we were always so rude to each other, which was awesome because I never had to pussyfoot around him. It seemed like people were so easily butt-hurt all the time, and I could tell him to STFU if I wanted without having worry about him getting offended.

I used to make extra pizzas and he'd sneak them off to the local rock station DJ, who would in turn give us all kinds of free shit. T-shirts, stickers, CD's... Sometimes albums that weren't even officially out yet. I got Down's first CD that way. And Motörhead's album Sacrifice, which I still love.

Anyway, yeah, this performance is pretty good. Dudes are getting old but still putting on great shows.

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Air Lifts

I had a dream last night about work. The building I work in is ten stories high and there's no elevator. It's real fun when you have a task high up somewhere and you need to get tools and materials up there with you. Well, in my dream, they installed this weird air elevator thing - I don't know what to call it. Basically, you could stand in a certain spot and after a second, you'd be carried up to the next floor through an invisible tunnel of air. Just grab whatever tools you want to bring, step in the little circle, levitate up and gently land on the next floor. Each floor had one of these spots you could stand in, and there were other ones that would carry you back down. It was awesome.

In the dream, Lori and I were buying a new, 2-story house. It turned out the house had one of these air lift things, too. If I stood in a certain spot, it would lift me off the ground, float me sideways to the other side of the house and then up to a spot on the deck on the second floor. I tried talking Lori into trying it out but she wouldn't have any of it.

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Orc, Colored

Digital Ink

Okay, this is my first time ever inking digitally. I used the Wacom tablet and Photoshop and just kinda went for it without knowing how it is done professionally. By the time I was done, I figured out some easier ways to do things and realized some mistakes I had made, but oh well. Future pics will come out a lot better, I think.


Here's the first stage, the pencil sketch.


Here it is after I finished inking it.

Gotta Love Oregon Weather

Oh, and even though it said it wasn't currently raining when I took this screenshot, it was.

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Orc Face

Female Orc