Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Fear or Freedom

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fear“I’ll have to call you back later.”

That’s what Tessa said last Sunday.  She never called me back, though she’s texted me a couple of times since then.

My voice shook as I responded to her question.  She’d been ranting for probably forty-five minutes.  Her foster child had come home with some “magic” cards.  So that’s how the conversation started out.  Those magic cards, it turns out, are game pieces as best I can tell for a game called Magic:  The Gathering.  Perhaps it’s similar to Dungeons and Dragons.  I’m not really sure.

But Tessa had taken the cards from her foster daughter and informed her she couldn’t participate in that.  She’s fourteen and I’m not entirely sure it’s appropriate for that age, myself.  At any rate she continued on that this child’s father, with whom she’d been having weekend visitation, had introduced her to what my friend is calling “Black Magic”.  I don’t think the two things are related at all but I could be wrong.

Then she told her fourteen-year-old foster child that she might be the only Christian that her father knows; that it was her obligation to abstain from playing that game and “witness” to her father; that if he died without knowing Jesus his blood would be on her hands.

She didn’t take a breath.  I hadn’t interrupted nor interjected.  Continuing on she relayed a story about our former pastor.  She’d approached him in the church parking lot because she was upset about the school mandated reading list for her 6th grade child.  So that would put her child around twelve years old.  The concern was over the Harry Potter books.  He told her that he’d read them, his children had read them, and that they all loved the films.  “What would be your issue with them,” he inquired.

“Well, I’m pretty sure that your Bible reads the same as my Bible and I’m also pretty sure it says that dabbling in witchcraft and sorcery is a sin.”  That was her response.  Why did she ask his opinion?  I’m not sure.  Clearly she didn’t need it, she’d already made up her mind about it.  This is the same friend who threw out Disney’s Fantasia and forbade her children to watch it because Mickey was a sorcerer’s apprentice.  It featured a magician.

“Can you believe that? The pastor endorsing Harry Potter?” Then she took a breath.  Oh, crap.  This isn’t a rhetorical question.  She’s expecting an answer.

“Well, you’re probably not going to like what I have to say about that but here goes:  I think that Harry Potter is complete fiction.  J.K. Rowling hasn’t purported it to be anything other than complete fiction and since there’s no such thing as magic and I don’t believe witchcraft to have any actual power I don’t see a problem with it.  I think you have to be the one to teach your kids the difference between fiction and reality. I know there are people who engage in witchcraft but I don’t think it has any actual power.  I don’t believe that spells work.  I know that those who engage in it do, but that doesn’t make it true.”

She cut me off, telling me that her sister had once said she wasn’t ready to give her life to God because she knew she was rebellious.  “Get your Bible out and read it.  Rebellion is a form of witchcraft, I told her.  She got over that real quick and got right with God.  There are demons and the devil is roaming around to see who he can destroy. I firmly believe that anybody who isn’t covered in the blood of Christ is leaving themselves WIDE OPEN to possession.  My friend, Deliverance*, got invited by a new friend she’d made to a dinner party to meet some other new people.  The minute she walked in she sensed it.  They were witches and they just wanted to attack her.  If she hadn’t known what it was she might have been susceptible, but since she knew what to look for she was keenly aware.  And all this stuff that’s happening in the Middle East with ISIS.  They’re cutting little kids’ heads off and putting them up on a stick and making a mockery of Christianity.  They’re taking the girls and raping them and selling them off as sex-slaves.  It’s nothing less than demon possession.  I love you and I want you to get your Bible out and read what it says about witchcraft and demon possession because I don’t want you to be caught off guard.”

Now it was my turn to cut her off.  My voice shook, “Tessa, I know you love me and I love you, and you know that I know what the Bible says about this. I just don’t believe in demon possession.  I don’t think we’re doing the mentally ill a service when we write them off as demon-possessed.  They’re sick, for sure, but they aren’t possessed.  They need proper medical treatment, not exorcism.  Exorcism doesn’t work.  Why do you think the Catholic Church doesn’t perform them as a general rule anymore?  And all this stuff in the Middle East?  Religious extremism is definitely at the core of it, but it’s more about power.  They aren’t representing any God.  They want power and control and the are using religion to get it.  Christians are no better. They’ve had their share of dark history.”  And this is where she cut me short.

My voice shook, not in anger, but in fear.  This is the first time I’ve been this vocal about my disbelief in certain things.  I just couldn’t listen to this any longer and not say something.  I only wish I had gotten the chance to say more.

I find it unconscionable that she laid such a guilt-trip on a fourteen year old child, making her feel responsible for his eternity – as if there is such a thing.  That’s too much responsibility for a child who clearly already has more problems than a math book.  She’s in foster care, she has two sisters, and none of them have the same daddy.  She’s been told nobody wants her.  Not her mother, not her father, not her grandparents.

Things only have the power over us that we give them.  Will we choose fear because we’re uneducated or will we choose the freedom that knowledge provides?

———————————————————————————————————————
Edited to add:

*Deliverance is a mutual friend who has been a missionary to Israel. She was trained and engages in deliverance.

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77 thoughts on “Fear or Freedom

  1. Very well told tale. I do feel sorry for the girl as well as for those who believe — and behave — as Tessa does. It must suck to live their lives as they do.

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    • I well remember having this mindset. Listening to it now it just sounds so…crazy. Though I will say that while I thought the devil was real and that there were demons I never attributed them to works of fiction like Harry Potter. So maybe I was a little less irrational? Maybe….

      But it is sad. I just can’t live my life worrying about every person I come into contact with having a demon inside them. It’s just too much.

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  2. To hear such a story is to immediately think this person has grown up in a cave, separated from civilisation. Astonishing that such backward thought can find a home in a 1st World nation.

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  3. Ruth, even though I read these stories here and on other blogs, I can’t quite convince myself that these people ACTUALLY believe this stuff.

    I’m with you, that poor little 14-yr-old should be giggling, shopping, and listening to music. Not worrying about someone’s soul. How awful. Let’s call it what it is – emotional abuse, plain and simple.

    Harry Potter? Wonderful reading!! That series prompted even the most reluctant reader to actually pick up a book – I think Rowling deserves credit for turning thousands of kids onto reading.

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    • I have to admit that I haven’t read the Harry Potter books, myself. Around the time they started coming out I was heavily into reading The Left Behind Series and lapping it up as though it were truth wrapped in fiction. I was too busy reading about the real supernatural stuff to concern myself with reading fiction.

      They are definitely on my reading list, though, as I have not seen any of the films in their entirety either.

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  4. One day, the arseholes who made up the religious crap and those that continue to punt it are going to have a lot to answer for. A helluva lot.

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  5. I agree Ark, but who will they answer to?

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  6. What’s puzzling me is that someone with such extreme views (although define extreme) is actually still speaking to you when you no longer believe. Doesn’t she think you are the Jezebel from hell or possessed or something?

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    • Ah, well, there’s the rub. I haven’t revealed my complete apostasy. Here that is both social and potentially financial suicide. I keep it mostly to myself out of sheer self-preservation.

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      • Oh! Just Oh!

        I can’t imagine it. Sounds horrific. Seriously bad news. I’d be emigrating.

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        • I’m sure you’ve seen the article(I think Victoria has posted it a couple of times in various placed) in which there was a survey of people’s views on various religions in the US. Muslims and Atheists are the most distrusted people in America. You’ve seen(though she is only one, but one of many) the questioning of the honesty and integrity of those who don’t believe over at Nate’s place.

          In the Bible Belt, where this kind of fundamentalist Christianity is common, it would make it very difficult, if not impossible, for an accountant to find work were he/she to reveal such information about themselves.

          In fact I’m the only apostate that I personally know here. I’m sure there are others but I’m not aware of them. The only other person I’ve ever known to apostasize was years ago. He was very vocal about it. It very nearly cost him his job. He was shunned (church discipline) in the community. He eventually recanted his apostasy.

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      • Ah, I was wondering about that. (“Liked” your comment because it’s informative.)

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        • Which thing were you wondering about? My apostasy or how open I am about it?

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          • Your openness about it.

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          • Well, despite how I might come across sometimes in certain conversations(ahem), I really am not a confrontational person. I hate conflict and I usually – especially with people I’m close to and interact with regularly – avoid conflict whenever possible(sometimes at all costs).

            I have found that I don’t necessarily need to reveal my complete apostasy to anyone. I think that when giving my opinions about issues now I state what I think and that’s enough for me to at least be labeled a heretic but without being completely alienated. By now I think I might have revealed enough of my turnabout through issues such as gay marriage and abortion to give people the idea that I’m probably not a real Christian without having to come right out and say it.

            There is an awkwardness that accompanies each one of those revelations about myself, but it’s not untenable. It is easier [for me], though, to disagree about gay marriage(for example) than it is to disagree about faith altogether.

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          • Well, despite how I might come across sometimes in certain conversations(ahem)…

            Lol. 🙂

            I have found that I don’t necessarily need to reveal my complete apostasy to anyone. I think that when giving my opinions about issues now I state what I think and that’s enough for me to at least be labeled a heretic but without being completely alienated. By now I think I might have revealed enough of my turnabout through issues such as gay marriage and abortion to give people the idea that I’m probably not a real Christian without having to come right out and say it.

            There is an awkwardness that accompanies each one of those revelations about myself, but it’s not untenable. It is easier [for me], though, to disagree about gay marriage(for example) than it is to disagree about faith altogether.

            I think I understand what you mean here. There is a difference between “I disagree with your conclusion on this issue,” and “I think you are fundamentally mistaken about the origins of humanity and the cosmos, and the foundation of your worldview, from which you [may] feel you obtain your worth as a person.” Even though to many of us, the latter is actually a researched conclusion, to many believers, I think it’s the result of outflow of presuppositions and assumptions, and I can understand the tendency for them to take it personally.

            Personally, I want to come out with it, but not before I organize my thoughts about it. (My intent is to do this on my blog, but…time.) I want people who know and care about me to know who I am. In general, I think if they want to know why I rejected the faith, I’ll be open to discussing it; or if they don’t, that’ll be OK by me.

            I’m inclined to make an exception for believers not “in my circle” who are prone to evangelism, as I think they should receive the same sort of interjection in their lives as they impose on others.

            There are some exceptions to this, but that might be better discussed in a post of my own.

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          • There is a difference between “I disagree with your conclusion on this issue,” and “I think you are fundamentally mistaken about the origins of humanity and the cosmos, and the foundation of your worldview, from which you [may] feel you obtain your worth as a person.” Even though to many of us, the latter is actually a researched conclusion, to many believers, I think it’s the result of outflow of presuppositions and assumptions, and I can understand the tendency for them to take it personally.

            Exactly this. I know that when I was a believer my belief was intrinsic to who I was. So, yes, they will take it personally.

            Even with those believers I don’t know very well (i.e. the blogosphere) when I say that I’ve researched the matter and come to the conclusion that it isn’t likely that a god or gods exist they take it as a personal affront. As if I think I’m more enlightened or smarter than they are. It is not that at all. I try, most of the time, to be delicate about it. Coming to a different conclusion on the matter doesn’t make me in any way better than another.

            So I do very much struggle with how to live out my life authentically. At first I thought I owed people an explanation but the more I thought about it I wondered why I felt that way. They have invested in my life, certainly, but no more than I’ve invested in theirs.

            Now if, as a result of the above conversation, my friend wanted to call and ask me some more questions about why I feel the way that I do and how I came to those conclusions I’d be more than happy to share that.

            My family members, who are either only marginal Christians or agnostics, know – maybe not in great detail – but they sort of went through the transformation with me. I did say to Roughseas earlier that I was the only atheist I know, but my brother is also an atheist. He went through his deconversion shortly before I did. He is much the same as myself in keeping his opinions about faith to himself, though he will discuss social issues.

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  7. Your voice may have been shaking in fear but Tessa lives 24/7 in it.

    Well done. Not that you need my approval. 🙂

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    • I shouldn’t be so afraid, really. I don’t know why I am except I really don’t want the ladies’ circle at my home doing a prayer walk and anointing my doorposts with holy water.

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    • I actually think the fear is more, not of making her angry, but the disappointment and pleading that is sure to follow. And after that the ugly break-up.

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      • Totally understandable. But my question is, living in (I assume) the Bible Belt, how did you ever break free? Or do you have a blog posting related to that?

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        • Maybe I’ll try to do a condensed one, but it’s actually a succession of events that is really hard to narrow down. I have blogged about it, but it’s in many posts – not just one.

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        • I actually blogged my way through my deconversion.

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          • I’ve noticed a lot of people have done that. I think that’s what Charles (skepticjourney.wordpress.com) is doing. I had walked quite a ways down the unbeliever’s path by the time I started my blog so there wasn’t much to tell at that point.

            I admire you for your resolve. I’m afraid my mouth would get me into trouble were I to be in your shoes.

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      • I think you do have a right to your fear in that it can get ugly quick. Years ago, when this was all new for me I was telling a friend that I didn’t want to talk about this stuff because I didn’t want other people talking about me. She said something like ‘Oh honey, they are already talking about you.’ 😯

        I keep trying to remember that it doesn’t matter, it’s true, they were talking without my help and they’ll continue to do so.

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        • Oh, I have no doubt I’ve been the topic of many prayer circles and flat-out gossip. The thing is I don’t know what they’re saying with any certainty(likely it’s about me being backslidden) and I don’t really want to know. If I become confrontational I might have to find out. As it stands it’s just mildly (sometimes wildly) uncomfortable. I don’t want to be responsible for the ugly. Let them think what they want. Makes no difference to me.

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  8. You did well Ruth. Am not sure I could muster as much patience as you did here

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  9. When I was still a believer, one of the most powerful Biblical lines for me was, “Jesus wept.” Now I weep for the suffering, so widespread in this world and so totally needless, that lies at the hand of superstition and ignorance. You have detailed but a single instance. There are sooo many though.

    BTW, I bow to the Godless Zoe (did I spell that right)?

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    • Well I do prefer a the term Goddess but only in the most secular way. Maybe with a little sprinkle of divinity here and there. Godless will do. 🙂

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    • I know! This is rampant here. All this demon and Satan talk. It’s so hard for me to believe I ever believed this. But at the height of my belief I literally thought at one point I could see the battle that was raging in the invisible realm between the angels and demons. I thought it was God allowing me to see the truth. What I didn’t ever once, as a believer, stop to consider was that I was filling my head with Revelation and stories about talking donkeys. All that imagery was there from the things I was exposing myself to and thinking on. I suppose, in a sense, you really do find what you seek.

      In the words of Ben Cartwright from Bonanza, “If you look for the devil, you’ll find him.”

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  10. It’s rampant here too Ruth. I know Americans don’t see it as a rule but it does. We’re just a little more “less in your face” about it all. Canadian eh?

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  11. I’m with Ark — a powerful post, Ruth. I feel so sorry for the foster child, as if she hasn’t already experienced enough trauma. I was mortified that your Christian friend said that to her regarding the Ezekiel scriptures.

    Christianity: Legalized child abuse that gets rewarded with tax exemption from the U.S. government.

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    • Christianity: Legalized child abuse that gets rewarded with tax exemption from the U.S. government.

      Indeed. I don’t want to take anything away from my friend. She and her husband have generously opened their home up to these children with no assurances from DFCAS of an end-date, no timeline, no real direction. They do love these children. They spend far above and beyond whatever DFCAS might be giving them on these children. So to that extent I really don’t want it to seem as if she’s a terrible person.

      On the other hand, even with the shortage of foster families, I’m not sure it’s in the childrens’ best interest to placed in homes where there is religious fanaticsm. I have no idea how that can even be assessed.

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      • I understand, and I didn’t mean to cast a shadow on your friend. In her mind she thinks she’s doing her god’s will trying to spare these children from eternal hell fire. We’ve been there so we understand the mindset and the power of mind-control via fear.

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        • No, I didn’t take what you said that way. I just wanted to make it clear that I do admire the fact that she’s extending herself to these children. She definitely thinks she’s doing her God’s will. She even said that when she prayed about it God “told her” to take these children in.

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          • Sadly, it appears that anything she does that is prosoical, she gives her god the credit. This, in turn, gets passed on to the children she’s caring for. When people begin to believe that there is no good thing in them as scriptures suggest, it takes it toll on humanity.

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  12. Pingback: Fear or Freedom | Christians Anonymous

  13. Thank you for sharing this story. Some might read this as just a story about a non-believer who wants to make light of Christian belief, but I would worry about people who saw this story as that. This is what many people feel when confronted with someone who’s beliefs are so extreme and different from our own that it feels frightening to face it. I felt this way while engaging with this gay bashing “Christian” who came on campus to tell all gay people they are going to hell (they weren’t associated with the westboro Baptist church but were of that ilk). We had a calm conversation, but the whole time I was just thinking, could this person be any more wrong about the world? The frightening part was how absolutely certain the man was. I am not that certain about anything. I can only imagine how much harder it would be to live in a community where many thought that way. I would have to get out. In fact that’s precisely the reason I left living in the bible belt myself.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “It is up to the parent to teach the difference between fact and fiction”. When one believes in invisible agents, this is clearly a person who does not know the difference between fact and fiction themselves. If that person replaced the Blood of Christ and demons with almost anything else from any other book they would be prevented from being part of the Foster Care system. It is unfortunate when such things do not disqualify someone from raising children. Because her views are extreme even for Christians and she can only end up damaging that poor girl instead of giving her the support and attention she needs. I am sure that is part of the reason why you said something, because in this case there was a child’s mental health at stake. You should be proud of your courage.

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    • When one believes in invisible agents, this is clearly a person who does not know the difference between fact and fiction themselves.

      That is precisely my feelings about it. Because she believes in these invisible agents, it gives credence to all kinds of invisible agents. There is nowhere, once one believes in demons and devils, in angels and spirits, in wars in an invisible realm, to draw a line between make-believe and reality. There is no line.

      I only wish I has gotten the chance to say a bit more about her interaction with the child. Perhaps I still will. It may only alienate me further, but still.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I have a fourteen year old, they certainly don’t need more things to worry about:) Great story, Ruth. It sounds like you handled things very well.

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    • Hey, Alice!

      I have a fourteen year old, they certainly don’t need more things to worry about:)

      Right? Crazy hormones, coming of age, trying to fit in, peer pressure, trying to figure out who you are – what path in life you want to take. All of that is a plenty. And this is for a child whose parents are together and participatory. I can’t imagine what it’s like for this child; a ‘throw away’. She found something she could do and have in common with one of her parents. Splash-cold water. Even if I didn’t think it was a good idea I would have tried to find a better way to deal with it than make her, once again, feel less-than.

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