“The purpose of satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth. And our job, as I see it, is to put it back again.”
— Michael Flanders
One of the most fascinating creatures in mythology is that of the golem, an animated anthropomorphic being in Jewish lore created out of inanimate matter (traditionally clay) and brought into being by a sorcerer or rabbi who inscribes the word emet (אמת, “truth”) on its forehead, or by a tablet with the word inserted in its mouth. The golem is described as being but a shadow of Man (who himself is but a shadow of Almighty God), without a soul and unintelligent but perfectly obedient to the will of the one who animated it. Usually in golem tales there is an element of hubris, with the creation turning on its creator who realizes the error of his ways in the end, or it begins to attack gentiles or other Jews, the point being that god alone has the wherewithal, wisdom and right to create life.
On a similar note, last week I finished watching the anime series Fullmetal Alchemist, which centers on two alchemist brothers who are trying to restore their bodies after a disastrous failed attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy. *Spoiler alert!* The main antagonists in the series are beings known as homunculi, human-like creatures created out of the failed attempt to bring someone back from the dead through alchemy. These beings resemble humans but do not possess souls and thus have human-like consciousness but cannot experience emotion.
One of the purposes of this blog is to attempt to synthesize the experience of becoming an atheist after over twenty years of living as an Evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. My earliest recollections involve church and my parents’ faith practice, of reading from the bible as a family or praying together. In some ways, leaving Christianity was like ending an incredibly dysfunctional marriage. However, beyond that, I haven’t talked too much about my parents, who I cut ties with on Christmas Day this year, or the effect our upbringing had on my two younger sisters and myself.
Some who read this blog know my family does not approve of or accept me as a gay man, insisting that gays are broken heterosexuals, and I think that had my parents known about me as a teenager that they would’ve attempted to get me into reparative therapy. However, I want to stress that my parents were never intentionally abusive or cruel, nor do I believe they are bad people; and I believe they genuinely love me, but their theology has shaped (and warped) their views on the world and humanity in a particular way.
My sisters and I grew up in a fairly strict home. We were homeschooled, and a significant portion of our education had a heavy Christian slant. A few weeks ago I cleaned out my old bedroom at my parents’ house and found notebooks, papers and books from those years. Reading it as an adult made me wince. It was such blatant inculcation. For a long time we weren’t allowed to watch television, and even then our watching was closely monitored, our viewing restricted to wholesome, educational programming. While I am thankful to have been exposed to as much classic black-and-white films as we were, we grew up in a cultural vacuum. We spent a lot of time at church volunteering or at different programs (yes, we did AWANAS, and both my parents were leaders).
A peculiar phenomenon of Protestant culture is the morbid fear of pride and self. My dad’s life verse comes from John 3:30, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I [John the Baptist] must decrease.” Consequently, my parents were always afraid of their children becoming conceited or prideful, and our upbringing reflected that. Again, I don’t want to paint my parents as monsters, but we were rarely praised or affirmed. We were punished, and punished often, sometimes for the smallest of infractions. There was one instance where my dad got carried away with a spanking when he thought I’d cursed god. I hadn’t, but he insisted that I had taken god’s name in vain. I still hate my father for that.
There were also a number of occasions where they threatened to send us away to work at the farm of a family friend in Nebraska for misbehaving—along the lines of, “maybe you’ll appreciate what you have here.” This threat was never acted on, but when we were little the thought of being shipped off was terrifying.
As adults, my sisters and I confronted our parents about the fact that we rarely felt loved, accepted or safe growing up. We’ve each manifested this in different ways. All three of us threw ourselves into various pursuits to work for the approval of our parents. My younger sister is a ballet dancer and in her teen years developed anorexia for which she has gone through years of therapy to overcome. While probably not related to our home life, my youngest sister has bi-polar disorder and has substituted a dog for having a boyfriend.
As for me, I pursued music performance, partly to fulfill an aptitude for it but also to win the approval/attention of my father who is a professional trumpeter and college professor, going so far as majoring in music composition for a career in music (which never went anywhere). Despite all of that, I’ve still never felt like any of it’s been good enough.
For a long time I’ve struggled with depression, and for a while wondered if I might have bi-polar disorder too. It’s much more likely though that I’m dealing with something known as borderline personality disorder, a veritable clusterfuck of a diagnosis, consistent with my home life growing up and a lot of the behavioral traits I’ve manifested over the years.
However, I’ll cover that next time since this Starbucks is closing.