Way back in 2005 I posted a largely unremarked-upon diary about how I escaped my Theocratic upbringing. As a result of recent discussions on homeschooling, particularly the differences between conservative homeschooling and progressive homeschooling, and also because many progressives think there's no way to escape the programming delivered by a theocratic religious conservative homeschooled childhood, I'm republishing this original diary. I've updated and clarified this a bit from it's original form, posted nearly 7 years ago. I've become less religious and more political in that time.
I was raised by fundamentalist Christians. My dad was never too bad about forcing religion down our throats, but my mom was everything that's bad about Reconstructionist Christians. I was taught all manner of crap when I was growing up. I was homeschooled to ensure that I was not exposed to sex ed, evolutionary theory, or religious pluralism. I was taught that gays and witches and liberals all serve Satan and are part of his plan. My education concerning other religions, both in 12 years of homeschooling and at yearly week-long intensive summer religious indoctrination camps, went only as far as to tell me why every other religion including atheists and probably Catholics are wrong. Here's a hint: Because many parts of those religions disagree with the Bible.
Now, of course, these days I do not find it surprising that a Hindu's religious beliefs do not correlate closely to the teachings of the Bible, but back then, I was convinced the Bible was meant to be taken literally, and was for everyone. I remember a book we had in our family library, called "Why so Many Gods", which says slickly and simply what is wrong with every other religion. I saw it again recently and it made me sick to my stomach. Must be those demons in me. I had few subjects in my homeschooled education. They were "History", "English", "Math", "Science" (Seven Day Creationism of course), and, lest we forget, "Bible". I was taught Bible as a subject. Every textbook was ordered by mail from an outfit in Arizona called "Alpha and Omega". My parents controlled my exposure to the outside world completely, myself and my 4 younger siblings. Forget cable, we didn't even have broadcast television because my parents couldn't control the commercials and we might see something offensive. All we had were videos, and they had to be parentally approved. I didn't see a PG-13 movie until after I'd turned 15, because if it was PG-13 then there must be something sinful in it. I could go on and on.
So what was it that broke the shackles, so to speak? Well, my parents let me go to the library on my own, and to the bookstore. And there I read books. Chiefly from that time, I remember graphic novels from DC-Vertigo, like "Sandman" and "Books of Magic" and "Hellblazer". They had horrific scenes of sex and violence, they dealt with mature sacreligious themes, and they were water in the desert to me. For once, I wasn't worried about the morality of it, all I knew was that those comic books were damn good. There were more books of course. My dad has always been into science fiction, and he encouraged me to read these books as well as the satirical works of Kurt Vonnegut. Unfortunately for my parents attempts at creating a good Christian soldier, religious fundamentalism cannot stand in the face of a mind developed by really good science fiction. I read 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Hocus Pocus, Player Piano, Animal Farm, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Martian Chronicles, and so on. I am an avid reader, and I always have been, and the reading of all these comics books and science fiction books has done me a great service. It reinforced my imagination, and it encouraged me to ask questions.
Imagination and a questioning mind will always defeat drab static fundamentalism.
I joined the Air Force at 17, and had all the stereotypes of other people and other religions broken. I met a Wiccan and a Hindu in my basic training flight. I was shocked that a Wiccan was allowed in the military and that the Hindu did not have cow dung in his hair, and I was also shocked to find that they were pretty okay guys. At tech school, my first roomate ever was a Wiccan, and a decent guy. I was stunned that he did not participate in blood sacrifice of infants under the full moon. My Christianity became steadily more liberalized (though I wouldn't have said so at the time), until I reached the point after two and a half years where I realized that religion in its purest sense is nothing more then a lens through which your personal light is shown on the world, and it is not the lens but the light that matters. When you reach this point, which I think all truly intelligent people must at some time, you realize that it does not matter what religion someone holds. The Bible is meant to be figurative, as are all holy books, and there is no religion that knows absolute Truth, because all religions are formed and guided by men, and men are flawed, thus are all religions flawed.
At this point, after realizing that it really doesn't matter what religion you associate yourself with, after realizing that I did not believe Jesus was a deity, believing as I did that the Bible's literal veracity could not be confirmed because of the chokehold that state-sponsored religion held the Bible in for at least 1500 years, believing that hell and original sin were both concepts that simply do not make sense, I knew that I couldn't call myself a Christian. I wouldn't feel comfortable with the term, not after my upbringing, and not when I considered so many of the "pillars" of Christianity to be dubious at best and outright lies at worse. I tried Buddhism for a while, but it didn't fit either, for a reason that can simply be described as "I like my stuff". Now I am loosely neopagan, and have been for nearly a decade, and I am very happy with it.
So now I have twenty or so years of looking at fundamental Christianity from the inside, and almost ten years of looking at it from the outside, and overall I can't say how happy I am to get away from that. I've found that I have a tendency to make Christians lose their faith the same way I lost mine, simply by voicing the tough questions in such a way that it seems I am simply saying the way things happened for me. It's true, but hearing those questions make them either question their beliefs or recess themselves into "the conch of blind faith" (to shamelessly steal a term from South Park), and even blind faith loses its taste after a while. I can't say that this bothers me, because I know that it was hearing the hard questions that got me out.
I have found that my best analogy, especially since I am a mechanic myself, is to say that God can't hold us responsible for sin, not if he made us and is omnipotent. If we were created, then we are like anything else created, we are machines. If somebody designs a machine and it does not function as intended, that is not the fault of the machine, it is the fault of the designer. Only an idiot would say that a car with square wheels is the fault of the car. The most common counter I've heard to this is that we were designed with free will. The answer to that is simple. If you design something with free will, with the ability to make choices, you had better content yourself with whatever choices are made. If God intended us to have free will, then exercising our free will, no matter what we are doing, fulfills God's plan. Also, if someone were to build a robot that went insane and murdered, say, 6 millions Jews, it would be the fault of the person who built the robot, not the fault of the robot itself (though of course the robot would be destroyed). If that robot had free will, well, what kind of idiot designs a robot with the capacity to kill 6 million people?
I'm certain that if I lived a few hundred years ago, Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps would have to fight over who got to put me to the torch first.
I have never been comfortable following the leader, especially in religion. I cannot reconcile myself to following a "Wiccan Priestess" any more then I can reconcile myself to following a preacher's words. I have a few reasons for this. First is my problem with any organized religion. Organized religion requires people to shut up and go along with what the leader is saying, or leave. It requires sheep and shepherds, and as I have no desire to be a shepherds, nor could I stand to be sheep, I will have no part in it. Next is the problem I have with acknowledging any other human as a religious authority. Saying someone else is legitimately a pastor and you yourself are not means that you think that in matters of religion the pastor is more experienced and more educated then you are, or else you would not be submitting to him. Religion is too personal for this. No other human's religious experience is any more meaningful or valid then your own, and yours is as valid as anyone else's. My third problem with organized religion ties closely to the second. I do believe that all humans have inherent flaws. As such, any instruction I receive on the matter of religion will be flawed, because it comes from a flawed vessel. This is not true of, say, math, because math is concrete, or of literature, because literature cannot be concrete or it loses its creativity. But how often has science and medicine been distorted by the whims and views of those teaching it and of the society of the time? The world was once considered flat, you'll remember. Anyway, I do know that I too am flawed. But it is better to, if I am to try to commune with the divine, have only one layer of flaws between me and it, as opposed to one for me, one for the pastor, one for his seminary, and so on. I do not want anyone to come between me and my ways of worship.
My political development has followed a similar path. When I started out, I was a conservative in every sense of the word. Reading Vonnegut and Ursula K LeGuin has cured me of a lot of that. It was from Vonnegut that I first learned of Eugene V. Debs, the great Socialist leader of the early 20th century. It was Eugene V. Debs who made the best cases for socialism that I've ever read, and he also illuminated the inherent corruption of our two-party system. Many of us have the impulses and beliefs to be socialists, and it is our conditioning against socialism that is the root of our refusal to self-identify as such. We believe the bad things we're told about it by people who have a vested financial interest in keeping our eyes closed. The best thing any person can do is to open their eyes.
As I've seen our country continue down the authoritarian and imperialist path, often first-hand, I've become more interested in anarchism as the only defense against an inherently corrupt and overbearing State. When Ursula K LeGuin wrote "The Dispossessed", she was inspired by the writings of Petyr Kropotkin, a contemporary of Marx and Engels and Bakunin. Kropotkin, in his book "The Conquest of Bread", describes how to create a society of perfect equality, without a State that always obeys the interests of money and power, without fantastically wealthy capitalists exploiting the labor of millions. He does this using the technology and social structures available a hundred years ago, and in the time since, it's become only more possible. The capacity for an anarcho-syndicalist society is there, we can do it, and it is only ourselves and our attachment to the current system that keeps it from becoming a reality.
So, that is how you go from being a homeschooled anti-abortion fundamentalist Christian conservative to a pro-choice pagan anarcho-syndicalist.
Some specific issues to bring up as I republish this diary to this specific group:
1. I am not opposed to all homeschooling. I'm not even opposed to homeschooling by religious fanatics with the specific intent of brainwashing their kids to be like them; clearly it doesn't always work. If anything, coming from that background better prepared me to understand what's wrong with it and why I'm no longer in that category.
2. I do think that public schools should be heavily supported by everyone, even homeschooling families, as the school system is something that our entire society regardless of personal income level relies upon. We need educated people, as many of them as possible. This is also why I'm opposed to things like location-specific taxes for school districts. In central Ohio at least, and I'm sure in many other communities throughout the country, the wealthy make sure to move out of poorer areas and into suburbs where their school taxes go only to educating their own children, leaving poorer rural and urban areas critically underfunded and understaffed. They don't want their taxes going to pay for the educations of poor people, as if this will somehow benefit them in the long run, as if society benefits from a permanent underclass that is educationally and economically disadvantaged. I'd prefer to see school districts funded out of the state budget, with a proportional moving of taxes from the city/suburb level to the state level. But this is a matter for another diary and it's not a very developed idea yet.
3. I don't think homeschooling should be heavily regulated, as this will enable the people in the government in charge of the regulation to force their views on the families. Bear in mind that the people making the regulations could be right-wing religious fanatics just as easily as they could be liberals. As a homeschool child, I took the Iowa achievement test (scoring well above my grade level in every single category), and the SATs (700 Math / 650 Verbal in 1999); I would not be opposed to requiring some level of standardized testing for homeschool students, but on a rare basis. Maybe once a year at best. If nothing else, it will re-affirm for the child the quality of the education they're receiving, compared to their peers.
4. I am not opposed in theory to homeschooling my own (eventual) children. My wife, however, has a strong desire to send them to a parochial school (she's pagan like me but went to Catholic school for much of her childhood), and I don't feel strongly enough about it one way or the other to disagree. If nothing else, it will demonstrate for them the differences between the religion of their parents and other available major religions, and hopefully instill that same deep-seated cynical outlook towards organized religion that has benefited me greatly. I mean, just think how much tithe money I've not spent over the last 12 years.