Finding myself and atheism


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Finding myself and atheism

Becoming atheist has been a long, searching road. I can’t say that I’ve never thought about it before this, but something in me– the questioning part, the psychological part, the emotional part, the mental part– needed to engage in possibilities before being able to make a decision. While the journey is complicated, the end result is this: I find no personal sense in belief of any supernatural forces. I feel that the belief in any supernatural deity is against reason, rationality, and most of all, myself. And this last sentence is written with all of my thinking and mental self– all of the anger, all of the happiness, all of the scars and the grief and the victory, all of the utmost rational thought and emotion that I can comprehend.

I can definitely say I was born atheist, and grew up atheist. I never thought about religion/belief as truth as a child, and my parents raised me with the goal of not forcing me into any religion that was not my choice. I do remember wanting to pray as a child, and my mom humored me with the usual “Now I lay me down the sleep” drivel that conferred false security. As a sickly child with severe asthma, I’d faced death several times, narrowly missing it by two or three days in some instances, where the hospital saved my life. I remember being frightened of death because it was unknown. I remember asking about God and Jesus and the bible, but in later years, as a teenager, I also asked about Eastern religions as well. In a sense, I was interested in the spiritual, because I had never considered it honestly before. I wanted to know what, why, and how, did anyone know any of what goes on spiritually.

So as a child and as a teen I went to various friends’ churches and also was exposed to bible school at the local Chinese school. I had no idea why we needed to learn anything out of the bible if it was Chinese school, but I never asked– and I never took anything out of the bible literally. To me, it felt like a fairy tale or a bedtime story rather than truth. Perhaps this feeling saved me in later years. My parents’ indifference to religiosity probably protected me as well. That, and my ability to question authority, to doubt, despite past attempts to throw myself into unhealthy psychological, emotional, and mental situations for the pursuit of knowledge. But for me to do that, I feel that I have to explain why I would do something so unhealthy. Here is the personal background, and it is long:

The consequences of being a smart Chinese living in a white majority town probably helped me along in my path to low self-esteem, self-destructive tendencies, and major clinical depression. To this day I have no real clue why my parents picked upstate NY to raise us. But it was harrowing, as by the time I was 12, I’ve had to discover racism, hatred, emotional/physical abuse at the hands of everyone, groupthink, and shallowness on my own. I saw the social structure of school divided between the beautiful vs. the ugly (I was the one of the ugly), despite the ugly being intelligent. I saw physical beauty valued above all else and intelligence mocked. I saw groupthink in heinous proportions, at play between classes and in the cafeteria, against those who were simply smart. I saw some smart students suppress their intelligence in order to appease the beautiful, popular, not-as-bright kids. I saw and I hated social status, popularity, and social games. My own lack of fashion and assertiveness did not help; I was overly sensitive and a fragile person. That is my regret, that I was not strong, earlier.

We learn from what we see in reality, and at 12, that was my reality, every day of my life, for three years. I harbored an intense hatred for the world as I saw it. Endless abuse with no chance to celebrate being oneself. My parents did not help this dynamic in any way, as they pushed me to attain better grades yet; punishing me if any A’s became A-’s. It seemed they cared less for my emotional health than for my scholastic. All I cared about was understanding– me understanding the world, the world understanding me. No dice. But, if this was the world, then I was not worthwhile, because I possessed the wrong thing. I could not please anyone, no matter how much I tried. If this was the world, I wanted out. At 12, scraping at the bottom of the barrell, fearful of death but wanting to die, I slid a knife across my wrist… but did not cut deep enough… cut in the wrong direction… and I don’t remember the rest of the night. I still have the scar. I remember I hid the knife, hating myself even farther because I even failed at dying, but too frightened to try again. Never in my life would I want to have this level of fear. Now, I’m glad I never succeeded. Eventually, I took up karate in order to defend myself at school, in the hopes of preventing myself from being lynched in the backyard after school. Sometimes, prejudices help. All Chinese know karate.

This age, at 12, was the first of a long road of mostly environmentally induced, majorly severe, clinical depression. I scraped the bottom at age 12, and could not come up out of it. But, at age 13, I had noticed enough of the shitty world around me that I was going to cultivate my mind if I could not cultivate physical beauty. I started to read all kinds of fiction. I vowed to myself that I would pursue knowledge, to become something beyond what I saw at 12 and 13. It ultimately increased to wanting to become more than what I was at any age. But that “more” was unknown, the path was unknown. By the time I was 16, I had read into the adult’s section and had read a lot of classics beyond my age. When I was 14, I read Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides, a book that my Honors English teacher warned was too adult for me, but that I understood. When I was 16, I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; no one told me about it, I found it myself on the shelf. I have never forgotten it. I also read some philosophy, some books on eastern religion, Faulkner, Kerouac, etc.

But scraping the bottom of the barrell at 12? I stayed that way, for years. It felt as if my life weren’t mine anymore, and death was a constant thought. I ached to stop aching, yet, I didn’t know why I was aching, no matter how introspective I went. I blamed my parents, I blamed myself, I blamed my formative school experiences. I sifted through all knowledge I had. I swallowed myself in my studies to escape it @ UCSD, I slept through classes to escape it, I partied in Tijuana to escape it, I talked to a psychologist to escape it, I wrote depressive narratives, I pretended joy, in a desperate, manic way. Nothing worked. I notice this search now as a sign that I was a problem solver, except that I didn’t know the problem back then, and I had no idea how to solve it. But, being clinically depressed for ten years and seeking answers to myself and to reality, opened me up to psychologically, emotionally, and mentally abusive experiences. One of them was the fundamentalist christian cult that scooped me up after a suicide attempt of my ex-boyfriend, when I was 19. I had broken up with him because, due to his clinical depression, he turned to alcoholism while living with me. When I broke up with him because of his lack of control, he threatened, and attempted suicide, in front of me. I had to call the ambulance while watching him fade. They took him away overnight, and returned him the next morning, patched up. I did not know what to do with him. At this time I had met people involved in a church, from my school.

There was no conceivable way that I could know what I was going into, given my lack of religious experience, my vulnerability at that time, and the subtle way these people drew me in. No one tells you in high school to “beware of religious cults”. No one told me that they will shower you with love, and subtley draw you into their world. They invited me to hang out with them at cafes. They invited me to devotionals where everyone hugged you and gave you oodles of attention. They invited me to study the bible with them– the clincher, the maneuver to get you to admit that the only way you can be saved is through them. And they invited me to move in with them in the beginning, so that I could leave my ex-boyfriend. Not knowing the consequences, I did. I ended up living in a living room, sleeping on the old, stained couch, for four months in a dirty two bedroom apartment with six girls, all from the church. The kitchen was infested with weevils, the closets with cockroaches. And they showered me with love that I did not know was fake; since I had no idea what social love was.

No one told me their promises of safety and comfort comes at such a huge price. Due to my lack of knowledge (which I regret), my lack of experience, and my lack of self (another regret) I went in, unprepared. And they tried to remake me, but I claim fault as well for chosing to search there. One of the first things they did was to define what activities were sin, and for me to write out everything I had done that was sinful, and to share it with a group of people. It was embarassing and a huge act of trust. I regret trusting the first sign of love so easily. This exercise was the first time that I was taught that humans were sinful, and this was the first time I was taught to be truly guilty and shameful. Then I was taught God’s love and forgiveness, despite my sins, through the sacrifice of Jesus, and that I was supposed to be grateful. I was taught to get into heaven I must be baptized, and conform fully into the literality of 80% of the bible. I tried to conform, I really did, for eight months. I read the bible every day and eventually read everything but the book full of begats. I was taught to confess any and all sins, which were a gigantic list of don’ts. I was taught that you could only date men in the church, and only in groups, once a week, to prevent sinning. I was taught about women’s submissive role to men in life (I argued against this, to no avail). I was taught to keep myself apart from the worldliness of sinners and evil. Women and men were seperated for the most part. We were all taught to be righteous. It turned out to be a ragged race to zombiehood, a continual denying of one’s human nature.

It became that you did not make a decision without an elder and others approving of it in terms of what they perceived as to what the bible said. It became that dissenting thought was frowned upon as “rebellious”, that it was preferable to “be like children” or “be like sheep”. It was taught that everyone else was going to hell, but that everyone had free will (I argued with this). It was taught that homosexuality was wrong (I argued with this) and abortion was wrong (I didn’t learn this, but I learned it after the fact). It was taught that every desire except those sanctioned by the bible was wrong (I asked about this too). Any and all negativity was blamed on demons and Satan’s influence. You had to ask if it was okay to do anything with anyone else that was not evangelizing. If you visited a different part of the country or the world, you were pressured to seek out the nearest branch of the church in that area to help you keep your righteousness. It was taught that worship was 24/7. It was taught that lusty dreams were wrong; not praying more than once a day was wrong; selfishness was wrong; not evangelizing was wrong. Yes, we had to approach complete strangers in the street to ask them to our church, to come into our fold, into our terrible open arms. The love had disappeared; after the baptism came the real truth of the church.

Your worth in the church was denoted by how many you converted. The spiritual heroes were the ones that lead the most sheep, the ones that convinced the most strangers to give up themselves for the church through baptism. People explained how old they were “in Christ” by counting the months, or years, from baptism. If you were not baptized by a member of this church, you were going to hell. What hell was, no one explicitly knew, but everyone figured it was the worst place to be.

My questions were unanswered. I did not want biblical verses that explained its own words, I wanted reason to explain biblical verses. No one could answer me about being depressed; in fact, I was vilified for being selfish. I was taught that depression equalled selfishness and that I should stop being selfish and give of myself. No one said how. Everyone said “Just pray, and God will give it to you, if you give to Him.” However, there was nothing left to give; I was exhausted– emotionally, mentally, psychologically. Devotionals, morning prayers, night-time gatherings, random projects like church drives, parties to evnagelize others, bible studies, etc. took up free time. School took up the rest. I had five hours of sleep half the week, seven if I was lucky. Sleep deprivation– now I know why the army uses it. Praying on my own took free time (and no matter how hard I prayed, none of the things I prayed for came to be). No one could answer my questions. No one could answer why being human was wrong. I lived without privacy, I lived under the impression that I was selfish; and not only that, I was also chosen to be a future leader of the college crowd. They put me through preaching classes and conversaion classes. I felt my life leaving the grasp of my hands. Apparently, my dreams and goals for myself were not mine anymore, according to them.

I questioned authority, I got disenchanted, and finally, I snapped. I’d met a guy at a cafe that I thought was cute; what attracted me to him was that he was a philosophy major and a writer. A thinker. I left my car in the school parking lot to spend three days with this guy, under the huge mantle of guilt, but free by my own choice for the first time. It was not happy, as by this time I truly believed that the bible was right. The backlash from the church people was immense. I was yelled at, twice or three times (it all blends together) for being a selfish, thinking individual who did my own thing, instead of doing God’s will. I was yelled at for being artsy-fartsy, their word for being thoughtful. I was yelled at for sinning against God; the yelling and intimidation intense enough to reduce me to tears, to open the gateway for more self-hatred. I was yelled at in front of others, because they believed in ganging up on you. I was yelled at for being “worldly”. The stigma of sin was attached to my forehead; I felt that no amount of praying, confessing of sins, etc. was enough to fill the deep chasm of guilt that suffused me. I felt eyes on me wherever I went; I felt like an empty, hollow shell. I spent almost two months in this hollow state, unable to feel any fire, unable to refrain from being a zombie. It was as if everything had been beaten out of me in such a short time, that I had no idea what had happened to myself. I had given away what was left of myself, and it felt like dying.

It never escapes me that all of this was done at my own chosing. I could’ve said no, but I didn’t. But I understand, at the root, why I didn’t say no, and I understand why some people don’t say no to various self-defeating forces in their lives. I had already started on a path of lack of self, the church only served to complete the process.

They draw you in with love and laughter; they subtley let you know that you can only be saved their way. Then they baptize you and you are one of them. This was like a slow disease. This was an awful addiction, and instead of alcohol or drugs, I turned to Christ. The results probably felt the same: a sense of downward spiralling, helplessness at one’s life going down the toilet. But, before I could hit absolute rock bottom, I secretly moved out, bit by bit. I had had enough of everyone’s bullshit. Plus, it was imperative that I escape to think on my own, to think in peace.

The final confrontation was with one of my roommates, who I remember as having portrayed the nastiest, most evil things to me in my life, ever, in a short span of time. She verbally stomped on my ambitions, my goals, my future, my self, and deigned to call it love. She tried to strip away what sense of self I had in that last moment, and call it love. That is what I could not stand. That was what I finally saw as evil. In that one moment, in her tirade, I caught a glimpse of something I never wanted to be a part of again, an idea greater than she was, a non-entity that was evil. All of the questions, unanswered prayers, vilifications, stripping away of self, stress of conformity, etc. came rushing back at me during her righteous speech. At this moment, I gained back a small sense of self, in the span of twenty minutes. Although I still feel bitterness at her now, I’m happy that she was the one that convinced me once and for all to realize that I was more valuable than the evil dogma she lived for. I felt sorry for her in that last moment; I felt everything that she would not want me to feel– freedom, victory, impatience, indifference, contempt for her, horror at her. To this day I thank her for breaking the spell, for helping me turn away from the evil that is God.

It’s reported that some who leave this church need professional therapy to cope with the emotional and psychological damage involved. After all, after months of this, the only friends you have are in the church. You’ve isolated yourself from your family and your old friends. You have lived in a pretend world for a length of time, have felt deeply guilty for presupposed biblical sins for a long length of time, have confessed embarassing things such as masturbation and wet dreams and other inadequacies to your peers, have opened yourself to people who freely abused you. I hold the person who started this church responsible for countless minds abused. For each member still in the church, for anyone who succombs and stays entrenched in self-defeating dogma, I hold that it is their choice for their own misery. I celebrate each person who detaches from this and starts thinking on their own. There are still people there that have been with this church for 20 years. There are people who’ve left after much more than the eight months I had.

I never actually had therapy for being in this church. I got therapy for the root of ten years’ worth of wrong turns: the damned clinical depression that started flowered in middle school. My religious questions stayed in my head mostly, floating around for years. There they stayed, even after I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 21 and put on medications; even after my chemical imbalance of ten years was healed and my mind became clearer and a hunting ground for ideas. My sense of self came trickling back, through writings, introspection, observation, trial and error, and questions. I forayed more objectively into Eastern thought than I did with the Christianity, and found none that I agreed with. No matter what I delved into, at heart, I know that any belief that presupposes that humans are somehow flawed or incomplete is wrong, and not only that, destructive to life. I have been there, in full force. I know it, from the bottom of my being. It is not just Christianity, is it any idea, any power, any social force that takes away self-value, that I cannot, in the deepest sense, agree with. Acknowledging that you, as a human being, are inherently flawed, is to work against your own nature– and thus the most deadly contradiction in my mind. Once known, I cannot follow this contradiction, and call myself a human being.

I started pursuing science two and half years ago, part-time. At first all I wanted to do, after the dot-com bust, was to make a living at something that seemed relatively interesting. I set my sights on nursing because there was always that curiosity at the back of my mind about what went on in hospitals. So I enrolled in anatomy, physiology, and microbiology classes and discovered to my surprise, and at the end of it, I got straight A's. Hm, perhaps I can take it further. For that one year, I got seven As and one B+, and that B+ was in holistic health (which was a class that was interesting, but harder to believe than my science classes). After that, I enrolled in even more science classes, and currently I find myself a physiology major in love with science and in love with the scientific method. The scientific method was the way I wanted to percieve reality, and not only that, it was imperative in its definition that one must think actively, rationally, and consciously.

Each book that I had in each of my science classes offered plenty of resources and citations; not only that, I freely took it upon myself in my science classes to look up information on the internet and in other books. It was freeing. All through my classes, most especially the ones in science, it was encouraged to look up information and to ask questions. And this encouragement eventually turned into musts– in the neuroscience class and animal physiology class I recently finished, there were essay questions handed out that required active research, questioning, and critical thinking. Yes, these questions already had answers based on previous research, but the whole point of the homework was to go out on your own to find your own answers, and support them with citations from peer-reviewed research articles. Imagine that. I’m excited and happy just to type this stuff down.

Such a different world from that of religion. The science I’ve learned so far has taught me that thinking critically was something to be desired, instead of something to feel guilty for. Science has taught me that there is a community that values intelligence, reasonability, observation, data. Therefore, as I look at the world around me, it is with as much objectivity as I can muster and with as much critical thinking as I can handle considering the data I’m given. My love for the freedom of thought, the freedom of questioning, the respect for reason and rationality that had been so lacking in my life, and the foundation of human (specifically self) value serves as a springboard for the resulting atheism in my life.

This leaves me with the questions: Do I have to look for a belief? Do I even have to believe in any set of pre-existing rules? Why not make my own set of standards with what I’ve seen, and make it so that it allows me to learn, to think, to be human, to be sane, to be joyful in life? Why not pave my own path? What’s stopping me?

The answers I’ve found were that: Nothing is stopping me. No one is forcing me down one path or another: it is all me. No one should be pressuring me down any path that I do not choose. I have power over my own life, and I have a right to take that power. It is mine by human right. And that statement, once honestly spoken to oneself, is very powerful indeed, when taken in the context of millions of people who have not dared to ask that question nor thought that one’s life is one’s own.

This opened the way for me.

I didn’t know the word “collectivism” under after college, after my church experience, after a few years of figuring out where to take my life. When I did, I recoiled in horror; I saw the desperate eyes of all the people in church, even the leaders, searching for something in such a needy way that I ached to see it; I saw the unthinking crowd-following popularity contest known as middle school and high school; I saw the experiences of groupthink and my efforts to remain myself. I saw how easy it was for a person to take up any kind of dogma, or social rule, and flaunt it even when it destroyed them. I saw myself as standing apart from the general crowd all throughout my life, whether I wished to or not, and my stupid efforts at trying to pound a square peg into a round role.

I saw the tides of people tied to religion, voting for a President based on moral values that knew no boundary from one person to the next, that knew no human right to think for oneself, that knew no value to any human, and knew no honor of each person’s absolute right to decide their own fate. I saw people getting killed for a lack of human value in suicide bombings perpetrated by pure evil, which was rooted in the lack of self-value in the bombers themselves. I saw it in gangs of people (or just gangs); I saw it in women who wouldn’t dare wear that dress if their girlfriends didn’t approve of it. I even saw women approving of each other’s dates! I lived with a sorority sister would whose life was dictated by other people, whose worth was based on her sisters’ acknowledgements. I’d hate to think what she’d think of herself if she were thrown out. There was a root to all this, and the root was the same root that I found after going through total hell in that church. It was the lack of self-value, and it was the lack of human value.

From the lack of valuing oneself, came the hesistancy to think. From the lack of human value, came the stupid arrogance that one’s wishes had to be another’s life. From the lack of self-value came the willingness to go with the crowd and be influenced by the crowd. From the lack of human value came the taking and abusing of others’ minds. From the lack of self-value came the willingness to submit oneself and others to terrible things. From the lack of human value came the willingness to do terrible things to others. From the lack of self-value came the defining of oneself through pre-existing rules that stripped away self-value even more.

And what happens when one finally realizes their worth? It’s empowering to come to the happy conclusion that your mind is your own, that it is made to think, and that you decide for yourself what is in your best interest. It’s empowering to come to the happy conclusion that fasting is just plain dumb because one accepts the human condition that one will be hungry, and that causes are no reason to starve yourself for (trust me, biologically, your body goes through hell when you don’t eat). It is stupid to sit and try to empty my mind when my natural instinct is to think and learn and grow. It’s stupid to be forced to act altruistically, or even, expected to act so, when it is at cost to you and not by your own choice. It’s freeing to know that one doesn’t have to revile oneself for being human, and not only that, that there is power in being human. It is nice to know that I don’t have to be humble for my successes nor be shamed or guilty for my failures.

It felt sad to see people (and myself) acting in such a way to demonstrate how little we thought of ourselves. It also felt great to read through all the Nobel Prize winners and to see how much science has come in the past hundred years. It felt sad to see the influence of dogmatic ideas still in power today– and fighting against the science (and the thoughts behind it) so much. It feels great to come free from the chains of groupthink on my own, and to see a future for myself that is way beyond what I saw in that church.

And because of all this, I celebrate my life. Knowing that I just have this one life makes me want to fully live it to its fullest potential. I seek joy, in a difference sense of the word in that it may be as simple as breathing and as complex as a whole lifetime’s worth of proud success. And I seek to inspire others towards this path, not by force, not by pressure– but by proving it.

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Jenna,

Dayaamm!

What a read!

There is so much in there, I'm still a bit speechless. You really bared you soul. Thank you.

There's an old saying that says true wisdom comes from suffering. I don't buy that, but I do know that much wisdom comes from overcoming suffering. I don't know how to obtain that wisdom without going through difficult situations, either. And I also know that you are wiser than most.

Wanna know something funny? I had no idea you were Chinese before I read this amazing article. On reading your experiences with prejudice, I got very angry. I have a thing about crowds - I don't like them and I don't like what they do to the individuals who make them up.

I have no doubt that every person who was cruel to you would feel terrible guilt if he knew that he had caused a 12 year old to attempt suicide. Yet in the crowd, he forgets that these things are possible from his acts. He gets his attention fix and feeling of acceptance and belonging at the cost of humiliating another person.

I am not very good at being a proper crowd member, but I have become pretty adept at handling them and facing them down. I had to learn how to do this the hard way.

What was the denomination of your church? I had a very interesting experience with Jehovah's Witnesses, but not as a member. I was able to see how they worked up close. Lots of really good people, really good, but essentially more crowd mentality. (The thought of how some of these really good people I met transform into crowd members makes me angry still.) I will write about this at another time.

Jenna, I have no doubt that you are on the way to being a very happy and fulfilled person. I wish you all the good luck in the world.

There is a nice thing I think at times: If all the pain and suffering I endured and overcame led to the way I am now, it was still a bargain. I believe that this holds for you.

Michael

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There is so much in there, I'm still a bit speechless. You really bared you soul. Thank you.

Thank you for the opportunity. I really hope I can interact with people so that everyone grows from it. I think sharing this would help others if anyone has ever suffered, that it is possible to live and love.

There's an old saying that says true wisdom comes from suffering. I don't buy that, but I do know that much wisdom comes from overcoming suffering. I don't know how to obtain that wisdom without going through difficult situations, either. And I also know that you are wiser than most.

You know, the wisest people I've known has had greater suffering than most in their lives. It gives perspective on what's really important. The thing is is to have the insight to want to survive it, to know how to do it, to find that strength. That's the hard part... to find strength in one's self.

Wanna know something funny? I had no idea you were Chinese before I read this amazing article. On reading your experiences with prejudice, I got very angry. I have a thing about crowds - I don't like them and I don't like what they do to the individuals who make them up.

I usually don't make a big deal out of it because usually I just don't think about it. At this point... it really isn't a big deal, unless someone else makes an issue of it. But it was relevant, I thought, because it was what made the environment happen. And I don't like crowds either. Groups of people scare me to a certain extent. My instincts go up, my senses are heightened. I don't show it too often, but in group situations, I'm hyperaware, I remember things better, and I tend to act warm but distance myself anyway. And I know that I'm doing this, and I know why. My attitude with groups is "take it or leave it"; I'm not a group type person and I can live without.

I have no doubt that every person who was cruel to you would feel terrible guilt if he knew that he had caused a 12 year old to attempt suicide. Yet in the crowd, he forgets that these things are possible from his acts. He gets his attention fix and feeling of acceptance and belonging at the cost of humiliating another person.

I told myself: "Living well is the best revenge." I tried to stick to it. Now I can say it, because the people who were the worst dropped out of school. Also, I did almost 5 years of martial arts. In high school, no one ever picked a fight with me. The fact that I knew some dangerous shit circulated rapidly-- I had friends visit me at my martial arts classes a few times, and I did a presentation on martial arts in 10th grade.

I am not very good at being a proper crowd member, but I have become pretty adept at handling them and facing them down. I had to learn how to do this the hard way.

I usually just avoid them in the sense that I don't pay much attention to group etiquette-- like I'm not "aligned" with one group or not. I've learned that in general, people don't like this. Oh well, I'm a really strong individualist.

What was the denomination of your church?

The way these people asked you was to come up to you on the street and ask you to visit their church (that's the bold opening move). What I got was "Wanna hang out with us at the cafe?" (that's the evil sneaky move). The denomination was called International Churches of Christ. There's a cult-watch website about this church at www.reveal.org. It wasn't a church, it was a cult.

Jenna, I have no doubt that you are on the way to being a very happy and fulfilled person. I wish you all the good luck in the world.

I am happy; I'd like to show others how this is done... by setting an example.

There is a nice thing I think at times: If all the pain and suffering I endured and overcame led to the way I am now, it was still a bargain. I believe that this holds for you.

Me too. I think of all the things I've been through, how strange it was, how much it was... and how I went through stuff too young. Sometimes I think I live in dog years, that each one year is seven years normally. Then I think, wow, I'm 28, and I have more perspective than half the people I randomly meet my age. But my goal is to gain more knowledge and wisdom, to see more. I don't want to stop living; and I do think my past has helped me to be where I am now. I also wish you luck in the world, but I hope to continue knowing you, at least through the internet. :)

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Thanks, Jenna for that wonderful article. Believe me, I can relate to a lot of what you went through. It did bring back some memories from my own personal hell. There are many things we simply have to go through personally to understand and grow. I am not comfortable putting my personal stories out for public consumption. Frankly, I'm a chicken and a very private person. It does help to talk about stuff though and I do appreciate it when others are able to do so. I find it inspiring to see the positive results and personal growth that comes with personal experience.

From my own experience I've found that Church people are very charismatic and I got very close to the wife of an Assemblies of God minister when my kids were very young. She became my instant best friend, seemed to understand and admire me as an individual and was really, really, really nice. Who could ask for more? After awhile I just felt she was trying to rope me in. She was basically a missionary to the inner city and even said so. That should have raised a red flag much earlier than it did.

At that time, I was married to an alcoholic and my life was a living hell. I think my little missionary friend saw me as an easy target, but the whole God thing didn't appeal to me and I never became too involved with the church stuff. I was agnostic at the time, but I always had a strange feeling that there was something fundamentally flawed with me because I simply wasn't getting it and religion seemed so senseless to me but seemed to hold all the answers for everyone else. People were always trying to get us to go to church. I only saw it as socializing and not much more. Sometimes it just seems like everyone is simply delusional. They can surrender their will to God if they want, I have no intention of surrendering mine.

Kat

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Hi, Jenna. Girl, take PRIDE, tremendous amounts of PRIDE for not allowing others to affect your life and the outcome of your life.

I LOVE to see people succeed and you are living proof of that. I agree that the best REVENGE on others that attempt to destroy your life, your love of it, your self-esteem, is to become SUCCESSFUL. It shows them that you downright REFUSE to let them destroy you which is their goal in the first place. If you allow them the satisfaction of hurting you and destroying your ability to survive as a result of what they've done to you, they've succeeded in their goal. But If you succeed, you've PROVEN to YOURSELFf and to them that you will not allow them to hurt you and to be a victim.

In my eyes, you ARE NOT A VICTIM. You are the SURVIVOR. Victims do not overcome their tragedies. The SURVIVORS are the ones that are capable of overcoming them and succeeding.

Girl, never ever allow anyone to be a speed bump in the road we call life. Since you are so capable of recognizing those speed bumps now, when you see it, Yell out, get the F out of my way, if you don't I will ball you over and then put that puppy into high gear and put the pedal to the metal and run their A**es over.

I love to see people who are so rebellious and are the fighters for what is right, the right to life. When we are rebellious, we refuse to conform. When we are rebellious, we refuse to be controlled. When we are rebellious, we are telling them, YOU cannot tell me what I can and cannot do so get the H*ll out of my way. When someone tells you something is bad or sinful, people have a tendency to throw themselves even more into that situation or will intentionally seek it out. This is their way of being rebellious against the person who told them it was bad or sinful in the first place and saying, You can't tell me what I can and cannot do.

But unfortunately, sometimes the behaviors and the situation they throw themselves into may be harmful to them without realizing the end results of it. But it still boils down to not wanting to conform, not wanting to be controlled, not being told that you cannot do something because they consider it to be sinful or bad.

I have a story when I was in college with a very well known professor. Most all girls in his class but obviously this was a man that didn't particularly care for women, he felt we were inferior and would make snide remarks while in class. I did want to pass the class. I needed to in order to graduate but he was the best in his field regarding English, had written many many books. Of course, I kept my mouth shut and tolerated it. I figured, you know, just a couple more months and I was done, no more of him and having to deal with him.

Well, he also had a lot of pull with the school, etc., because of his well known name so if I said anything to him, it would threaten my grade point average which was a 4.0 ( I was determined to succeed) and might threaten my going to that school.

Well, one day, that was it, I had had enough of his remarks and his degradation towards women. I got up in the middle of the class during his lecture, (I did not care, I was tired of it and no longer willing to tolerate it) walked up to his desk and said outloud, I'm withdrawing from your class. I do not like your attitude towards me or any of the other women in this class. I started to walk out the door and he said, if you leave, you will take an F and will never step another foot in this class. I said, that's a chance I'm willing to take because I'm tired of it. And then he said, you are not allowed to leave my class. If you leave, you will never attend this school again. I gave him a dirty look and walked out.

He came storming out of his class and grabbed my arm forcibly and said, I WILL NOT allow you to leave my class. I just looked at him right in the face, no expression, nothing on my face and said, I did not give you permission to touch me so I would advise you to take your hands off of me right now. You cannot tell me what I can and cannot do. Something else I remembered, he said, Do you know who I am? I said, I do not care who you are nor how many books you have written. It does not GIVE you the RIGHT to be an A**hole. Other things were said but that's the gist of it.

He just looked at me and I could see the fear in his face and eyes. I don't know what he saw in mine but he let go of my arm and just stared at me. I had no expression on my face whatsoever looking back at him and I just walked away. I went to the president of the school, explained what happened. I didn't take an F, didn't get kicked out, kept my 4.0 and was privately tutored with another teacher and given the test and I passed.

I got so many comments from the girls at that school of congratulations, I'm glad somebody finally did it. Even some of the teachers secretly congratulated me for doing it and that he deserved it. When I saw him on campus and he saw ne, he stayed quite a distance from me and never came close to me again. Six months later, he left the school and retired from his field of profession. No one knew the real reason but the rumor around the school was because of me.

So girl, TAKE PRIDE for standing up for yourself and saying NO, this is not what LIFE is supposed to be like and I downright REFUSE to let you tear me down for being able to survive and for loving my life.

Honey, CONGRATULATIONS ON A JOB WELL DONE !!!!!! You are deserving of the HAPPINESS you have fought so hard to attain and don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Girl, BIG HUGS AND KISSES to you and take PRIDE in what you've ACCOMPLISHED and all of YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS That deserves a standing ovation..... =D> =D> =D> //;-))

You are my fellow SURVIVOR and FIGHTER of LIFE in WHAT IS RIGHT !!!

Well, that sucked, I tried to put up the happy face that is clapping and he doesn't work. Let me try it again, if it doesn't work, then girl you have my support and my standing ovation for everything you've fought so hard to attain. Here are the standing O's I hope they come out =D> =D> =D>

I guess not....but JOB WELL DONE !!!

Angie

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Oh, and Jenna, while putting that bad boy into high gear laugh while you're doing it because it is your triumph over them in refusing to let them affect your life.

And BTW, don't forget to LAUGH all the way to the BANK. Your life is your life and what you make FOR YOURSELF is YOURS and no one elses.

So Honey, I'll join you with all the joyous laughter I can muster up the next time I go to the bank and deposit MY BIG FAT PAYCHECK because not only am I celebrating MY LIFE I am also celebrating YOURS !!!!!!!!!

Angie

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Kat: I appreciate your sharing; since I know you're a private person. I am too, to a certain extent; but it's also colored a bit by my boldness ;) I think having lived through some hard stuff, one can really appreciate the true GOOD LIFE.

CNA: That makes me so happy that you stood up to that guy. Not that I even listen to Ani diFranco often, but she has some good points: "You're only as loud as the noises you make. Sometimes silence is violence." Courage isn't saying what everyone else says. Courage is to think for one's own self... to *really* own your own mind. I think by acting the way you did, you acted heroically, and some women in that class will never forget you. In fact, I think it probably gave some of them strength to stand up for what's right. High-five to that!

I want to hear more victory stories... because when I hear about greatness, it makes me want to fuel my own greatness.

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Hi, Jenna.

You are such a strong lady. Girl, keep your head up and walk in pride. Just remember though and I'm sure you know this already, you do not have to prove anything to anyone. The only person you have to prove it to is YOURSELF.

I hope the standing o's are working. You deserve it !!!! I'll try again =D> =D> =D> =D> =D> =D> =D> =D>

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Jenna, you are a remarkable young woman. And you have written a remarkable article, which will inspire your readers. (By the way, you are a very good writer!)

We have certain things in common. I, too, had severe asthma as a child, and I know how terrifying it can be. And I was a Jewish child in a profoundly anti-Semitic school, where I had to fight for my dignity almost every day. There have been other forms of suffering in my life, some of which I wrote about in a biography of Ayn Rand. I have learned that suffering as such does not teach us anything -- but it does offer us the opportunity, whether it comes from the inside of us or the outside, to learn a great deal if we are determined to understand it, as, clearly, you were determined.

I salute you, and I wish you the happiness you well deserve.

Barbara

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Thank you, Jenna, for this heartfelt, honest, and moving article. While I like many things in it (it is simply and directly told), I would particularly like to see the part about the cult -- and how they sucked you in and what they did to you and how you struggled out of it -- published somewhere so that it can warn people against cults and against the self-abnegation of religions. As a San Franciscan, I think one of the local free papers (or the East Bay Express) or something of that nature might be eager and happy to publish it.

You have a lot of courage.

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Jenna, you are a remarkable young woman. And you have written a remarkable article, which will inspire your readers. (By the way, you are a very good writer!)  

We have certain things in common. I, too, had severe asthma as a child,  and I know how terrifying it can be. And I was a Jewish child in a profoundly anti-Semitic school, where I had to fight for my dignity almost every day. There have been other forms of suffering in my life, some of which I wrote about in a biography of Ayn Rand. I have learned that suffering as such does not teach us anything -- but it does offer us the opportunity, whether it comes from the inside of us or the outside, to learn a great deal if we are determined to understand it, as, clearly, you were determined.  

I salute you, and I wish you the happiness you well deserve.

Barbara

Barbara-- Thank you! I'm so glad to have inspired people-- in my life, I would like to inspire people towards life, towards greatness, towards groundedness and full revel in being the best human they can be. Yes, once suffering is understood, once it is known, once it is looked in the face-- can someone really learn where to turn, what to fight, and what they value. As for determined-- I've heard that before :D

The salute is returned. I'm glad to be sharing in the joy that life is and can be.

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Thank you, Jenna, for this heartfelt, honest, and moving article.  While I like many things in it (it is simply and directly told), I would particularly like to see the part about the cult -- and how they sucked you in and what they did to you and how you struggled out of it -- published somewhere so that it can warn people against cults and against the self-abnegation of religions.  As a San Franciscan, I think one of the local free papers (or the East Bay Express) or something of that nature might be eager and happy to publish it.

You have a lot of courage.

I'm a San Franciscan too. I will work on it, after/during my MCATs, GREs, JEPET (writing exam), personal statements, and applications to grad schools-- :D This year is a busy one for me, I have so many things to write about, I have so many things to read, but I will definitely put that on my list so that it can be published somewhere. The details are important; the path to deep misery via this cult within a social/religious/psychological framework is complicated. The detailed story needs to be teased out.

In effect, they take the bait approach ("Want to come hang out?") or the direct approach ("Want to visit my church?" or "Have you ever been to a church?"). I got the bait approach; I had seven women surround me at an art show that I decided to go to, so that I didn't have to go home. They were really friendly; one of them offered to hang out and she did. It took them a week or so to ask me about the bible, and for me, at first it wasn't really personal. To me, it was another fascinating study. And that's how one can get sucked in, because people think it's an innocent foray until after weeks or months, the cult springs their special "bible study" on you and then you become a cog in this gigantic wheel of rot. And whether a person joins or not depends on how secure they are in themselves-- everyone that joined was fragile in some way, either from their past or their current situations. I think of it like a drug addiction.

From the www.reveal.org site, it seems that SFCOC really needs to be fought: "Additionally, we will be focusing our attention on the San Francisco Church of Christ which works closely with Kip Mckean and who bears the responsibility for opening the door for him to take over the Portland Church of Christ in order to help him regain his footing after his departure from leading the Los Angeles Church of Christ."

Kip McKean is the guy that started this. To me, this guy is pretty much on the upper echelons of evil. I've seen him talk in LA at the Rose Bowl. He was worshipped. To this day, the words "hero worship" still makes me flinch. The word "hero" is slowly becoming something different in my brain, and that's a hard journey in itself. I just can't use "worship" yet. It's too painful.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Courage is to think for one's own self... to *really* own your own mind.

I love this statement from one of your comments above. This is the first and foremost act of the real hero in our world.

Thank you.

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I finally got a chance to read this; well worth it. Very solid writing and a moving story. I've known people who've been through cults before, but I don't believe any others who moved on to something other than the next religion. What I found most powerful was "To this day I thank her for breaking the spell, for helping me turn away from the evil that is God." Simultaneously breaking the religious grip, realizing the personal evil in your roommate, and yet also seeing her value as a catalyst in your own discovery of self - wow.

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