In remnants left behind by a child, I came across a bookmark made for my father when I probably six years old. Green construction paper cut into a crude arrow scrawled with a cross on one side and the words Happy Fathers Day. Opposite a picture of a white Anglo-Saxon Jesus adorned the strip along with this scriptural passage.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith.”
It stands as vestige of my time at Bible school and it brought back memories.
Infrequently as a youngster, I found myself with the console TV-Turntable all to myself. On one such occasion, while spinning the dial between the five stations available in rural Beaver Creek I landed upon a passionate televangelist that grasped my attention. This remains in my memory; he spoke of hell in a tone of terrifying importance to a crowd of adult white people. He stated unequivocally that salvation through Jesus and nothing else guaranteed avoidance of the certain tortures he described and that all people were sinners. I took seriously the warning of punishment, having plenty of direct experience with the lash of a belt. The demagogue induced fear that roared in my belly which reinforced his threats.
My mind was burdened with the frightened narrative of a religious firebrand. It played repeatedly like an earworm, each time reflecting the same terror. At one point, the stress became unbearable. I did not want to go to hell. Imagine the author of these words as a child running to a bedroom kneeling and, per the instructions of authority, inviting the lord, with all childish sincerity, to cleans his heart of all wickedness. My terror went away as a result and I experienced a great happiness. A cliché comes to mind. If you are hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, it feels good to stop. A religious authoritarian turned the human power of conception against a child who possessed it. The inferno this preacher described existed only in my mind for I possessed no other reference for it. The preacher created a fictional problem, mistaken to be real, and then offered a solution.
A turning point in my faith happened with the death of my sister. The affection of my big sister meant more than all others, I was nine at the time. Some well meaning pastor came to counsel the family, probably at my request. Then he started saying some bullshit about Evelyn being in a better place and that god called her to him. I could see the man of god had absolutely no way of knowing any of these things particularly about her location. After all, I among five others carried her body in a fancy box to the grave. I wanted the comfort of god but the inconsolable feeling coupled with the ridiculous explanations kept me swinging from hope to rage. Slowly I became a rebel against this god who through an “act” supposedly took my sister from me. My dissent caused me to explore ideas contrary to those I learned as a child.
Religion bears a great deal of responsibility for the loss of mental freedom by stuffing unfounded and absurd ideas into the minds of those who are suggestible, regardless of any good intentions. It may seem odd that through quieting the mind I realized all spiritual beliefs to be mental. In meditation, we can become conscious of the activity in the mind, seeing beliefs rise and fall like all thoughts, in an unarticulated awareness. A large distance exists between rebelling against a belief and having no reason at all to think it true. The former assumes something real enough to fight while the latter possesses liberty from ideas. This understanding also applies to beliefs about anything we call self.
Freedom remains an un-analyzable notion for we cannot replace it with any object as a definition nor can we break it into any component parts. But what we mean when we say freedom becomes restricted when we treat ideas like they are facts outside the mind. We learn to treat concepts as facts by listening to authoritarians. Knowledge that cannot rest on evidence rests on decree and that method serves all totalitarians. Just watch the mother of a three year old and ask how many things we learned in this way.