Blogs share an incomplete portrait of the authors’ lives. Projects are often planned and completed in rapid succession, with no account of the intervening drudgery of late nights and setbacks. Posts may discuss everything from plasterwork to pasture management, while carefully sidestepping political views and family matters.
As December drew to a close, Robin and I considered writing a traditional year end review. Highlights would have included the house facelift, shed construction, and chicken debacle, but the most significant milestones of our past year were beyond such things. Rather than write a post that felt empty by comparison, we decided to write something more meaningful. This will not be a regular feature of our blog–the normal parade of projects and levity will continue in 2012.
Robin and I were both raised in the same high control religion. For many churchgoers, religion is a Sunday activity. For us, religion defined our lives. It told us what to believe, how to live, and what to think. From childhood, we were taught that only our religion was true, and that very soon our God would kill the 99.9% of people who believed differently. We were taught to be fearful of non-believers, and friendships outside the religion were strongly discouraged, even with family members.
Over the last several years, Robin and I separately came to the realization that our religious beliefs were a sham, built entirely upon fear, emotional manipulation, and misrepresented facts. We knew our life would be simpler if we maintained the pretext of belief, but intellectual dishonesty would have violated our integrity. By the beginning of 2011, we had made it clear to our family that we still loved them unconditionally but we no longer accepted their religion.
Unfortunately, extreme beliefs are fragile and require extreme measures to protect. As dictated by their religion, nearly all our friends and family began to shun us immediately. This meant that they regarded us as dead until such time as we accepted their religion again. Believers convince themselves that this type of emotional blackmail is a loving act. As my mom said to me during a rare phone call, “In the Old Testament, parents threw the first stone when a child left the true faith.” (i.e. To shun your child is more loving than to stone them to death.)
It’s a terrible thing to be thrown away by your family. The mind fluctuates between denial, anger, depression … all the stages of grief. We grieved for the relationships we had lost and for the people we thought they were.
At the same time, Robin and I were determined not to live in isolation, crippled by our childhood indoctrination. We pushed past our irrational fear of outsiders and resolved to find new friends, reconnect with non-believing family members, and reintegrate ourselves into society. For two introverts trying to rebuild their lives from scratch, our efforts were surprisingly successful.
We can honestly say that 2011 was one of the best years we have experienced, despite the trauma of losing our family. We have met many amazing people this past year who have welcomed us into their lives and their homes. We’ve had dinners and grand conversations over wine, debated books and ideas, and shared stories and grief. Each and every one of these people will forever be dear to us for their kindness and concern.
In late November the year took a tragic turn. A close relative of mine in his late 20’s committed suicide. He had been raised in the same religion, and while he never questioned it’s validity he found it impossible to conform to its rules. To avoid being shunned, he attempted to live two lives, and the resultant discord wrecked his self esteem. He never spoke of thoughts of suicide, but religious guilt and fear of abandonment weighed heavily on his mind.
Robin and I found no closure at his funeral. The service spoke little about the man who had died and much about the dogma he had been expected to follow. To be present in a room full of people mourning someone in death whom they would have shunned in life was one of the single most hypocritical displays I have ever seen.
While progress around the homestead was slow this past year, we invested in our personal development and it was definitely a better use for our time. The end of 2011 finds us far happier, well adjusted, and better connected than at the beginning, partly because we have a new circle of friends and family who judge people based on their character and not the conformity of their beliefs.
Robin and I are excited about the new year, and look forward to continued progress both in our personal lives and on this wreck of a homestead. We wish all of you out there the best in 2012.