DISCLAIMER: I have some friends from the Midwest who are good people, and happen to be Christian. Since I might be posting a link to this to Facebook, it would stand to reason that some of them might end up reading this.
If you’re a friend from the Midwest who happens to be Christian, and you never dehumanized or demonized me, then please understand that I am not talking about you. Your presence made my life a bit easier. At the same time, those who abused me still caused damage, and I am still working to heal that damage.
Try to understand that, for every one of you who were decent to me, there were dozens who were being cruel and harsh about it, and that I did suffer a great deal of religious social abuse. As I speak of those who perpetrated this abuse, understand that I am not including you with them.
Those of you who were good to me are the exception. The exception does not negate the rule, and actually serves to fortify the rule. And religious cruelty in America has only gotten worse.
I was born and raised in the Midwest, spending the first 21 years of my life there. During my time there, I had many encounters with self-declared Christians who had nothing but judgment, hate, and contempt for me.
They would say that I was evil, demonic, worshipped Satan, ate babies, and had no morality about me. Documenting all of the religious abuse I suffered growing up would take up a book.
This issue was bad enough that I decided at one point to read the bible to find out what they were talking about.
My family did not raise me to hate religious people or anything like that. Rather, religion was a topic that never came up. Ever.
When I was 43 years old, I learned that my mother identifies as Catholic. So it makes sense that she would keep that quiet. During those times, being Catholic wasn’t much better than being an Atheist. She was so good at keeping it a secret that none of us kids had any idea.
I understood why the Jewish kids were so quiet.
One thing I learned in my reading of the bible is that Christians are tasked with saving the souls of those around them. The bigger thing I learned was that most Christians have no idea what the bible said about anything, because they are all failing miserably at living up to its expectations.
Keep in mind that I have nothing bad to say about those Christians who were actually good to me. Even if they did not invite me to church, they did lead by example and were stewards of their faith without ever bringing it up. I can respect that, and I do.
With regard to attempts to save my soul, I give these abusive Midwestern Christians who judged and belittled me a very low rating. If what the bible says is true, then most of them are Hell-bound for things like neglect of social duty, judgment of others, and a lack of Humanity.
It leads me to suspect that they don’t really believe any of it, and merely use their self-declared Christian status as a way of being better than others. Star-Bellied Sneetches!
Yes, there were some who mostly didn’t talk about it. They didn’t bring it up. They didn’t have any judgment for me, at least not to my face. For them, I am grateful and I thank them for treating me like a human being. I cannot say this enough.
But there was this ONE kid at school who invited me to church one time. It’s a story that I have never written about before, which I find most shocking. Time to rectify that problem.
During the early 80s, there was a great deal of “Satanic Panic” on the part of parents and religious people who were unreasonably freaking out about made-up things that either did not exist or were not happening. I know the bible says something about “bearing false witness,” so shame on them!
This Satanic Panic was so bad that it even impacted my mother, who was not visibly religious at all. She forbid me from going to see Ozzy Osbourne in concert because, as she put it, “He’s going to strap a bunch of dynamite to a sheep and blow it up on stage.”
Guess who snuck out, went to see Ozzy, and found out that this was not true? Yep.
Another one of those made-up things was backwards masking in rock music. This is where you play a segment of a song backwards on a record and listen to the secret, hidden Satanic message.
In most cases, people might hear nothing. But thanks to the power of suggestion, you could tell someone what to listen for and they would magically hear it.
The fear of rock music that spread through the ranks of our parents was tempered with the curious fascination on our part. Many record player needles were destroyed, as well as some records, playing them backwards over and over again to try to hear the crazy Satanic messages.
In high school band, there was this young kid in the drum line ranks named Lameck. He had a younger brother, as well as an older brother my age. I won’t say his last name here. However, anyone who went to school with me will instantly know who I am talking about, because how many kids named Lameck have you ever met?
Lameck approached me one day after band practice. “Hey, my church is having a special program tonight where they will focus on Satanic backwards masking in music. You wanna go?”
I would be amused whenever Lameck said “Satanic,” because he pronounced it “Say-tonic.” Once my tiny giggle passed, I said that I was very interested in going, and that it sounded fascinating.
He said that he and his dad would pick me up that evening.
THE TRIP TO THE CHURCH
I got dressed in the nicest clothes that I could find and sat in the living room nervously as I waited for them to pick me up. Part of me wanted to bail on it because I was nervous, having never been to church before. Plus, I knew that I would have to keep my life-long non-belief a secret, or else I would be judged and ridiculed, at the very least. At worst, I could get injured.
Seriously, being a non-believer in the Midwest in the 70s and 80s was dangerous. I would often be told to, “Keep your mouth shut, if you know what’s good for you.”
It’s a controlling move that leads to isolation. It’s basically abuse. I didn’t yet understand it in that way, so I would take it as a physical threat of violence. It could easily be both.
Lameck and his dad picked me up in the car. I don’t remember anyone else being in the car. I assume that they wanted it to be a small group in the car, and that his mother and two brothers would take a separate car. Nobody in that family ever missed church.
We take a long drive that feels like forever from my house to the neighboring big town, where their church was located. There were lots of people there. Many seemed to be happy, at least on the surface.
It basically felt like old people getting dressed up for a party.
IN THE CHURCH
The church was set up much like a theater where one would go to see a play. The seats were on a slight incline with steps that broke up the rows.
At the bottom was a main stage. To the back left was a smaller, curved podium that was about 4-6 inches taller than the rest of the stage. This looked like it would be where a band would set up to perform. Lameck would confirm this, since I asked him.
What sparked my curiosity about that was the colored lights in the ceiling that looked like something from a rock concert. They also had an incredible sound system.
The preacher started out by thanking everyone for being there. He told us what the evening and the presentation would be about. Then they had a brief moment of prayer. I sat quietly and watched everyone.
This was no rinky-dink thing. It was a full-blown production, where the preacher presented slides that showed am album cover from the artist where one could find the song. He would talk about some of the aspects of the song and play the questionable segment forward.
Then, he would tell people what to hear and play the same segment backwards. All of this was done in advance on tape, so there was no fumbling around. This guy and his team were true professionals.
After the backwards part played, people would gasp or there would be a murmur among the crowd. I kept my giggles to myself.
THINGS GO HORRIBLY WRONG
I was actually getting into this presentation, because I was curious to know what others were talking about. I was also wondering if this could really be done. I didn’t believe in a Satan or anything of the sort, but I was curious about whether or not a backwards message in music could really achieve anything.
SPOILER: It cannot.
The preacher wraps up a song and moves on to the next. He changes the slide on the projector, and it’s an album cover featuring Bob Seger.
The preacher starts to speak, “Now, the only reason why I am including Bob Seger tonight is…”
A woman, crazed with anger, stands up, interrupts him, and starts yelling. “How DARE you include Bob Seger in this! He’s a good man! You will NOT SHAME BOB SEGER!!”
She continued to scream as the security guards who watch the doors came down to deal with her. It is as if she was having a mental break-down.
I’m starting to notice a low hum coming from the PA system. I would compare the sound to something you would hear in a horror movie when danger is nearby.
People start gasping as the security guards try to take her out of the room.
As the hum starts to get louder, the colored rock show lights start flickering ever-so slightly. The preacher drops to his knees and begins thrashing in a way that would only make sense if he were playing air guitar.
Then the preacher makes an announcement:
“Everybody! THE DEVIL IS IN THE ROOM RIGHT NOW AND HE IS TRYING TO GET US!!”
This is where people start talking in tongues as they thrash about. And there I was, basically by myself, watching everyone freaking out. The sound gets louder as the stage lights go into full flicker mode.
Welcome to the Pentecostal faith.
I really think they should have warned me about this. But I understand why they did not. It is something that seems perfectly normal to them.
This went on for about three solid minutes. It eventually died down, as if people were getting tired. The lights slowly stopped flickering. The low fear tone slowly lowered in volume until it disappeared.
I was the only one paying attention closely enough to acknowledge these manipulative actions.
The preacher asked that the main lights be dimmed, as he brought the slide of Bob Seger back up onto the screen.
“The only reason I am including Bob Seger tonight is because his music promotes the party lifestyle, and we cannot have our children falling into that.”
I thought, “Really? That was it?” The whole thing felt staged and rehearsed.
But there was one thing that did not seem to be that way.
THINGS GET WORSE: A DASTARDLY DEED
Lameck turned to me and said, “I feel like I’m going to be sick. I’m going to the bathroom.”
He walked up the stairs toward the exit, when the guard at the door stopped him. He seemed to ask Lameck where he was going.
The guard took Lameck by the arm and brought him down to the stage. He whispers in the preacher’s ear.
The preacher then takes Lameck by the arm and interrupts the presentation once again.
“This boy has THE DEVIL in his stomach, and we are going to pray for him until he comes out! DEMONS, BE GONE!”
This was kept up until Lameck was forced to throw up on the stage in front of everyone. They let him go to the bathroom after that to wash up.
THE RIDE HOME
After Lameck’s Exorcist impression, there was a bit more of presentation. Everyone hung out for a little bit to talk to people, while I waited outside for them. I was anxious to leave and get back home.
Eventually, Lameck and his dad came out. We got in the car and left. Everyone was mostly quiet during the ride.
Both Lameck and his Dad eventually asked me how I liked it. I struggled to be socially proper. “It was… very… interesting.”
Nothing else was said after that.
I was dropped off at home. Once I got inside, I went straight to the bathroom and took a shower.
Obviously, lots of fear-mongering and emotional manipulation was involved in the evening. The fact that they do this in order to keep people coming to the church and handing over money feels nefarious and horrific. It almost felt like a form of entertainment.
I was starting to question whether or not the “Bob Seger Lady” was legit, or if she was really acting. The whole thing felt too perfect. But one thing was for certain, their speaking in tongues was downright terrifying.
As for Lameck’s vomiting on the stage, I felt like there was no winning with this one. If he was faking it, then it was an effort to emotionally manipulate me. But if it was real, then they were exploiting a sick child for the promotion of fear and financial gain. He did say that he had “a touch of the flu,” so I suspect the latter.
IN THE END
Lameck never invited me to church again and we never talked about that night. I would feel some concern about Lameck continuing to attend the church after what was done to him. I didn’t think that it was a safe thing for him to be doing.
And he would not ever call me a sinner, a Satanist, or other names. He never dehumanized me.
He invited me to his church. I went. It wasn’t for me. That was the end. He didn’t pass judgment on me after that, and I respect him for that, just as I respect those who did not pass judgment on me.
IN THE END
Yes, it is a Christian’s duty to save souls by getting those who are not believers into the church, and potentially into the faith. What I respected about Lameck’s approach was that he didn’t pressure me, he didn’t bully me, and he didn’t demonize or dehumanize me.
He continued to be a drummer in the school band, and I continued mentoring him, as I did with all of the younger drummers in band.
And as I mentioned before, there were those exceptions who accepted me as I was and let me be. I have a great respect for them as well.
Note that I have dozens upon dozens of stories of abuse, and yet I chose to write about a relatively positive experience. Yes, some bad things happened, and this experience did solidify my non-belief in a way, although not as much as all of the negative, hateful, and destructive experiences. But it was an effort, and I get it.
The positive experiences could all fit in this one blog. There were those kids in band and the counselors at band camp. One of the dads, Mr. M, would take us on morning runs and then read a passage from the bible afterward. He did not get preachy or judgmental, which allowed me to understand the lesson or idea that was being presented.
There was the girl in school, who was significantly older than me, who would give me a ride home whenever bullies wanted to beat me up after school, even though she lived really close to the school and I lived on the other end of town.
She never mentioned religion or her god. She never mentioned the bible or asked me about anything. She was a good steward of her faith who was living by example. She was always really cool to me, and I appreciate having known her.
And there were some who simply never brought it up.
This got me thinking that a person’s belief or non-belief tells me absolutely nothing about their morality or humanity. All it tells me is what type of belief or non-belief their family has experienced through the generations.
So far as I am concerned, it really means nothing.
There are still those out there who use their religion for horrible things, and who use it as an excuse to abuse, discriminate, or to spread fear and hatred. Whenever I speak up, I am speaking about them.
I must speak out against them. Because if I don’t, then I will pay a big price when they gain any significant amount of political power.
The unfortunate thing is that Christians are not policing their own, so it seems. They’re not talking about those who pray publicly and put on a show about it, or those who use their faith as a tool against others.
Instead, they might say that, “They are not true Christians.” This is known as “The No True Scotsman Fallacy,” and it solves nothing. For as they may say that those who are misbehaving are “not true Christians,” those who are misbehaving will instantly say the same of those Christians who are not on their side.
There are over 50,000 brands of Christianity available for purchase in America. They don’t get along, which is about the only thing they have in common, beyond their label.
Religion is a tool of division in America, with political affiliation being a close second, and then race, then class. We are probably the most divided country on the planet.
And while I’m still dealing with the religious abuse that I suffered growing up in the Midwest, I understand that being angry, hateful, or judgmental will get me nowhere, and that it would make me the same as my abusers.
This is something that took me decades to learn, and before I learned it I would be just as abusive as those who abused me.
I don’t know if Lameck is still alive. But to him, to my marching band mates, and to friends who didn’t judge and never brought it up, I give to you a hearty, “Thank you!” for how you were with me. I appreciate your presence.