Exodus: Chronology of an Apostate (Part 2)

Christians believe that they have a telepathic connection with the creator of the universe. Pretty heady stuff, if you really believe it to be true. Imagine that- you could simply think inside your own head, "Jesus, please don't let Aunt Cindy die of cancer," and that inaudible request beams directly to an all-knowing, all-powerful God, who, loving you more than anyone else in the universe can or ever could and having your ultimate best interest at heart, decides to intercede on your behalf and bends the seemingly iron-clad laws of the physical universe which He created in order to supernaturally put Aunt Cindy's cancer into remission; a result which is then confirmed at Aunt Cindy's next MRI. And all that simply because you let the thought, "Jesus, please don't let Aunt Cindy die of cancer," run through your mind four months ago. Now if that isn't something to share at your next small-group fellowship meeting then I don't know what is.

Of course, prayers for Aunt Cindy aren't the only things that run through people's minds. A telepathic connection to the almighty means he also has access to everything else that you think. The most oppressive police states in history have nothing on God's 24-hour per day thought surveillance system, and Jesus made it clear that we all are indeed being monitored and judged for our thoughts at all times.

You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. - Mathew 5:27-30

And the New Testament is supposed to be the kinder, gentler side of the Bible...

Not only are our thoughts being judged, but Jesus seems to be suggesting that the consequences for thinking the wrong thoughts can include eternal torment and damnation, and even suggests self-mutilation as a preferable alternative to allowing the thought crimes to continue if self-censorship of those thoughts proves impossible. Stalin's Russia was an oasis of liberty and free expression compared the panopticon God has installed inside your skull.

At the age of eleven I was taking my faith seriously, reading my bible every day, delving into Christian devotional literature, and worshiping enthusiastically at church every Sunday.

But it's hard not to take the devil seriously as well when you're a born again Christian. He looms large within the fundamentalist community as a necessary foil to Jesus' superhero character. The devil makes God necessary. The devil is the common enemy we're all fighting against. The devil is the only explanation for all those Democrats, baby-murderers, and homosexuals on the coasts.

As a child I once heard my mother shouting and shrieking from the shower and I ran in to the bathroom to find her rebuking the devil for having changed the radio station. Evidently some passing atmospheric conditions had briefly allowed a distant, static-filled rock station to overpower the frequency used by the local Christian channel. The only logical explanation of course was that Satan himself was trying to trick her into listening to AC/DC.

Pastors at our church and on the TV and radio warned us about the dangers of demonic possession. I was told that playing Dungeons & Dragons was a sure-fire way to let a demon gain sway over you and my parents made sure none of the computer games I played were role-playing games. My father thinks The Exorcist is based on a true story. My mother gave me C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters to read as a child.

I watched a lot of episodes of Pagan Invasion, an "investigative" series which I would place in the very niche "prurient Christian shock" genre. I think they were trying to ride out the tail end of the Satanic Panic of the 80s. Episode 1 below provides an absolutely adorable peek into the minds of some extremely naive and exquisitely trollable people and the footage is vintage early nineties. It's like a fundamentalist Christian time capsule. This fascinating program is absolutely worth an ironic view, even if the majority of its 47 minute runtime is spent on one of the most self-indulgent, Windows screensaver-esque CGI intros you'll ever have the pleasure of bearing witness to.

So given the demon-rich environment in which I grew up, maybe the devil-obsessed mental breakdown I suffered at age eleven wasn't all that surprising.

I remember very vividly taking a walk down the street one day to check out some books at the library and buy another Ty Beanie Baby for my collection from the Route 66 Gift Shop. Yeah, yeah; laugh it up. It was the 90s. That's what people did back then.

Somewhere between the library and the gift shop it hit me- God can see all my thoughts, even the bad ones, and he might send me to hell for the bad ones. It was right there in the bible I had been reading so much as of late. And it made perfect sense- if you can save your eternal soul simply by thinking, "Jesus, please come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior," then of course you could damn your eternal soul by thinking... what? This revelation consumed me. Suddenly I couldn't stop thinking bad thoughts. I tried not to think of the most sacrilegious thing I could think of, but it was too late, I had already done it by trying not to do it. I was horrified.

The first couple of days I just walked around in a daze like Rodion Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, mesmerized by my own wickedness, overwhelmed by guilt, and in constant, visceral fear of hell. Finally my parents found their eleven-year-old son in the bathroom late one night; the guilt had grown so profound that I couldn't sleep and constantly felt like vomiting.

Somehow, eyes glued to the floor and mumbling through tears, I confessed to my parents that I was having thoughts about having sex with Jesus.

At the age of eleven I had never masturbated; in fact I didn't even know that it was possible or how one might do it. I had never seen a pornographic image aside from the front cover of a Playboy at the gas station (my dad complained to the manager that it was at the front of the rack), and I wouldn't have "the talk" with my father for another two years. So when I say that I had thoughts about "having sex with Jesus," I mean something more akin to taking a peek under his robe. I had but the foggiest notions of sex at that age. Still, it was all very scandalous stuff at the time.

My parents were supportive but aghast.

Luckily, an elder at our church was a certified Christian councilor and he agreed to come over to our house one evening, sit down with me and my parents, and share his therapeutic expertise. He determined that all of these bad thoughts stemmed from my having played the computer game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans at a friend's house the week before. The orcs, being large green monsters, represented, neigh, verily embodied demons, he explained, looking at me over his reading glasses, his hands folded together into a scholar's cradle. He paused momentarily to stroke his beard. It was all very simple, he stated- playing the ungodly game had opened me up to Satanic influence. The solution was equally simple. He told me to repeat, "I renounce and rebuke that thought in the name of Jesus Christ," every time something objectionable entered my mind. So now I had a mantra.

I spent the next five months mumbling, "I renounce and rebuke that thought in the name of Jesus Christ," under my breath about 200 times a day. It was like I had a mix of Tourette's and OCD, only instead of the obsessive behavior being caused by a legitimate mental malfunction, it was the result of a very logical compulsion to avoid burning in hell; well, logical if you assumed my priors. My friends and extended family thought I was a nutter.

And getting a peek at Jesus' penis was only the beginning. Pandora's box was open; the thoughts only got worse from there. Sitting on Satan's lap like some sort of pitchforked Santa Claus, blaspheming the Holy Spirit, putting colored glass in the recycling bin meant for clear glass; it seemed my perversity knew no bounds.

I spent that summer absolutely miserable, steeped in guilt and beginning to question my own sanity. I began to wonder whether life was still worth living. 

That autumn my mother sat me down one evening and convinced me to give it up- to stop fighting the bad thoughts. Essentially, in so many words, without saying so explicitly, she told me I had to stop taking that particular part of the bible so literally. She was right. I was exhausted. I agreed. I let the thoughts come as they wanted. And from one day to the next, I was cured. The bad thoughts just... disappeared.

I came out of that experience a stronger Christian than ever, but I had learned some things that would slowly seep through my subconscious and reemerge years later. Being a Christian was supposed to be hard... but ultimately transcendent and life-affirming. Instead my first foray into serious Christianity had left me a confused, babbling neurotic. I had learned that the Bible cannot always be taken literally, or at the very least, that sometimes you have to "reinterpret" sections of it to make day-to-day life possible.

Even the most ardent biblical literalist does so selectively. That inherent contradiction at the heart of biblical literalism was like a tiny crack in a giant rock. It may start as a hairline fracture, but over time water seeps in and freezes in the winter, forcing the crack ever wider until one day many years later... the whole boulder is cleft in twain.


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