Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Broken, the series

Another one of those moments where I realize just how broken I am, and have been for so long.

I haven't thought about this in a long time, and I've never really looked at it or articulated it. Lately I've spent a lot of time going back to that fateful day when I was 13, when Edd told me that hell is a place of eternal agony. I've been recounting the experience to myself and thinking about how it, among many other disasters, has affected my thinking, my entire way of being, for 30 years.

When Edd told me about hell, I was absolutely terrified--I had always assumed that I'd go to hell, because heaven is only for good people, and I certainly didn't think of myself as good enough. But my hell was a little kid's hell: you live an orphan's life in a poorly lit underground cavern, you don't get dessert, you have to wear a devil suit, and you have to pray before you go to bed (good kids don't have to pray). That was my childish view of hell, and it didn't seem like such a bad place, so I never thought about it. Until Edd redefined it for me: flames, agony, no dying allowed, for all eternity. That scared the shit out of me.

The first thing I remember doing is running, in terror, to find a bible. I did happen to have one, I think given to me at a church where I had gone to Sunday school with a friend years before. I hoped that I could read something there that would teach me how to stay out of hell. I skipped the Old Testament, because, well, it's old, and therefore probably of no value, right? Sadly, the first book of the New Testament is Matthew, and that book served only to intensify my agony, especially the verses of Matthew 5:20-30:

Verse 20: For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Who the hell were the scribes and Pharisees? I had no idea. I ran in desperation to my mother to find out who these people were, and how righteous they were, and how I could be more righteous than they. My mother's response was, "Robbie, I don't know." I interpreted this to mean that the answer is unknowable, because they were ancient people and their ancient wisdom is now lost. My conclusion was that I probably could never know how to be more righteous. Fucked.

Verse 22: ...whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

I called my younger sisters fool all the time. Fucked.

Verse 28: ...whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

I didn't know what adultery was, but I could tell from the context that it was bad. I certainly did know what lust was. By this time I was adolescent, hormonal, and extremely horny, and of course had received no moral guidance whatsoever, except Edd's "guidance" about how to please a woman sexually and how women are useful as sex objects and nothing else. So I'd committed quite a bit of adultery in my heart by this time, whatever it was. I had to look up the word in the dictionary to discover that I'd already committed adultery with my mother and my oldest sister. Jesus never said anything about how you might be excused if you did it at your parents' bidding and were only ten years old. Fucked.

Verses 29-30, the coup de grace: And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

This one was devastating, and it ruined my life for many, many years. I spent a long time trying to imagine some way of chopping off my hands. I knew that it would be unbearably painful, and I knew that I would not be able to live a normal life without hands, but I didn't want to go to hell. I even worked on the logistics of it: I could chop off one hand with an axe, but then how would I chop off the other hand? I decided that I needed to get a long sword or a big meat cleaver and set it up on a stand of some kind, and then slam my wrists down on the blade simultaneously in order to sever both hands at once. But of course, just before that, I had to gouge out both my eyes.

I knew that I would never have the courage to do these things to myself. Fucked.

Also, I had some pretty weird ideas about love by this time. I believed that I was required to love god, and I believed that my unwillingness to mutilate myself in this way was proof that I did not love god properly, a manifestation of deep cowardice, an indicator of what a contemptible, unworthy creature I am. I spent a long time looking around at other people in outrage, wondering how they could get through life knowing that they had to cut off their hands and gouge out their eyes. I'm not sure why it never occurred to me to ask anyone about it, except maybe that my mother's answer to my first question filled me with despair over being able to get an answer. Not only that, but I was a very neglected, very alone kid: no one had ever told me about the thousands of years of interpretation and tradition surrounding the bible. At the time I gave the bible the same weight as a technical manual.

I carried this horrid fear with me for many years. Before long I learned that I could make money by working. I decided that I just needed to get a good job so I could make a lot of money and eventually hire a surgeon to perform this terrible operation on me. Years later I heard, through bible study probably (I don't remember exactly), that you're not supposed to take the bible literally. This did not really help me at all, because I never have been able to figure out people's rationale for deciding when the bible is literal and when it's figurative. Everything I've ever heard about making this distinction sounds like self-serving, cowardly, intellectual maneuvering.

Now that I sit here thinking about all these things, it occurs to me that perhaps my persistent fear of going to hell is rooted in these verses about gouging and amputating. Maybe I never could believe any of the other things I read in the bible, and never could believe any of the interpretations I heard from other people. Maybe I just "knew" in my heart that if I didn't love god enough to mutilate myself, he would never have me.

Now I have to wonder: what effect would these thoughts have on a 13-year-old boy who has just discovered the intense pleasures of lust and masturbation? I can see only the most obvious effects so far: what it made me think, how it made me behave relative to "sin": I prayed constantly for strength to resist touching myself. Naturally it hardly ever worked, except for a very difficult period of about three months where I really did abstain. This was a result of thinking that I could sort of bully myself into behaving: I prayed to god, "Help me not to masturbate any more, and if I do, then just throw me into hell." For some reason I believed that god would heed this prayer. When I finally gave up three months later, I knew that my fate was sealed.

What I am only just now beginning to see is that it made me a very strange person in some ways that might seem unrelated. For example, being chronically pissed off at everyone else for showing no sign of the terror that I felt. How could they get through their lives? How could they even get themselves out of bed? What would be the point, if, having hands and eyes, they were going to hell? Being so tormented as a teenager made me a little bit nuts, I think.


  1. You dwell too much on Edd's satanic teachings. IF you want to know more about the hell and heaven, the Bible is the proper source. Do not believe in human interpretaion about them, go to the Word.

    No one will go to heven because they are good. None of us is that good that we can be good ( all the time 100 % ). We are going to be in heaven when we are forgiven. Quilt comes from Satan and convitions come from God. Do not under estimate the power of Satan. Opposition is well informed and well organized. Satan knows about your weaknesses and he will use what ever He thinks works. He does not have to make you a bad person, he only needs to make you to doubt and hopefully reject the Word of God and He has won you over.

    God has only sinners to work with. He can make us new. God can use broken pieces. He is in the life changing business. He can change a willing heart.

  2. It's obvious that you didn't read the essay. "The Word," as you say, was the first thing I turned to, and the essay is about my terrible experience of reading it, and about the stupidity of human interpretation. Learn to read. I allowed your comment only so I could have the savage pleasure of pointing out what a fucking idiot you are. If Jesus can't make you nicer, the least he could do is make you smarter.

  3. "Anonymous" is an idiot indeed. I mean, after reading a post about how one has been essentially tortured because of "The Word", what better response exists than to tell him to go read that very Word. "Anonymous" clearly lacks all compassion or sensitivity at the least...and probably has no common sense either.

  4. Thanks, LV. He/She posted another comment that I just now rejected. It was yet another gem of Christian compassion and erudition, the central idea summed up in this statement, "I have no interest in arguing with someone who will not listen reason." Funny, I don't see any reason in either of his/her posts. I have lately begun to see another gigantic indicator of the emptiness of the Christian message: the fact that in 2000 years their contemptible techniques of evangelism and apologetics have not grown even the slightest bit. Even a really bad god should be able to improve itself. This one is an incompetent fool and attracts humans just like itself.

  5. Well said, and I agree. If the real "god" is the one they worship, it's not a "god" worth worshipping. I don't see any reasons why it would exist either.

  6. my friend, i don't think that anything i can type here would bring you out of your, well let's just call it "anxiety" for lack of a better word in my simple mind. If we were having a beer together, i feel you could vent everything out on a listening ear, and maybe get some positive feed back if that's what you want. however, if you ever want to vent and don't have anybody that will listen to you, shoot me an email, and that may be better than nothing friend.