Akin to my generation, I was a Romanian Millennial brought up Christian Orthodox, in a country which revelled in having toppled communism, religion being practised freely after the revolution (though to think about it, being indoctrinated since childhood is anything but freedom). From the start I need to point out a few glaring contradictions which have remained the same overtime:
- The church takes a very strict approach to abortion, yet the country ranks very high in the number of abortions per year to this day;
- Orthodox Christians fast regularly and advocate a “clean life” – little alcohol and no illegal drugs; however, the country ranks third in alcohol consumption in Europe;
- Overtly, most people are against prostitution or women having multiple partners (“slut shaming” is extremely common), yet there are more young women than elsewhere practising that occupation at home or abroad;
- Family values are constantly trumpeted, yet the country ranks very high in divorces and child abandonment;
- The church, which advocates modesty, often operates like the Mafia, with gob-smacking opulence and political influence.
I remember my grandmother telling me how people would hide religious objects of worship in walls during persecution (it wasn’t difficult in the countryside, where 95% of houses were built with mud bricks, as was my grandmother’s). It became apparent that in spite of communism, religion had remained an important part of her community – and in fact while growing up I never felt that it had gone anywhere at all; it was as if my country had always been deeply religious. Of course, I was only 3 and a half when the revolution took place so I can’t remember such details (in fact, I remember mistakenly thinking Ceausescu was still president when I was about 6, which shows how much I cared at that age).
Growing up, religion and spirituality were painted as inextricably connected. Atheists were seen much as they are seen now in the Bible Belt of the US – as people to be avoided and feared. Though to be frank, my granny was into a whole palette of unorthodox activities, such as divination; she also passed on precious folklore I was fascinated by at an early age. She was the village midwife and generally seen as a wise figure of the community, and people turned to her with all sorts of problems. She has long passed now – but her life was nothing short of extraordinary, as well as her strength and determination. By my Millennial standards, anyway. Back then it must have been fairly common to be widowed twice and for a woman to bring up more than ten children by herself, in dire financial circumstances.
My point is, I guess – back then, believing in supernatural help as well as the eventual delivery of divine justice must have helped, in the darkest times of near hopelessness. But people hardly limited themselves to church teachings and were as steeped in folklore as past generations had been. Orthodoxy or communism didn’t manage to take that out of them. She unwittingly initiated me into what I’d always felt to be real; the connection with nature, the supernatural aspects attributed to it; the folklore.
Going further, I can’t say I was interested in religion until my teenage years, when I saw it as a refuge – from being rejected, as a taciturn with social anxiety, or bullied, as a slightly overweight teenage girl, most girls managing to fit into the fit-for-posing pattern, as so often is the case in Eastern Europe.
I was a prime target for taking refuge in the Jesus mirage.
It was easy, while observing those around me from the sideline, to think the world was shallow and evil; that promiscuity was rampant; that all that those around me focused on was superficial. I could hardly connect to those around me; they were having active social lives, having sex and whatever else was natural, when all I wanted to do was write, paint and do sowing artwork. Sour grapes, you might think – yet I maintained that view well into my late twenties, when I had managed to address my looks.
I treasure that innocence, of not objectifying people sexually; of disinterested fraternal love. It’s among the most beautiful things someone can experience. But later on I understood that was something inherent to me and not something brought on by religion. Religion makes people paranoid when interacting with members of the opposite sex (most puritanical sects being a good example of such extreme thinking).
If you are vulnerable in that sense – if you feel like an outcast – you may be very susceptible to religious indoctrination. Akin to smaller cults, religion teaches you isolation and a close relationship with a higher power are not only beneficial but essential when wanting to be a good person.
Ultimately, although claiming to be based on love, religion doesn’t teach you that diversity is beautiful and you are enough just as you are – but that others are wrong in their ways, which is completely false.
Interacting with teachers and the church was always intimidating – I saw them as superior in every sense – which was totally unjustified. Some were kind, soft-spoken and humorous people, yet others were dogmatic and impatient, treating those around them with quasi-bureaucratic detachment or even anger. In fact, I once had a teacher (and priest) who thundered around like Thor after a bad lunch. He would’ve put the Sharia patrols to shame.
My teenage years were nebulous in terms of spirituality as my Pagan roots were starting to show. I had past life memories, became aware of (and started believing in) reincarnation, besides a number of other phenomena religion was quick to class as being “of the devil”.
All throughout I maintained the feeling of constant surveillance from above, as well as shame over the smallest things, such as curiosity regarding sex. I am baffled to remember that around 15 I went to confession to tell an elderly priest I had watched soft porn on television. The thought of it is creepy now – that someone should feel so conditioned, so steeped in shame they feel the need to put themselves in the most awkward situations.
I maintained the cognitive dissonance until my early 20s, when it became so apparent I felt like I had to make a choice – and as conditioned, I chose Christianity, although inside I was much more spiritually nuanced. I figured my past life memories ( amazingly accurate as they were) , precognitive dreams (equally accurate) etc were just a way for the devil to tempt me into occultism. When I should have embraced them all as natural. Crazy; I know.
Many years later, I feel anger over this conditioning and the years spent stifling and denying my true nature. It made me miserable.
When going through a particularly tough time of constant instability, I embraced faith and these nebulous “traditional values” in order to stay afloat. After all, Jesus loved to see people suffering and persevering, I thought. That is the other issue I feel needs emphasised.
Thinking that suffering is normal and even beneficial can lead someone to cling on to toxic circumstances, seeing their need to evade as selfish, though it is only natural. As if those circumstances weren’t enough, guilt over one’s unhappiness is added. It can also lead to malignant optimism over a potential improvement. For hope to be positive it must also be grounded in reality.
Gradually, I fell into any imaginable trap, from dismissing atheists to bigotry (homophobia), though that not been my nature to begin with (I hadn’t had a problem with anyone growing up or to date). I fell into conspiracy theories detailing how the world would be changed by the “godless” into a cold, utilitarian dystopia, with the recognition of sexual minorities as a gateway. With that came all the caper which is well-known to anyone familiar with this artificial battle between the old ad the new (the old being repression and the new simply an admittance of what has been happening since the earliest times of our species).
The GP had to patiently explain to me that vaccines did not cause autism and the scaremongering was bullshit – the embarrassment I feel now over needing to have that conversation is overwhelming.
De-conditioning was a slow process yet when it quickened pace and resulted in the final liberation from religion, there is hardly a more beautiful feeling I could describe. It started with watching the testimonies of former Scientologists and realising their thoughts and feelings were not unknown to me – the fear of leaving for instance. Something shifted and I started researching the historicity of religious characters and claims; from there things quickly went downhill.
Finally, all the dogmatism, the useless judging (of myself and others), the bigotry, the rejection of my inherent Pagan nature – disappeared overnight, like a cloud being lifted. I felt like I could breathe again, although no one had really forced me into the casket in the first place – it was all based on subtle influence.
I knew I had subtly been brainwashed and it had substantially affected my life.
Renouncing religion was liberating, as opposed to saddening or generating a feeling of loss; no loss was involved in getting away from the mental overlord, from being remotely controlled and observed 24/7.
Sharing that was liberating as well. It had its downfalls in terms of socialising; obviously. I lost friends over it. I can understand them and don’t blame them, since I was once under the same spell they are under now (or were when I last interacted with them, anyway). For some I have real hope as they are very decent people, aside from this religiously-induced microbe. I have since apologised to anyone I was able to, for the bigotry or judgement, which I’d been in no position to make in the first place, as I’d lived my life liberally in many ways. Their gracefulness and understanding were humbling.
I guess it will take many years for this cancer known as organised religion, with its attached misconceptions and traps, to just evaporate. Right now it is making a comeback in my country of origin. A few years ago the boogie man of cultural Marxism was not as popular. Nowadays, I see even people claiming to be agnostic or who’d nearly renounced their faith previously become ardent fans of “cultural Christianity”, in defence of “western values”.
With all their political biases and lies, TV stations were doing a good job exposing the church though eye-opening documentaries. Now the US phenomenon is taking place there as well – right-wing conspiracies, anti-vaxxers etc. The virus is spreading. I guess I caught it early and survived the disease.