The Religion

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.

Or is it Mothers Day?

I never know which way to spell it to be honest. And while I’m being honest, however it is supposed to be spelled, I don’t really care about Mothers Day.

Why not?

Because of the religion.

I used to be in the religion, for most of my life in fact. I was around the age of six when my mother began to study with the religion, and all the way up to somewhere in the year 2013 I called myself a member of the religion. Growing up we never had birthdays, we never had Christmas, we were never allowed to play sports for our school, we never recognised Mothers Day or Fathers Day, or any other kind of Day. The only thing we “celebrated’ during the years was the annual event that they commonly call The Memorial. For those unfamiliar with the religion and their beliefs, this is their version of Easter and they celebrate it after sundown, and when I say “celebrate” it is not a woohoo celebrate, but more of a solemn occasion where the death of Jesus is remembered and the symbolic bread and wine is handed around (but only those who claim to be an anointed brother of Jesus are allowed to imbibe – don’t get me started).

Anyway I digress.

As I said, yesterday was Mothers Day and my social media feeds were full of people posting pictures of them with their mothers, saying lovely words about the people that brought them into the world, the people who raised them in the functioning adults that they are today. “Good for them” I thought but honestly, and I am being at-the-risk-of-sounding-like-an-asshole honest here, I just don’t care.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my mum. I love my mum more than she will ever know. Like my friends mothers did for my friends, my mother also brought me into this world, and despite the fact that I left home at sixteen years of age, she of course played a key part in turning me into the functioning adult that I am today. As a single mum she raised three little kids under trying circumstances – my dad disappeared when I was three, we had very little money, and getting fish and chips was a luxury while having McDonalds was almost unheard of. I learned from my mother how to cook, how to clean, how to be thrifty with money, and how to fix things. All things that you need to know how to do to survive as a solo parent, and things that all children should learn how to do.

So why don’t I care about Mothers Day?

Because of the religion.

After many years as a member of the religion – not just any old member mind you, but one that was a shining example to the congregation, one that the older sisters used to called Young Timothy (after the bible character), one that became a Congregation Servant at a young age, one that then became an Elder at a young age (terms that probably won’t mean much to you, but carry weight with those in the religion), one that looked after a Study Group, one that looked after a Ministry Group, one that conducted the Weekly Congregation Study, one that gave sermons on stage in front of up to a hundred people, one that gave talks to assemblies of up to a thousand people, one that sat with people while they cried their hearts out, one that sat with people and held their hands through some personal tribulation, one that listened and gave counsel – something happened. I started to ask myself questions. Why this? Why that? How this? How that? That thing doesn’t make sense. That thing is a contradiction. That thing is a lie. That thing is a half truth. That thing is very misleading. That thing is ambiguous. That thing is borderline criminal.

The more I asked questions, the more I got no answers. The more I came to realise that this thing that I had been a part of all my life was something I was a part of all my life simply because it had been a part of all my life. I accepted everything that was taught and told to me, like a good little boy. As an adult though, I wanted to ask questions, and point out things that made no sense. What did I get in response? Not answers. I just got told to fit in and go with it because after all, it was “the truth”. I was given answers that could not be questioned and was expected to keep on in the way that I had my entire life.

Except, that is not who I am. We should be able to ask questions of those in authority over us, and God or Jesus or religious leaders should be tough enough to handle puny humans using their amazing brains to raise questions that are only natural. It is how we learn, how we grow, how we begin to crack the surface of this thing that we call life.

And so after many agonising months of research, prayer, soul searching, and deep deep thought I came to the conclusion that being a member of the religion was not for me. My values and priorities did not align with those of the religion, and there were certain things about the religion that disgusted me (Google “religion and child abuse”), so much so that I no longer wanted to be known as a member of the religion and no longer wanted to be a part of it.

And so I wrote a letter to my congregation Elders (I had stepped down as an Elder myself many months before) and told them that I no longer considered myself a member of the religion. I said that I hoped we could remain friends, but that I knew that the tenets of their faith meant that they would have to cut me off as someone who had “disassociated” himself. Because I loved my friends I also sent them each a message on social media that was the same as what I sent to the Elders. I pointed out the irony of the requirement to cut off association with someone saying that they want to leave with a statement in one of their own magazines. The quote says:

“No one should be forced to worship in a way that he finds unacceptable or be made to choose between his beliefs and his family.”

This statement was made in the context of someone wishing to become a member of the religion, who, by doing so may face opposition and ostracism from their families. However the religion fails to apply this to themselves. Anyone who wishes to leave the religion must choose between their beliefs and their family (and friends). They are forced to do so.

Proving that double standard beyond a doubt, in the hours and days following my message, the number of friend connections I had across social media slowly dwindled down and down and down as my “friends”, with the click of a button, deleted me from their lives. Only two people bothered to send me a message. One of them said “All the best and good on you for making a clear decision,” the other, bless her, said “You are my friend, and that is all that matters, nothing has changed between us.” Everyone else though? Gone. Not one of them tried to stop me, to “save” me. In their world I was committing spiritual suicide, and rather than climbing on to the edge of the bridge with me and trying to talk me back over to the safe side, they all just took a step back and said “Well, he has made his decision”.

Now when I see these people on the street or on the train, they turn their heads away and pretend they didn’t see me. They literally avoid me like I have some sort of disease. What is my disease? What is my crime? I came to the decision that my values and beliefs didn’t align with theirs. I was more than willing to remain friends (and still am – if one of them knocked on my door tomorrow I would welcome them with open arms). But they can’t do that. They are required by the religion to cut off people who disagree with them as if they are some form of cancer.

Sad to say this even extends to my dear mother. The woman who brought me into this world, who cradled me in her arms, who enjoys telling the story of how when I was born I just stared at her intently for a long long time. The woman who used to play cricket with me in the back yard because there were no boys my age in the congregation and hanging out with the guys from school was “bad association”. The woman who, when I decided to tell her about how I was feeling about my life in the religion completely agreed with everything I said and told me that she would support me and my decisions. The same woman who later said that she might not respond to all of my text messages or emails because of the rules of the religion. The woman who has had no contact with me now for months on end.

The woman who I think of every single day, not just on Mothers Day.

I don’t blame her. I hold no animosity to her whatsoever. I know that she is doing what she thinks is right. I know that she loves me. I know that she knows that I love her. I know that she wishes we could have a “normal” relationship.

Again, I don’t blame her. I hold no animosity whatsoever. I am just numb now. When I think about having a normal relationship with her it is like tapping on scar tissue. You can feel something is there, but its not quite the same feeling as when you touch fresh pink flesh.

I don’t care about Mothers Day because the religion took my mother from me. People in the religion will try and tell you that “it was my choice to leave” and that “I knew the consequences when I made the decision” but the fact of the matter is I am here, ready, willing, and wanting a relationship. The only thing stopping that, the only thing stopping that is because the religion tells its followers that they shouldn’t. Those who leave are not to be associated with. To treat them like they are dead because they are going to die at Armageddon anyway.

But you know what?

You what I have now?

I have friends.

I have friends, real friends.

Sure I had friends before, but all but one of them proved that they were not really friends by quietly deleting me out of their lives when I told them I believed something slightly different to them.

What I have now are people who love me for who I am. People who don’t give a crap about what I do or do not believe, but who love me because I am me. I can be me around these people and they don’t judge. They can be themselves around me and I don’t judge. None of us are going to be running off to the Elders to tattle. We can disagree and argue over something but hug and high five after and appreciate the robust depth that our friendship has.

It may not be a big circle of friends, but it is a bloody great one. Friendship, true friendship, is now more valuable to me than all the riches in the world. Friendship based on love and respect is a thousand times stronger that some feeble love based on the mutual worship of some old men in New York who claim to be God’s mouthpiece on earth.

I also have my big sister. Not the one that is in the religion and hasn’t spoken to me for around a year (I forget how long it has been), but the one who has also been put through the ringer by the religion, the one who also has a messed up relationship with her mother, the one who gave me the most amazing niece the world has ever known.

And the most important.

I have my wife. My love, my angel, the light of my life. My constant companion. My friend, my lover, my true north.

The religion may take some precious things from me, but there are some bonds that can never be broken.