How do you forgive a mother who blames your childhood self for the religious fundamentalism she had taught to you as a kid? Reminiscing on my childhood, reading the leaked Peter Clarke report on Birmingham “Trojan Horse”Schools”
Recently my mother asked why I am interested in, and write, about religion. I pointed out that us studying with Christian fundamentalists like the Jehovah’s Witnesses for six years helped. False religion needed to be understood. It was also grounded into me the separation of church and state – and for us to be no part of this world.
Her response floored me. It was apparently all my fault. I had asked, at the age of eight, why it rained in the UK but not in Africa. A question she posed to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their answer led to us studying with them.
By the time I was thirteen, she said she was having doubts. I told her demons were trying to take her away from the Truth.
How my adult self wanted to reply. It was not me that invited my personal weekly study with them for two hours each week from age of eight to fourteen at the family home. Or the other three meetings we went to each week. Where I was taught how demons can tempt you, and influence other people. That almost everyone, save us, were going to die.
End of the World
A constant refrain: the end of this system of things would be soon. In late 1980s the people that had seen 1914 were nearly dead. Armageddon had to come in their lifetime. As the Governing Body proclaimed to the faithful. With a disabled brother, a paradise earth seemed the best chance for him. He was there automatically. I had to make sure I was with him. By following Jehovah to the letter, as dictated by the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society.
My mother pulled me out of school so I could study more. We watched the first Iraq War as a sign of the impending Second Coming. Elders saw prophecies of Daniel, and Revelation, in these unfolding news events. In the end, the aerial was pulled off the roof to protect us from satanic propaganda and evil broadcasts. We hankered down, calling on the name of Jehovah.
I know my mother regrets having studied with them. She romanticises the period. But I am blamed for believing everything I read and was told by the adults that had access to me. A product of my environment, I was the ultimate fundamentalist. The promise of a new world made me hide away from the outside world. My private study reinforced what I was being taught. Faith was absolute, dawn to night, by thought and deed.
Instead of being prepared for the real world, I was ready for the spiritual war that was sure to come. Absorbed in a monoculture doomsday cult, which I gave myself completely too. No one stopped me taking what these adults said seriously. Religious freedom seemed to allow my interactions to be almost solely confined to the Kingdom Hall congregation. As “bad associations spoil useful habits.”
I had the mind of a sponge, soaking up the theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as proclaimed in their books and magazines. I broke myself free only by realising science and not the bible would have to prove a creator was necessary or not. Which led to reading old publications that showed the Jehovah’s Witnesses had regularly made up things which never happened. Or changed belief, while still quoting scripture to justify a position, now at odds with previous teaching.
Mercifully my mother was already of a mind to leave when I realised at 14 how duped we had been. So we left as a family. But I have to draw the line at a child being blamed for their own indoctrination. One that very nearly destroyed my life chances in a world that through it’s misery, conflict and strife, keeps turning.
Whatever our beliefs or none, we need to work together to make the world a better place to wake up to then it was when we went to bed. One aspect is the separation of church and state. I would add also, separation of church from classroom.
Trojan Horse Plot
Reading Peter Clarke’s report into attempts to impose religious orthodoxy in state schools in Birmingham, I hear parallels with my upbringing. How women are seen as temptresses. Students becoming religious prefects of their own accord, a limited education on other faiths and promotion of their own.
[Peter Clarke] also found evidence of a “co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city”.
The agenda would have confined “schoolchildren within an intolerant, inward-looking monoculture that would severely inhibit their participation in the life of modern Britain,” the leaked report says. [BBC]
No indoctrination should be happening to children. Nor can they be blamed as they reinforce what they are taught. They are a product of their upbringing. They are innocent. Needing an education, which includes academic religious studies to understand diversity, prepared to live as a well adjusted adult. Not religious instruction to reinforce a narrow understanding of the world to limit their interactions with society.
I have forgiven my mother – but I have not forgotten.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog