Release your majestic mind, embrace your untamed spirit. ~Melanie Muller
Death is no stranger to me. It’s an ever-present presence. I have stage four brain cancer. The allopathic doctors’ prognosis was 18 months and that was 14 months ago. I am not following the traditional protocols of chemotherapy and radiation as I have researched them, and it is futile for my cancer. I feel fabulous and my MRIs are clear — not because I am living carelessly mind you, my day is structured around my healing. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of hard work and discipline. But I am determined to live well into old age. With that in mind I am painstakingly aware of my mortality. We are born to die, and “no one can say confidently that he will still be living tomorrow” (Euripides). But this story is not about my brain tumor or physical death, but about the death of my religion.
There are happy deaths. I joined an apocalyptic church when a junior in high school. I would never have joined this church if I did not attend their boarding school. The name of this tiny body of believers would have eclipsed my life all together if my mother did not work with one of its members. The anomaly of this Christian church is its claim to hold “the pure truth” amongst the totality of all Christian churches (not to mention all the other world religions). And with that odd notion, they believe that Jesus is returning for them solely.
It was my first year at their boarding school, and I was placed there because I had experienced ongoing sexual harassment by some prominent members of the football team at my previous high school. My mom saw me slipping into suicidal depression and quickly pulled me out of the public school and plopped me into the obscure Christian school that came recommended by her co-worker.
The boarding school was located an hour and a half away from our two-window basement apartment. It was a refreshing change. The boys were much nicer, and it was akin to one big happy family. The school served three delicious homemade meals every single day (which my single parent working mom never could have provided). Plus, we could decorate our dorm rooms the way we liked (at home I shared a bedroom with my mom); however, no radios or TVs were allowed. At the start of fall, when my mom was about to throw out her pink petunias, I asked if I could use them for my dorm’s windowsill. They lasted throughout the school year thanks to the abundance of sunshine and warmth drenching them in beauty. It was a happy place. A safe place. A place where I met my love who I eventually would marry years later and some of my best friends to this very day.
Near the end of the school year, the school administrator pulled me aside and told me that if I were to be baptized, that he could give me the church member discount. My mom being a single parent with a pitiful income had taken out loans to cover the tuition, so I hesitantly agreed. At that time the church held 27 rules that you needed to accept in order to be baptized. There was one I particularly struggled with, and it was believing in their prophet. I did not know that modern day prophets existed. Despite my concerns my friends encouraged me to go forward with it, so I met with the Bible teacher and told him my doubts regarding their prophet, and he said, “don’t worry about it.”
My mom drove up to campus for my “big” baptism. It was nice having her support. My mom made me a pink floral maxi dress to wear for the special occasion. I wore it nervously while my entire body trembled as I stood in front of the church. Baptism is described as a symbol of dying to the old self and a rebirth in Jesus Christ. The pastor gently supported my back as he submerged me beneath the warm water. Upon my emergence the entire congregation stood clapping, my long, dirty blonde hair sopping wet. I felt mostly happy with my choice, but also found myself self-conscious and embarrassed about my ruined curls.
Since I was now a part of this group of believers who claimed to have “the truth,” that very afternoon I started reading books written by their “prophet.” It fascinated me, as I did not know that “God” had personally revealed himself to us as recently as the early 1900’s. I honestly wanted to know why he felt compelled to reach out to us 2,000 years following the resurrection of Jesus. Why was the Bible not enough? What was this special message? I read a considerable amount of the prophet’s writings and discovered my boarding school did not follow some of God’s newest dictates. This shocked me. If God had taken time to meet with someone and give them a message for the present day, wouldn’t we want to follow all his advice? At this point, I started questioning everything. I continued this questioning journey for over a decade. I began to lose faith in the church about 7 years following my baptism. (It takes a long time to read all that literature with life, college, marriage, and then two little ones under foot).
Around the time I lost faith in their prophet, I discovered a book by Bart Ehrman, sitting on a random table at Barnes and Nobles. It was his book “Misquoting Jesus.” I was intrigued by the title and casually flipped it open. It was a serendipitous page opening for me. The scriptures under discussion were regarding verses such as Ephesians 5:22–24 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” And: 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
Professor Ehrman presented evidence from ancient texts that scribes had scribbled those putrid passages in the margins two centuries afterwards. And with each handwritten copy the words were slowly incorporated into the Bible itself based on the scribes’ ignorance or agenda. My heart was light that evening. I felt it was a message from God that he had not rejected me after all. I quietly purchased the book and could not wait to gobble it all up. I subsequently learned from Dr. Ehrman that the Bible itself was not a trustworthy source of truth. I was gobsmacked. I kept on this trail reading several philosophers and great thinkers. It took many more years to “come out” to my immediate family as a free-thinker or an anti-theist.
Today I believe in energy (physics) connecting us all on a certain level. I just don’t think we know what it is yet or know if we ever will. I published my “coming out” piece on my blog in 2015 (http://autumnmarie.org/2015/11/17/thoughts-hope-and-much-love-to-you/) after my precious mother-in-law passed from cancer. I loved her too dearly and did not want her to die concerned about whether she would see us in heaven. Although, I was discreetly reading “Why I am not a Christian” by Bertrand Russel in the hospital lobby.
Coming out from my religion and living freely has been the most liberating experience in my life — especially as I literally face my own mortality daily. Every single headache I have is a reminder that my time could be limited. I am not restrained by the fear of death. It’s simply the next step in the process of life. I experience a type of death with each grand mal seizure. It is horrifying being sucked into the abyss, but once I am there, I know nothing. I imagine death is similar. Of course, I hope I do not die in a similar manner to my seizures, but I do know what it is like to be without consciousness, and it is nothingness.
Since I have broken free from the bondage of religion, I am free to just live the way I think — to embrace life with no regrets, no boundaries. I do not need anyone’s or any dogmatic group’s approval. The two things I believe in for certain are love and kindness. “Consider it: every person you have ever met, every person will suffer the loss of his friend and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would one want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime?” (Sam Harris). When I die, it will be with peace in my heart whether it is my next breath or sixty years from now.