Showing posts with label childhood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label childhood. Show all posts

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Guest Post: Sheldon Cooper, Confronting My Past

Dead Tree, Romney Marsh. 1930-34. (My Secret Atheist Blog)
Dead Tree, Romney Marsh. 1930-34. 
Guest Post by Sheldon Cooper

Editor's Note: Physical and mental child abuse is a pervasive problem and is no stranger to fundamentalist Christian homes either.  In fact, the Dobson group Focus on the Family even endorses corporal punishment, in a controlled fashion, of course.  Receiving a few lashings of the belt was a common thing both in my Traditionalist Catholic childhood and even in our public elementary school.

The theme of violent and scary childhood abuse is one that seems to resonate strongly with those who have given up religion.  Nate Phelps from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church and Melissa at Permission to Live blog testify to this.

One long time reader and excellent blogger, Sheldon Cooper of the blog Ramblings of Sheldon, has a such a past to share.  His blog also highlights others with similar stories and provides a forum for people to hopefully lessen the pain a little through sharing in their common experiences.

Here is a poignant guest post by Sheldon about just such an episode of scary childhood abuse from his youth.  He provides an e-mail address at the end for you to submit your own stories to his blog to share with others.

It is somewhat edited.  But I assure you Sheldon has had the chance to read it through and approve my nitpickings!

Guest posting again for My Secret Atheist Blog feels like coming home to me. I wrote my first guest post as a blogger for this blog, a two part series on my life that was almost like a biography. That post helped to launch my blog, and I wouldn’t have even started blogging had it not been for Poutine’s encouragement.

He was right about blogging being “good therapy”.  Telling my story has helped me in my recovery from my fundamentalist past, but it’s also helped to bring some memories back to mind that I would much rather forget.

One such episode which I would much rather forget is something I have never told anyone before.
It happened when I was around 11 years old.

What I remember the most about this day was the the fist. That fist shaking at me only inches away from my nose. I remember the shouting coming from mother. She was becoming so angry it was becoming quite shrill. The nearly psychotic rage in her face and in her eyes was staring me down and  she was endlessly screaming out threats of violence.

She kept walking ever closer to me as I stood against a wall. I think this was deliberate on her part. She wanted me to feel trapped.  She bent forward slightly as to give the illusion the she was taller than she was, towering over me. Everything about this scene was meant as a threat, to bully and intimidate.

Then something happened that had never happened before. Slowly, but surely, I started to raise my fist back at her. I didn’t swing. I didn’t say anything back. I was silent. Then I saw it. I saw the surprise. She jumped back quickly. She pointed at my dad, who was on the other side of the room, watching. He said nothing in condemnation of either me or my mother.

She went into a long rant about me. “Don’t you see this?”, she screamed, and went on as if I was the most evil person who walked the face of this earth. She was trying to save face, and distract from what she had done, putting the blame on all me.  But what she had done was never provoked.

I didn’t realize it fully then as I do now, but even then I understood it to some degree. It scared her. I saw the fear in her eyes. It wasn't a fear for her life but something much different than that. She realized she truly was the one cornered. For once, unlike all the other times where she had spanked me; slapped me across the face; threatened me with fists and belts if she thought her open hands weren't enough, I stood my ground. This time not only was I physically able to fight back, I was willing to.

I think the fact that I was willing to make a stand scared her far more than the fact that I could somewhat hold my own if it came to a fight. Her bullying and intimidation wasn’t working on me mentally. She began to realize what she was, whether she truly admitted it to herself or not, that she was a coward. She was more than willing to hit someone who couldn’t fight back, or was too scared to do so, but once that line was crossed, panic set it in.

Never again after that day, did she ever hit me or make a serious threat again. She did try to make such threats afterwards, but we both knew it was a formality, she was trying to “act tough”, it was all a front, and it sounded hollow. She continued her psychological abuse, which involved a tremendous amount of guilt, lies and manipulation to get her way. Not to say that the psychological abuse didn’t drain me of all life at times.  I was for a time foolish enough to believe her lie that my depression was my fault. At least I knew I would never have to face physical violence again.

I can’t even remember what started this incident, but I know it was something relatively minor. Anyone who has lived through fundamentalism and has left it behind knows that it doesn’t take much to anger a fundamentalist parent.

There are so many extreme and over reaching rules, and a lot of insecurity it seems on the part of the parents. They feel like they have to go to sometimes abusive measures to “show their authority”.  They look down upon their children, almost like they are little more than their property, with no rights or respect.

Sometimes telling my story is something that I really don’t want to do, but I feel it’s necessary. I’ve encountered people online (even atheists), who think that fundamentalism is crazy, but relatively harmless. Anyone who has ever experienced it knows better. I try to expose the harmful beliefs and actions of this world to outsiders, and give a platform for others to do the same.

If you have a story to tell, something about your religious past that you feel you are ready to share, let me know at I’m always ready to accept guest posts.

Check out Sheldon's Bio Page or jump directly to The Ramblings of Sheldon.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Carl Sagan and the Doctor Who Helped Save Me From Religion

Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)
I was an unusual kid from the start.  While my school friends watched the big US commercial networks and MTV, I watched PBS and CBC instead.  My young mind was hooked on NOVA3-2-1 Contact, The Edison Twins, Square One and my young soul was stirred, like so many, by COSMOS.

During precisely the same period in my youth, I would also stay up late into the night to watch Doctor Who every Sunday.  I would lie on the floor with bag of Thunder Crunch potato chips and a 24oz Slurpee.  I was in Geek Nirvana.

Every Doctor Who fan has their own Doctor.  It's usually the first they were exposed to.  My doctor was the curly-haired, big-toothed Tom Baker and his Jelly Babies and mile-long scarf.  My doctor was also Carl Sagan.

Today is Carl Sagan's birthday, which has been declared Carl Sagan Day.  Also, in a few weeks (November 23rd), it will be Doctor Who's 49th birthday.

It's a little strange to say, but looking back at my youth, it could very well have been an odd combination of this real-life astrophysicist and a fictional time-traveler that planted the seeds of skepticism into my childhood brain.  Its like they both teamed up in some kind of covert crossover special or fan fic story and buried away a baloney detection kit in some deep cache where the dogma could not reach it.  As a PBS television Science and Science-Fiction duo they engaged my imagination and somehow secured my way out of religion and into Freethought and Atheism.

It's an unlikely duo - more unusual than Batman and Robin, but the more I consider it, the more I believe that I may not be the only one who owes his escape from the bonds of religious dogma, in some part at least, to these television influences.

The Spaceship of Imagination.
Each week, both men took me on cosmic voyages through time and space in spaceships.  Sagan's was the Spaceship of the Imagination, which closely resembled the floating spores of a dandelion.  It was a beautiful and poetic idea introduced with sweeping emotion in the first episode of Cosmos.

Meanwhile, the Doctor traveled through his imaginary cosmos within a TARDIS.  It had a chameleon circuit, which should have allowed it to blend in with its environment but was perpetually broken so the TARDIS always resembled a 1960s English police call box! 

The special effects for both programs were somewhat lacking even for the time.  It's likely the BBC and PBS had comparable budgets.  But this was not a problem for either program.  Both strove to communicate an entertaining and compelling story: one of discovery and wonder, one of adventure.  And they both gave my mind alternate pictures from what my Baltimore Catholic Catechism would have me see.  Maybe there was much more out there in the Universe.  They both expanded my horizons to new and different possibilities and got me to ask questions.

As far as I can tell, there was no real god in Doctor Who.  Douglas Adams himself wrote some of the episodes I enjoyed on PBS during the 1980s.  Yes, there was some mind control and other woo, but on the whole there was a repeating message.  Very often villains who appeared to be gods or supernatural beings turned out to be alien beings with high technology.

Cosmos also had no god and it delivered a message as well - that the blind fearful superstitious theories about how the world works that were devised in the past, although sometimes beautiful and poetic had gradually yielded to the answers of Science.  Myth was being replaced with Scientific Knowledge.  The themes were very similar.

A Daemon from the 1970s
Doctor Who Episode The Daemons.
While Dr Sagan showed me an ever expanding picture that took me from the quaint yet sometimes stifling constraints of mythologies to the infinite broadness of space and time, Dr Who also worked hard in his own way.  He also exposed the mythologies contained within his fictional universe - mythologies that often bore striking resemblance to our own.

In the Horns of Nimon, I got to see the ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur of Crete reduced to an alien being.  In the story The Daemons, the Christian mythology of the Devil and Demons is explored.  The demon also turns out to be an alien.  As a special twist, the local village vicar turns out to be thoroughly evil.  And just to make things thoroughly interesting, one of the friendly protagonists in the story is a good witch.

It's interesting that while Doctor Who was explaining away superstition and mythology to my young mind, Carl Sagan was celebrating not only the scientific story of humanity but also the rich mythologies in Eastern and Western culture.  Sagan was an adept storyteller who himself loved the rich stories that form the very bedrock of our cultural make-up.

I recently watched a documentary on Sagan's life in which his wife Ann Druyan showed one of Carl's bookshelves.  It was full of Greek and Latin Mythology and Philosophy.  This has made me also question what influenced me to go back to school and get a full degree in Classical Languages and Literature!

He used these stories like the great repeating musical themes of Beethoven and Vangelis which so greatly enhanced Cosmos.  Music, legend and myth were summoned forth, like Sagan's own daemons, to stir my young heart and focus my mind to the size, majesty and awesome intricacy of a Universe who's own true stories far surpass any paltry myth or legend dreamed up by men.

It was as if the humor and myth of Doctor Who mixed with the beautifully-woven narrative of Humanity's own voyage of discovery told by Sagan - adorned with much that was inspiring about mythology and culture, - kindled something deep inside.  It's power to compel engaged me to learn more about the underlying Science, to become a seeker of truth.   Humans love a story and it was the stories presented by Doctor Who and Cosmos that guided this man in his childhood days towards a deeper love of Science and a more profound yearning for understanding.

I don't mean to trivialize the life and work of Carl Sagan by comparing him to a fictional character.  Quite the contrary.  As a child, he was one of my greatest heroes - he brought me to the most amazing places of awe and wonder.

But even more than the Doctor, Sagan stirred my imagination through an astonishing story that swept my soul along to marvel at space and time.

Carl's message was infinitely more valuable.  The many adventures I shared with him were more than fiction - they were a celebration of reality itself.

If I had a TARDIS, I think I would go back to meet Dr Sagan and explore the real universe with him at my side.  This is not the dream of a child, although it has been my dream since I first experienced COSMOS.  This is now the dream of an adult who has refused to let that childhood wonder at the Universe be snuffed out of him.  I believe this was also Sagan's dream - his passion to discover, to know and to wonder.


Happy Birthday, Carl.  I never knew you, but I miss you terribly.

Monday, 10 September 2012

An ex-Fundamentalist Catholic in Quebec

When I was a kid growing up in the prairies of Saskatchewan Canada being Catholic really meant something.  We didn't drink the wine, we had to kneel and stick our tongues out to get the host, the priest didn't face the audience during consecration and the women had to wear veils. We took our mass in Latin, thank you very much. The Novus Ordo was a Satanic infiltration of the True Church.

I can remember the day of my confirmation when the priest lightly smacked me on the face so I could be a tough soldier for God.  I can also remember being terrified by the concept of a mortal sin and earnestly doing my forty Hail Mary's for sins I had mostly made up for the priest who was apparently expecting something a little more juicy than what I had to offer.

I grew up in a Fundamentalist Catholic household.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Give us this day our daily bread...

It looks a little like something Apple would release.  Maybe
it should be re-branded the IKneel.
Today my wife drove down to the United States to partake of the consumerist madness that is Labour Day at Walmart.

We occasionally drive down for the greater variety of products - (as Canada is further north, is a smaller different market with different regulations and Quebec has the added language requirement that everything have French labels).

And let's not forget the abundant supply of high fructose corn syrup.  From what I've seen, everything in America contains high fructose corn syrup.  It's downright shocking and I can taste it in the food - everything is sweet in America.  Honestly, it's delicious but I fear that should I ever move down there I'd blow up like a balloon with the sheer abundance of low-cost deliciousness.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Nate Phelps delivers a powerful message

I just finished watching Nate Phelps, estranged son of Westboro Baptist Church preacher Fred Phelps, deliver a 90 minute talk that had the room so silent you could hear a pin drop.

The talk was put on by CFI Montreal and I must say that there must have been no more than 50 people in attendance.  It was so intimate that when the microphone cut out (which it did often during the talk) nobody had any problem hearing his powerful and masterful recounting of his extremely difficult childhood.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Autism, Autism Everywhere

I've heard that Mazda deliberately makes the front of their
new cars look like a smiling face.  My son loved them all as
do many autistic children love the smiling faces of the
Things have been busy lately.  Lastnight, my wife and I bought a new car to replace our 11 year old Pontiac that's starting to get too crotchety.

The night before, while we were talking to the salesman, I couldn't help but notice a digital picture frame on his desk showing his kids.  His son had big beautiful eyes like our son and there was a certain way he smiled in the picture.

Most people are unlikely to understand what I mean here, but if you are a parent of an autistic child or know one you might get what I'm talking about.

The kid's eyes were closed and his teeth were sort of clenched together.  Although it looked like he was genuinely happy, the smile looked contrived somehow - as if it were put on just for the picture.  I know everyone has put on fake smiles for pictures in the past, but they often are not as exaggerated as this smile.  I've seen pictures like this before on the Internet and it immediately brought up a red flag.  I didn't bring anything up though - I would never just bluntly ask hey is he on the ASD spectrum?

The salesman saw us looking at the pictures and introduced the little boy as his son.  He then immediately asked us how old our son was.  We'd discussed him before - that's why we were interested in the green car.  He had been asking for a new green car and oddly when I was three and four my favourite toy was a green car!

He asked us if our son spoke much yet and we told him he was delayed because he was on the spectrum.  Apparently his son was delayed in speech as well and they had brought him to several therapies for speech. He also had very particular eating habits and wasn't able to maintain any sort of concentration on them for more than a second or two.  He would also actually gag when he smelled his own urine and nearly throw up (overly acute sensory processing). All of these were early signs of him being on the ASD spectrum so he was waiting for an appointment to get him an ADOS test.

It's interesting because I recognised this with a single photograph that illuminated the frame for only seconds at a time before cycling to other more normal photographs.  When you are a parent of an autistic child autism starts to appear everywhere.

The salesman we spoke to was not in to close the deal lastnight, but we left a brochure on his desk for this weekend's conference on autism in Montreal - Montreal Autism in Motion 2012.

I have my own reservations about the kind of depressing woo I'm going to run into at this conference and I hope it actually won't prompt another post on this blog (although I do see a book by celebrity anti-vaxer  Jenny McCarthy on the splash page of the conference and that elicits some fairly strong feelings - read: Bad Astronony).  Desperation will lead the most rational minds down paths of woo - sometimes dangerous woo - when it's perceived their children may be at risk. This is understandable.  I still think this conference will be of value for me, my wife, and our car salesman.

I guess a picture is worth a thousand words.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

And The Paperwork Begins

Forms have always intimidated me.  More than dinosaurs
Back in university I knew someone who really liked filling out forms.  It's inexplicable, I know, but she would actually offer to fill in other people's forms for them.  Maybe it was some kind of endorphin high or something?  I just don't know.

I hate filling in forms.  And I realize it's really the least of my concerns, but the pile of forms that need to be filled out for fostering is a little daunting to be form-challenged like me.   I know: First-World problems.

Over the next couple of days I plan on getting my application to foster a child filled in and get my wife's application properly updated - since she had filled it all in mostly the first time.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Fathers in The Bible V: Aaron

And I thought dropping my two-year old off at his first week 
of daycare was bad.  Aaron got to see his sons get immolated.
Well... all in a day's work.  What were those dietary
restrictions again, God?
Here's part five of the series.  You can find the entire series here.

I have a two year old kid.  Occasionally he freaks the hell out of me - not through any fault of his own.  He just seems bent on finding the most original ways of injuring himself.  The thought of him hurting himself scares me to the core - whether it be that bookshelf I need to secure to the wall or that pair of scissors left on the table.  Yesterday I turned my back for a minute only to find him trying to plank between two chairs 2 ft apart from each other.

This morning I just finished dropping him off at daycare about 15 minutes ago.  This is his first full week at a daycare and for the first time he really screamed and cried when I left him there.  It was gut wrenching.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

No Time to be A Kid Part III: Books, Bunkers and Abortions

Taking cover in the shelter without Dorothy. (Wizard of Oz)
Just a general disclaimer.  One of the original purposes of this blog was a sort of self therapy project.  So every so often I'll be adding episodes from my youth.  Yes, I expect the blog to go down a few points of authority on Technorati and I apologize to everyone who's not interested in my life.  If you're one of these people, I don't blame you at all,  free to give this post a miss.

All of this business with tornadoes and flash flooding downtown Montreal due to torrential downpours this past week has got me thinking about my childhood again.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

No Time to be A Kid Part II: Barry Goldwater, Khrushchev and Atomic Death

When I was a kid I would get up every Saturday morning to watch cartoons.  I remember several times this test screen would come on with its scary tone.  I can remember knowing that this was the kind of thing I might see if there were ever a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. I was a kid. How the hell did I know that?

I became terrified when I saw it on the air.

I don't know for sure how I got wind of all this - it was definitely in the Zeitgeist during the eighties, there was a general feeling of stress and paranoia.  My parents were big fans of Ronald Reagan.  I wonder how much of my concern towards impending nuclear attack really came from them and the sorts of things they spoke about.

From the movie The Day After.  It scared the crap out of me as a kid.  I 
understand why the movie was required to get the message out but it still
makes me terrified and physically ill to watch this or Threads to this day.
My parents were part of a war that was going on and they somehow let me know about it.  Reagan - Mikhail Gorbachev (who apparently had the mark of the beast on his forehead), USA - USSR, West - East,  Catholic Church - Communism, Capitalist - Socialist, Capitalist - Communist, Catholicism - Atheism, Right - Left, God - Satan, Good - Evil, Pro Life - Pro Death.  A sharp, simple dichotomy so prevalent within fundamentalism.  Only now is my brain trying to understand what was put into it as a child.  The constant fear of annihilation and death.

My father would talk about first strikes and how perhaps had it right that the best way to defeat the Soviets would be a powerful first strike - so strong it could not be countered.  To wipe them out utterly before they could fight back.  Instant genocide - I was young but my mind understood this.  My memories are fuzzy, perhaps it wasn't my father who said it... it came from somewhere. Could such a thing happen?  All of the media was telling me it could.

I was so scared that I can remember panicking seeing jet plane exhaust trails high up in the sky.

I'm better now.  But I feel as it it just wasn't fair that I was so afraid as a child.

Click here to see the whole series covering my messed up childhood.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

My Lost Childhood I: Freethought and Skepticism Don't Live Here

Klinger from M*A*S*H.  Okay,
I can see why my dad had a
problem with this show. 
Scary Rocking Chairs

My father used to come home from work and rock in his rocking chair with a glass of wine.  One would expect this to be a relaxing thing, but I can remember his voice being full of stress and anger about his work.  I recall all three kids huddled in the basement of our old house.  Although we kept the TV on almost all the time, I can now still hear the creaks of the rockers as they redistributed his weight on the floor above us in a rhythmic fashion.

As the evening would progress I would often start to hear banging noises upstairs, as if the entire rocking chair jumped an inch in the air and crashed down again.  They're at it again, another fight.  But other times I would hear shreds of conversation about politics.  Disturbing trends.  The decline and fall of America.  The onslaught of godless communism.  I was a child and I knew many of these words - but they didn't mean anything to me.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Was I a true Catholic?

A few days ago I came home from work to find my son playing with a plastic rosary.  Although I knew my wife had ordered this for free off the web and I'm fine with my son being exposed to religion, I still caught myself feeling a bit uncomfortable.

The idea is not to indoctrinate him in Catholicism, but rather to educate him about as many religions as possible.  I don't have problems with having Hindu prayer beads, statues of Ganesha, Hekate, Venus etc.  But the rosary still seems to have some power over me.  I don't believe in any of it and I don't think it holds any metaphysical power over me.  It's more like a PTSD trigger - it stirs up some still fairly raw emotions.

This experience got me thinking about my past.  Why did Catholicism fuck me up so much while many other Catholics I know, practising, lapsed or ex-, don't seem to be messed up at all.  What's the difference?  Was what I grew up in truly Catholicism or was it something else?  Was it really the religion that messed me up so much?

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