“Are you with me after all / Why can't I hear you?
Are you with me through it all / Then why can't I feel you?
Stay with me, don't let me go / Because there's nothing left at all
Stay with me, don't let me go / Until the Ashes of Eden fall”
- Breaking Benjamin
Indoctrination creates so many ways to cause harm: anxiety about sex, fear of hell, rejection by one’s peers, the list is very long. There is, however, much more intimate and less obvious damage that religion opens us up to and it’s time we shine a floodlight on it.
What do you do when you feel that God has abandoned you?
Imagine it: you are seventeen years old and the sound of the music in your headphones is hardly enough to drown out the sound of your parents screaming at one another on the other side of the house. You are exhausted from work at the gas station and have a mountain of homework to do over the weekend.
Out of desperation, you kneel on the carpet with your face on the floor. Your body is shaking as you try to keep the sound of your sobs to a minimum because if they hear you crying, you will be ridiculed.
You whisper with shaking, unstable breath, “God, I don’t know what to do. I feel so alone and I’m so stressed.”
You take a deep breath in an attempt to steady your words but it doesn’t help. Instead, the words seem to fight you on their way out, “Like shouldn’t you help me? If you’re really with me, why do I feel so alone? I thought you would never leave me or forsake me but look around, I’m clearly on my own here. Nobody talks to me at school and there’s no one to talk to at home either. I’m getting so close to being at the end of my rope and I don’t think you will catch me if I fall. I don’t even know why I’m saying this right now, it’s not like anyone is listening.”
Saying it out loud made it real, it is sinking in that if God is real - if there is a being out there that loves you and can hear you - it seems to have lost interest in your struggles.
Reluctantly, you push yourself up and wipe the tears and snot from your face with your now sweat-soaked t-shirt. The headache and nausea from the effort of sobbing start to hit as you plop down on your bed and pull out your notebook. As you flip through the pages, your tears fall and smear the ink.
Every journal entry is essentially the same - pleading with God to forgive you for being anxious and begging him for relief from the nightmares. The waking days are hard enough without being tortured every night. The people at church said to pray and ask God to give you peace before bed. They promised that Jesus doesn’t want you to be afraid in your dreams and that he would take away the nightmares if you prayed enough.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” you write, “It seems like God should be helping by now, right? What more am I supposed to do? If the Bible is true and Jesus wants us to have peace, my consistent lack of peace leaves me with two options: either I’m doing something wrong, which I doubt because I’m doing what the Bible says, or God just doesn’t give a shit about me. I mean that seems more likely, I’m just a fucked up kid sitting here by myself. Seems like if I was God, I wouldn’t have time for people like me. Oh well, I guess. I would get one of the guns and just shoot myself but I’m pretty sure I’d go to hell. Would I? Why would God send me to hell because I couldn’t handle the fact that he abandoned me? I don’t know… Maybe I’ll wait and see how I feel tomorrow before i kill myself. Give it another day. Maybe if I show God that I’m really trying, he won’t send me to hell.”
I don’t think I need to spell out why religion is so detrimental in situations like this - as I type the words, I wish I could hug my younger self and tell her that it’s not her fault for not praying the right way, there truly is nobody listening. My time would have been better spent seeking professional help than thinking that God would help me.
I don’t think it is ever anyone’s goal to instill this sort of agony in a person. Perhaps I am being too generous with my benefit of the doubt here but it seems to me that there is nothing but good intention in those among us who seek to indoctrinate young minds. The goal is to save souls that they think are destined to suffer forever, there is little thought given to the harm their teachings cause.
The loneliness that can be felt when you think this being that loves you is ignoring you is difficult to quantify in mere English words.
It’s like being trapped under a frozen lake and swimming toward light shining through a hole in the ice. You have no oxygen left in your lungs as you anticipate rising above the surface and getting a breath. When you reach what you are certain is the surface, however, you discover that there is only more water and the surface was an illusion - there is no relief from the agony and you know you’re not going to make it.
We are all we have. We only have one another, there is no Almighty hand out there to pull us from the water when we are drowning, there is only the love and kindness of our fellow man.
With love and good faith,