Hi all. I've been part of ex-christian.net for awhile, and atheist myself for a little under a year (coming up in May!) I'm the granddaughter of a faith-healing cult leader, and was raised pretty whacky. Home birth, home school, home church, etc. No radio, limited TV, no pop culture. Saw a lot of things no adult should see, much less a child. I'm seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma and cult recovery and she's awesome, so I'm getting better. Until this past year I didn't know I'd been raised in a cult, because we were always told we were christians, read from the same bible, etc. and as we got older attended other non-denominational churches. It's only been very recently that I started to actively question my faith and the reasons behind it. The things that helped me wake up:

1. My son. No way was my little infant child guilty of original sin. Period. I can't express how huge this moment was for me, having always believed *I* was inherently evil. I just couldn't feel the same way about my son.

2. Islam. I was a International Relations major in college (dual with American History) and my focus was Israel/Palestine and larger Middle East. So I made a lot of Muslim female friends and studied the I/P conflict in great detail from both sides. Clearly the I/P clusterf*ck is due to religion (darn Jerusalem), and there's no way I was going to believe the claims of Islam. So then I started to question why I believed the Bible.

3. History. In a 1800-1850s US History class we read about utopian societies and cults. Everyone else in class thought it was weird, but to me it seemed familiar. That's when I started researching my grandmother's name and ministry and realized I'd been brought up in a cult myself.

Those three things all sort of stewed in my head for about 2.5 years of non-church attendance and a bad marriage/divorce. In the end I found a lot of good atheist videos on YouTube (KEEP MAKING THESE) and started reading Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. and just came to the conclusion that god is imaginary. Oh, and the site whywontgodhealamputees.com was really instrumental for me, since I grew up totally believing in faith healing, and this pointed out a lot of stats and studies showing how spectacularly god fails in laboratory settings.

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thank goodness for little heathens :)
A very well-written post, thank you for this. I was raised a secular Jew (i.e. no emphasis on supernatural beings, just cultural). I like your very balanced take on the Israel/Palestine conflict. It does seem to be a religious battle and I think both sides are wrong. I find some of the pro-Palestinian posts by supposed atheists a bit hard to take, I think you'll understand why. Since you seem to have witnessed some of this stuff first-hand, I'd like to know (if you can tell me): do faith-healers consciously know that they're misleading the ignorant, or do they really believe they are performing something miraculous?
Well, my grandmother really and truly believes that the "real" world is the supernatural one, and that everything that we can see and touch, etc. (ya know, reality) is just a metaphor for the spirit realm. Seriously. So she definitely thought her prayers would heal and that medicine was dangerous, occultic, and evil. She thought doctors were practicing witchcraft. The funny thing is that she has quite a high IQ and actually worked as a nurse for a few decades before her "salvation". She has narcissistic personality disorder, ocd, and depression. I think there are two kinds of faith healers - those who really believe (I know I believed I could heal people with my prayers) and those who are raking in lots of money, ala Benny Hinn.

The Israel/Palestinian conflict just fascinates me. Daniel Oz is a great secular Israeli journalist whose writings on the topic are some of my favorite. Also, US media has an extremely skewed coverage of the whole affair; for example, they never show examples of jews and arabs cooperating and trying to bring about peace together. Bombs sell more papers, sadly.
So very interesting. I'm guessing not all your attempts to heal people through prayers were successful, and the unsuccessful ones were explained as "a part of god's plan, which is beyond human understanding". I mean, empirically, I wonder whether faith healers have healing rates that beat those of conventional medicine. So what brought you out of your devotion to the supernatural? I think the key is children. Religions know that they have to indoctrinate children to perpetuate themselves. I'm thinking that it's probably immoral and certainly impractical to force people to abandon religion (take Soviet Union, for example), but that we atheists can provide some sort of helpful service by acting as a haven for those who do not wish to be indoctrinated. Or should that be left to cult deprogrammers/professional counselors do you think?

On the Israel/Palestine problem, I have seen a few things about cooperation between the people in question. It's fundamentalists on both sides that keep messing it up. But those folks won't give up, and they're not afraid to die: an evil combination. How to snap fundamentalists out of it without trying to force them, that's the question.
Most of the "healings" in question were placebo effect anyway (headaches, minor pains, etc.) so that if someone thought I had healed them, they felt better. There aren't enough deprogrammers out there or even therapists who have experience with this for us to leave it to that minority. I think atheists just continuing to question the universe, and having their questions available online, really helped me a lot. WhyWontGodHealAmputees.com was instrumental, as well as a lot of atheist YouTube videos. Oh, and watching Jesus Camp reminded me exactly why I was done with gawd.

I think with I/P as in all cases of irrational hatred, exposure to the *humanity* of the other is important. Personally, I was taught to hate/fear witches, gays, pagans, etc. Then I went to a performing arts high school full of all those people. And they turned out to be really nice and sweet and funny individuals, just like church folk were. If inter-I/P commerce, business, etc. are increased, I think it will help. As long as there's a giant fence with armed Israeli soldiers between the two communities, trust and acceptance will be hard to grow.
Hi Angie,

The human spirit is so much greater than the (alleged) holy spirit. Despite brainwashing reinforced by "sheltering" from societal influences, you've asserted your own mind and reached independent, adult, conclusions. Education is the antithesis of faith. At least you were allowed a college education: something Muslim women are usually denied.

Your experience proves what I've always asserted: "If you had the truth, you wouldn't need faith."
I like your assertion. Having access to knowledge and a natural curiosity certainly helped. I do wonder though what you mean by saying Muslim women are usually denied a college education. On my own campus there are literally a couple hundred Muslim women (most American born, though not all). Taking Middle East studies classes I met more of them than most students probably, but I think in the US at least education is encouraged within Muslim families. Do you have statistics saying otherwise? Obviously in more theocratic Muslim societies (such as Taliban controlled Afghanistan) women are pretty much imprisoned in the home and not allowed to work or be educated, but I had not seen that here in Florida.
Hi Angie,

Yes, I was referring to Muslim women in Muslim countries. Thankfully, the U.S. is still a free country.
Just think how much better it will be for atheist-raised kids though :) They won't have to overcome and outgrow - they'll just be able to grow.
It would have been great to have had the internet or at least someone to enlighten me as a kid. My parents put me in Catholic School and I had never heard the word atheist spoken but I did know I didn't buy all the Iron Age fairy tales. I called myself a "doubter" when I was a kid (in honor of Doubting Thomas) and it wasn't until I read the Emporer's New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson that I realized adults can be pretty weird and naive. It's nice to know you're not alone and that others have found lucidity of thought. I found your story, although sad, moving and full of hope.

With regards to the Palestinian / Israeli conflict I would recommend 'From Beirut to Jerusalem' by Thomas Friedman who gives a fascinating look at the "intifada" (shaking off) from it's roots to a more current day perspective from the scholarly work of a pretty secular Jew. If you like reading about the middle east and its history and conflicts Friedman does a good job and giving a clear scope of the problem.
Hi Angie:

I just recently introduced myself in this forum - I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness so I share the experience of growing up in a cult. Luckily I got out at the age of 12, but my childhood is just sort of a dark, unhappy blur for me. Sunday mornings, Tuesday and Thursday nights at the 'Kingdom Hall', as well as Saturdays out pushing literature door-to-door, nightly bible study, not being allowed to play with non-JW kids, no holidays, no birthdays, having to be excluded from a ton of stuff at school and thus being an outcast... not a fun way to grow up.

If there is a silver lining to this, it is that people like us that had to endure this treatment now have a deep appreciation for a lot of 'normal' things that others might take for granted. It certainly motivated me to make sure that my own kids have happy and well-rounded childhoods and get to experience everything that I never did.
I agree. Taking my son trick or treating this year (as Buzz Lightyear - so cute!) was a total blast for me. And he got a big Chuck E Cheese birthday extravaganza also.




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