A popular song I’ve heard lately has stuck in my head, though I didn’t know why until a few days ago. Hozier’s Take Me to Church is everywhere at the moment, it seems. Something about the words grabbed me, and I listened to it often. At first, I felt almost sacrilegious for humming along to a song that used church words in a secular/sexual context. Despite the uncomfortableness, I was still drawn to the song. Then a fellow ex-fundamentalist friend posted the lyrics in their Twitter feed, and that’s when it hit me. The song almost perfectly describes my experience with church. All from a song that most people would say is about sex. (I surmise.)
If the heavens ever did speak
She’s the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
‘We were born sick, ‘ you heard them say it
I was born sick,
But I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.
This perfectly describes my cult. Leaders and ultimately the church were the final mouthpieces. Any insights on life were to be filtered through their lenses. They claimed that they wanted their congregants to be Bereans (the Bereans were a group in the New Testament who scrutinized everything Paul said, and didn’t believe him until they were sure he aligned with the Bible. It’s worth nothing that they eventually did), but they really held the power to excommunicate you if you didn’t agree. We were trapped in the position of being the ones who were sick while they were the only ones with the healing. When your salvation from literal hellfire and damnation (and excommunication in the present) hangs on your agreement with spiritual leaders, you…generally do what they say. Especially when you have been raised to believe this is the only way.
The chorus really sums what I still feel about my old church.
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life
My whole life, I felt like confessing my sins to anyone was giving them a knife to hold over me. Sometimes the knife was public shaming (at a church I attended briefly after leaving my cult), sometimes it was a switch or paddle, or angry, violent hands. Either way, it was the direct result of confessing my sins. Which is one of the reasons I developed the pathological ability to lie about everything.
As Christians, we were taught to not fear death. I think that’s a fairly normal view for mainstream Christians to hold. What was abnormal about our cult (and several others I’ve learned of recently) was the extent to which death for your faith was glorified. My siblings and I grew up hearing stories about people who died for their faith and the gruesome torture they experienced. My parents once expressed dismay that a local passion play made a disclaimer at the beginning of the play that small children might want to take advantage of the nursery because of the graphic nature of the play. “Children need to see the violence and pain that Jesus went through!” they reasoned. “Our sin was that bad. We deserved that. They deserve that. We need to make sure they are seeing it.” The same things went along with reading graphic descriptions of torture and death “for Jesus.” We would soon face it, and it was up to us to not deny God and to be valiant little Christians shining our lights on to the end. Dying for Christ was the highest calling anyone could expect. Honestly, I wanted to die for Christ because the alternative (living through the Tribulation) sounded awful, and I was afraid everyone I loved would be killed and I would be alone. Thus started the pathological fascination with death that I harbored from a young age.
Unwittingly, Hozier has written a song that contains elements of an anthem for many ex-fundamentalists. While fundamentalists would be horrified that a song like this would be construed to summarize our experiences, I find it comforting to hear my struggles, fears and pain in musical form. Some days it makes it easier to process.