From my early years, I have had brushes with the immortal invisible One, almost always through unsolicited intermediaries, earthly intermediaries, lurking in the shadows, always ready to prey on young impressionable minds. These days I would say to these pesky intermediaries, Thanks for nothing. And repair, if you will, to your own Hell.
One of them surfaced when my age was only in single digits. Once per week, he would arrive at the primary school I attended (Springvale State School no. 3507), unload his apparatus from the boot of his car, and set it up in the classroom. His apparatus consisted of an easel supporting a rectangular board whose surface was lined with soft felt. On this board he would place cut-out figures, also of felt, which duly stuck to the board. Using these figures as avatars, he would tell stories, ghastly stories by and large, hardly likely to impress us, his young charges. One such story, with its own felt avatar as its centrepiece, was of a naked guy, nailed to a wooden cross. Ugh. I recoiled in a mix of horror and disgust. As you would.
On one of his visits, this timid little man had set up a tableau of avatars consisting of the naked guy, impaled at his ankles and wrists, together with a woman (called Mary Magdalene I believe) a Roman centurian, and many others, making up a cast of six to eight in all. Suddenly, a breeze from an open window nearby, caused the felt figures to ripple. Oh, the little man chortled gleefully, we have moving pictures. He alone managed to see the joke. We thought he was pathetic.
I didn’t make the association of any of his stories with the notion of a God, one who created us and the whole world, one who wanted us to worship him, one who insisted in having a say in our future after we died. So, I guess his mission apropos us, was a failure. He just didn’t get his intended message across. We saw him merely as a purveyor of horror stories.
When I was aged nine or so, I met IC, whose full name I won’t reveal, only his initials. He was a fellow pupil in my fifth grade class, and of about my age. We became very very close friends. It was the first time in my life I had had a real soul mate. It was an invigorating and transformative moment for me.
Whereas most of my classmates were into gross physical activity – dangerous playground games like hoppo bumpo and British bulldog – IC and I played word games in the sand. In class, to the annoyance of our teacher, we would bet on the next word he, the teacher, would utter. IC introduced me to the world of the intellect as an alternative to the quotidian world of rough and tumble. This possibility was new to me, and I embraced its unique possibilities with relish. IC changed my life.
IC and I were inseparable at this time. But there was a catch. One day, he introduced me to God and His associated paraphernalia. IC’s father, I believe, was a pastor in some obscure quasi-church in the district, so IC was willing and eager to pass on the Good News to me, including the news about Sin, Hell, and their causal relationship. According to IC, whom I had come to trust implicitly, it was essential that I confess all of my sins to God forthwith, and to ask for His forgiveness if I was to avoid Hell. Since Hell went on forever, and was definitely a place to be avoided, I should (in IC’s informed view) take this advice to heart very very seriously.
Around this time, some graphic pictures of Hell emerged in the school environment, presumably from the local Catholic church. They were, I realized much later, Gustav Dore’s impressive sketches based on Dante. These stark representations, epitomizing an extremity of horror, put the wind up me big time. Wild horses couldn’t have stopped me confessing my sins, which (back then) consisted of really serious stuff like lying, swearing, and disobeying my parents.
My parents? What was their view on the God question? Well frankly, all their time and energy went into putting their lives together again in post-WW2 Australia. For them, thinking – especially about such a thing as God – was a luxury they couldn’t afford. Labels such as ‘atheist’, ‘agnostic’, or even ‘pragmatist’ would have been grossly inaccurate if such had been applied to them. Should you want to find a suitable label for them, it would have to be something like ‘indifferentist’.
My parents being no help to me when it came to this particular matter, I fell back on IC as my only option. I really really wanted to avoid this place called Hell at all costs.
From this moment on, the ‘road of life’ for me took a significant turn. It seemed that, at every bend in this road, snake oil sellers from behind every roadside shrub would assail me, all with the same story. The story involved God, Hell, and what they called my Salvation. Their message was, in essence, the same as that I had heard from IC, but I’m sure my soul mate was not directly involved. These Johnnies come lately crossed my path in much the same way as had Dore’s sketches, viz. out of the blue. Shills that they were , they must somehow have sensed my vulnerability, post IC, and were coming for me.
I haven’t a clue what drove them, but they seemed to have a modus operandi or two. They staked out places where young impressionable children were to be found, such as schools, summer holiday venues, etc. Once they got a leg in, they were virtually impossible to dislodge as they set about grooming any children they could lay their hands on. They were legion, pervasive, and ubiquitous. They usually belonged to organizations with respectable sounding names like Inter-School Christian Fellowship and Crusaders.
How dare they! What they did (and continue to to) is child abuse, pure and simple. How dare they!
Whether sexual abuse was part of their repertoire, I can’t say for certain. I didn’t encounter it personally. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. Where-ever there is an imbalance of power between two parties, the ground is demonstrably ripe for sexual abuse. And there was such an imbalance at play here.
The jury is out as regards the sexual nature of the abuse they served up. But not on the fact of the abuse per se.
These abusers of children, then, made it clear to us quite early on that God expected us, the child ‘converts’ they made, to pass on the Good News to others at every opportunity presenting itself. To do otherwise was a sin of omission, and we all knew where sins of any stripe would get you in the next life. They could quote chapter and verse to back this up. So, in such manner, they worked to set up giant Ponzi schemes of religious zealotry.
How did they operate on the ground? Let me inform you. Among other things, they ran their own summer camps on the beach, and weekend seminars in the city purporting to help students with difficult subjects like maths and science.
Take the summer camps they ran. Once you were captive to them in this environment, they would conjure up as much camaraderie as could be extracted from the benign setting of sun, sea, and sand. They would arouse your emotions by inviting you to join in singing Wesleyan hymns, always the most stirring ones. They would tell you tall tales about how that naked man nailed to the cross (a.k.a. Jesus the Son of God) had planned it all so as to save you from your sins. They would take you aside in one-to-one ‘counseling’ sessions just to hammer things home. After that, they would pronounce you ‘born again’, and insist that you go out into the wider world and spread the Good News.
The same happened on the weekend seminars, except that they would mix in a jot of jolly fun with numbers such as pi, e, and i, just so they couldn’t be accused of misrepresentation.
i am embarrassed to admit that I was duped, at least initially, by these people. Like any impressionable child, I was easy prey for them, the sort of prey they chose to seek out. It took me until my late teens to shake off all the sinister baggage they had foisted on me.
From your moment of birth, you must necessarily face a conundrum. The world you are born into is notoriously difficult to make any sense of, at least initially, and you must figure things out from scratch all by yourself. Thrown in the deep end as you are, it doesn’t help to have happy-clapping scoundrels laying trip wires across your path.
Nowadays, thanks largely to a most insightful man called Charles Darwin from the mid 19th century, and to the findings of modern cosmology, I am free of their pernicious philosophy. I have worked out a framework for my life that is majestic in scope, a framework within which I have no trouble working, a framework that has the ring of truth about it. And truth is a wonderful thing. It is truth we all seek, or should seek. For one thing, truth sets us free from those who harbour bad intentions towards us.
Within my framework, death is OK, and Hell doesn’t exist. I love the Dore sketches, and I love reading Dante. But these latter are strictly in the realm of imaginative fiction. I am grateful to IC, whom I see as a victim like myself. But I can’t abide those charlatans who did their darnedest to sell me (and others like me) a rogue philosophy.
I believe they still thrive to this day and are up to their old tricks. In the interests of new generations of young impressionable minds, I think it is incumbent, on wise men and women with the power to do so, to strive to put a stop to the evil lurks of these unmentionables. They should stamp these parasites out. Cockroaches are more deserving.