The time I tried born-again Christianity to escape my predicament – Part 2

See part 1.

So there I was, at this Christian retreat, a getaway where I got away from my crazy life. My memories of most of it are less clear than of my mad life, possibly because I was there more to escape and less to find a solution. And of course, I’d just gone from using meth for a year to not using, which meant issues with holding my attention for more than a few minutes at a time.

The place was a huge camping site, where we all stayed in little chalets rather than tents. (Thank their giddy god for that small mercy. I fucking hate camping.) Most of the time was spent moving from one makeshift church service to another, in huge groups of gleeful grinning goons. Their perpetual manic happiness was made even more disturbing by me being half asleep the first day, as I felt myself drifting off while being dragged along, a reluctant clown swept along by a sea of zombie clowns.

For someone who grew up Roman Catholic, this was an altogether different experience. Each service had a preacher, but this wasn’t organised like a Mass, and the main focus of each meeting seemed to be more about everybody’s participation, in prayer and especially in the worship, where worship really meant singing and playing musical instruments, or just making a mad fucking raucous in the name of Jesus. In between gatherings, I’d hear people reminisce about previous worships…. “Now that was a great worship. One to remember!”

The first few meetings were a bunch of different preachers, and the guy who took me there kept telling me about the main preacher, the leader of their bunch of churches, who was yet to appear. It was almost as if he were anticipating the appearance of Christ himself.

Eventually the main preacher dude showed up, and had a lot to say. He needn’t have though, because he could have saved a lot of words if he just repeated this one line over and over again: “Build the church”. That’s the gist of everything he said… Build the church. Build the church. Build the church. Yawn. Oh gosh, he’s still quoting some Bible verse and talking about building the fucking church. Blah blah blah build the church yada yada ding dong build the church. And then the happy people get to what they really want to do… The worship.

Sometime on the Sunday afternoon, I finally felt something during the worship. A feeling rushed through me, an energy, an exciting, exhilarating, almost palpable sensation. It was almost as if as if I could raise my hands and touch god, and I was feeling the power of the holy spirit! Except I wasn’t. A little voice in my head, not a meth voice because it would be two years before I heard those, but my voice, a voice of reason, spoke to me. It stated bluntly, “This is not god”. I recognized the feeling all too well. It was the feeling of endorphins, or maybe dopamine and serotonin. I was being swept up by the group euphoria, swept by the psychological group dynamics of a group of believers all high on Jesus. Just for a few sweet moments I felt what they felt. It was a pleasant feeling, but after all, I wasn’t there to trade one high for another.

Having seen through the group delusion, having felt it and understood that these people were addicted to a worship-induced high, nothing supernatural or spiritual but just another chemical reaction in their brains, I was disappointed.

For the remainder of the day, I went through the motions. I asked questions about their beliefs, which they interpreted as a genuine interest to be one of them, although I knew then that I could never be. They were keen to explain it all to me, thinking they had succeeded with another brick in building the church, thinking they had a new member of their crazy cult.

To be honest, I found their message quite simplistic and dreadful. In their religion, all one has to do is accept Jesus as one’s personal saviour, and all sin is forgiven. As simple as that… But all who do not accept it are doomed to eternal torture. (Even those born in remote areas who never heard of this particular strain of evangelical Christianity. And all those who happen to profess equal belief in all other religions.) I thought of that poor girl from part 1 who took a bullet to the head. She didn’t even use drugs. Her only fault was to fall for the wrong man, and become trapped in a relationship with an abusive monster from which there was no escape but death. So I said what they wanted to hear… I repeated the meaningless words and stated that I accepted Jesus as my personal saviour. I could have fucked with them and renounced Jesus, accepting Satan, because I knew then that none of that shit was real. But what for? It was easier just to go along with the ride, so I could get out of there and go home.

My life was pretty fucked up, but to be honest, even now if I had to choose between that awful lie of a Jesus high, or a meth high, I’d choose meth. Of course there is no such choice and I choose life and reality, not drugs and not delusion.

Maybe somewhere, in some parallel reality, there is an incarnation of me who didn’t see through the lie. Maybe he is happy now. He didn’t go home, get back together with Megan, and have the wonderful son that we had two years later. He lost out on so very much. He didn’t see through the simplistic false promise of eternal life, didn’t learn that the same lie is often used as a placebo for addiction recovery in 12 step programs, and didn’t grow in strength and character as I have. Maybe he’s a Christian blogger now, and all of his writing is polluted with that same empty promise, that god knows what’s best for him, and that he will live an eternal life in Heaven. Maybe he got to ignore and forget all his problems because he is “not of this world”, and likewise forget all sympathy for those who do not accept the poisonous Christian message. His writing will be more popular than mine, because such writing appeals to that desperate need to believe and reinforces it, just like the shared frenzy of the worship reinforces the Jesus high and convinces the participants that what they feel is spiritual. Such writing is always popular, and each post receives dozens of likes, if not more. I am so happy not to be that guy.

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The time I tried born-again Christianity to escape my predicament – Part 1

This will be too long for one post. The introduction alone is as long as my usual posts, so I’ll break this into two parts.

2006 was a weird year for me. I’d been using meth for about a year. I was living in Marina da Gama in Cape Town, and was in too deep with a meth dealer named Aldino (who everybody called Dino, or “money-eyes”, thanks to his green eyes). He often crashed at a house half a block away, that belonged to another meth addict named Nick. One night I met a “girlfriend” of his, named Megan, who stayed there for the day. (The name might be familiar to regular readers of this blog. Will get back to her shortly.)

Dino would manipulate me by giving me large packets of meth, considerably more than I was accustomed to using, and insist that I pay later. Thus I owed him thousands of Rands. Then he’d get me to be his personal chauffeur, driving him to a god-forsaken place called Bonteheuwel, which he pronounced Bontiville, to pick up his “wife” and mother of his two children, who was living there with his parents. I hated going there, but felt trapped, and would often be there in the middle of the night… the only white guy in that terrible place.

One night as we arrived, another man who had been there with his wife ran off, so Dino shot him out the passenger window of my car. I was shocked and terrified, asking myself how I, a middle class white guy, a nerd and computer programmer, could be in this predicament. I didn’t want to be an accomplice to murder. (The man lived though. Apparently Dino was a good shot, to hit a moving target when shooting from a moving car, but the wound was not fatal.)

One day while I was at work, I received a call from Megan, asking if we could meet that night. She was only 16 and I was 34, but somehow we had both left each other with quite an impression in our only meeting about a month before. It wasn’t a normal date… We met at the local Spur restaurant, then went and bought a lot of meth and went back to my place, and she moved in.

We weren’t actually having sex. I was torn between my need to save her somehow, to save this beautiful “fallen angel” as I saw her, and my attraction to her. So it was bizarre, this beautiful crazy girl sleeping next to me, then sloshing about and singing in my bath, naked with the door wide open, as I resisted my sexual urges. And she was incredibly beautiful then… She’s mixed race, what we call coloured here in South Africa, but looks Indian, and at 16, she was the picture of perfection in my eyes. One of the prettiest faces I’d ever seen, and a body to die for.

While we were lost in our own world, using and talking all night, Dino got somebody else to pick up his “wife”. And when she told him that she was pregnant with somebody else’s child, he murdered her in front of Nick, with a bullet to her head. But about Dino… He wasn’t all bad. He’d grown up dirt poor, and lifted himself from poverty the only way he knew – through gangsterism and drugs. He’d grown up Catholic and was a former alter-boy. He was charming, intelligent, and handsome, beloved by many women because of his piercing green eyes. He was also a dreamer, and had told me of his plans to get out of that life and buy a house for him, his wife and his two children. So on some level I understand what happened… When she told him, she took away his dream, and he was high on meth and buttons (mandrax) as usual. Dino was also the most dangerous and unstable man I knew, with a violent temper. I’m not condoning his actions… far from it. What I mean is, I understand his rage. I was afraid of him, and when I heard the news, all I could think about was the poor stupid girl, and how on one occasion she showed me a soccer ball she’d bought for her son at the flea market. What gave her that fatal courage to stand up to him? She didn’t deserve to die. I was afraid for Megan, afraid that Dino would find out she was staying with me, though we kept it secret for the first month or two…

Megan and I had an argument… I can’t remember what it was about… It could be one of many things. She’d stolen money out of my wallet, sold a few of my possessions, and she was angry with me because I had told a friend about her. One night she tried to run my car off the road by grabbing the steering wheel, as we drove home. In a reflex I punched her in the face and she let go of the wheel. But I had never hit a woman before (nor again). The guilt I felt was immense, even though it had been purely a reflex and one that probably saved both of our lives. So I kicked her out of my apartment, at least for the time being. Meanwhile, Dino, who was on the run from the police, was harassing me for the R2000 I owed him. I was justifiably afraid, and add to that the paranoia that comes with a meth high. (I can’t believe this was only ten years ago.)

I was looking for any means of escape, any way to get away from all the madness, even though at the same time I was worried about Megan, not knowing where she had gone. Then at work, I was invited to attend a Christian weekend retreat. The invitation came from the system architect. He was a highly intelligent man, whom I respected. I wasn’t calling myself an atheist then, although I no longer believed in god… But the offer came, I suppose, because it was obvious that I had a problem. It was difficult then, to show up on time for work. I slept once every few days, and had just gone from using a quarter gram of meth alone, over three days, to using far far more with her, every single night. I was in bad shape and everybody could see that. They didn’t know how bad… nobody did. So I don’t know how much of his motivation was to save me, or if there were discussions at work and this was perhaps a last resort… an attempt to help me rather than me losing my job, since I had done some good work there.

So I went.

From one set of crazy people to another.

Since I was there without meth, things seemed surreal at first. Here I was, with this odd man, driving there as he told me about a Christian children’s book that he had written. He was born into evangelism, but I would soon discover that most of the other attendees of this weekend retreat were a different kind of Christian to any I’d known before. They were converts, people who had found Jesus in adulthood. People who had been through or done terrible things, people who were broken, and had found a fix, a cure, in Jesus. (The pun on “fix” is intentional. More on them being high on Jesus in part 2.)

They were warm and welcoming, not at all interested in hearing my story, nor in telling me theirs. (For the best perhaps; else I’d have written theirs here.) It was all about the message of acceptance and forgiveness… But more on that later.

… To be continued.