Religion, God and Addiction – The Story Behind Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story
When I think of my Mormon upbringing, one word comes to mind: Addiction.
My mother, an Austrian emigrant who converted to the Mormon religion when she was sixteen, has always been consumed by her Mormon faith —to the point that it almost completely destroyed our family.
Every day of my childhood started with an hour-long home church session and ended with hymns and prayer, on top of what seemed like never-ending official church meetings. Every decision my mom made was guided by our Mormon bishop (the equivalent of a priest), or by the Church doctrine that places Mormon men in an almost God-like position and gives them complete authority over their wives and children.
I started trying to escape the suffocating religious lifestyle at home at the age of six. But I began escaping for real when my parents divorced and my mother married a cruel man who exploited the religious power he had been given to oppress and abuse our family.
When I wrote my memoir, Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story, part of my goal was to shine the spotlight on the serious damage that can occur when a religion gives men complete dominance over their wives and children. But I also wanted to illustrate the consequences of blindly following a religious doctrine.
Sarah: Thanks for the background. So what part of your story is specific to Mormonism? Would your experiences have been similar if your family were a different religion?
IR: Interesting question. While I think a lot of religions put men in the power seat, I think what makes my story specific to Mormonism is the extent to which Mormon men are given complete power over their wives and children. All Mormon men are ordained as members of the “priesthood,” with the absolute authority to preach the gospel, bestow blessings, prophecy, perform healings and baptisms, and generally speak for God. My dad was kicked out of the Mormon religion so didn’t carry this authority over my mom. But when she married her second husband, he was a priesthood holder with absolute authority and abused that power horribly. As a Mormon woman, my mom felt she had no choice but to succumb to the oppression. What also makes my story specific to Mormonism is the fact that Mormons are married for “time and eternity” in the Mormon temple – which further traps women and makes it almost impossible for them to get divorced. Because my dad was excommunicated, my mom’s temple marriage to him was automatically annulled. But it was next to impossible for her to get a temple divorce from her second husband – despite his cruelty.
Because of my mom’s obsession with religion and her desire to turn her life over to God, I think I would have experienced an extreme religious upbringing regardless of the religion I grew up in. But I think my siblings and I would have suffered less if we had been raised in a different Christian religion.
Sarah: When did you become an Atheist?
IR: I consider myself more of an Agnostic than an Atheist – though my idea of a higher force, if there is one, has nothing to do with a single entity. It has to do with karma.
I started to question the idea of God at the age of thirteen, when my mother married a guy who weaseled his way into her life by pretending to be “a man of God”, and then used God as a weapon to keep me from my dad. I began questioning God’s existence in an even bigger way when I reached my early 20s and started writing for a relief organization. I traveled to what was then dubbed the “death triangle” in Southern Sudan to document the plight of hundreds of thousands of children dying from starvation, malaria, AIDS or, in some cases, by machete. Mothers came to me with dead babies in their arms, desperate for help. I saw a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl sitting on her own body bag waiting to die. It’s hard to comprehend how any sort of God would allow such horrid suffering and injustices to occur.
Sarah: How is it that your father and mother married and then your father seemed to lose interest in religion, while your mother maintained Mormonism?
IR: I think there are two general types of personalities – those who are drawn to rules, structure and groups; and those who can’t stand rules or conformity of any kind. My mom is an extreme example of the first type of personality. My dad is an extreme example of the second type of personality (I clearly took after him).
My dad grew up in the Mormon religion in Northern Utah, where Mormonism is ingrained in every facet of life (school, politics, social activities). It was all my dad ever knew, but he never paid much attention to it. After high school, he left Utah and headed to Hollywood to make a name for himself. When that didn’t pan out, he decided to buy himself a little time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life by doing what all nineteen-year-old Mormon boys are expected to do: head out on a two-year Mormon mission. My dad was sent to Austria, where he met my mom, who was then eighteen. They fell in love – or at least they thought they did. But once his mission ended and my mom immigrated to Utah so they could marry, they both quickly realized they were at odds when it came to religion. The more my mom pushed her religious views on my dad, the more he rejected it. Soon, he began leaving on sales trips for months at a time to escape my mother’s religious extremism. As soon as I could, I escaped too by joining him on the road as a tool-selling vagabond.
About the Author:
Ingrid Ricks is a Seattle-based writer and speaker who focuses on overcoming adversity and embracing the moment. She is the author of Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story, a compelling true story about a feisty teenage girl who escapes her abusive Mormon stepfather and suffocating religious home-life by joining her dad on the road as a tool-selling vagabond – until his arrest forces her to take charge of her life. The book as is available as eBook or paperback on Amazon or BN.com . For more information, visit www.hippieboybook.com
I don’t typically hear about atheists who are as virulently homophobic as a fellow I met on Facebook. This discussion started when I posted on my wall about an anti-gay bill in Nigeria.
Royalist Humanist, an FB user, went on homophobic rants too numerous to repeat here but here are a few examples.
“I am an atheist, I have always stood for the equal basic right rights for all irrespective of any other qualifications. As a Humanist, I do not discriminate against anybody else on the basis of sexual orientation alone …! However, I have the liberty to socialize with a person of specific inclination or not, that is not discrimination…. that is my basic human right ….”
“Gay marriage is something new to Nigeria, therefore they are sticking to the already established moral code about sexual unions between adult and consenting male and female for sex through the vaginal route-called the natural or normal sex. Thoses who come with a new invention of homosexuality: Anal sex between men or anal-sex between a man and a woman on the name of gay-marriage has the burdern to prove their case….”
“Moreover, human anaal canal has not any defence mechanism against entery of sexual diseases through the male sex organ and the human male sex organ has not evolved any protection against the foul feces in the anal canal and therefore diseases like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases like Gonorrea and Syphilis are 20-40 times commoner in the anal-sex practitioners like homosexuals and gays as well as in Bisexual men and women. The problems of Bisexuals: A Bisexual man is the one who pracrices vaginal as well as anal sex and thereby easily spreads diseases acquired through the anal route into women through vaginal route as he is a bisexual. A Bisexual woman is the one who allows men to have sex with her through vagina as well as through anal canal; she often gets sexual diseases from Biseual men and then other men get AIDS and other sex diseases through her….”
See if you know where to begin correcting Mr. Humanist. And ask: we might expect this sort of ignorant ranting from religiosi, but don’t we expect better of atheists?
A while back I wrote about How Religious Conservatives Want Their Daughters to Dress. I found a video on the Friendly Atheist blog that was so begging to be mocked, I decided I had to write a post mocking it.
Yes, folks, cleavage and showing some thigh are so tragic that Christians feel the need to play sad music and speak tearfully in this video. To their credit, they’re not telling girls and women what to do, so much as trying to convince them.
OK, I don’t know where to begin responding to this, but let’s start by saying that I can’t imagine, showing my stomach or not, that I’ve ever caused “a hundred and one men to devour me in their minds.” I’m not really judging my own appearance here, just the likelihood that men would “sin” (does that mean masturbation, or just lusting?) over such a trivial event. Showing “even a little bit of stomach”? C’mon.
It is interesting that Christian women and girls often wear provocative clothing because it is fashionable. Kevin Roose reported this in Unlikely Disciple. If Christian women wanted to dress modestly, wouldn’t they simply do so, regardless of fashion?
What can Christian men do about the “minefield” of girls and women who aren’t Xian/religious, and hence aren’t obligated to the request to not dress slutty (tongue in cheek)? All those Jewish gals who don’t need to listen to your sermon are still in your field of vision, fellahs!
Let me just say this about sexy clothes, whatever those may be. It’d be hard to find a boyfriend/partner if a woman looked frumpy. I can’t imagine wearing a potato sack and then wondering why I wasn’t meeting the right guy. Right or wrong, men do respond to the way women look, and hiding a womanly figure doesn’t help. I’m not advocating that we dress up like Playboy Bunnies, but there’s a healthy medium someplace. Besides, I feel better about myself when I look good (or in my case, more accurately, look presentable).
The pastor applauds the woman who elected to not buy a sexy shirt. She made the decision to not cripple men with lust. Yep, she spared the spiritual lives of perhaps thousands of men, or however many would see her wear it over the course of the shirt’s lifetime. At least she didn’t ask her dad to screen her wardrobe, as per the pastor’s advice (now there’s an awkward conversation. “Dad, does this show too much cleavage?”). Still, it seems egomaniacal to say, “I can’t wear this shirt. It’ll distract the men. I’m just that hot.” Even if it’s true in her case.
Should this video say it’s only aimed at attractive women? What about unattractive women? I can smell a lot of mean people saying, “This doesn’t apply to you unless you’re hot. Otherwise, we’re not looking, anyway.” I guess with homeliness comes freedom. Wouldn’t the pastor applaud women who are ugly, and encourage uglification, so as to deter men’s lust? By his logic, I don’t see why not.
I can’t help but ask: Can men dress sexy and cripple Xian women with lust? I’m not sure how a man dresses “sexy,” exactly, beyond those outfits I see at Gay Pride parades. How about men’s sexy clothing turning on other men?
I brought up this question in my other Conservative Dress post: what do these folks mean by “modest dress”? I don’t think the pastor is advocating that women wear birkas, but what counts as “sexy” clothing? Does it mean little shirts, such as those Britney Spears popularized, and showing lots of skin, with stiletto heels? Or does it mean jeans and a t-shirt that somewhat reveal the shape of the body? Does he want to just cover more skin, or does he want us to wear shapeless muumuus that make us look dumpy? Is what I’m wearing now modest by his standards?
Christian men (and anyone else), your mind is not depraved if you have a sex drive and are turned on by women. Sex is a healthy, normal part of human life. It isn’t an aggressive monster trying to “lead men down to death,” in the pastor’s words. Sheesh.
The narrator says he doesn’t know why women dress provocatively because he’s never asked. Why not ask, buddy? Chances are she’d say it’s to impress other women and to get men’s attention. No mystery here. Women are humans. You can ask us questions.
This “de-conversion” story comes from Scott Van Hoosen, who asked me to put it on this blog. Thanks, Scott:) I have an abridged version below. You can read the whole thing by following the link.
“I consider myself an Atheist, although I was not always that way. I was raised in a religious Christian home, and believed what I was taught, but had a lot of questions that I could not find answers to. As I got older, I discovered many more questions about what I was taught, particularly about the Bible. When I actually read the Bible for myself, I found many things that I had not been taught in Sunday School. I found contradictions, things that didn’t make any sense, things that were truly horrible, and a lot of stuff that sounded very much like fairy tales and mythology. In the New Testament, I read that God is love. In the Old Testament, I read that God commanded his people to destroy entire cities, and to put every man, woman and CHILD to death, which does not sound like love by any definition I have ever heard.
For example, in the Bible, the book of Joshua is the chronicle of Joshua leading the people of Israel, at the command of God, to make war on a string of cities. According to the Bible, God commanded them to go from city to city, invading and attacking each one. At God’s command, they invaded each city, and killed every man, woman and child. Think about that for a minute. They killed children, and babies, young mothers, old women and men, in the name of God. Is this the sort of god that you would want to worship? Is this a god of love? How could a perfect, sinless god say “Thou shall not kill,” then turn around and command his people to kill innocent children? That seems like a contradiction of one of the Ten Commandments.
This caused me to re-evaluate my beliefs. I was raised in a Christian home, and therefore I was raised to believe in Christianity. I have had many friends with vastly different beliefs, including Buddhists, Islamists, Jews, Wiccans, Atheists, Agnostics, Christians, Hindus, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pagans and a few others. Most of us shared one thing in common: we all were raised to believe as our parents believed. That made me realize that my “chosen” religion was really just a factor of chance. If I had been born in the Buddhist, Islamist or Jewish home, I would have then been raised with that belief system. That pretty much nullified the “Faith” argument. If I am to simply have faith, then what religion should I put my faith in? I’ve never been much of a gambler, and I didn’t feel like taking a gamble that Christianity was the “correct” religion, when the odds were so poor, considering the thousands of possible religions on our planet. The consequences of choosing the wrong religion could be dire, so I considered this an important question to answer.
But why would so many people not come to the same conclusion as I did? Why do most people continue to believe the beliefs of their childhood? I thought about this for a while, and the conclusion was plain to see.
First, people continue the beliefs and rituals of their childhood because to do otherwise can cause alienation from family and friends. I have experienced this first hand. I have received coldness from family members, and rejection from long-time friends. Some religions even have solid rules that you must turn your back on family and friends who leave the church.
Second, I think some people stay with their religion because it gives comfort and easy answers to life’s difficult questions. The promise of living forever after death in a place of paradise without sickness or unhappiness is a happy thought indeed. However, the belief that Santa Claus flies around on Christmas delivering presents to all the children of the world is also a happy thought. I cannot force myself to believe something that I have no evidence for, no matter how appealing the thought might be. Many people believe that their god heals the sick at the request of prayers, yet statistics show that people heal or do not heal, live or die, regardless of their beliefs. Good people suffer, innocent children die, while evil people live and prosper.
Third, religion gives power over others. Televangelists rake in millions of dollars from their congregations by convincing them that God wants them to send their money. Church membership usually encourages paying a large percentage of the member’s gross income to the church. Money is power. Politicians proclaim their belief in the popular god of their nation to get votes, again bringing power. Parents can control children by telling them, “God is watching you, and He says you must obey me.””
Some years ago, I made the mistake of staying with a male friend so we could attend a Society for Creative Anachronism event. (In retrospect, he was a creepy guy and I made a mistake by staying at his place and ergo letting him think he’d score with me, but let’s put that aside.) When he was driving me during the event, this man (Let’s call him Tom) somehow got on the subject of his religion.
Tom didn’t know I was an atheist, but he knew I was (ethnically, culturally) Jewish. He told me about his Christian sect (cult?) and that to bring on the Rapture, he would fight in the “eternal army” in the holy land (Israel, where my mom lives) and kill my people (his words). I think he said a third of my people, actually.
I was between cell phones at the time and if I’d had a phone, may have called a friend at the event for help, although this might have been tricky to do without alienating Tom and perhaps exacerbating my situation. Instead, I relied on my counseling psychology background to draw him out. “Religion is very important to you. How did that happen?”
What I should’ve done had I been thinking was to ask to stop someplace, perhaps CVS under the pretense of picking something up, and called for help. Getting back to the event, though, I told another friend of mine, who was able to give me a ride home.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
One of the funny things about this episode is that when I remember it, I picture myself praying during his rant to protect me, protect my people, and so forth… although in real life, of course I didn’t. Why do you suppose I picture the praying? Am I wishing that I did have the comfort of prayer in that situation?
A had a friend who I’ll call Jane who, while charming, friendly and lovely, was on the gullible side. She and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, including Tarot card readings.
Once Jane, who was raised Catholic, although I don’t know how much she practiced at the time, told me, “It isn’t hard to be an atheist. It’s harder to have faith.”
On one hand, I saw, and still see, Jane’s point. It’s hard to have faith in the face of no evidence that god(s) exist. Faith, almost by definition, requires one to believe something in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Christians who believe in “intelligent design” do so in spite of oceans (or primordial soups) of evidence. They say that their faith is just as valid as our evidence.
Still, that’s not what I thought Jane meant, and I said,
“Jane, I like you, but I disagree. It is easy to go with the flow and believe in god because that’s what you’ve been told to do all your life and because it’s what everyone else does. It’s a lot harder to think about it and ask questions. It’s a lot harder if you might get ostracized because you asked those questions.”
I swam upstream, I suppose is what I was trying to tell her… you didn’t.
And just because I can now post media again, enjoy this video just for our enlightenment.
I’m not religiously Jewish, but I’m ethnically Jewish. Yes, that’s tough to explain to goyim (non-Jews).
While reading stories of Jewish atheists, I couldn’t find what about Judaism specifically turned people off, as in something that is unique to that religion. I ask because it looks to me that Judaism simply has fewer “sins” than Xianity or Islam (did we ever live to regret spawning those two religions, but I digress).
Take me, for example: Hebrew school turned me off, as I wrote in one of my earliest posts here. Still and all, there wasn’t a whole lot that I experienced that wouldn’t take place in Muslim or Xian education. I didn’t have anything “extreme” imposed on me, as I see in stories of non-Jewish atheists. Things like hell and proselytizing aren’t even mentioned or allowed in Judaism, all the more reason why I see it as a more “innocent” religion than Islam or Xianity.
My rejection of religion was to religion, not just to Judaism. It wasn’t that I became an atheist to chow down on fried shrimp and sleep in on weekends.
For you Jewish atheists, help me out!
What are the “sins,” if any, that we can throw at Judaism’s feet? Yes, it can be a very demanding religion, but anything else?
Question: In what way did bribery play a part in your religious upbringing, if any? I don’t mean bribes as in “ultimate reward,” but more like on the Simpsons when Reverend Lovejoy explains that if a kid isn’t Christian, that means no Christmas presents. “You win more souls with Easy Bake Ovens than with this sleeping pill,” he says, holding his bible.
I expect that’s why many parents take their kids to brunch/Chinese food after services: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
That aside, I found Appalachian Agnostic’s testimony a great one. It’s a great example of how religion can be a steaming pile of hatred, fire and brimstone.
“Negativity was the rule in Horace’s church. He loved to call us wiggly maggots. He loved to point out how 99% of the rest of the preachers in the world were wrong. He loved to disparage any human effort to make the world a better place. According to him, the fallen world could never be improved by fallen man. The world was garbage. Man was garbage. Only God and Christ were good.
Despite his negativity, or maybe because of it, Horace Peabody held a powerful grip on his followers. If someone on the street asked a member of our church which church he attended, chances are the member would say, ‘Horace Peabody’s Church’ instead of the actual name of the organization.”
This is a good example of how violent and hate-filled memes tend to propagate better, as Craig James discusses in the Religion Virus. Appalachian Agnostic goes on to describe how the preacher had a hypnotic hold on the congregation, “building up slowly, like a symphony until you found yourself listening, not so much to the words, but to the rhythm. The content of the sermon was always confusing.”
I should look into the neuroscience behind this. The “hypnotism” is probably a good reason for the success of religion. Lulling someone works well in the secular world, too. And here is another example of a meme that has done a great job of propagating religion:
“While I doubt that anyone in Horace Peabody’s church has ever been made to feel special for possessing a gift or a talent, my guess is that they all feel special to be included in God’s so called elect. I don’t suppose there is any earthly failure or shortcoming that couldn’t be assuaged by the sure knowledge that you will be happy in Heaven while those who thought they were better than you are burning in Hell.”
Put all those factors together and it’s easy to see how religion might be irresistible.
Not My God focuses on persecution and hatred of atheists. I’m not saying that I equate anti-atheism rhetoric with segregated bathrooms under Jim Crow laws or genocides. What I am trying to say is that many people in the US hate atheists, all else being equal. I’ve heard time and time again of people saying that they didn’t believe in God– without sarcasm, without “and neither should you,” without any fanfare– and getting rejected or attacked. Sure, atheists make fun of religion and have blasphemy challenges and the like– nowadays. Even when atheists are just simply atheists, that’s apparently bad enough. Here is a comment that illustrates this beautifully:
“I live in the bible belt and am 17. I have been an atheist since I was very young and for my entire life I have been made fun of, treated diffrently and attacked because of my beliefs (well, actually lack thereof, but whatever) and about 4 years ago I tried to tell my parents. My mom told me she wasn’t going to let a devil worshiper live in her house (she knows what atheism means; she was just using that as an insult), so I instantly told her it was a joke and she has yelled at me for it ever since. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
Rationalatheist has a page on this topic.
Here’s another great example from Dawkins’s forum:
“I am 16 years old and a sophomore in high school. My parents divorced when I was 2 and my mother knows I do not believe in God. My father, on the other hand, is a heavenly devoted Christian (Methodist). I have never really believed in God but till I was around 14 my dad kept asking me if I believed in God, or if I accepted Jesus. I always lied and said “yes.” I always felt if I responded no, he would “physically” hurt me. I know he would mentally, for sure. For the past 2 years I have never answered his questions and he always tries pushing religion on me. As of the past 4 or so months, I have really started researching religion and arguments against Christianity and other religions. I have also taken some interest in Darwin’s theory of Evolution. Now my father has not asked if I believe in God lately, and in my opinion he knows that I don’t believe and is afraid to ask. I really love my dad I love him a lot. I do pity him tremendously because of how much religion affects my life. Every Sunday he gives his congregation over $300 and tells my mother he is broke and can’t help out with my bills etc… It’s a bad situation. Every month or so I go to his house to visit for the weekend and we go to church. I’m considering next time I go down there to lay out to him that I don’t believe in God and tell him I do not want to go to church. Hopefully, something tremendously bad won’t happen and I can make a good stand against his stand on religion to put his views in perspective. Now that I am 16 and have outgrown my father, I think if he out lashed physically I could stand my own and if he started yelling at me I could just hop in my car and go home. Wish me luck……”
I’m always intrigued by stories of the younger set, especially knowing how much harder it is when you are at the mercy of your parents.
I have missed this blog! Between winter holidays, Andy getting badly injured, planning a wedding and miscellaneous happenstances, I haven’t posted in a while, though I religiously (heh, heh) have posted every Thursday.
It’s no secret that I have big love for the HBO series Big Love, which I discussed in my posts about Mormonism. The opening credits end with Bill, the husband, meeting each of his three wives in heaven. (Do they get every third night with him in heaven, too, or how does that work?) Maybe it’s because I’m getting married, but recently I paid attention to that part and it choked me up a little.
All right, so Andy and I won’t meet in heaven. That may not really be a loss for me, as I don’t remember ever believing in heaven. Jewish theology doesn’t discuss the afterlife much, and in any case, there is no hell in Judaism. (Hell is other Jewish people.) This is another point in favor of Judaism: no hell. Thanks, guys!
Many atheists tell me that atheism is a positive thing– they don’t need to feel “watched” and judged all the time. They won’t be punished in the hereafter. Still, there are quite a few who tell me that they lament the loss of a loving god and not going to heaven. They are sad that this life is all they will get and that they won’t get to join their loved ones after they die. It is indeed a rude shock to think that you’ll spend an eternity in paradise only to conclude that such a place doesn’t exist.
Skeptic extraordinaire Michael Shermer’s stock response to his feelings on life after death is “I’m for it.” Many people may want an afterlife, but I suspect these people haven’t really thought it through. I would rather die tomorrow than be forced to live forever. Would you really want to go on forever and ever (and ever and ever) after the earth ends, the universe ends, and you’re just floating in nothingness, with nothing to occupy you but your thoughts?
What do you think? Do you miss the idea of an afterlife, including an eternity in the Celestial Kingdom with your spouse (or spouses)? Are you glad you’re not going to hell? Are you glad you’re not going to heaven? Did Christians ever portray a really compelling heaven, for that matter?
Just kidding. This is Not My God, a site for the personal aspect of atheism. I'm putting together a book with that title, having already 20 interviews lined up, but I still want to hear from more of you.
I've expanded the blog to include material not related to atheism, including rants, raves, consumer issues, curmudgeonly matters and other miscellany.
Read more about Not My God on the About page
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