This small denomination of the great web of Christianity is not known of by many people.  This is due mostly to the inherent qualities of the religion itself.  The men must keep their hair short and keep their faces shaven.  The women can not cut their hair, nor wear makeup or jewelry of any kind.  They must only wear ankle-length skirts/dresses and cover their arms at least to the elbow at all times.  Though they do not have to wear bonnets (one of the only differences between them and the Mennonites) they must always wear their hair in plaits or in a bun.  Music consists only of bluegrass gospel and TV is completely prohibited.  They live their life according to the Bible and they believe anyone not "saved" (those who are not Pentecostal Holiness) are going to Hell.  

 

I can tell you of these things because I have seen them first-hand.  In a small, rural town in central Virginia, my mother was raised as a member of this flock.  There, in Stanardsville, my mother's family still lives and, on occasion, we come to visit from our own lovely state of Washington.  While there I attended multiple church services lasting about 3-4 hours at a time.  The pastor usually would take special interest in my siblings and myself. His veins would pop out of his bright red, flushed neck and forehead as he screamed about the preeminence of God.  The others on the pews around me were crying, speaking in tongues, and raising their hands up for the Lord.  Some were even dancing in the aisles and praying down on their knees. 

 

My mother's cousin had three children with ages that ran parallel to those of mine and my two siblings.  The boys were the oldest of the sets and the two girls came after in age.  This was why we would stay with them when we came to visit.  In truth, my cousins were sweethearts and we did get along well.  My most recent visit was seven years ago now when I was 16.  My younger sister and I came alone because my brother did not care to go and my mother could not get the time off from work.  I did not anticipate that I would be held to the rules of the household as my cousins were.  

 

However, after many hours of travel via both plane and highway, my sister and I were made to attend a church service the first night we were there.  A visiting pastor from Nortonsville would preach and make an example of us throughout the night.  I wavered between stifling laughter and fighting the sick feeling I had in my stomach at the humiliation I and my 13 year old sister were going through.  All the while, all I could think of was that my family, my mother's cousin who was giving us shelter and taking responsibility for us, must have told the pastor of our presence that night before the sermon. They knew what was in store for us before we ever stepped foot in the tiny little church. 

 

At this time I was not yet an atheist.  I had serious doubts about Christianity at the least but, when asked if I believed in God, I would always answer with a yes.  I think I was even dabbling in Paganism and Buddhism since the idea of one god ruling everything seemed highly unlikely in comparison to many gods ruling their own specific domains.  But I digress.  By the time the service got out it was past 8 o'clock.  My night of anxiety was not yet over though.  The pastor met us back at home for a late dinner in his honor.  My sister and I got plenty of attention that night from all parties.  Asking us about our beliefs and how we felt about what we heard that night.

 

I honestly don't remember what all I said that night.  My poor sister was trying quite hard to hold her own but I didn't know what help I could give her in front of everyone there.  Her beliefs at the time were not what I was concerned with as much as the type of intense scrutiny they were putting upon us and our lives back at home.  In not so many words they made it clear that we were living our lives in sin and needed to turn to God if we wanted our souls to join theirs in heaven when we died.  All we had for a response was stating that we believed in God and that we would think about what they had said.

 

After my mother's cousin had gone to sleep, many nights her daughters would sit up with us to laugh and joke about the day or tell stories from each of our homes.  One night we decided to ask about their religion in more detail.  We obviously felt we could relate more with them being so close in age.  They answered quite earnestly all of our questions and had some of their own for us as well.  They, however, took care to never make us feel badly for our own way of life, and instead told us that God would make himself known to us at some point and that it was up to us to hear him and heed his call.  They just felt that this had already happened to them.  Outright, I asked if they thought we were going to Hell.  They hesitated before answering, looked at each other a moment, and replied, "yes, your souls will not be allowed into Heaven since you are not Saved."  I asked how they felt about that since we are family and they know us to not be bad people.  Their response was, "we just feel bad for you and pray for you every night."

 

This, I knew to be wrong on a much greater level than just their opinions toward us.  I love them because they are my family and we have known each other since little girlhood.  I thought it very ironic however, that I was the one who felt sorry for them.  Shackled as they were to the life they were born into, with parents who determined their fates by following a belief system that held them to such a strict, inhibiting lifestyle that was based so much on judgement.  I also knew not to voice this opinion to them of course.  At that age even, I knew not to hurt them with my not-yet-well-formed criticisms of their religion and way of life.  

 

It is a hard thing though, to take the criticisms and judgement from ones you love so dearly, and who were meant to be our guardians while away on our first trip without our parents.  It was a betrayal of trust and was, to me, a form of evil.  Yes, it is evil to put a thirteen year old girl, away from her home for the first time without her mom, into a situation where she would feel so low and dirty for being raised to be who she was.  With no one to turn to for help or advice, and knowing we were in that situation, my cousin who was like an aunt to me, thought to turn us toward the light of her God and her ways.  In her eyes, she thought she was saving us and that she had a golden opportunity with us free from our family's influence.  Instead, we felt lost, confused, scared, and alone.

 

Two weeks we stayed in Virginia.  Most of the time was a blast.  We visited tons of family, ate amazing home-cooked food, and even took a road trip to Tennessee to visit Dollywood.  I love my family.  In hindsight, I can even thank them for what the bad parts of that trip taught me and made me contemplate oh-so-much further in the subsequent years.  My experiences there were a strong wind that sped my sails forward on my path to eventual atheism.  My cousins are good people that do unintended harm because of the religion that they follow.  I have not been back to visit since my sixteenth summer.  I wonder what they would think of me now, with my short-cropped, colored hair, my piercings and tattoos, and my blasphemous freedom of thought.  Little would they know, or be able to see, that I am still who I always was.  That I am good without God, and love more than they will ever be able to.

Views: 74

Tags: Holiness, Pentecostal, Virginia, Washington, atheism, humanist, skepticism

Comment by Lyndi Rogers on May 31, 2011 at 2:10pm

Hi Megan!  Thanks for reading.  Can I ask where your church was?  Maybe it is partially based on where you are in the country...  rural Virginia is pretty southern and conservative.  Hence the bluegrass gospel.  Haha.

 

I will not say that the experience scarred me for life or anything.  I just felt betrayed and I felt badly for my younger sister, who I was meant to look out for.  I just felt powerless and small and I just hate that.  Especially when it's your family who makes you feel that way.  They really are good people though and I still love them.  :)

Comment by CJoe on May 31, 2011 at 10:58pm

I've known several people who were Pentecostal Holiness. Man, they do come on strong! I've been traumatized by them in my own life. They always insisted I needed to speak in tongues, and I was always super skeptical of the whole thing anyway. In I or II Corinthians, it says that a person should only speak in tongues when they have an interpreter, or when they're alone. Also, the Bible said it was the lesser of the spiritual gifts, especially in comparison to prophesy.

Many of my charismatic friends tried to rationalize away the very-clear explanation, and some tried to convince me that I wasn't Saved because I didn't have the gift of a spiritual language. I highly doubted many of the people who claimed to have the gift really did... they repeated the same syllables over and over and over, the exact same way every time. I couldn't imagine that being a useful tool in the kit. How redundant! Does God really need to hear the same prayer over and over? Could those few syllables really be so profound? If there was such a thing as a spiritual language, I believed many who thought they possessed said spiritual gift were either faking, or had convinced their self the gibberish they were uttering was indeed genuinely inspired of the LAWD.

How many times did eager prophetic wannabes lay their hands one me? How many times did they insult my own salvation experience? (which I now denounce lol) They dared to put into question the salvation of my dearly beloved [preacher] grandfather (and grandmother). I had known no better examples of sincerity, humor, and love... and they weren't Saved?! Get out of my face. I would have none of THAT.

Eventually, by a strange twist of events, I started questioning Christianity altogether, nearly converted to Judaism, then New Age, then had to admit it was all a bunch of woo. I do have a special place of resentment in my heart towards Pentecostals (no offense to your fam); they made my otherwise pleasant Christian journey almost unbearable.

Comment by CJoe on May 31, 2011 at 10:58pm
Oh, by the way, I featured your blog! It was so well written, and the last paragraph is really profound. :)
Comment by Lyndi Rogers on May 31, 2011 at 11:44pm

Hey Cara!  Thanks so much for reading my blog and featuring it!  I'm glad there are others out there who have seen the things that I've seen! lol.  

 

I NEVER understood why people were so influenced and amazed by speaking in tongues.  When i first witnessed it as a kid I was wondering why all the adults were acting like kids and making funny noises.  When it was explained to me I couldn't help but think how easy it would be to fake it.  Oh, and why would God ever want you to sound like an idiot when his spirit was in you or whatever?

Comment by CJoe on June 1, 2011 at 12:18am

Lyndi... it's so funny because, apparently, my mother speaks Hebrew when she speaks in her personalized spiritual language. Of course, she has the discretion to do it in private, but that shields her prayer time from being verified as actual Hebrew.

When I was younger, I was always amazed by her story of discovering her ability to speak in tongues. She had a new group of friends who were trying to help her find this gift, and so she was experimenting with it alone in her room. She was feeling really stupid, but then the pastor confirmed that she was really speaking in Hebrew, not gibberish, in his sermon! He mentioned that the Yada, in Hebrew, meant "to know" (some other definitions).

Apparently, in her attempt to acquire a spiritual language, she mouthed "yada". Like I said, when I was younger, I was struck with awe. Once I lost my faith, and pondered the event in retrospect: I got this image in my head of my mother sitting on the bed, making strange noises and saying random syllables, and then (feeling stupid) just being like, "yeah... this is dumb... la la la... tada...yada yada yada... I give up."

At this time "yada yada yada" was a phrase made popular by Seinfeld, and everyone was saying it. Talk about a damn coincidence that the word actually meant something, and wasn't just something to the effect of "blah blah blah". But this experience of hers convinced her she speaks Hebrew as her spiritual language. Fantastic.

Comment by Lyndi Rogers on June 1, 2011 at 2:44pm

Conevenient "miracles" that are really just coincidences and the oh-so-common occurrence of retrofitting.  SO frustrating!

Comment by Eddie Smothers on July 6, 2011 at 3:44am

I, too, have been exposed to this kind of religious zealotry, although I was very young at the time; I was placed in foster care as a child, and the second family I was placed with--and stayed with for nearly two years--was of this particular denomination. They (we) lived in the mountains of northeastern Alabama (surprise surprise), and even though I was only about seven years old at the time I first witnessed this spiritual showboating, I remember a lot of it quite vividly. Even at such an age, I recall wondering if these people were reacting genuinely to God's will, or if they were suffering from some sort of mass hysteria (I didn't know of this phenomenon at the time but, looking back, it is the closest thing to what I can remember imagining). Lyndi, your description of the mannerisms and wardrobe of them is exactly what I remember; there wasn't a female in the entire church that had clothing or hairstyles any different than that of the others, and the men were similarly dressed as well. I remember people running circles around the inside of the church, yelling loudly what sounded like nonsense gibberish. There was the washing of feet, the laying on of hands with liberal anointing of olive oil, and people, once they were doused with salad oil, would drop to the floor, shaking and convulsing like an epileptic with Parkinson's disease. I was scared to death at times. I don't recall ever going to see a doctor during my stay with this family; illness and the recovery of which was left in God's hands. If you were ever going to get better, they figured if you prayed long and hard enough, you'd be healed. IF it was God's will. If not, of course, God had a greater plan for you and we humans aren't capable of ever possibly understanding such omniscience. I knew there was something wrong with that logic, but couldn't (and dared not) put that in words. I can remember very clearly everyone from the church going to an old lady's house one night, until the wee hours of the morning, praying for her not to die. I don't know what her maladies were but, suffice to say, she didn't make it. I wanted to know why they just didn't take her to the hospital for medical attention, but my inquiry was brushed off and nothing more was said about it. This experience with church wasn't my last, but I can say with unwavering certainty that it has contributed greatly to my final decision to become an atheist.

While in a different foster home, I was also exposed to the Mormon religion; thank the FSM I didn't have to stay there long (a couple of months), but I saw enough then to make me never want to go to another Church of Latter Day Saints even if I were still a believer. I dabbled a little bit more in church in my childhood, but it was just congregations of the southern Baptist ilk. A little less insane and prohibitive than the former two, but still oppressive in their own rights, as all religion tends to be.

I gave the religion thing one more go when I was about twenty-five. The preacher from the local Baptist church in my small town of a few hundred people paid my mom's house a visit one day after she called another church for some financial assistance. It was a dark place in my life; my mom was a raging addict to narcotic pain pills and each day was more miserable than the last. I was reading a book of philosophy--Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel, etc.--when the pastor asked me what I was reading. He looked at the book and the page I was reading and told me that he thought I must be intelligent to understand the material, and asked if I was a Christian. I told him that I had been saved and baptized but didn't practice. He invited me to ride into town with him to get the part we needed for the car, which was what my mother had called about. I said sure; I wanted to get out of the house, if only for a little bit. We talked about church and God and such during the trip and once we got back to the house and got the car fixed, he asked if he could come by to talk with me some more sometime, to which I replied that he could if he wanted to. After about three visits, I decided to say that little prayer once again, and decided that anything would be better than the situation that I was in, and that belonging to a church couldn't hurt anything since I felt I was already at my lowest point emotionally and psychologically. A little fellowship and acceptance might be nice. And it was at first. I spent over three years as a member of this church; I was even appointed to a leadership position and that was where things started going downhill.

In addition to my position on the "prayer team", I also sang and played percussion in the praise band. Our group was invited to play songs during a revival in a church--in the mountains--about an hour away. The church wasn't quite the same as the "holiness" church I had attended as a child, but it was pretty close to what I remembered. The thing that stood out beyond everything in the service that night occurred during the altar call. This woman, dressed in the typical holiness garb, had a prayer request and she asked to have hands laid upon her. She closed her eyes, the reverend lubricated his hands with oil, and he began to pray in foreign tongues as he put his hands on her head. She fell into another woman's arms and was gently lowered to the floor. She started shaking violently, and her skirt started to rise, unbeknownst to her in her present state. It made it up to almost mid-thigh when she stopped shaking, reached down to lower her skirt, and commenced convulsing once again. It took all I could do to yell out, "Bullshit!" I didn't lose my faith at that point, however. The leadership position I had made me privy to the inner workings and the politics within the church, and I saw sides of people that conflicted significantly to what they represented in Sunday service. Also, at around this time, I was fortuitous enough to have an awesome criminology professor who introduced me to critical thinking, evidence, doubt, etc. on a level I had never examined them, in part by suggesting that the class read any of Richard Dawkins' books for inspiration in our critical thinking skills. Dawkins, combined with my present disenchantment with church and also the realization that I didn't need church to be a good person, was all it took for me to move into town and away from that church. I haven't been back since; I've discovered more evidence for the lack of God and the silly notion of it all thanks to books by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Dawkins, and others. I wouldn't live my life any other way now. I hate that I wasted several years of my life believing stupidly in fairy tales. I'm much happier now being a heathen. :)

I'm sorry for rambling and going off topic, but I just let the words write themselves. I really enjoyed your blog, though, and look forward to reading more sometime. Thanks!

 

Eddie

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