Written by Elsabe Smit
Recently an old friend died – not that he was so old. He went before retirement age, and we have not had contact for over four decades. But he was a friend. Until religion interfered.
His passing scratched open wounds from my teenage years that I thought I had made peace with.
This man was a lovely, intelligent boy with a good nature and a kind heart. He was also from a different religion – and a different language and culture. He was keen on me, and the feeling was mutual. We were teenagers, exploring relationships and being adults.
When I realised that this was more than a passing interest, I was happy and concerned – so concerned that I went to see the minister. I had many questions about the ethical and moral rights and wrongs of having a relationship with someone from a different religious group. I am not talking about anything extreme. He was a Methodist, and I was in the Dutch Reformed Church, which made us both Protestants. The point was that he was not a member of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Today this sounds like a laughable exaggeration, but at the time my world was wobbly because of the magnitude of the decision I had to make about the relationship. The easy way out was to stop seeing him, which is what I did. I knew I had hurt him, and I was hurt, but the blinkers were solidly in place.
Now, four decades later, I know how incredibly childish and immature that decision was, and how different my life would have been if I bit the bullet and broke away from that restrictive cult. In my defence, I was a teenager who grew up in a God-fearing home and I only discovered in years that God is in fact a God of love.
During that same period, when I was already a young adult, my best friend got married. I did not attend her wedding. Why on earth not? Because she was a member of the Apostolic Faith Mission – where people actually enjoy going to church, and they show it with music and singing and praising God. My fear and indoctrination were such that I could not even see my way open to attend her wedding. That was cruel, but at the time it was the only option that I could see.
The friendship remained strong, and she actually attended my wedding.
That memory represented another big loss to me, and to this day I can remember being at home on that day, wishing with all my heart that I could share my friend’s big day and her joy, but at the same time knowing that the ostracism following the decision to attend would have been unbearable.
Little did I know that about a decade later, I would experience that same ostracism at full blast anyway when I got divorced.
Over the years I had more experiences that confirmed for me how vicious religious people can be. I worked in Ireland, a country still in the grip of a smothering Catholic Church, and saw the worst side of religious judgment – where a mass grave of babies and orphans was discovered at a convent, and where children, in general, were not safe from any men or the cloth. I lived in England, where it is totally acceptable to remain married and have several relationships after leaving the marital home, because of the social and religious judgment of the Church of England if you actually go through with a divorce. I am not sitting in moral judgment. Spirituality has taught me the importance of finishing unfinished business, and the church does not allow that.
Does this mean everything about religious is bad? On the contrary. If you read the holy scriptures of many religious, you will find the gems and the beauty in each one of them. And of course, there are many good people for whom religion and their religious practices form a resting place for their feet.
For me spirituality is my home and my comfort. There is nothing that cannot be resolved by Spirit, and there is no greater solace than what I get form communing with Spirit.
I was a qualified psychologist for many years and gave up that title because I encountered situations where no amount of psychological training could help me.
As a psychologist and a Christian, I was never taught in which box to put the person who came to me, desperate for help halfway during a sex change and feeling suicidal. Spirit had an answer.
As a psychologist and a Christian, I was never taught what is the best way to council a prisoner who called me from death row in the US two days before his execution, for a psychic reading. Spirit had an answer.
I have since been through experiences in my own life that got me close to breaking point, and I was able to learn and see patterns and get explanations that do not appear in any religious scripture or academic textbook. I now help people who go through similar experiences.
Spirit had an answer.