And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, Deuteronomy 10:12
"See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death
and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can
deliver out of my hand. Deuteronomy 32:39
From my former position as a leader in one of the most fundamentalist Pentecostal churches of our day I can attest to the power of fear in a religious context. As a believer I interpreted the many feelings and emotions that I experienced as the working of the Holy Spirit within me. It was these experiences that served as evidence and confirmation to me that my god was real, alive, and all powerful. I saw the world in black and white: on the one hand there was God the representative of all that was good and Satan the representative of all that was evil in the world. We were just caught in the struggle.
From 1990-1994 I ran a ministry that consisted of preaching on the streets on Saturdays and Sundays and preaching at church and revivals by invitation. I even got the chance once to preach on a Hispanic Christian radio station. My specialty was what was known as liberation or exorcism. I dealt often with so called demon possessed individuals and often found myself casting those demons out in Jesus name. I did not realize nor had any doubts at the time that there were actual explanations for these so called manifestations of demonic possession: deep indoctrination, mental illness, and high suggestibility just to name a few.
It was this power that I thought I possessed and had that convinced me beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Christian god was the one and only true god. It was this same power that built in me a deep and palpable fear that I could no so easily describe. I loved the Lord with all my heart, mind, and soul and had committed myself entirely to his service and what I believed at the time to be his will; to save and liberate as many souls from damnation and bring them into God's saving grace.
It was this same fear that kept me bound to those superstitions and prevented me from secretly or even openly questioning those beliefs. When I first began to have doubts I simply saw it as one of Satan's many attempts to lead me astray. You see, like the title of Carl Sagan's famous book states I truly was living in a demon haunted world. When I did confide to my pastor and some elders of the church my feelings of doubt I was given ominous warnings about the consequences of leaving the faith.
they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they
are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
would have been better for them not to have known the way of
righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the
sacred command that was passed on to them.
2 Peter 2:20-21
My idea of hell in those day was a fiery place of eternal torment and because of my fear of hell I also developed an intense fear of death. I was always burdened with thoughts of my life as a believer being good enough to warrant the rewards of heaven. I was always concerned with pleasing God and living in a way I believed that he approved both in my private and public life. Like a child trying to please his dad I was always looking for ways to stand out and make the good Lord proud of how I used his gifts and sought to fulfill what I thought was his will and mission for my life.
In the end it took me six years to overcome those deeply ingrained fears that I carried. I was an emotional wreck for most of those years and as paranoid as anyone wondering when Satan would pounce on me and steal my life and eternal salvation. I had very realistic nightmares of demonic attacks known as hallucinatory sleep paralysis where I would find myself frozen in fear and felt a presence holding me down to my bed. I heard menacing voices threatening me as I struggled to break free. My mind could not distinguish this nightmare from reality and so I woke up breathless and with my heart pounding out of my chest.
I have come to the conclusion that the deeper the indoctrination the harder it will be to break free from the clutches of the many irrational fears and superstitious baggage that religious beliefs brings. It is my hope that by sharing my experiences and knowledge on how I broke free that I can continue to help others to do the same.
Note: All biblical citations used in this post are from the New International Version of the scriptures.