Show me on the doll where religion touched you.

Religion has been a common theme in my life as of late. My cousin, who converted to Judaism for her partner celebrated Tisha B’Av this week. Tisha B’Av is“an annual fast day in Judaism, on which a number of disasters in Jewish history occurred, primarily the destruction of both Solomon’s Temple by the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire in Jerusalem.” (Wikipedia)

Our world has been turned upside down by religion lately from Muslim camps in China and conservatives using the Bible to get their way with malleable politicians.

My writing peer asked me a question that had been asked of her for the sake of reflection and progress. To map out the places where religion hurt you and where did it begin.

This past class, Cat gave us three prompts. The one that spoke to me the most was our spiritual practice if we had one? Were we raised in a religious family? What was that like? How has that shaped us. ETC

I have had very few negative experiences with religion. My grandparents were all very open minded when it came to different religions. My grandfather on my dad’s side is a retired Baptist preacher, but there was no Hell fire, no guilt and brimstone. There was just wise words from a man who has read deeply into most religions, if not all, and spent most of my childhood reading about the history of the world as a whole and the different wars.

My fall from religion, my spree from the church was not a hate filled one. I just had realized about the age of twelve that I didn’t belong there. We sat in the pew as the preacher ran through his sermon and I felt nothing.

Because I was not hatefully running away from restriction and hypocrisy, I did not become a staunch Atheist like many of my friends in school. I in fact didn’t bother to label myself until I was in my later twenties, at least 5 years after I had ceased eating pork and was routinely asked if I was Jewish.

I decided a few years after meeting my now husband that I aligned greatly with the Secular Humanist movement. I believe in values, strong morals, and a set of golden rules. I believe that if it’s not hurting you, someone else, animals or Earth, then what does it matter? Nothing.

I have a distaste in my mouth for most atheists because they seem to me just like the Christians they hate. Blind. To me, thinking you know the whole truth one way or the other in this weird world we live in is incredibly egotistica.

I spent most of my unlabeled youth explaining that I do not pretend to know if there is a God or not, but that if there is one I feel that he abandoned us so I have no desire to worship him. I was often asked what I would do then if I died, went to Heaven and got to meet God. I would say, as I still do now, I would kick him in his shin and tell him to do better. We are his mess and he can’t look away.

There was, however, in all this light thought and harmless experiences something religion related that did, genuinely hurt me. I rarely speak about it because what happened affected a lot of people and multiple non-profits, but I think writing about it is good for me. I’ve needed to flush this out of me for so long. I no longer want to be angry. This pain has eaten under my skin long enough.

I serve on multiple boards and always have, typically as Secretary. One of the non-profits I worked with was in a partnership a few years ago to use thirty acres of farm land in Southern West Virginia. We wanted to build a transitional living facility there centered around the holistic picking and processing of tea and tisanes.

I can’t go into full depth on how this all laid out because it would be pages upon pages to read. I will sum up the day it finally all fell apart.

Our President and I met one day in the basement of a church with the other organizations President and their tiny board. He was a big man, Mr. D and he had this thick, charming way about him that I always hated.

We were meeting to discuss the new MOU because our trial one was ending. There had been few issues we wanted to discuss based on comments made to our MOU in an email.

A few of these issues were not letting men on the property unless they were married to the female residents (we had wanted a co-ed property seeing as this is transitional housing), a 100% Christian focused curriculum (we wanted to let them pick the program that works for them based on the Aurora project model and because as a board we differ in religious affiliations), and Mr. D had said we could use certain parts of the property before that he was now asking we remove from the MOU.

We began to talk out these issues and it became very clear that one of two things had happened. Mr.D had paid zero attention to our plan from day one or Mr.D was seeing now that our plan was working while his organization had been failing and was hoping to coerce us into running his plan instead.

This was a large problem because we quickly began to discover that our values and intentions did not align.

I had to leave to take a call from a Board member, but when I returned our President and one of our board member’s wives who was listening in were discussing religious differences. It was accidentally said that I was Methodist and I corrected her. This was my big mistake, but it opened our eyes and we never looked back.

Mr. D was very curious now. If I wasn’t Christian then what was I? He asked “Are you a Jew?” This hurt. I hate the shortening of Jewish and Judaism because it is often used in a derogatory way and if I was forced at gun point to label myself with a religion, it would be Modern Judaism. But I am not and I asked him to never ask someone that way ever again.

Mr. D was even more curious. So then what was I? I explained to him that my husband and I consider ourselves Secular Humanists, which means we believe in values, community, and doing good without the insertion of dogma.

This is when the conversation shut down. As was pointed out to me after the fact, Mr. D had stopped using my name. He made fun of our fundraising efforts, used false facts to say only 100% Christian based programs work for recovery, and displayed his true sexist, awful nature before us.

I need to remind you that it was only me, the Secretary, and our President present. Two women of a large board were present and only two women. We were falling into a panic, nose diving even, but trying to keep ourselves calm and collected.

This event ended in us leaving our partnership with that organization and giving up giving an MOU for the free usage of almost thirty gorgeous acres of perfect soil. We were heart broken.

As I drove back on the turn pike I sobbed. The world must have felt our pain because that night it poured so hard I had to pull under a bridge and wait because I couldn’t see the road. I sobbed into my steering wheel, unable to cope with the way I had been treated or the decision we had to make.

I called my friend that night. He had been my VISTA supervisor when I had served for the West Virginia Council of Churches. He was a Methodist minister and he knew my view on the world. It had not once ever hindered my work for the WVCC. He listened and in the end he agreed, we needed to walk away.

Unlike many of the unreligious people in my life, I have a lot of respect for the religious alignments of my peers and family members. If you aren’t hurting yourself or others you are free to bring joy and comfort to your life as you please. I truly believe that. Mr. D did not bring joy into my life and for sure never comfort. We still cry over this day and maybe we always will.



“And if I see you, how it changes me. And if you see me, how it changes you.” — Andrew Bird

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Candice Shea Maxwell

“And if I see you, how it changes me. And if you see me, how it changes you.” — Andrew Bird