Song Of The Day 2/18/2017: Hall & Oates – “Everytime You Go Away”

The Final 40

14 and Life

Let’s go back to the month before I started high school, my fifteenth August.

In the religion I was raised—the one the guys in Brooklyn ran, the one I don’t want to mention for reverse-SEO reasons—rank-and-file members were supposed to go preaching every month from door to door. As I recall you had to have at least one hour of doing this a month to remain in respectable standing.

If you were a baptized member of this religion, you gained status if you put in x-amount of preaching hours per month. You were called a “pioneer.” The most exalted caste, “special pioneers,” put in 120 hours each month. These were the careerists. When I was active “full-time pioneers” put in 90. “Auxiliary pioneers” put in 60. I understand the required hours are less now.

If you were unbaptized, like I was, none of that mattered. Your fervor and zeal were admired but the accountants couldn’t care less.

In the August before I started high school I put in 60 hours of preaching. I knocked on doors preaching the good news of the Kingdom almost three 24-hour days. I put in auxiliary pioneer numbers. They mentioned my feat from the stage of my congregation once and everyone applauded.

I’d never done one-tenth of that number per month before and I never did again. Why was that one August so special?

The more I’ve thought about it over the years, the more I believe I was giving the religion its fairest, fullest shot possible to define my life.

’Cause frankly, by that point, I didn’t care for the guys in Brooklyn that much. Music already had me. I just needed to make sure about what I was giving up for music, because it was the only thing I knew, that was forced upon me my entire life.

I decided to find out if it was real or just a bad imitation of Stockholm Syndrome.

Brooklyn's Nets

I’ll talk a little more here about the religion of the guys in Brooklyn because it’s my sincere intention never to speak of them again after this post. Tell me if any of this rings a bell:

Loyalty is mandatory. If you’re already promised to them, if you’ve gone through all the hoops of getting baptized and making a public declaration of your faith, then questioning them from that point forward is iniquitous.

The guys in Brooklyn always insisted that they weren’t perfect. Nonetheless, anything they published as doctrine in their many books was referred to as “the truth.”

When, by nature of chronology, one of these “truths” were disproven—i.e., when one of their time-based predictions failed to manifest because the clock ran out—they preemptively proclaimed that a new truth had been provided to them at the last minute via a mysterious process  known as “new light.”

However, if at any time you disbelieved their sanctioned truths, even if they were disproved and changed later, you were unfaithful and subject to inquisition. If you believed the old truth but couldn’t hang with the new one, you were unfaithful and subject to inquisition. If you expressed your disbelief, that is.

Personally I feel truth—whatever it turns out to be—is far less malleable. Yes, situations and realities can change; viewpoints can be adjusted and opinions can evolve. But hard cold truth, especially the type that relies on ancient stories that occurred centuries ago in the past, doesn’t change. If you have a set of principles you call “truth” and some of those principles become invalidated by the endless march of time, then you probably should go back and change the whole category of “truths” affected by that phenomenon and relabel them “predictions,” or “guesses,” or “firmly held beliefs,” or “notions that seemed like fairly good ideas at the time but turned out to be groundless in the complex of the time-space continuum.”

They are not “the truth.” They’re “ideas.”

I love ideas. I wish I had more ideas. Ideas can be great. But holding millions of people captive to your screeds, ostracizing them when they fail your sniff test, all because of an unproven “idea”… geez, do I even have to develop this point any further?

Anyway. The whole point is that I’d wondered if this religion’s view of all other religions as being factory outlets for Satan was a little disingenuous. I got to the point where I wondered what the difference was between the guys in Brooklyn’s religion and the guys in Salt Lake City’s religion, or the guys in Tibet’s religion, or the guys… you get where I’m going.

I decided the only differences between them were nomenclature, business structure and tchotchkes. I didn’t really want to be baptized by any of ‘em.

It was time to go secular.

They Find My Lack of Faith Disturbing

It didn’t happen overnight, of course. It evolved over the first six months of high school.

It’s hard to say what my mental process was. Actually I don’t think it was much of a mental process, it was a gut instinct. Everything I covered in yesterday’s chapter was what was happening during the time—that was the hard-copy account. I couldn’t tell you the emotional or intellectual account because I didn’t notice it.

So it probably had something to do with my finally making the most of my talents, and people “in the world” being extremely nice to me. They weren’t ogres. There wasn’t a ton of judgment coming from them. And I don’t buy the idea that they were only making me “feel good,” which is how such events are often mitigated by people who don’t want you to leave their strict religious background. “They just make you feel good. That’s all you want!”

It felt more truthful. It wasn’t manipulation. The guys in Brooklyn wrote volumes between them about the fine art of manipulation. Nobody in the world was trying to manipulate me. Not to my face anyway.

It was the first week of March. That’s my birthday week, by the way. It happened within a day or two of my fifteenth birthday. It may have been my actual birthday. I didn’t think to write it down.

I can’t remember exactly what led up to it, but it was probably your typical troubled teen deal. Definitely an emo moment. My recollection is that it just sort of slipped out that I didn’t want to be in the religion anymore.

My mom was stunned. This was all we were about. I’d been going to meetings three days, five hours a week since I was born. Then more time on top of that doing “field service.” My mind should have been perfectly conditioned. The cognitive dissonance was palpable. It intruded. There was no warning for her.

There were some other kids in the religion who’d fallen by the wayside too, so to speak. We were a little more reserved about judging them in my family than others—they’d just gone astray, or needed help, or something like that. I knew who the kids were. Everyone did but didn’t really speak about them. Now I was aiming to be one of them.

My secession was initially denied. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise. There was no way I was going to be allowed to stop all religious activities at the drop of a hat. I don’t think they had enough information that it wasn’t just a whim. Intellectually I get that. But I knew I was ready to go.

My dad was not a member of the religion the guys in Brooklyn operated. But I know my wish to drop out wasn’t easy for him either. He understood where I was coming from, but he wanted to avoid too much trauma happening to my mom and the rest of my family because of this decision. I was the first of their three children to express a desire to quit the religion. I was also the youngest. This was uncharted territory for everyone.

So I essentially had to prove my lack of faith over an extended period of time to get me out of this thing. That’s right. You can prove a negative, kids!

It wasn’t easy on anyone. I had to keep going to the meetings, although I got some time off to perform in The Sound of Music (“that stupid show with the stupid Catholics!”—an actual quote from someone in my family at the time) and Band Box.

I don’t remember when I stopped doing the public preaching. I do remember that I dropped out of the church program where we gave talks on Biblical subjects onstage. The elder in charge of the program was very empathetic and understanding. I took note of that.

The only thing I felt bad about was how I removed myself from the kids that were my friends in the religion, the ones who were around my age. I knew what was going to happen: Their parents were going to label me “bad association” and they would have to avoid me. I figured, look, why don’t I save you the trouble and just remove myself? So after every meeting I’d go straight to the car and wait for my family.

Sometimes my friends came out and said hi and asked if I wanted to talk. I waved and said no and stayed in the car, windows up. I do feel that was kind of dickish on my part. I’m not happy I had to employ that tactic. But what was I supposed to do? And what were they supposed to do? This kind of shit is terrible on kids.

The whole operation took nine months. If you’ve ever wondered how long it takes to prove you’re not interested in something, in my experience it’s nine months. One whole human gestation period. I just realized that now.

One Sunday afternoon, after we’d come home from another meeting in which I did and said nothing and paid no attention, my mom and I had one of our differences in opinion common in those days. My dad called the house; he was at his office in Sacramento.

I only heard my mom’s side of the conversation, of course. The one thing I remember her saying was: “No… I haven’t been pushing him enough.”

Then I remember one of the biggest silences I’ve ever heard in my life.

A few seconds after she hung up the phone my mom told me I’d made my point. I was free to leave the religion. Then she went into the other room.

You know how some people find freedom to be elating and terrifying? At least for a moment?

Feel free to ask me for pointers sometime.

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