I'll be live-tweeting the #rapture this Saturday. Or for part of the day, at least. We'll also have a house to clean, because hey, life goes on.
I do want to make clear, though, that I'm not mocking all Christians or all people of faith. I respect the person of Jesus as the ultimate altruist (and socialist, no matter how much corporate conservatives might try to turn a message of compassion and being community-conscious into "let them pay their own goddamned way"), and respect affirming and mutually-respectful people of faith who honor that one top commandment, to love one another.
What I'm mocking is a kind of elitism that takes on the air of the ultimate revenge fantasy, when the elite chosen relish the thought of cheering on their ascent into bliss and our descent into damnation. The kind of elitism that destroyed my traditional family.
Jesus first left my mom standing at the altar in 1976. Morris Cerullo had passed through Edmonton with his euphoric faith-healing traveling show. My mother and I switched from Catholicism to radical Pentecostalism that day (my dad remained Catholic), and yup, that was supposed to be the year. It was the "Spirit of '76" - an evangelist branding campaign which capitalized on the anniversary of US independence, which was somehow significant to Canadians, and also supposedly tied to the date of the rapture. Jimmy Carter was supposed to be the antichrist, and his ascent to the presidency only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.
It always boggles my mind about how the far right talks about "traditional families" as though nothing can go wrong. I had that traditional mother and a father, my dad was the classic stoic tough guy, faith was a rigid structure in our family, nobody spared the rod, and I still turned out different. The "empty vessel" theory of childhood development failed. But at least I figured out from the earliest moments of childhood that I couldn't let on that I felt I was supposed to be a girl - I hid it well and kept telling myself that I was obviously the one in the wrong.
By 1977, it was strangely out of vogue to put a date on Jesus' return, and there was a lot of "no man knoweth the hour" to carry us through the embarrassment of being wrong about the second coming of Christ. Star Wars came out and although she hadn't realized the need to protect me from it, soon enough to keep me from seeing the movie during the first couple weeks of its release, it became clear to her that Star Wars was demonic and that all the toys were demon-possessed and couldn't be in our home. Darth Vader was supposed to be the antichrist, and the success of the movie only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near. That little puke Johnny Rotten was just an impostor.
Meanwhile, the Ex-Gay Jesus-Fix-It Perpetual Emotion Machine started into motion, 24/7, for a decade and a half. What a way to mindfuck an 8-year-old kid. If growing up trans has its risks of post-traumatic stress, this was that much worse:
Damndamndamndamndamn. It's a good thing you'll have homework this evening to try to get this calculus stuff, because you totally can't think right now. In the washroom stall, you're beating yourself on the head with your fists. Damndamndamndamndamn. "I'm the worst in the world. I'm the worst in the world." It's not some tongue-in-cheek Keith Olbermann schtick, it's the mantra of an eleven-year-old boy. Or girl.
Damndamndamndamndamn. You've never figured that part out, so you assume that what everyone tells you must be correct. All your instincts are wrong. It's a character flaw. You're wicked. You pray that God will deliver you from it. No, you beg God to deliver you from it....
1980 was the next projected date, as mom immersed herself in Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth and writings that evolved from that. There was a 1978 prediction of some sort involving a nuclear disaster that was supposed to precipitate a war, but it never materialized. The Ayatollah Khomeini was supposed to be the antichrist, and the Iranian hostage crisis only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.
Mom started to think that the reason that Jesus never seemed to show up for his dates had to do with the fact that people weren't good enough. She had always been a bit obsessive-compulsive - something I ended up inheriting or learning (I'm not sure which) - and so she slipped into critical and blaming stages, pick-pick-picking at everyone around her. This wasn't right. That wasn't good enough. Mom developed some mantras designed to erode the confidence of everyone around her, all with the idea that if we could be more perfect than perfect and still feel no sense of pride about who we were and no sense of accomplishment about anything we'd done, then maybe then, Jesus would keep the next date.
Pat Robertson was on a roll leading up to 1982. He predicted a November cataclysm, and that "there will be earthquakes in diverse places" - which, of course, was true as always. Suddenly, we started taking more notice when there was a tsunami or an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, because suddenly there was some kind of personal connection. Anwar Sadat was supposed to be the antichrist, and his assassination only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near (something to do with the "deadly wound that was healed" scripture in Revelations).
In some ways, I realize I'm being unfair to my mom. But I'm communicating the way it felt at the time. The environment had become erosive; destructive. Mom tried to compensate for the fact that I started to stray from becoming the preacher she hoped I would become; to compensate for dad's Catholicism; to compensate for everything she felt she did wrong when trying to raise my sister and I. I left home, and although I still loved my family, I was bitter.
Edgar Whisenant came up with 88 reasons why the rapture would be in 1988. Then, 89 reasons why it would be in 1989. Then it was 1992. Billy Graham was supposed to be the antichrist, and the fact that he had turned soft on some issue that the preachers mom listened to didn't appreciate only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.
Through it all, mom was at least consistent. If her tone was endlessly critical and destructive toward my sister, my dad, and myself, it was doubly so when she turned it on herself. Mom had become bitter, distrustful of everything but what her scaremongering faith leaders told her, broken, world-weary, and impoverished for the benefit of a god who would stand her up at the altar again and again. She blamed herself for what she saw as my failings. She heard abundant life teachings and came to believe that the reason she hadn't been abundantly rewarded by Jesus was because she was unworthy. The reasons aren't relevant, but she and my dad were not a good fit for each other - she blamed herself for not being able to make a bad marriage work, for wanting to leave.
Though not a sole cause, radicalized religion destroyed my traditional family.
1993 was a big year for countdowns, because the belief by then was that there would be a seven-year tribulation period culminating in the battle of Armageddon and the destruction of the world by nuclear firepower in the year 2000. Jesus was planning on rapturing away the faithful seven years prior, so 1993 was the year. Mom begged me to "get right with god," because it was almost here. Bill Clinton was supposed to be the antichrist, and his ascent to the presidency only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.
By then, I'd attained some distance from my family, some arm's length, and began to heal. And healing is definitely the word for the years of rebuilding that followed.
By 1994, the tribulation belief remained, but the date of the rapture was reassessed. Maybe it's supposed to happen halfway through, so midway into 1996. Prince was supposed to be the antichrist, and the fact that his song 1999 was becoming popular again only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.
It would take me several years more to finally feel secure enough to stop suffocating, to come out, and to live the life I needed to live. When I finally did, I never looked back.
1995 meant that the whole tribulation thing needed to be rethought. At that point, the Left Behind novels started coming out, part of a now-popular tradition of televangelists to release books and made-for-TV VHS dramatizations. Mom gave me a copy of one by Jack Van Impe. The fact that Bill Clinton was still the President only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.
Ultimately, my parents (especially my deeply religious mother) weren't able to accept what was happening, and it became obvious when years had passed and their pain from and rejection of my transition had only intensified -- how the person I was "becoming" (in their eyes) was just so objectionable to them that it simply became the merciful thing to let them mourn and be done with it than to tormenting them by trying to be a part of their lives.
My mother would talk about how dad breaks into tears when he thinks about me, how my sister is petrified of the thought of ever having to tell the kids, how her heart breaks every time she sees me or worries what the neighbours would think if I came to visit.... They weren't going to change and I couldn't reshape my life just for their benefit, so this was the one thing I could give them which would provide any sense of closure from which they could move on, and heal.
If she's still alive on Saturday, Jesus will again leave mom at the altar. And I'll be live-tweeting it, because in the face of the evidence, humour is the best catharsis. But I'm sure it won't shake her faith. Barack Obama is still the president.
Crossposted to DentedBlueMercedes, img flickr