| And there I sat on the little bridge that stretched across a small stream running through my father’s property. The cool Autumn wind stroked my hair gently and I felt the vibrant spirit around me. What was this feeling, I wondered. What was its source? Why was I so attracted to it. Earth. What a word which seemed to hold so much mystery. I looked at the trees, listened closely to the blue-jays call. Leaning back on the bridge I looked up into the deep sky, the puffy clouds mounting up like white pillars holding up a blue canopy. I was truly relaxed now, truly enjoying my weekend again after a momentary interruption. Florida wildlife to a young boy of 11. What magic it was, and especially the Autumn, which has forever been my season of empowerment.
I looked back at my house which lay not very far from the bridge, and grimaced somewhat. My parents and I had just got back from church. How boring. Always lasting for hours long considering socializing, Sunday School, Church Service and then socializing again. This was always the Sunday ritual that was just so, and never disputed. It would begin even at home with, “Get up son”, my mother would call in a sing-songy voice. “It’s the Lord’s day” with a smile on her face. There were already giant echoes throughout the house of three TV’s displaying the same program, Dr. D James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. It was as if he were set to an in-home loud speaker of Newspeak as in George Orwell’s Big Brother. My father idolized and yet to this day idolizes this man. His eloquent vocabulary and masterful play of words, talk of the compassion of this man Jesus and the infallibility of the Holy King James Bible brought tears and “amens” from the faces of my creators - my parents. I never questioned any aspect of my life at this time. I believed that it must be so, and often mimicked my parents when in conversation with children and adults.
But something was utterly boring about the Sunday ritual and yet intoxicating in a frightening sense by all of this religious blanketing. The only aspect that I truly did like was singing, and the feeling of an entire congregation lifting up their voices in worship. At times I did truly feel what my parent’s talked about; worshipping a god, although the object of that worship was extremely foggy. This invisible entity, or was it two or three, because I truly couldn’t understand this idea of the Father and the Son being the same thing, was always an unclear concept to me, and so very far away.
And this being, God, was quite terrifying as well. “Sinners are going to hell to burn for eternity” my father would rant and rave, raise his eyebrows. Upon meeting someone he would immediately enter religious or political topics with the individual sometimes detaining them for an hour at a time. It seemed that Jesus was somehow the nice one, however, and God was the one we always had to ask forgiveness to. Jesus replaced my Santa Clause for example. As a really young kid of about 6, someone asked me what Santa Clause was going to bring me for Christmas. I replied with the same tone as my father, "Santa Clause isn’t real, Jesus is real!” The recipient of that quote had to conclude more than just ‘out of the mouth of babes’. But, yeah, God was scary. He was real big, and one day everyone was going to stand in front of him and hear the question, “Why shall I let you into My heaven?” and we had better have the right response. At least that’s how a young child concluded it after hearing constant warnings. My mother's eyes flashed, and still do, when speaking about end-times messages. "The lord is coming soon, like a thief in the night," she would say to me followed by, "Say your prayers son" I had to talk to this invisible being, or he would be angry. I did too, and often. I accepted that it heard me, and feared when I hadn’t talked to it, yet at the same time believed my mom when she told me that he always watched over me. I did feel that there was a sort of big invisible friend always hovering over me. However, it sometimes became unclear which one of these invisible gods I was speaking to, Jesus or God, because then at the end of my talks I was taught to always say, “In Jesus’ name, amen.” and never, never to mention Mary.
And then another word crept in all the time too that didn’t have much meaning to me; Holy Spirit. I certainly didn’t know what to make of that one. My Christian school spoke a lot about the Holy Spirit. They said that it came down and entered your body allowing you to speak in a language that doesn’t exist on the Earth. All I knew is that they believed this very much and that my father didn’t like them saying these things to me. I soon noticed that my father and my Christian teachers didn’t seem to get along very well. He said the name of their church in a sarcastic tone: “The Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ”.
I began to understand that my father wasn’t very happy with nearly any church he was in. That’s why we were changing every few months. He called himself a Calvinist, and always explained with his five fingers about the five points of Calvinism, and spelling the words TULIP with them. Nonetheless at 11 we were then attending a nearby church which was Mennonite. My father was shaky with that because their current pastor was Baptist, but my mother was just happy that they had found a church that they half agreed on. The problem was, however, that independent Baptists were ok, but Southern Baptists were bad because they were liberal. This preacher was part of the Southern Baptist Convention which always spurred long chats between he and my father. My father would come back sometimes with a red face.
My mother followed my dad pretty much where he went, and throughout my youth we went to almost every Protestant church in my town (except of course to the Jehovah’s Witnesses or to the Mormons). She liked the family to stick together. But she always wanted to go to a church called Calvary Baptist. My dad didn’t like their preacher. He was too young and inexperienced, and there were some obscure doctrinal differences. So she threatened for years that she would go there even if he didn’t. He always told her to do what she wanted, he didn’t care. He said, “You normally do what you want anyway behind my back. That’s why we’re in debt. You never let me be head of the household,” as the apostle Paul says. Then he would criticize my grandmother, my mother’s mother: “She’s a darn Methodist. They believe in infant baptism and in loosing your salvation.” That was a terrible thing because everybody knows that once you’re saved you’re always saved, and that infants can’t decide anything for themselves. So we never went to the Methodist church in town either. They were as bad as the Democrats. One of my mom’s best friends was an Episcopalian and often invited us to her services. Her church was very beautiful, and in later years I went once or twice. “Darn Catholicism and idolatry” sparked my father. My mother didn’t defend her friend too much here, though there was some disagreement about Catholicism and Protestantism.
I was baptized at 11 into the Mennonite church. I had already been baptized at another Baptist church and would be baptized yet again in a Presbyterian church, but this one said that it was only because it was a local ritual for entrance into their congregation. For some reason the rest of my family wasn’t baptized there. But I was taken to the slowly flowing Peace River, which ran through quiet Arcadia, Florida. The congregation gathered around us. The preacher waded into the water up to his thighs, and wearing a full suit and tie. I was also wearing dress pants and a shirt and tie and followed him into the water. I thought it was neat. The preacher spoke some words. I was too nervous to truly pay attention to what he was going on and on about, though I do remember the reason for baptism and certainly thought that I was serious about it. Then he motioned for me to come to him and he put his hand over my face and laid me back into the river, lifting me up again. I was drenched and wiped the water from my eyes and let it drip down my face. Then slowly I began to make out a strange noise from the banks that continually increased in volume. A woman had raised her hands to the blazing white sky and was speaking some strange concoction of words, “balkasgabe, blasbadabadu!”. Everyone remained silent, some with their heads bowed, others exchanging embarrassed glances, others rolling their eyes. The woman wasn’t part of the church, after all and I thought that this sort of thing only happened at my school. We left the water, my mom wrapping a towel around me, smiling and hugging me; my father speaking, “darn speaking in tongues. The Bible says it must be done in an orderly fashion, followed by an interpretation.”
My father got his interpretation. It came with a phone call and the barking of my dog that same day. One of the deacons of the church called my mom and said that he had been overcome by the meaning of the blibber-blabber. “Your son will one day be a great preacher.” My mother repeated with a tear, and hugged me. I said, “But I don’t want to be a preacher.” I asserted “I want to be an astronaut!” I even went to Space Camp for that.
My room at that time was evident of my passion for space and a fantastic future. It was painted over with space stations, posters of jets and space shuttles, blue curtains with stars, a bed-spread with matching stars, and a framed picture of the Earth taken from the Moon, and glowing star and planet stickers on the ceiling. Of course my bird cages were also scattered around. I’ve always loved birds. But I felt strange about this entire situation. I didn’t want to be a preacher, but I felt now some obligation to my mother, and by doing all these things I felt like I was doing the right thing. My parents were happy, my sister Karen was happy. Everyone was happy - so I thought.
But then I became an adolescent and my world fell apart. I specifically remember the day, at age 12, when I became truly conscious of my homosexuality. I was watching a TV program in an outside garage where all my friends would come and camp out from time to time. A man appeared on the TV with his shirt off. I said to myself, “Oh my God, no.”
Years of self torment followed. My first sexual experience with another tormented boy followed by a wretched feeling of repentance, and this happening time and time again. Telling myself that “I will be good now, Jesus.” followed by moments of weakness. I hated myself. I had betrayed my parents, my sister, my church. I was embarrassed by myself. I was a freak. Surely they would hate me if they knew how utterly sour and disgusting I was. And surely I was going to be damned to hell. Hell……... I plead with god, “Take this from me, please.” Biting my blankets and soaking my pillow with tears. “Why? Why me? Why have you given me this test? It is a curse! I am too weak to overcome it!” I dreaded life and met with suicidal moments more than once.
My only consolation was the woods that surrounded my small house located on my father’s property of about 15 acres. The neighboring plots around me were scarcely populated and so I lived amidst vast hammocks of oak and pine trees and open pastures with cows and horses. Lone journeys upon the dirt roads surrounding this land were a spiritual time for myself. Touching trees; listening to my breathing and my footsteps; entering palmetto hideaways. I usually found myself at the same giant oak tree which just bordered my father’s property with our neighbor’s. Its trunk had a twisted shape yet somehow looked like the torso of a woman whose arms stretched up and outward, later drooping so that once near the tree you had the sensation that you were under a Galapagos mushroom. It was also a place of comfort and it was there that I communed with Nature most, unknowingly, without titles, without words. It was there and only there that Nature assured me that I was a natural being no matter what and that all that I had been taught was somehow wrong.
But perhaps part of the crisis was the overdramatization of being an adolescent. I see this as certainly possible looking back now and even working with teenagers often as a teacher. Everything to them is much more exaggerated, and it’s a sign of maturity to be able to take things with more ease. But what is certain is the fear that I held for years of eternal judgement that would surely come for being an abomination to the Holy Bible and the Holy God who abhorred people like me.
I had surely become something that my father utterly abhorred and that my mother would be utterly crushed by. My dad always talked about the faggots down in Ft. Lauderdale, who when he was 16, always tried to pick him up. They’re all damn pedophiles. They all molest young boys. They’re all sick and headed for hell, and they deserve it. They need to be put in prison or put out of their misery. They were stoned to death in the Bible, you know! Sadly enough these are often the same words he used when shooting a stray animal coming into our yard. He would make friends with the dog, puppies or cat, feed it for a couple of days and then take it out to the woods and shoot it. “It’s the humane thing to do, rather than killing them in the pound where they will be scared to death,” and I believed him on that until recently when he did this again to my dog and cat, who were in perfect health.
But still at this time of self-realization, I started to hate him more than worry about his opinion of me and honestly don’t know what to feel for him now. My mother was always threatening divorce throughout the years, asking me “Mark, what do you think about this?!” in the midst of their rage. Naturally I sided with mother. This later caused me to harbor bitter feelings towards her.
Time went on, it always does fortunately! I got to know strange people in the public school I demanded to go to one day, “I will not do any more work in these Christian schools. I will flunk out. I want to go to DeSoto High School like my sisters.” It was the best thing I ever did in defying my parents. I soon was loving Physics and Earth-Space Science and above all English Literature and Drama.. I met Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Atheists, Agnostics and Seventh Day Adventists for the first time. They seemed like good people despite everything my family had ever said about them and it was then that I first began to doubt my conditioning. High School was a good and bad time like for most kids, nonetheless it surely kept myself occupied and I grew a lot there and found adult counsel for my sexuality in two of the teachers, to whom I’m always grateful.
At this time I became reacquainted with some old friends. One such friend was Ruth and her close friend Michelle. I began to go to Ruth’s house after school to hang out. Rumors had flown about Ruth and Michelle and their intimate sexual nature. They were truly a joke in Arcadia and also laughed at because they told everyone that they were witches. I didn’t mind hanging out with them because I was also somewhat of a joke, and I found a rapport with them. My older sister, Angie, was still reputable for having had a lesbian affair with one of Arcadia’s female teachers; this even 8 years after the fact. “I’m sure her little brother is a fag too,” I learned that even some of the teachers whispered. Little did they know that they were bang on. Oh, life in a small town can be exciting!
And one day, at the age of 14, I was at the Port Charlotte mall, a town which lies 30 minutes up the road from Arcadia. In all of my turmoil and rural tendencies towards loving nature and also influence of friends I wandered to the New Age section against the wishes of my mother. Earth Magick is what I picked up. It changed my life.
At an earlier age I had already heard of Witchcraft, Wicca and Nature religions (mostly Native American) and felt myself more than attracted to them. As a lonely child I lived deeply in a world of fantasy, showing my natural attraction towards all of this. I acted out my favorite cartoons in the vast acreage which extended behind my father’s property - such programs as the Smurfs, He Man, Dungeons and Dragons, and the Gummy Bears, Star Wars amongst others. To an American kid, all these things are innately our culture. I never cared for GI Joe or the Transformers like some of my friends. They were a competitive boyish macho thing that I never really identified with. That’s why I also never willingly played any sports though my father forced me into little league Baseball and Karate, with bad consequences. My parents always criticized the cartoons I watched, sometimes limiting me. Our preachers even commented on them speaking of the evils of Satanic New Age filtering through to young minds. “Satanic names of demons are given to the Smurfs!” the preacher would pound on the pulpit, “Azrael!”. My father always wanted to get rid of the TV’s because of their demonic and sexual influence. You know, maybe they were right because I had been a New Age convert for years. Even when they resurrected me in Christ in the Peace River and spoke in tongues for me on that long-ago summer day was I beckoned by a mystery that was Nature.
I do not recall when I first heard of the title “Pantheist”, but from early on I always loved it and it sounded alluring and pure. It was not much later than when I bought the book called Earth Magick that I became more familiar with the term, though my concepts were rather mixed, and I needed to shrove off many learned ideas. Pantheism. What a beautiful word to me. It rang true, and I tell you, the reader, that this is a true account of me - that a 14 year-old boy considered himself Pantheist in the heart, although he didn’t understand the whole implications thereof. I needed to weed through many, many doctrines before I could emerge forth as a true convert. And it’s a change that ever continues throughout our lives, I suppose.
My parents became suspicious of my newly found dabblings when I began to paint new things in my room. They always allowed me to express my creativity of which I must be grateful. First my Top Gun jet pictures went away, followed by my curtains and bed spread. They were replaced by earthy equivalents. Then I painted a mural on my wall which met with much criticism. It was a mountain scene with a woman coming out of the mountain, as part of them. She reached her hand into the sky and held within it something which was glowing. It wasn’t a bad painting for a 15 year-old. “Mark, are you getting into that New Age junk?” my mom criticized one day. “Don’t you like the painting mom?” I responded. “It’s well-done honey, but the topic concerns me.” She added. “Nah, I’m not into that stuff. It comes from a story I read. Just a story.” I assured her. But then that December, after never having had a Christmas tree due to its pagan origins, my father finally gave in to my mother’s and my own desire to have one. My sisters were jealous because they were just leaving the house and had never had a Christmas tree. Still, my sister Angie helped me decorate the tree that year. And in January, near Lammas, I took the tree outside and planted it into a field. Of course it wouldn’t survive, but I decorated it with things from nature - pine cones, wreathes, grasses. Then on the first of February, it had dried very much, I lit it on fire and sat looking at it. I felt a sense of primitiveness within me, closed my eyes and felt the heat and thanked the Mother Earth for the coming Spring. This was admittedly done with a mix of a sense of rebellion, but with an utter sense of wholeness that I was finally practicing something, although still unnamed, spiritually correct for myself. “What did you do that for, son?” my dad asked me. “That wasn’t any pagan ritual, was it?” “Of course not, dad.”, was my sharp response before entering my room and locking the door.
Bowls of natural elements began to appear in my room. Shards of earth guarding my windows. Hanging wreaths laced with changing colors depending on the seasons, bundles of cloth, knots, and inside my closet were hidden things: books on witchcraft, journals, spells, coverings for altars and the like. I bought and wrote down whatever I could get my hands on. By now, Enya was my choir and the outdoors was my temple.
The bomb came one day when my father nearly hit my mother in an argument. I announced that I was leaving home after physically confronting him. I was getting to be as big as he was. This was at 17. Tension between us had been mounting for years, unfortunately. This was definitive. I have always been a very dramatic individual. I admit it. They didn’t believe me when I said it, but when they got home the next day they did. I had already arranged to move into a tiny apartment in which I had to pay only $75 a month. I was sure I could get by. All my things were gone in a day. My mom found me quickly, or maybe I found her, and instead of chastising me she helped me - clean my horrible little apartment! My sister Karen also thought it was good for me to separate from my father for a while. Typical Anglo-Saxon family drama, isn’t it? Ha. I stayed in that apartment for probably 6 months and it was a good time to begin my self-reconciliation
During that time my sister Angie came to visit me. She had lived away from home for some years now. Upon her visit she told me that she was ready to come out to mom and dad. She had been living with a woman for about 2 years after divorcing her husband. That marriage had lasted for about a year, but had resulted in the birth of my first niece, Jessica. Angie wanted me to accompany her on this important day. This was my cowardice, however, and I didn’t. she understood because of my age, “When I was 17 I wouldn’t have been able to tell them,” she assured me before driving off. But she did also ask me if I wanted her to tell them about the both of us. I said OK. I regret not having done it together with her now, but that is how it went. And it was the same day that I got a knock on my door with my oldest sister, Karen, crying: “Is it true?” I had recently been even more rebellious, woe is me, and had not one of my ears pierced, but both of them done! In red-neck Arcadia, people just don’t do these things! J And when she entered all she could say was, “Oh, Mark, how could you?”. This was followed by my dad the next day who came to try and make peace, or so he said, but he wanted confirmation that his only son was a homosexual. He got it. I was frightened when I saw his truck parked outside the building and went and covered my right ear with a band aid - how funny looking back at that! His first comment was, “You got your right ear pierced!” and soon left. Poor guy. And poor mom, she didn’t come around for a while. She was destroyed and so ashamed.
“Go to Exodus International, please son!” my mother pleaded with me, “I’m so sorry, if I’ve done anything wrong, if your father has. I feel insulted that you don’t like women. Does that mean that you don’t like me? (hunh?) You are an adolescent trapped in a man’s body! There are so many gays and lesbians who have changed. If you truly want to change, you can. Just try it, but I don’t see you trying.” Said my sister Karen, “The power of Jesus can overcome anything!”
My next announcement was, “Dad, I’ve joined the NAVY, and I’m leaving Arcadia forever. I’ll never live in your house again.” And at 18 I left that small Florida town and have only returned for brief visits.
Now, by the age of 25, I’ve circled the globe. I have met Muslims, Hindus, almost all sects of Christianity, Buddhists, Atheists, Witches and Pantheists face to face. Conversing with all of these diverse people has revolutionized my way of thinking concerning reality. I concluded upon my search that the concept of god must be something much greater and all-inclusive to humanity and all of life on the Earth. It cannot be such an exclusive and scientifically resentful religion. Of everyone I have talked to, not one knows any more about the origins of the Universe or the divine purpose to life; if there be any. And yet most claim that within their belief system and culture they have a special knowledge that others lack, giving me non-tangible evidences and books and blind faith. After muddling through a couple of years of trying to believe in a deity which was both Male and Female, and still part of everything, mixing these spiritual things very much with the sexual morality crisis I needed to resolve, I found the most rational and honest approach to reality that I believe exists. Does it claim to have all the answers? No, and that’s why I like it even more. It is truthful, and doesn’t fill my head with foggy notions.
I am indeed a Pantheist. And that spiritual attraction to its ideology as well as its beautiful sound and completely correct combination for myself, those things which I vaguely came into contact with and only partly understood as a 14 year-old boy, coincide exactly with my perception and limited understanding of reality today. This is my gut feeling of truth, my faith concerning existence. Nothing else has come close to being as honest and frank. And it has enhanced my life, allowed me to savor things that I only marginally dealt with before. It has given me a defense for being the human animal that I am with all of my natural desires and instincts, and in that, has given me a reason for being - which is to simply be, and to revel in the gift of existence. I liberated myself by being me, being part of Gaia’s life, and resolved unanswerable questions with Pantheism. All of this came to me upon the road out of Arcadia.
Mark E. Foley - Barcelona, Spain, 2001
| The Road out of Arcadia
by Mark E. Foley, Arcadia, Florida
Raised in an extreme American fundamentalist family, he found it more and more difficult to accept his maternal religion and in light of personal experiences with self-acceptance, he discovered a more honest approach to reality
|TRUTH. This one word holds some of the greatest implications for the history of humanity. "What is truth?" is probably the most fundamental question and quest within a human being’s life. Its answers are never easy, never fully revealed, and always extremely personalized. However, groups do manage to form, wherein people of similar, logical minds regarding the truth of this reality we live in, begin to develop a communal bond amongst themselves and a much-needed sense of acceptance and belonging. Within the vast range of philosophical and religious choices offered throughout the history of Homo sapient thought, Pantheism is probably the oldest, most basic and visceral of all
This web site is dedicated to those individuals who succeeded in finding their truths in the philosophy of Pantheism, or Natural Spirituality. Most of these individuals have deconverted from their maternal religion, primarily from forms of Christianity, ranging from Roman Catholicism to Protestant Fundamentalism to Mormonism. Many of their transitions have been painful journeys which, for some, have divided families and caused loss of friends; yet, at the same time, these were investigations that the individual had to complete in order to satisfy her/his own conscience. In breaking away from what they now see as scams, lies and cultural conditioning, these individuals found (with their newly achieved freedom of thought) a burden being lifted from their hearts – the oppressive weight of belief in archaic myths which are ultimately detrimental to the spirit and essence of our being. This new way of perceiving and defining reality, Pantheism, has given these individuals the ability to live as honest human beings, empathetic and caring creatures in a profound relationship with their sacred planet Earth and revered Universe.
All of the stories are as unique as the individuals themselves. These accounts of the personal triumphs and tragedies of their individual lives only give us a brief glimpse of the complexity of every individual's unique perspective and her/his contribution to the fabric of our reality. There is a common thread woven into each of these unique stories; in each case the individual had to swim upstream, against the chaotic current of prevailing proclamations of "truth". Individually, each one has found at least partial truth in the implications of science or in their own spiritual connection with the Divine laws of Nature. Within that they have discovered a more radical, healthier, and ultimately more fulfilling approach towards life. They have gathered here on this site to share their stories, to at last speak about their Paths to Pantheism.
|Autobiographies and Deconversion Stories|