I was born-agained when i was 11 or 12yrs old. It was religious Archie comics and Chick tracts.
I was born into the United Church of Canada, i suppose. My mother’s parents were Episcopalians from Wisconsin and Oregon, so it was natural. Even in the 40s it was known amongst other denominations as the “country club” of Christian denominations – Xtianity Lite, if you will. It might have even been a decent church to be raised in, had their families not chosen to settle in the Canadian bosom of Mormonism, Cardston, Alberta. My grandfather’s brother married a nice LDS girl, and they promptly set about their sacred duty, having 2 boys and 2 girls (i think, i’m estranged from all my relatives on my mother’s side), making Grandpa and his unfortunate family the odd ones out.
Mom had it tough going to school, no doubt about it. The girls were focused on getting married, pretty much from the jump, and to convert a non-Mormon boy by bringing him in through marriage was was both desired and admired. At her first school dance, she had no shortage of partners. The nice LDS girls quickly put a stop to that by telling the boys she’d be their only partner if they ever danced with her again. Still, she managed to get herself pregnant at 15, but Grandma sent her to a home for unwed mothers back in her home state, where she give her baby girl up for adoption. When that was over, she was sent to a private boarding school in a city hours away, where she promptly had nothing to do with Mormons or any church at all until i came along. She went back to Portland to give me up, but defied her parents by moving out and keeping me. When she came back to Canada she needed help, and i think that part of my grandparents agreeing to give it involved her putting on the mantle of contrition and returning to the United Church, which she did, off and on, until i was around 13. To the best of my knowledge, she never (seriously, regularly) picked it up again until the final year or so of her life, when she was attending catechism classes to become a Roman Catholic.
My grandmother would have had a conniption – she genuinely believed that RCs were of the devil. She even told Mom that nuns ate babies.
Back to me and my religious career, though. I never really gave up on church. I joined anything that could get me out of the house and away from my parents and the atmosphere at home. I was in various clubs and organisations for my entire school career, and church provided me with many opportunities to get away. I did Sunday school, choir, bible studies, and any charity work they did, they could always count on me. We moved regularly, but it wouldn’t be long before some kid would invite me to their church, and i’d always say Yes, and get involved from the first day i attended. Although there was some intense religious abuse in my younger years, it was over by the time i was 8 or so, and my Bits N’ Pieces kept all the nastiness locked up tight, and memories of what i now call “Nighttime Church” only leaked out in my dreams. I just thought those were due to my lifelong fascination with horror novels and movies, so my church attendance was genuine and sincere, and my participation was innocent and enthusiastic. My belief in the god they preached was all of those things too, but when i was around 11 or 12yrs old, a family member noticed my love of all things comic book, and gave me access to his supply of religious Archie comics, and eventually, Chick tracts.
If you aren’t familiar, let me give you a bit of history: Al Hartley was an illustrator for the Archie comics series, and managed to finagle permission to write and illustrate an evangelical version of Archie for Spire Comics. It was my first encounter with heavy-handed evangelism. I think he had most, if not all of the Spire comics from the 70s, and i read them all, the Archies ones, The Cross and the Switchblade, On the Road with Andrae Crouch, the one with Johnny Cash, Time To Run, and even Hansi: The Girl Who Loved The Swastika… At the end of all of these, there was always a call to be born again. I understood that it was calling me to recite it on a personal level, but all i was doing was reading them in my head, in the same way i was reading the dialogue.
Then he started giving me the tracts.
Jack Chick was a religious cartoonist who published pamphlets exhorting you to accept Jesus as your Saviour or be tortured in a lake of fire forever. No pressure, though. He preached a punishing, invasive god, assuring me that i was so much worse than the generic Christian assertion that i was born a sinner. He made it clear that i was filthy and rotten and utterly doomed. His tracts tapped into my mother’s training, accessing the foundation of self-loathing she’d laid. Further, he terrified me with the promise that, when meeting god for final judgment, a movie would be played of my life, from birth to death. All the things that i’d done in secret would be shown on some celestial screen, for everyone else that had ever lived to see.
Jack Chick emotionally blackmailed me into reciting The Sinner’s Prayer. I sobbed wretchedly, before, during, and after. Not only did i not feel lighter or filled with joy and gratitude and praise, but ever after that, Jack Chick’s implied personality of god became tied in with some of the more voyeuristic sexual predators that i had known when i was younger. I felt constantly watched, in an invasive and forcible way. It didn’t stop me from doing things i wouldn’t want anyone to know about, it just multiplied my feelings of shame and guilt, and reinforced my inherent unworthiness and evil nature. Decades passed before i realised he’d done it… And more decades still, before i saw the same sort of behaviour in his god, and left religion behind.