In the preface of Dawkins' latest book, "The God Delusion" he opens with this:
"As a child, my wife hated her school and wished she could leave. Years later, when she was in her twenties, she disclosed this unhappy fact to her parents, and her mother was aghast: 'But darling, why didn't you come to us and tell us?' Lalla's reply is my text for today: 'But I didn't know I could.'
I didn't know I could.
I suspect - well, I am sure - that there are lots of people out there who have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy in it, don't believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in its name; people who feel vague yearnings to leave their parents' religion and wish they could, but just don't realize that leaving is an option. If you are one of them, this book is for you."
I was one of those people. I didn't know I could leave the religion of my parents. I didn't know I had the option. In my mind it wasn't a choice. I was so indoctrinated that even if I left physically I wouldn't have known that I could leave mentally. I know many people like this. They are no longer affiliated with their religion but are trapped mentally from seeing things any differently than what they were raised with.
I physically left the Jehovah's Witness group in August 2005. Mentally, I'm still working on shedding the complete mindfuckery that pervaded my brain for 26 years (since age 5). But there was a moment I recall when it hit me that I could leave, that a lightning bolt wouldn't shoot from heaven if I did, that the earth wouldn't stop spinning when there was an announcement made at my former Kingdom Hall that I was "no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses". It was a wonderful moment. A moment of pure freedom. Can't say it hasn't been hell ever since but I'm still glad I did it.
Even now, there are moments where I do something and I shock myself. I didn't know I could do that. And it isn't about discovering some hidden talent, although that has also been the case recently. It's about realizing I have the option to do something, that I have a choice to do something, or not do something. It might seem obvious to most people but when you grow up with rules and a very dictated structure within which to live your life, the idea of personal choice is truly an illusion.
Case in point: When I first went shopping after my leaving the JW's, I was looking at a rack of skirts and my first thought, the patterned thought, was: I have to buy a skirt that goes below the knee but doesn't hit the floor. (Yes, the rules, although often unwritten, were implied and strict and enforced by peer pressure, shaming and guilt.) And then, it hit me. No I don't. I can buy whatever length of skirt I want. I can buy a micro mini or a long flowing skirt that trails for miles. I can do whatever the hell I want. Fuck you Watchtower!
I didn't buy the mini skirt by the way. My legs naturally look better in something a little longer. Curse my child-bearing body! But the point was I could buy it. It was an option. And options are good.