Leading Me Back Through the Darkness
By John - November 2010
My father was a priest in the Episcopal Church, and thus I was highly familiar with Christianity during my childhood. However, by the time I reached adolescence, the services and Sunday school had lost their interest for me. The whole liturgy felt monotonous and dry. It was about this time (I was perhaps twelve or thirteen) that I was introduced to David Hume in school’s philosophy class. I hadn’t even thought of doubting the existence of God before, but I quickly realized that I didn’t believe.
The final straw for me was a Sunday school class, the subject of which was faith. Each person in the class had to name things that they had faith in. I was an honest person at the time, and I couldn’t say that I had faith in God. That would be a lie. I didn’t even know what that phrase “faith in God” would or could mean!
By the time I entered high school, I was a hardcore atheist. I quoted Richard Dawkins in papers of mine, and read religion message boards just so I could get in arguments with Christians. I was entirely certain that I was correct, that the notion of God, or any God, was impossible.
At the same time, the message boards exposed me to many other religious traditions. I flirted with several other beliefs, but didn’t stay with any of them for long. There were a couple months where I was Taoist, and maybe a week or so where I professed Anton LaVey’s version of Satanism. High school wasn’t a pleasant time for me. I was obsessive and kept to myself, preferring to sit at home scribbling away in notebooks when I could be out with other people.
By the end of high school I had given up strict atheism. I found the whole “new atheist” movement immature and annoying. I still didn’t believe in God, but I identified as an agnostic and an existentialist. The way I saw it, there wasn’t anything meaningful outside of people. You had to make your own meaning, pick something to do, and do it. I was still fascinated by religion, and I wrote a couple of plays on religious topics — an absurdist re-telling of the story of the three Wise Men, and a man who had committed suicide finding reconciliation with God in the afterlife.
College hit me like a freight train. I started drinking heavily, and soon my relationship with my high school girlfriend was on the rocks. We broke up over winter break and I became incredibly depressed. During the spring my drinking became little more than an escape from feeling awake; I was belligerent towards my friends. I tried to get with other girls, always without pleasant results. When I found my ex-girlfriend had hooked up with a guy at my friend’s college, I almost killed myself. I stopped myself at the last minute, captivated by the beauty of the snow falling at night. I certainly wouldn’t have recognized it as God’s work at the time, but looking back, it’s remarkably clear that something more than snow was going on there. The whole scene was so peaceful, in spite of my inner turmoil.
It was pretty soon after that that I was introduced to hallucinogenic drugs for the first time. I had smoked marijuana a couple times before, but hallucinogens were something completely different. I thought about my life in a completely different way, and realized how selfish the actions of the last few months had been. Afterwards, however, I closed off again and directed my hostility at the people around me. I kept drinking too — I wasn’t able to fully manage it until my senior year.
I did hallucinogenic drugs a couple more times my sophomore year, and by the next summer I was curious as to what else they were capable of. I had decided on majoring in religion, realizing that it was something I had found interesting for my entire life. During the summer I started reading both psychedelic and Christian mystical literature. During the one “trip” I had on drugs that July I decided that there was something spiritual beyond the physical. I became a pantheist.
I kept studying mystical literature during my junior year. While I found the experiences interesting, I always tried to direct them away from their Christian meanings and towards more general sorts of theology. I also started doing hallucinogens much more often and at much higher doses. I mainly “tripped” with one of my friends — he also introduced me to metal. As the winter approached, my experiences on drugs became worse and worse. I started having “bad trips”, where I would experience extreme neuroses, would receive messages from intelligences outside of myself (at least, that’s how it seemed. I always reminded myself that those voices came from my own subconscious mind.)
During one of these experiences, before the drug had kicked in all the way, a voice said “Why do you need drugs, isn’t what I made good enough for you?” At the time I thought it was the voice of God, yet I refused to listen. Instead, while watching a video created by Timothy Leary, I convinced myself that I was God.
But by the spring it was clear that we couldn’t handle the drugs anymore. I would go into fits where I talked nonsense for extended periods of time. Some of the neuroses slipped out of the trips and into my daily life. I would feel sensations on my skin that were not there, would have to constantly check to make sure I hadn’t misplaced anything. During one “trip” we found one of my friends in our bathtub, shaking and clutching at himself, desperately begging for forgiveness.
I had started reading books on magic. I became convinced that there was a structure of the universe based on the number five, and I created a type of pentagram to illustrate it. I attribute a lot of my interest in magic to the anarchist and Discordian Robert Anton Wilson, who was a psychedelic writer of the same type as Leary. I didn’t actually start trying to practice magic until the next winter, but I became convinced of my ability to achieve anything simply through the force of my own will.
That summer, I discovered Current 93, the musical project of David Tibet. Tibet had started off as a member of a magical society, interested in Tibetan Buddhism, but by the mid-90s he had converted to Christianity. The Christian symbolism and apocalyptic themes of his music fascinated me. It was an approach to Christianity that I could relate with, and he was a Christian I could relate to. Current 93 would quickly become my favorite musical group.
During my senior year I joined a New Age group — less because I believed in them, and more because I wanted to see the kind of nonsense they performed. I was slowly losing my interest in mysticism, realizing its ultimate irrelevance when one has to actually live in the world and not outside of it. The group confirmed my suspicions. They focused on meditation, lucid dreaming, and other vaguely occult but mostly tedious practices. Once the group smoked marijuana and summoned a spirit with a Ouija board.
I was growing tired of the mysticism, and the magic did very little for me. At the end of the winter, I tried hallucinogens again — the first time in nine months. I had a dissociative experience and nearly killed myself. Later, we convinced one of my friends, a Catholic, to do them. He couldn’t handle them and ran wild through the school’s library.
The turning point for me was this: I went to a religion department meeting where one of my fellow students presented his thesis topic, which was on current Christian demonology. As he presented the idea that cities, towns, and individuals are possessed by demons opposing the work of God, the professors mocked and laughed those very ideas. Then I thought that, for those who believed, there were demons possessing everyone in the room. And I saw what those demons would have looked like: the faces of the professors were contorted, expressing their own smug superiority and arrogance. I was sickened.
It was that spring that I put all of the pieces together. The leader of the New Age group was directing meditation for finding one’s spirit animal. And though I quickly found one, it was quickly supplanted by an enormous crucifix. God was trying to direct me back towards Christ, no matter how I tried to run away from Him.
And I had been running from it, running for most of my life. It was delayed rebellion, my attempt to get away from my mother and father, from my family. But most of all I was trying to make myself God, trying to convince myself that I was the most important thing in the universe. And I was wrong. I was dwarfed by the boundless, quiet humility of Christ.
It came to me then that God had been continually calling me through the whole time I had been running. But God hadn’t tried to force me into faith or belief. God had strewn my life with reminders of Christ so I would ultimately return to Him. The whole engagement with the world's dark religions ensured that I would return to the true God — my arguments with Christians in my adolescence, my fascination with mysticism and the Apocalypse, my writing of stories and plays about religion, even the voice that told me to stop when I was at the heights of my drug abuse. David Tibet, the new age group, the arrogant professors — that combination got me to the point where I could realize how God had been directing me and watching over me since my childhood.
Since then I have tried to focus myself elsewhere. I used to write strange sci-fi stories and magical rituals; now I’m concentrating my efforts on theology, especially the theology of Christ. I’ve stopped drinking heavily and I no longer do drugs. I try to maintain a safe distance from those people who encouraged me in my debauchery (and there was quite a bit of it.) I have faith that God will lead them back too, though I do not know how or when it will happen. But it’s still difficult. I’m fairly isolated from others, and I haven’t been able to find a Church where I belong.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from my experiences of the past few years, it’s the importance of humility. Pride comes so easily to us, and we are too quick to decide that we know better than God. We must have faith that God is directing us and learn to trust God’s plan for us, for only through Him we can follow His way and achieve things we never could do by ourselves.
I am still learning. I hope you will keep me in your prayers, so that I may not wander back into the darkness. Thanks be to God.
"Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy."
See also What it means to be a Christian