It’s about a kid named Cody who sucked at basketball, so his parents hired a private basketball coach named AJ the way parents hire piano teachers. He was a good teacher who, over six years (grades three through nine) took Cody from barely being able to dribble to being MVP of his team — and also screwed him up in some serious ways.
So when I started listening, I assumed that The Bad was that AJ had pursued a sexual relationship with a child. Because that’s how these stories always go.
Except not this time.
Instead, the abuse began three years in with AJ telling Cody, an avid and advanced World of Warcraft player, that WoW was evil, that the dark elements of the game were real, that there are demons fighting for his soul, and that the game invites them in. And they’d get him and he’d go to hell if he didn’t quit the game.
Cody was terrified and immediately told his mom he wanted to cancel his WoW account, to which she laughed and said, “it’s just a game!” When she learned AJ had been having these religious conversations with her very young, impressionable son, she confronted him and basically said, “You’re here to teach him basketball, and that’s all you need to ever do. Capiche?” AJ said, “okay.”
Of course he didn’t stop proselytizing the child; He just convinced Cody to keep it a secret.
Over the course of three incredibly impressionable years, AJ convinced Cody that he (AJ) was spiritually special and could physically see demons in Cody’s weight room, on the basketball court, at a another client’s house surrounding his dad. There was even a demon standing right behind Cody’s own mom, pressuring her to tell him WoW was okay. He convinced Cody that any bad play in basketball meant demons were attacking him, that the rapture was imminent and Cody needed to be spiritually ready (a sign of which would be Cody’s own ability to see demons), and that the Illuminati was a cult made up of demon-controlled people with a giant super computer in Belgium called The Beast, who wanted to implant computer chips in everyone’s hands and heads at the upcoming Olympics, which would usher in the rapture and doom all the Leftovers.
This rightly terrorized Cody, who — despite having all communication cut off once his parents discovered transcripts of Skype conversations in which AJ planted horror after horror in Cody’s mind, even telling him that his parents were going to try and force the implantation of the chip and that Cody’s response should be to call CPS on his abusive parents, “because sending your child to hell is child abuse” — had already internalized everything AJ had told him, and had already been running on amygdala fear for all these years.
He’d been thoroughly brainwashed. To the point of hiding under his college dorm bed, barely sleeping. To the point of refusing to go with his parents to London for the Olympics because he was sure he going to be killed. To the point of wanting to kill himself.
Okay, so I’m listening to all this, and here’s the crazy part for me:
To a lesser degree, this is all stuff I was taught growing up in my non-denominational churches. Hell as eternal conscious torment, demon possession, the Mark of the Beast, spiritual warfare, rapture readiness…it’s all pretty Standard Evangelical Doctrine (TM).
And while I’m hearing it, two things are happening:
I’m thinking, “oh yeah, that’s all the stuff I was taught, minus the Illuminati (we subbed in the Masons, but it was basically the same story), and with the extra bonus guarantee that if I was super definitely saved, satan and his demons wouldn’t be allowed to possess me. This isn’t weird at all. These parents may be over-reacting. I mean, I get you don’t want someone proselytizing your kid, but suing him? Really?!”
Because listen: I spent the entirety of my childhood repenting of forgotten sins just in case Jesus returned and just in case every sin had to be confessed for the salvation to “take”; And “recommitting my life to Christ” every single day because hell was too great a risk not to pray the Sinner’s Prayer every night. Again: Just in case. And I’m okay!
But I’m also thinking, “This is insanely, objectively abusive, and I’m incredibly lucky to have escaped relatively unscathed.” I can look back at it all and laugh at the absurdity, because I wasn’t terribly traumatized by it all. I didn’t walk away with PTSD or crippling anxiety and depression. Somehow, I figured I was saved and Jesus loved me so I was going to be okay, and otherwise didn’t worry all that much — except for my friends, who I proselytized the crap out of.
As a deconstructing/ed adult, I can openly laugh at the idea of hell as anything other than an obvious and poor construction of authoritarian religious bots seeking to control the masses through abject terror…
But as a parent?
I’m not scared of hell, but of those who preach it to my son. I’m not scared of hell, but of the AJs who want to trap my son in his own mind with a terror that I cannot reach and that he may never escape.
These Standard Evangelical Doctrines (TM) are vile spiritual/psychological abuses. They are evil on par with years-long sexual abuse — maybe worse, in that they infect vulnerable people with the abject fear of an unknown, unseen, utterly uncontrollable god who will torture them for eternity if they don’t do the rain dance the way he wants it done.
Therefore, second, anyone whose evangelism or proselytizing carries the promise of eternal torture at the hands of a maniacal, wrathful higher power who delights in dangling you over the pit of hell, is an absolute lunatic, as is their god (which is self), and you should tell them so, then run far, far away.