Hemant Mehta would like you to fund his new project. It’s a book, with pictures: God Is An Abusive Boyfriend (And You Should Break Up With Him).
I am going to tell you why this isn’t true. Allow me to present my credentials: I, unlike Hemant Mehta, had an abusive boyfriend.
That girl on the cover, with her eyes shifted, her body language stiff, is not an abstract concept to me. When I saw that image, I thought of myself. I thought of the night my alcoholic ex-boyfriend got trashed and embarked on a mostly incomprehensible rant about all the people he’d beat if they touched me. I sat next to him, very still, remembering the raccoon he’d let his dog rip to pieces in front of me.
He’d thrown ice and snow at it while it cowered and forced me to do the same. When it screamed, he laughed. When I begged him to pull the dog away, he refused.
And so I knew better than to try to run. All animals know when they’re trapped.
I defended him in public. I ignored my own screaming instincts. I didn’t even leave him when he assaulted me.
That’s what Mehta’s turned into pictures for his book. That’s what he’s comparing to religious belief.
This is, among many other things, quite an obvious logical fallacy. He’s asking us to compare apples and oranges.
As an atheist, I believe that God is an entirely fictional concept. Like any concept, it can be used to justify oppression. But because it’s merely a concept, and not a real entity, it can be interpreted any way a person likes. God, the idea, is not abusive, cannot possibly be abusive. God as Pat Robertson markets Him is another matter altogether, but even in this scenario it is Robertson, not God, that deserves the blame for inflicting trauma on his followers.
The concept of God isn’t a monolithic one; the concept my parents worship can’t reasonably be compared to the one my feminist Muslim friends worship, or the Light that dwells within my Quaker friend.
My abusive ex-boyfriend belongs to a separate category. He is real. He’s responsible for his own actions; no third party commits deeds on his behalf. There is nothing to be interpreted here.
Like all survivors of abuse I am familiar with blame, and how it is typically directed at survivors themselves and not the perpetrators of violence. I am familiar with all the usual questions.
Why didn’t you leave him?
For a number of complicated reasons that include fear, blackmail, and an upbringing in a fundamentalist subculture that taught me to accept male dominance and female submission as norms.
Maybe you’re exaggerating.
If so I’ve wasted quite a bit of my life in therapy.
Why did you date him at all?
Because he was very charming, and I wanted to believe he meant it when he said he’d be there for me.
Looking at my answers I can see there might some parallels between them and the answers I typically give when asked about my experiences with religion. But surviving an abusive romantic relationship and leaving organized religion are two fundamentally different processes, even if you’ve experienced religious trauma. The roots are different. The triggers are different. The recovery process is different. Things can overlap; that doesn’t mean they’re identical.
I am exceedingly weary of discussing my experiences with abuse. I have a BA in International Studies and an MA in Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy. I have presented papers on human rights and revolutions at institutions like the London School of Economics. As a writer, I’ve covered everything from Tea Party rallies in coal country to Hobby Lobby v. Burwell and in 2014 alone, I’ve been profiled in the New York Times and published in the Guardian.
But here I am, talking about something that happened four years ago.
We are all more than the professional faces we present to the world. And as long as the imagery of domestic violence is used in such a simplistic manner, I will speak out against it. I want you, if you care at all, to think of my face when you look at that book cover. I want you to imagine how frightened I was when I defended my abuser the way the girl in Mehta’s picture book defends God, when I cowered at the end of a couch the way she cowers in a corner.
And I want you to think very carefully about whether or not this is how you want to promote your belief tradition to the world.
I am an atheist. And God did not abuse me. My real boyfriend did.