Bible Belt just meant pain for me

Evening News, UK/September 13, 2007

Watching her mother's horrified expression as she discovered the carelessly hidden romance novel, the modestly-dressed young girl was overcome with an impending sense of doom.

Frog-marched to the garden, the preacher's daughter was forced to tear up the racy novel and watch as it went up in smoke.

Afterwards the 12-year-old was beaten by her strict and religious parents and locked alone in her room for days to contemplate her sinfulness.

While her life in Edinburgh is a far cry from her harsh upbringing in America's Deep South, the memories author Diane Ross has of the regular physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents remain with her.

Indeed, when Diane sees children in Edinburgh playing happily, she is overcome with emotion because she never experienced that freedom as a child.

"I was seen and not heard," says Diane, who has written a novel, The Holy Bad, that is based on some of her early experiences. "I remember frequent beatings from both my parents if I was loud or disrespectful.

"The hard part was that it really hurt - physically and mentally. You love your parents and want to please them so if they are hitting you that sends mixed messages."

Diane - who writes under the name DM Ross - grew up in a part of Americarenowned for its large evangelical and socially conservative population.

Growing up, the 37-year-old, who now lives in Canonmills, was not allowed to wear trousers, make-up, or anything her parents regarded as provocative. She was also regularly beaten with a brush, a belt or a switch, for the slightest misdemeanour.

Remembering the day when her mother found the "naughty" book, she says: "What should have been treated as curiosity instead was seen as some kind of terrible crime.

"I was beaten and spent several days on my own, with my mother bringing food. It was enforced isolation to ponder the severity of what I had done."

A member of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church, Diane attended a Christian school, where pupils attended daily services and were taught that the world was created by God.

Diane claims her parents "brainwashed" her by encouraging her to memorise the Bible and by showing her films that featured youths committing sins like drinking alcohol and crashing cars. This, she was told, resulted in them dying in a state of sin.

Having lived happily in the Capital for the last 15 years, Diane - who is now agnostic - rarely sees her parents.

But instead of resorting to therapy to overcome her traumatic childhood, Diane has written about her experiences.

"The lead character is a preacher's daughter who is brought up strictly, which is how I lived," she explains. "The book is about a 16-year-old girl facing fears and insecurities."

The middle child of three, Diane was born in Virginia before later moving to Georgia, then Florida and Wyoming as the family followed her father's work.

Her parents and their friends adhered to the old-fashioned King James version of the Bible and Diane was encouraged to look as natural as possible - as God intended - letting her hair grow, eschewing jewellery or adornments and wearing long skirts.

She was immersed in religion, consumed by Bible drills and competitions at school and attending church all day on Sundays.

Television was banned until she was 13 and rock, pop and any other non-Christian music was also prohibited. The family went to the cinema occasionally to watch "safe" Disney films, although Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were forbidden because of their magical content.

Despite her closeted upbringing, Diane was savvy enough to realise that not everyone lived so severely.

A taste of unaccustomed freedom came when she was 15 and her father fell out of favour with his church over a theological point and moved the family to Wyoming.

Their environment in what Diane calls the "Wild West" was very different and she witnessed a softening in her father's attitude.

Although the family still attended church regularly, they integrated more with the outside world and Diane was allowed to wear jeans. "I couldn't have gone to high school in a long skirt there or I'd have had lumps knocked out of me," she says.

Echoes of Diane's story come through in her novel in which the lead character Melody Yaeger has to go to a non-religious high school because there isn't another available.

Melody rejects her parent's beliefs and becomes involved in an arcane sect known as the Left Hand Path, whose followers undertake brutal and sexual rituals in order to reach God.

For Diane, attending a regular school was a massive shock to the system. "I grew up in a Christian school where we were respectful and shared the same goals. To go to a non-Christian school and make friends who smoked and drank was really scary."

As a child, Diane's writing was a form of escapism and so it is perhaps not surprising that she found solace in it as an adult.

She says: "Having grown up myself as a preacher's daughter in a strict religious environment, where brainwashing and punishment were daily occurrences, I became interested in the lengths people go to for their beliefs, in order to feel accepted.

"I was also intrigued by a religion which encourages people to be as bad as possible in order to change their lives."

Diane first heard of the Left Hand Path sect while she was on a yoga retreat in India. There, her teacher told her that, in a communion-type ritual, followers of the sect ate raw or decaying flesh and indulged in perverted rituals in order to reach God.

"It's the other extreme of how I was brought up," she says.

Instead of falling further into extreme beliefs like her protagonist, Diane summoned the courage to leave home at 16.

She moved to California, where she fell in love with her neighbour - an Edinburgh man who she married and with whom she returned to the Capital.

And, although they split up a year later, Diane decided to stay.

"It was always my dream to come to Scotland so when I met Ronnie we moved here," she recalls. "It would have been easy for me to go back to the States when we split up but it never crossed my mind. I love Edinburgh. It is so free and open. People don't judge you."

Five years have passed since Diane last saw her parents. She admits she prefers to keep contact to a minimum but expresses no anger towards them for the past. Instead, she chooses to believe that they were just adhering to their beliefs.

With her easygoing personality and upbeat manner, Diane seems remarkably comfortable in her own skin for someone who has been brought up to believe they are going to Hell. So what will her parents think of her novel with its highly-charged sexual content?

She smiles and says: "I've told them I was having a book published. I explained in a light-handed way that some of the rituals described were quite sexual but my mother still wants to read it. I think she thinks it's going to be like Gone With The Wind. They'll be shocked but I don't care."

• The Holy Bad by DM Ross is published by Pegasus and is available from Waterstone's or from Amazon, RRP £7.99.

Believers fundamental truths

Independent Fundamental Baptists believe the contents of the Bible to be fact.

Followers take a literal approach, believing that the Earth and the Heavens were created in six 24-hour days.

They believe that the King James version of the Bible, translated from the Byzantine text, is God's word preserved in English. Baptism, Bible study and regular church attendance are cornerstones of the IFB Church, whose members are evangelical and dedicated to spreading the word of God.

Followers believe that those who are not "saved" will spend eternity in the conscious torment of a literal lake of fire.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.