Here is the first of my many future posts on religion. Yes, I have decided to take on the BIG SUBJECT, religion.
I was raised as a Baptist. As a child I enjoyed going to Sunday school. I even have a certificate for perfect attendance at a Summer Sunday School in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, which you know is pretty darn good for a 10 year old kid out of school.
Where I went off the rails with religion was when my Aunt Margaret took me to church with her one Sunday at her church in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The church was a Pentecostal Church. I believe I was about 12 years old at the time.
My one searing memory of the sermon that day was that the pastor who delivered the sermon scared me to death. He was a red haired, pale faced man but when he delivered his sermon his face was red and it seemed like foam was coming from his mouth. The only part of the sermon that I remembered was him screaming "You are a sinner! You were born in sin! You will die in sin! You must accept Jesus Christ as your savior or else you will burn eternally in the fires of Hell!"
As I left church that sunny, brisk day in leafy West Chester, I was shaken. At ten years old I already knew I was "different." I was aware of my homosexuality but I didn't know the name for it other than "fairy" for the ten letter word beginning with "c" and ending in "r." I knew that wasn't me so I didn't know what I was. Remember, this was in the early Fifties (1951 to be exact.)
From that day to this day I have never looked at organized religion the same way again. Oh yes, I have gone to different churches over the past fifty years. But I have never regained the comfort I had when attending Sunday school.
I could never express adequately in words what turned me away from the organized church other than this pastor who obviously relished the fact he was scaring the be Jesus out of his congregation by passing judgment on them over something they had no control (being born.) It wasn't until a recent e-mail exchange with a fellow blogger who is an atheist that I realized what the problem was. The church I went to that Sunday wasn't about peace and love. That church was about obedience. You obey and you get to Heaven because you're born with a major strike against you. You are a sinner. No matter what kind of life you lead, no matter how exemplary your conduct, unless you ACCEPT Jesus Christ as your Savior, you're not getting into Heaven.
Over the past fifty some years I've read a lot about different religions. I've tried some of them on for size. None fit exactly. None gave me the comfort level that they obviously give their many millions of devoted followers. Oh sure, I could tell my friends that I accept Jesus as my savior to please them but in my heart I just didn't feel it. And that is what it is all about any isn't it? You have to feel it in your heart.
It is my belief that this obedience aspect of organized religion comes from our European medieval heritage. Back in the Dark Ages the way the nobility (not us) kept the serfs (us) in line was to promise them a golden after life. They made this promise in lieu of the horrible circumstances serfs lived in; poverty, filth, disease and lack of freedom. The promise was "Sacrifice now for the prosperous after life in Heaven." Does this sound familiar? It should. That's what the terrorist suicide bombers are promised if they sacrifice their life by killing the Infidel.
How did I arrive at this belief? For one thing there is a lot of emphasis in all religions, especially the Christian religion about "praising God." Also, have you noticed God is always referred to as "The Lord?" How did the peasants and serfs refer to their nobles in medieval times? They bowed and said "Yes, my Lord." They also did a lot of praising. This is not a coincidence. It is a fundamental part of the culture of the Christian religion.
So you sacrifice today for a better after life. You do a lot of praying but make sure you give sufficient praise and under no circumstance DO NOT MOCK GOD. To many fundamentalist religious persons, any criticism of The Word or their belief is MOCKING GOD. “Do not mock God!” One half expects Charleton Heston to appear as Moses issuing thunderbolts from his fingertips to zap anyone to dares to question the existence of God.
This is just the first of many future postings I will have on this subject. My stating my religious belief, or lack thereof, I am not demeaning or criticizing those who do find comfort in an organized religion. I do understand that religious rituals offer comfort to many in this threatening and dangerous world. The way I feel about it is that if you find comfort in religion, then I am happy for you. I am happy the same way I would be if you found comfort in sailing a boat or spending time with your family. But when one takes their religion and tries to shove it down my throat because they want to "save" me, that am when I rebel.
It has never been satisfactorily explained to me how Jesus died for me. That he died to wash me of my sins. Sins that I was born with. Again, I remember back to that sermon on that spring day in April in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The thought that ran through my head was, "I didn't ask to be born and here I was born and I don't have a chance because I'm a sinner." The only way I could not be a sinner to take this nebulous step of "accepting" Jesus Christ as my savior.
What does "accepting" actually mean? Does it mean going through this charade even though my heart didn't feel it just to please my friends, relatives, and neighbors. Does it mean living a lie?
All my life I have been pushed, encouraged and then demanded to live a lie just because I happened to be born a homosexual. "Do this or something bad will happen to you." It just didn't make sense to me.
For many years I struggled with this dilemma, pleasing my friends, relatives and neighbors or be true to myself. Perhaps the turning point came about ten years ago when I was having an in depth discussion with a long time friend of mine who I like and respect in spite of his hard core conservative Republican and religious views.
He told me I would never get to Heaven unless I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. I asked him, "Do you mean if I led an explemary life, harmed no one and then died I would not go to Heaven." He said (as best I can remember it) "Ron, Ted Bundy will go to Heaven before you will. He will go because he accepted Jesus Christ on his death bed (Mr. Bundy, a serial killer was about to be executed)
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Ted Bundy, a notorious serial killer, would go to Heaven in spite of all the evil he did during his time on earth, but I, a quiet, unassuming, honest, good hearted, woefully naive, guy would not go to Heaven no matter what I did. Plus, I had another BIG strike against me because I would not renounce the sinfulness of my homosexuality. The way I figure it, I was born the way I was for a reason and that reason wasn't some big test of wills.
I think that day was the day I stopped believing and saw through the hypocrisy of organized, or "man-made" religion (as I call it.)
I will continue to lead my life the best way I can. Of course I know I'm not perfect but I'm not an evil person either. I do like to engage in gossip every once in a while and sometimes I experience schadenfreude. But other than that I'm a pretty uncomplicated person who wishes the best for my friends, neighbors, relatives and humanity. If I believe anything it is the belief that those among us who are truly evil will receive their comeuppance either in this life or the afterlife. Maybe there is such a thing as reincarnation and they will come back as a cockroach or some other despised life form. That makes more sense to me than all the contradictory religious teachings and proselytzing of Christians.
One thing that makes perfect sense to me is that if there is a Heaven and I get there some day I know I won't see that preacher who shouted at me all those years ago.