Jul. 23rd, 2005

lucyshoe66: (Default)
I don't have what my parents call "faith". Nominally I was a Protestant Anglican until I was old enough to realize that this isn't something you are born into and then must carry through the rest of your life unquestioned. By the time I had even a vague understanding of what "faith" was (and I'm still not entirely clear), I don't think I had any. Or if I had it, it wasn't in the sorts of things that were accepted by my non-churchgoing but nonetheless Christian by upbringing parents.

I remember as an 18 year-old having an argument with them about it. They were insistant that faith was something that I might cast aside now, but would clamour for some day in the future. It was a little prescient that my father said this to me all those years ago because in a way it has become true - for him. My parents were very, very casual Christians - we went to church up until the time I was 8 or 9, after which Jeff and I revolted against the indignities of Sunday School and my parents came to the conclusion that not only were we too difficult to deal with on Sunday mornings, but that there were probably a lot of things they could be accomplishing around the house and garden in the time they had regularly been devoting to the Sunday morning service. So we stopped.

One of my best friends was Catholic (margie, the one who prayed over our broken washing machine and could fit her fist (and an orange) into her mouth - though not at the same time) and the other was Greek Orthodox and my very best friend was Dutch Reform. They all disappeared for lengthy periods on Sundays and sometimes even Saturdays, and what they did with that time was a big mystery to me. Even when we were going to church, the service was a little over an hour at most. Whatever their religions dictated to them seemed unweildy and intrusive to me even as a little girl, but it was also elusive and mysterious and I was a little jealous that I didn't know what I was missing. I remember Margie making us all kneel down in my driveway to pray for Cat Stevens - something which embarassed me terribly and made me feel silly and resentful and "bad" because I didn't want to, but then also "powerful" as if we were practicing magic. Allison wasn't allowed to go to the cinema with us on Sundays, and if we were playing at her house we would not be allowed to use scissors to cut out pictures. When I ate over at their house I was made, as the guest, to say Grace, and the only one I knew, which we only used in our home on jokey occasions (Good bread, good meat, Good God let's eat) I wouldn't have dared to repeat at their table. Instead I was coaxed line by line by her mother in some long and serious prayer which again made me feel both strange and embarassed and resentful. Georgia's religion seemed the most fascinating to me because the entire family looked so festive every Sunday, as if they were travelling to a very fancy party every Sunday morning instead of a boring sermon. For years I imagine that the Greek church must be filled with music and dancing and bazooki players.

I made a stab at becoming (or acting more like) a Christian once. It was the year after my terrible highschool boyfriend, when I found what I thought was the perfect antidote - a devout Baptist boy. He dragged me along to youth nights at his church and introduced me to the enormous social scene that I had never realized surrounded the religion. He "assigned" me readings from the bible and encouraged me to ask questions and would write out long essay-like answers for me. He introduced me to his pastor. He was, to me, a shiningly good person, which coming directly on the heels of a relationship with a destructively bad guy seemed like all I could hope for. The great irony of this was that at the time my parents became very perturbed at my devotion to the bible and to going to services with him and so on and yelled that I should stop pretending I was something I was not and that I wasn't raised to be that kind of Christian. Things turned sour with Peter the Baptist. He wouldn't go to school dances because rock music was da debil. That, above all, shocked me more than anything because he looked so normal. I'd never heard of anyone outside of books and old movies who thought like that. We argued a lot about music, with me trying to point out how harmless lyrics were and he saying that it didn't matter because Satan was behind the music ultimately. I even tried to get him to accept Amy Grant as an acceptable musician and he said she was the worst of all because while she had once been a Christian musician she had abandoned it for fame and money. The bigger deal though was insistence that I would have to devote the rest of my life to praying for forgiveness for having been a whore to my last boyfriend. He told me I had deserved the beatings I had received from him because I myself was completely evil, and it was one of the worst things anyone has ever said to me. But still I wanted so much to be good in his eyes that for a while I bought it. The end of my association with his religion came one night at the Youth Ministry when the pastor showed a movie about the evils that non-Christian teens immerse themselves in (you know, sex, smoking pot, etc) and damning them all to Hell unless they atoned for their sins. My flip switched and it was over for me. After the film everyone had to close their eyes and then raise their hand as they came to accept Christ. I refused to do it, and the Pastor kept insisting over and over that anyone who didn't raise their hand was doomed to hellfire. I was practically shaking I was so angry, but not as angry as Peter beside me who had realized I was the hold-out and who was poking me, demanding that I raise my hand too. That was the end of our relationship, more or less.

By the end of my teens I had decided once and for all that religion wasn't for me. Eventually I figured out what I did have faith in: an arbitrary and accidental universe, the meaninglessness of existence excpet for that which I decide to attribute to my own life, and the finality of death. These are the things that comfort me. Especially when my life has gone through long periods of badness, the finality of death has been the thing I clung most tightly to. I could hardly wait. Strangely, now that my life is good, it still holds comfort for me. I think of my grandmother at Christmas dinner turning down a third helping while saying, It was lovely, but I've had enough. Any more would spoil it."

As an adult I've called myself an agnostic and then an atheist, and again an agnostic and so on back and forth for years. Lately I haven't been calling myself anything because I'm not sure a descriptor is something required to describe an absense. I'm also not a criminal, but I don't feel the need to describe myself that way.

Still I don't want to be arrogant in my non-belief. If religion -- whatever religion -- works for someone, I think that's great. If it explains the universe in a way that makes sense to them, if it offers them comfort in their darkest hours, if it provides a sense of community and purpose, if it fulfils a spiritual need in them, if it gives them faith that everything we're doing here on earth has some ultimate meaning and promises them everlasting peace and joy when they've shuffled off this mortal coil, I'm glad they have it. I no more want to convince anyone that my (non) beliefs are the real way and the truth and the light, than I'd want someone else like Peter the Baptist try to convince an already emotionally battered young girl that she was evil and deserving of whatever pain she was suffering because God says so. Dismissing someone else's beliefs or non-beliefs as intellectually sub-par or crazy or stupid or weak is as ignorant to my mind as any other kind of blanket condemnation I hear directed toward a person's sexuality or lifestyle choice. Condemning religion as being repsonsible for fostering a mindset that would excuse anything bad as being "God's will; and good is good, therefore this evil act was okay!" is simplistic and as stupid as condemning atheism as being responsible for fostering a mindset that would excuse any evil act because "there is no ultimate authority, everything is chaos so whatever goes, goes!" Sure bad things are done by people in the name of religion and also by people who believe in nothing. It's not the religion or lack of it that causes or excuses evil that happens, it's the people. And if someone hacks up their children because "God wanted me to and they'll be happier in heaven anyway" that's not the religion talking, it's the mental illness.

Religions are all interesting. Everytime I learn some other arcane (to me) fact, like the existence of the Sabbath Elevator zetteZettie mentioned yesterday, I'm fascinated. My thoughts don't automatically go to "how stupid these people must be to be too afraid to push a bunch of elevator buttons" anymore than I think the people who look for meaning through God's greater plan are deluded idiots.

So be it.


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June 2007

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