Since I’m still pretty uncomfortable talking about this kind of stuff so publicly, I’m gonna start with talking about the part of my faith that I know the best; the Christian portion. Specifically, the things I’ve detested about the doctrine as it was taught to me over the years, and the things that made me keep trying.
In a strange way, I’ve found that everything I found that contradicted the fundamentalist worldview that I was taught only made me feel closer to Christ and more committed to the faith. Have you ever heard that saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? All in all, that’s a stupid saying. Some things do not make you stronger. If I cut your arm off, it’s not going to grow back into some kind of super-limb, you’re just going to have one less arm and a bad attitude. That said, no matter how dumb the saying is, it kind of applies here. If I had accepted every word of every sermon given to me growing up, never questioning, challenging, or discarding ideas that go against the Holy Spirit (at least how I perceive it), I would be left with a hollow shell of the faith I currently have.
The first time I remember questioning was when I was about six years old. I asked one of the women in the church (not a pastor, of course, because women don’t preach in the Bible Belt. Issue #37547 with organized religion), “How do you know God is real and it’s not just something someone made up so they could feel happy?”
She told me “You just have to believe.”
What the hell kind of answer is that? Seriously, what if people taught school that way?
“Okay, class, eight times four is thirty-two.”
“What does ‘times’ mean?”
“Don’t worry about it kid, just trust me on this.”
Honestly. Anyways, I remember several times growing up where little incidents like this would happen. Looking back, it’s kind of incredible that I never considered atheism. I think the reason was that I felt God on a much deeper level than human indoctrination could ever reach, so when the teachings I was receiving contradicted that, I just decided the teachings were wrong somehow -or I must have just not understood it all the way. There was this sort of quiet understanding in me of how following God was supposed to be, and this was not it.
When I was a little older and first started hearing about The Gays (Guess what kind of context it was in. Go on. Guess.), well, that was when I first started really wondering what these people were on. For one thing, they don’t really have a big focus on Leviticus in Sunday School (almost like it’s theologically irrelevant as a book of law or something), so I’d never heard of the rule in the first place. For another thing, one thing they did focus on in Sunday School was how Jesus said the most important thing was to love your neighbor, and that he hung out with thieves, and the whole “all sins are equal” thing. So I was like, would Jesus really care? I didn’t think so. Besides, it wasn’t any of our business. Right?
And so began my long disillusionment with the belief I’d been taught, and had happily embraced, my whole childhood. Once you start to see one large patch of bullshit in something (in this case, homophobic bigotry based on less verses in the Bible than the fingers I’m typing this with), you start to notice a lot more. If Jesus said to give all our money to the poor, why does the pastor drive a Mercades? If God’s grace is a gift that can’t be earned, why are you saying sinners go to Hell? If we have to take every single word in the Bible at absolute face value, why am I, a girl, allowed to be in church in pants? What if someone dies without ever having heard of Jesus, are they going to Hell just for not living in the right place?
The thing about people going to Hell just for not believing how we did was kind of the last straw, I think. That “quiet understanding” in me rebelled against every word of that idea; it still does. I started to look into stuff for myself. I went on atheist forums, Christian apologist forums, read some history, started reading the Bible independently instead of just following along in church. Long story short, I found out about how the Bible was constructed from a bunch of texts that a few people with a very specific agenda cherry-picked out of tons more; translated and re-translated into language after language over the years; was filtered through political agenda after political agenda throughout the centuries; and how the Catholic church blatantly used the Bible pretty much exclusively to justify the oppression of the people in its jurisdiction. I’ll never forget about the first time I read about the Knights Templar. How could anyone do that in the name of Jesus? I literally could not understand it.
I asked other Christians about this stuff, and they went, “oh, well we all know better now!” Horseshit. I knew, and I think they knew too, that if we had lived in that era, we would’ve thought that that violence was okay. We would’ve thought that God required us to be serfs for whatever king happened to be in the area. We would’ve thought that it was completely acceptable to burn witches at the stake. We are no better than our ancestors are, and to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself, we have to be constantly, diligently checking ourselves to make sure our faith in God isn’t being manipulated by those with ulterior motives.
It was so scary to do at first, but once I accepted that the Bible wasn’t necessarily to be taken at face value, my faith made so much more sense. I didn’t have to hate the gays (which was convenient, since I’d soon find out I was bisexual). I didn’t have to accept “my place” as a man’s helpmate (Funnily enough, the Hebrew word we have translated as ‘helpmate’ was more along the lines of ‘partner’ than ‘servant’. Weird how these things tend to get lost in translation). I didn’t have to fervently abide by this kind of legalistic doctrine of control. Instead, my job was just to make sure I’m right with God and try and love my neighbor. It’s a lot harder to do than just trying to imitate as closely as you can the actions of those around you in the church, but it’s also a lot more fulfilling.
So, that was the mindset I was in when Big Red showed up. (Or, when I started noticing him?) But, that’s a different story.