I have always been pretty. As a baby I was just the right amount of plump and thin, with an adorable smile, and bright blue eyes. Getting older, I grew into a very pretty little girl who liked to be clean and kempt, my hair usually plaited in one long braid running down my back. The hair had gone from a pale blonde to strawberry blonde over the years. There were no weight issues as I was an average sized kid. When I was twelve I began to grow into a woman and was quite well-endowed very quickly. I had an hourglass figure, no acne problems, naturally straight teeth, and a natural cupid's bow mouth. At one point I was "discovered" on the street for beauty pageants, but found them to be too focused on looks. The recruiter was rather upset about this as he felt that I was a perfect fit and even took me shopping for fancy dresses once in hopes that I would fall in love and push through my shyness. I did not. I then went into acting, where it wasn't difficult to get roles. To date, I have gotten every part that I have ever auditioned for, although I was admittedly picky about what I did audition for.
As far I as remember, I have never been twitted about my looks. Not as a kid, not as a teenager, and not as an adult. Someone once told me that my nose was a bit round, but since it is basically my dad's nose and I adore my father, I took this as a compliment. I've never turned down a guy and had them shout, "Well, you're ugly anyways." I've never been without admirers, something that is a bit of a problem now that I am married. When I first contacted my husband through the dating site we were both on, he said his first initial thought was, "Why is this really pretty girl messaging me?"
Now, I know what you are thinking....wow this woman is really conceited. Hang in there with me.
When I was six, I recall one particular day where I kissed my great-grandmother on the cheek. She wasn't too terribly old, but she was in a wheelchair and had been since I was a toddler due to a series of strokes. As I kissed her I thought, "I am going to be old like this one day." This thought was not upsetting, just one of fact. I then walked to the back bedroom and sat looking at a picture of my grandparents when they were much younger. My grandma with her dark eyes and dark hair, smooth skin, fashionable dress. How could the woman in this picture be the woman in the other room? The sickly frail woman who looked so sad and only seemed to light up when she was near us kids. How could these be the same people? Did her younger self ever think that one day she would be old and frail? What did I know about her? What were her interests? What did she enjoy? What made her happy outside of us?
I was six, but this was the day I realized that it didn't matter if I was pretty. Beauty faded. Health could change in an instant. Age would eventually catch up with me. I could not live my life defining myself by how I looked. That was the day that I knew I would have to define myself by other things, things that would matter in the end. What would those things be? Well, it took me a while. What I began to ask myself as I got older was what was it that I wanted people to say at my funeral, whether I died at fifteen or fifty? What did I want people to remember me by? Not my beauty. That seemed almost silly, especially if I lived to old age. After all, when was the last time you saw an eighty year-old and thought, I bet she was a real looker when she was twenty? You can't really tell can you?
These are the things that I decided would define me: Talent, family, devotion, hard-work, intelligence, passions, kindness, and faith. Those became my focus. I love that people say I am easy to buy gifts for, because it means that I am successfully showing you who I am and what I like. You know those people who you struggle to buy gifts for because they seem to only have one particular interest? I did not want to be that person. What if that one thing was taken away from you? Who would you be? I also think that it is because I haven't allowed one thing to define who I am, that my loss of faith hasn't felt more devastating. There was certainly a time when it would have, but as I matured, I allowed other things to shape who I was and my personality. Religion slowly, but surely just became a piece of me, one that became smaller as I learned more and more about science. I found that my need for religion as a defining factor of who I was was not nearly as important as people knowing me to be a person who sought out truth. Along the way I also stumbled across some things that I DID use to define me that I shouldn't have. My job being one example. Since company loyalty to employees is low and one could leave a job for any number of reasons, using your job, title, or position as a way to define yourself turned out to be a bad idea. Same goes for using any life stage as a defining factor. Wrapping your identity up in being a single person, student, virgin, young mom, old mom, newlywed, etc. is foolish since most of those life circumstances change naturally over time. I've seen people who can't stop going to school because they don't know who they are outside of school and it scares them to enter the workforce. Seriously, this is a thing in the academic world. One of my SILs used her infertility to define herself, so much so that even though she has had two biological children, she still thinks of herself as an infertile woman and gives talks about infertility across the country. And even when someone confronted her on this, saying that it was almost disrespectful that she consider herself infertile after having two children, she disagreed vehemently. Who is right, I can't say, but her infertility has become one of the things that defines her.
It's hard not to let certain things define us. Even now as an atheist I struggle against letting that define me or becoming too wrapped up in it. I don't think I am interested in letting that be a large part of who I am. I would rather be known for other things and after one deconversion, I'm not so quick to jump on another belief system being my all.
My beauty is already fading. I have wrinkles under my eyes and on my forehead. My once perfectly straight teeth have started to shift and I've had three route canals already. I have terribly dry skin, particularly in winter, and my hands are looking prematurely old. I still look much younger than I am, but I know that won't last, nevermind that I quite like when people guess my correct age. I earned these wrinkles damn it. What I love most of all though is when my eight-year-old nephew calls to ask me for advice about writing, or when a friend invites me to watch a movie they "know you will love", or my husband buys me something from Loot Crate because it looked just like something I would wear, or my mom brags about how smart I am to a friend. Those things mean more to me than anything I see in the mirror. Those things fill me with pride and accomplishment in a way that my looks never had. I was born with this face. I had to work hard for everything else and it those things that make me me.
So not completely in the closet, since there are a number of people who know now. As far as family: my husband, kid, one cousin, and two brothers know. Most of my close friends know and the ones that don't are for very calculated reasons. My parents don't have a clue, although I think my dad suspects I have gone astray a bit, but he would never say anything. My mother just thinks I have become more liberal. I've been "becoming more liberal" for a long time, but since I avoid talking about politics and religion with anyone in my family, no one is aware of the extent of my shift in opinions.
When I meet new people now I am very honest about my beliefs. I make it clear fairly early on in the relationship, whether that is a friendship or more of a working relationship, that I am not a believer. In the Bible belt the subject comes up a lot more than it should. No one has invited me to church although a few people have mentioned prayer in the context of me being stressed out with the adoption process.
The person who seems to have the most issues with me being in the closet is my kid. I know, for him it probably feels like he is keeping this big secret. And maybe that is unfair to him. But I have known my family for 36 years and he has known them for just under eight months. I think I am the better judge of how these people will handle this information. Or as I told him, "It is my secret to tell." I also explained that although I know he doesn't like it, to tell people against my wishes would be a violation, even if he doesn't agree.
It used to bother me more that I was so in the closet, but at this point I think enough people know that I don't feel so confined. And it's not like I am a different person. I'm just not convinced there is a god.
I have some fairly fond memories of youth group. As a teenager I was a believer and I didn't see the overt sexism, homophobia, and manipulation that surrounded me. To me, youth group was where my friends were. It was where I got to "minister" to other youth. We went on trips places and had fun. There were conferences, lock-ins, camping trips, concerts. There was always a religious spin at some point, but 90% of it was just supposed to be entertainment. Everything was fine until about sixteen when I started to push back a little. Remember that means there was a good four or five years there where I was fully drinking the Kool-aid.
At sixteen, I convinced the adults to let me lead a small group. They agreed but on the condition that an adult was present. No problem. About 15 other teens signed up and were excited to join. I planned on using a book called "Mature Christians are Boring People and Other Myths About Mature Christianity" as my template for a 6 week study. It was by Ron Luce, the leader of Teen Mania ministries, who I would come to loathe only a few short years later. His book though, suggested that mature Christianity was about obedience, doing what God tells you to do, which means that teenagers can be more mature as a Christian than adults. As you can imagine, the adults did not like this. How DARE I suggest that a teenager could be a more mature Christian than an adult? But here's the thing, I had become a Christian at the age of four. I had already read the entire Bible through once and was on my second reading in chronological order. I had been in Sunday schools, children's church, Bible studies, since I was four. Nevermind that I was a disciplined, responsible teenager who had started my own babysitting business. (It was a legit business. I even paid taxes. I was hugely successful.) So in my mind and even looking back now, I was certainly more mature than many of the adults in our congregation. Now, that maturity really had nothing to do with my Christianity, but somehow I equated the two. I was also very angry when my small group was disbanded after two weeks. I saw it as the adults feeling threatened. I still believe that. My parents know it.
I ended up leaving my parent's church and youth group after going to a Audio Audrenaline concert at seventeen. We went with two leaders and half dozen youth. For some reason, one of the leaders brought her ten-year-old daughter who hated the concert and the noise. More on that in a bit. It was there that I bumped into a guy I knew, a guy who would quickly become my best friend for the next nineteen years. (we're almost on twenty) He had blue hair that he would put into spikes and our youth leader with the kid, we'll call her B, did NOT like that. I got a very stern talking to about associating with "people like that". Let me point at that at this point I had shaved off most of my hair, was wearing huge Jinko jeans, had double piercing in each ear, and solidly considered myself a skater chick. This guy with the blue hair was my type of friend and I was justifiably upset with B. We get our seats and B leaves with her daughter because daughter doesn't like the noise. The other leader, O, is now left to watch over her 12-17 year-old charges. One boy K (aged 12), asks if he can move up front with the semi-mosh pit that is mostly people jumping up and down. She says okay and off he goes. Half hour later, I have the worst headache even though I am still quite enjoying the concert. B returns from her bathroom trip to announce that we are leaving. Her daughter doesn't like the music. The concert is not anywhere close to over. She looks around. "Where's K?" And this is when things went downhill. O pretends like she doesn't know where he is. I mention he is up front, confused as to why O (the adult) is lying. One of the kids is sent to fetch him. He returns, smiling, obviously having a good time. B is visibly angry. "Didn't I tell you not to go up front? How dare you disobey me. We're leaving." A few of us protest. But the concert isn't over. She marches us all outside where she proceeds to berate K, who has now begun to cry. At first, I was so angry that I had to walk away. Then I came marching back and went OFF. I've literally only done something like this maybe four times in my entire life to someone not in my own family. "How dare he? How dare YOU? O said he could go up front. She lied to you. He asked and she said yes. That's why he went. He went because he was allowed to. How DARE you berate him in public like this. How DARE you make him out to be the liar. And how DARE you make us leave. You are here to chaperone us on a trip WE wanted to go on. Not your ten-year-old. Us, the actual teenagers in the youth group. I love this band. I want to stay and listen. The problem in this situation is YOU." Folks, that was a very quiet hour and a half ride home. That kid thanked me for standing up for him. B never chaperoned another youth event again. I left to find another church a few weeks later.
My new youth group was at a Vineyard church. They had a pool table, something considered evil by my previous church. They had couches in the youth room. They were still obsessed with sex and my body being a sin factory, but they were not nearly as stringent and the youth pastor was awesome. Eventually that went downhill though when the youth pastors son began having serious behavioral issues and the church assumed that the parents must be crappy parents to have a kid with such problems. So they made him step down to "get his house in order". The new youth pastor within two weeks got rid of the pool table and the couches. He replaced them with tables and chairs so we could have "serious" Bible studies. Attendance went from 50 youth the 15 in about a month. It sucked.
I stayed at that church though and just started attending another youth group. Of course, now I was an adult so it was more like volunteering. This church was serious about youth group. They went all out. The music, the food, the activities. It was organized, it was fun, and kids from churches all over the city attended. Attendance at one point was over 150 kids at one point. There were more kids in the youth group than adults who attended the church. It was there that I really began to see the manipulation tactics. The teenagers who rededicated their lives to the Lord every other week. The push to have new converts. I did surface level things like setting up and prepping for games, so I never saw the underbelly of this church. That is until my good friend A came out as a lesbian. A had a rough life. Her mother was a drug addict, mentally ill, and abusive. A's life has been a series of bad decisions made by an immature mother. At one point A lived with us for six months because things got so bad. A was like a little sister to me. Now, even at that time I believed being gay was a sin, but I witnessed firsthand the shameful way that some Christians can act in regards to it. At first, they tried to "counsel" her. When she didn't relent they shunned her. Completely. They had a big meeting and told everyone in the church, adults and youth, that if they saw A on the street they were to walk the other way without saying a word to her. That this was love because she refused to repent. No one could be friends with her. I left, although I was hoping this would all blow over after a few weeks. It didn't. For months my friends who went to that church wouldn't come over if A was over, wouldn't attend parties if A was invited, and wouldn't acknowledge her if they ended up in the same room together. It was cruel. After a few months I marched myself over to the church and went OFF on that pastor. The gist of the conversation was how dare you hurt this person that I love. She left your church. Why can't that be enough. How am I supposed to love an minister to someone when she is continually hurt by the very people who once claimed to love her? Here's something truly horrific for you...it's been just over fifteen years since this happened and people STILL do this to her. I am not joking. If she comes back into town to visit family and bumps into people from that church who are still drinking the Kool-aid, those people still don't acknowledge her existence. A few people later apologized, but for the most part, it was just treated like something that was necessary to the situation.
I was done with youth group by then. Even though I kept going to church, I refused to help or be a part of any youth group. I could see the damage that was being caused by the adults in charge and since my opinions/thoughts were so unpopular, I knew I would just be a squeaky wheel who would eventually be discarded. Although there were certainly many fun aspects of youth group, I am now super cautious concerning them. There is a reason our kid is going to a Unitarian church and not a Baptist or Evangelical church. I don't want anyone filling my kid's head with homophobia or teaching him to be embarrassed about his body. Or worse, teaching him that the purpose of a woman is to be his helpmate and sexual object. I don't care how many fun games they play, I worry that my kid will end up in a youth group that teaches their kids to shun people they don't like or agree with. And although Christianity is certainly on the downswing, I know that youth group is where many people get sucked into the cult of Christianity and this makes me sad. Indoctrinate them while they are young.
It was once explained to me in a discrimination course in college, that stereotyping is a natural human thing to do. That stereotypes in themselves aren't inherintely bad or immoral, but rather your actions in regards to them. It is not wrong that when you think of cheerleader, a bubbly airheaded blonde who bounces around a lot and shouts is what comes to mind. What would be wrong is if you treated the next cheerleader you met like she was a dumb airhead because you have this image in your head of what a cheerleader should look like. It would also be wrong if you didn't allow your positive interactions with cheerleaders to change your views and stereotypes, or nullify the stereotype altogether.
Having grown up in the church and having mostly Christian friends for the first twenty-five years of my life, I would say that I have some very well-informed views of what a Christian looks like. Except I don't. I only have a small sample size, made up of Evangelical Charismatic Pentecostals. Although this certainly gives me a very clear picture of what that particular sub-set of Christianity looks like, it is still only a piece of a whole and there are those within this sub-set that aren't as cut and dry as the stereotype I have in my head. What is that stereotype? Homophobic, Islamaphobic, self-righteous, religious zealots with a heart to save all of mankind from hell and the vitrol to make sure people know about hell.
But within even that sub-set of Christians, I know that there is a slew of psychology and history that can change even the most devout believer. For example; One of my brother-in-laws is clearly homophobic. The shit that this an spews forth is appalling in its vitrol. Yet, this man has also been through the foster care system, has experienced serious neglect and abuse, and believes that every child deserves a family. Even if that family is gay. Yes, this highly homophobic man is firmly in support of gay people adopting because his life experiences tell him that in this area, it doesn't matter. Having a family is more important than ideology or religion. Another example: My mother was very obsessed with being the perfect Christian for a long time. For a few years she didn't cut her hair and only wore hideous long dressed that she made herself. It was a sad period in her fashion life. This was in an effort to be modest. After watching me struggle with body image issues and an eating disorder brought on by the church's obsession with policing my body and sexuality, my mother is now extremely body positive. She wears tight shirts and even shows cleavage sometimes. She speaks out against the purity culture and body shaming that the church does. This change came because of some life experiences that taught her that the things she believed weren't quite right.
I do have a stereotype of Christians in my head. I am also very happy when Christians don't match it. And I am very very aware that circumstances can change even the people who do fall into those stereotypes. I am proof. I was once the very stereotype of Christians that now grate on me. There were people who did act in a prejudicial way towards me because they acted upon their stereotypes in a negative way. Those people never got through to me. I saw them as angry atheists who just hated on people who believed in a god. I didn't see understand that what they hated were the things I stood for and believed, things that made me unwittingly a hateful unloving person. I understand that anger and frustration from the other side, but want to remind my fellow agnostics and atheists that treating these people like shit or assuming you know what they believe will do you no good.
Of course, we must also discuss the issue of not-all-Christians. Because not all Christians are homophobic. Not all Christians believe in the rapture. Not all Christians have a persecution complex. And we must be very very careful not to assume anyone's beliefs even though we may understand what their holy book tells them to believe. I personally think the Bible is rather clear about homosexuality and it is obvious that the God of the Bible was not a fan. Those who are Christians and think being gay is okay have done some serious mental gymnastics to make it okay. But I would rather deal with those people who try to twist the Bible to be a less judgmental and kind book than those who use it as an executioner's ax.
It's been a few weeks since we started going to the local Unitarian Universalist church and I HATE it. Seriously, I've never been to something that felt like such an asinine waste of time. The only thing that was getting me through was knowing that I wasn't doing this for me, I was doing this for our kid. What's an hour and a half once a week if it means our kid is connecting with people his own age. Except he isn't connecting. Basically our son has made up his own religion that loosely uses the Bible as a jumping off point and then adds a bit of mythology, a dash of urban legend, and a lot of horror movies. So he walks around talking about demons and ghosts as if they are fact, but all he knows about them is based purely off fantasy horror films. When I informed him that the Bible mentions ghosts once and in the context that bringing someone back from the afterlife was an evil sinful thing to do, he just couldn't process that information. Since most of the kids in his youth group are, at best, agnostic, it has made him the outcast. Again.
Husband on the other hand feels like what the UU church is doing, spirituality without god worship, is almost sacrilegious. He feels like he is betraying his Christian faith by attending this farce of a religion, because it IS a religion in his mind. Sure they don't worship a particular god, but they most definitely have a belief system.
Lucky for us, the kid seems okay with us dropping him off now. So we usually do grocery shopping or hang out the comic shop for a bit while the kid attends youth group and then we go pick him up. It's a nice break although does make Sunday mornings a bit rushed. I've heard that not all UU churches are like this one...sadly, this is the only one in our city so oh well. It's not like our horror movie religion kid will fit in anywhere else, especially in the Bible belt.
I can speak in tongues. I use the present tense because even now, as an agnostic atheist, I can still make all the utterances and sounds I did when I was a Christian, with no discernible difference. The churches I grew up in would call this blasphemy, stating that I once felt (or am now ) denying the power of the Holy Spirit. This denial means that I am blaspheming the Holy Ghost, which is the only unforgiveable sin. Of course, there's some debate about what blaspheming the Holy Ghost means, but that's what I was taught it was. Having known and felt the power of the Holy Spirit and then denying that power exists or happened.
Let me tell you about the day I received this "gift". I went to an Evangelical charismatic Pentecostal church. Everyone I knew spoke in tongues. Every service was full of people shouting, raising hands, falling over, praying in tongues, interpreting what other people were shouting, along with waving banners and stomping on the floor with sticks. Sometimes this would be the entire service for hours on end. No sermon. The Holy Spirit was moving. It was chaos on a good day. I was ten, laying in a pew bored out of my gourd. Making fun of the going ons at church was a big no-no and we weren't allowed things like toys or coloring books, so I spent a lot of my time in my own head. Then there were all these adults surrounding me. I had no idea what was going on. They seemed excited and agitated. At one point I ended up with my head in my mother's lap and her repeating over and over, "Let it out honey. Just let the Holy Spirit move. Let it out. Shabbaba sickanda baba nukabba." I knew what was expected of me then. I was expected to talk like them. To make sounds that were supposed to be a secret holy language from my god. After about ten minutes I began to baby babble. The adults wept with joy. I cried too because I have always been a reactionary crier. And that was it.
When I read the Bible, it made it very clear that the gift of tongues was people speaking actual foreign languages so that other people could understand them. If you didn't think there was anyone to "interpret" the language for you at the time, you were supposed to speak quietly only to yourself. Of course, there were people who believed that they knew how to interpret this mess of syllables. What that looked like was one person would stand up and loudly say something in their tongues language. Then there would be this loooonnnnggg silence, before some random other person would stand up and say something along the lines of, "Thus sayeth the Lord. My people..." It always sounded like God was speaking in KJV, which was weird but whatever. What I thought about my prayer language was that I must be speaking a language from a country I didn't know about. I used to write down some of the words in my journal, trying to make sense of the babble that I was uttering. Surely "Sickadi" meant something, right? Maybe it meant, thank you or hallelujah or I love you. In other words, I was trying to analyze this stuff coming out of my mouth with the assumption that it was a real language. I used to also scour the internet looking for languages that sounded similar to the one I was speaking. Of course, when I did this, I also ran across scientific articles that talked about how the tongues spoken in each country mirror the language structure of the language that person already speaks. I started to speak less in tongues after that. If me praying in English wasn't good enough, then we had a problem.
I stopped altogether after going to a more liberal liturgical church for a few years. There, the speaking of tongues was seen as a rarity (a miracle in fact) that only happened when there was no one there the interpret a language for a missionary. It was not necessary for a daily prayer life as God cares little about languages. They also thought it was super strange that people did it and more than a few were completely freaked out about it. To them, it was the equivalent as Mormons wearing holy underwear and Catholics selling indulgences. Ridiculous. I remember being at small group once and trying to explain it to the people there and thinking, "This IS ridiculous. It's not because they don't get it, it's because this concept is utterly stupid." I realized that I could use my prayer language even when I wasn't feeling the holy spirit. And I also realized that I was making up these sounds. That I had never felt anything different while praying like this. I had NEVER prayed out loud with the hope that there would be an interpretation because I knew there wouldn't be one. I knew someone would make up some bullshit, but I was pretty sure that if I was saying anything it was just, "Thank you God. You are awesome. Hallelujah." And I could never figure out how these other people knew.
But I get it now. They are making it up too. Their "interpretations" came out of their own noggins. The ones who are bold enough to speak out or offer interpretations are just the more zealous people who believe every thought that pops into their head must be from a god. My only hope is that this belief system eventually falls to the wayside like so many other religious beliefs that have disappeared over the years. Maybe in 200 years people will look back and say remember when Catholics sold indulgences? Oh yeah, and Evangelicals spoke in tongues? This would actually be in keeping with their own Bible that says in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that when tongues cease, only hope, love, and faith will remain. I'm okay with that.
It's a tale as old as the church. A pastor, almost always a man, is caught doing something that God & the church would deem to be sinful. Homosexuality, infidelity, molestation, embezzlement. Sometimes the "sin" is less insidious like when a pastor begins firing anyone under him who questions his authority or when a pastor is caught with pornography the week after he ranted and raved against it. These indiscretions sometimes catch up with them, although I suspect many take it with them to their graves.
Those in the church often appear to be devastated as many pastors earn an almost cult following in their churches. For those of us outside the church, who have watched quite a few of these grenades blow up, we aren't so surprised. Wait...you were surprised that Marc Driscoll turned out to be a megalomaniac who bought his way onto the NYT best-seller list and encouraged the practice of shunning those who left his church or were fired? Did you read the man's books or listen to his sermons? Of course, that's the person he was. He wasn't even hiding it very well. Or Ted Haggard who ranted and raved against homosexuality while being diddled by male prostitutes on his down time. At this point, I suspect anyone who is that homophobic is probably struggling with feeling of same sex attraction. We know all about the various Catholic priests who sexually abused the children under their care. Even Martin Luther King Jr., this supposed paragon of virtue, was an adulterer, the truth of which only came out after he died although all accounts seem to point to that situation reaching a tipping point anyway.
Perhaps the strangest after-effect of these serious missteps is that within the Christian religion is a mechanism called forgiveness. Now, unlike the coloquial understanding of this word, this isn't about forgiving a person for a misdeed so that you can move on. This is about redemption and afterlife. This is the kind of forgiveness where you could commit a murder and if you just say the sinner's prayer and ask for forgiveness, the religion not only teaches that you will get into heaven, but here on Earth you are seen as a success story. I grew up hearing about these stories. The redeeming power of the blood of Jesus.
A guy once came to a youth convention and talk to hundreds and thousands of teenagers about how he used to be a gang banger and killed people and his mom was a witch, and then one day he met a pastor who never gave up on winning him to Christ, and eventually he saw the light. Of course, these stories were littered with things that were suspect. That gang banger admits to killing people. He knows the names of the people he killed. But he never went to jail for any of his crimes. But it's okay because he became a Christian and Jesus changed him and he would never do any of that now. Him being in jail for murder would be a waste because his testimony has more of an effect outside of prison. Of course, there are plenty of other people who did go to prison and are serving out sentences for gang related murders, but they deserve to be in prison. Unlike this guy who the Christian community has forgiven. And this guy, this avowed murderer is hanging out with kids. He admits that he still has extreme anger issues and at one point had to separate from his wife because of his issues, but get this, he chalked it up to demons and once they had a good old-fashioned exorcism, he's all better now. And people believe this shit! They gobble it up.
You had an affair with a teenager and sexually groomed her for two years? No problem, as long as you asked for forgiveness in front of the church, all is forgiven. Your old church may kick you out, but nothing is stopping you from starting a new one and several people who feel like you were done a disservice will follow you. Dude feels up a teen and shows her his dick, but it's alright and even deserving of a standing ovation as long as he said he is sorry and looks repentant.
Don't get me wrong. I am all about redemption. I absolutely believe people can modify past behaviors to the point that they are safe to be around, BUT I would be very very careful about what that looks like. If you are caught sexually grooming a teenager, then you should never again be in charge of teens in any way shape or form. You may never do it again. Perhaps you learned your lesson. But you should also not be put in a position where you could do it again. If charges can be brought against you, they should. The Catholic church swept their improprieties under the rug, shuffling known child molesters off to other churches where they would absolutely have to opportunity to commit their crimes again. They hid the crimes from the authorities and all of this was done under the authority of a god and pope. Forgiveness should never mean that a person is allowed to continue to work or function in the same position they did before, with the opportunity to commit the same indiscretions again. That's the appropriate response from people who care. If you care about teenagers or children being abused, you should not allow opportunities for it to continue.
So one of the downsides of being an Atheist, is that apparently you aren't allowed to have problems or bad days. If you do you will run into several kinds of Christians with several interesting bits of advice:
If anyone says this bullshit to you, you need to recognize it for what it is--manipulation. Our lives and bodies are complex. Throughout our lives we will have ups and downs. Illnesses, unexpected deaths, job loss, frustrations, struggles, etc. There is not a human being on this planet that doesn't have some kind of problem, although some are certainly more serious than others. For every American Christian who says God provided them with extra money to buy groceries last week because they prayed, there is a mother in another country who is mourning the loss of their child who starved to death. That other mother prayed too, but there were no magical dollars or middle-class parents, to bail her out. For every atheist with cancer, I can assure you that there are a lot more Christians with it. God isn't punishing them nor is this a test. They got cancer because the human body can suck sometimes and we haven't figured out how to stop all the sucking. Not eloquent, but you understand.
Take responsibility for the things that actually are your fault, work on growth in that area, and ignore the people who think that a god who punishes people with bad times is anyone worth worshipping.
Today we went to a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. It should be called a church, because that's what it is, but we'll just call it a UU for simplicity. Now, I had always imagined a UU as being the kind of place where people of all religions come and worship together. They bang a gong and do some ooomms, followed by a singing of Amazing Grace and maybe an Islamic chant, followed by a self-help sermon that talks about how you can be a better person so you can make the world a better place. We went because our son is still very unsure about what he believes, but needs to be around more normal teens and we thought that since he isn't really very religious, a UU would be a kind of neutral ground.
What I was surprised to find was basically a Baptist church that had been scrubbed free of all mentions to any particular god. There was a gong, but for no discernible reason. No one explained what it was for, what it meant, and it seemed to more like a school bell to tell you class was now in session. The hymns, some of them familiar, had been re-written to remove any reference to god. The "sermon" was the reading of a quote from a more famous UU member, followed by a few words about the quote. Other than being vaguely uplifting, there was no substance to it. The pastor (or whatever you call her) had this weird spoken word type drone as she read the passages, as if this was some kind of performance art piece. I found it mostly unsettling.
There were a lot more older people than I expected. I mean, my experience living in the Bible Belt is that old people are often neurotic, fundamentalists who tell people they are going to hell and are intolerant of anything that didn't exist "back in their day". I know this is stereotypical, but this was (and is) all my relatives and how all the old people I grew up around were. But I am also aware that there are a bunch of old people out there that were liberal in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. People who weren't religious even back then, who were tolerant of other people, and fought for the right's of others and themselves. And those people have to be somewhere, right? So I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised to find a plethora of them at the local UU.
That said, I realized this about myself: I do not need empty ritual in my life.
Singing Christmas songs that have been scrubbed of all god references, seems stupid and pointless, not progressive and inclusive. I don't know how anyone got anything from that service, but it mostly felt like a waste an a good hour and a half. But we are doing this for our kid, right? My hope is that after a few weeks, he will be okay with us dropping him off rather than feeling the need for us to be in the same building while he is at youth group.
I hate the mythicism that has arisen from the gospel accounts of the wise men. Well, most of the nativity story really. Of course, I'm not even convinced that any of it happened and if it did, a lot of it was exaggerated, but the reading comprehension of modern Christians is astounding. For example, show me a passage in the Bible that says there were three wise men? Go ahead. I'll wait. You won't find it because it isn't there. There is a mention of three gifts, but there could have been two guys or a hundred. The common narrative also puts the wise men at the birth of Christ, but reading the actual written story, it seems that they wandered around for a bit, asked for directions, and eventually stumbled upon the child thanks to a meteorite hanging about the house for an unspecified amount of time that no one else noticed. I've read this part several times because it just doesn't make sense and hasn't since I was a teenager. Did it really say it hovered over the house? Or were they astrologers who were reading the stars? And how does that work if you are a Christian, because I was taught that astrology was witchcraft and mostly fake. But folks, it says "...and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was." (Matthew 2:9) This implies that the thing was moving ahead of them and stopped over the house. Not a sign from the heavens, a literal object. Let's also not forget their quick-stop at Herod's palace because they were originally mistaken and thought that an actual Prince had been born to the King. Another one. By the by Herod had many sons and it was well-known that this was not really a source of pride for Herod. All it was was more competition for the throne and he had several of his sons (along with other various family members) killed. And once they were set straight the guy got super suspicious and then tried to kill a whole bunch of babies. There probably weren't that many young babies in Bethlehem....but WHY were they still in Bethlehem? They were supposed to be there for the census or taxes or somethign. The census (which historically we know didn't take place at this time anyway) only lasts a few weeks at most, it's not a year long process. It's only a 33 hour walk (with no animals) from Nazareth to Bethlehem. At most it would take 4 days to get back and forth. Even if you gave Mary a few weeks to heal, eventually you have to go home. I mean, did Mary and Joseph move to Bethlehem or were they there for the census? Make up your mind Bible.
At this point, the whole story just sounds so far-fetched. Even if your reading comprehension is excellent, the story itself in a historical context just doesn't make sense. It reads like someone who was writing something 70 years after the actual events and realized there were some plot holes so they tried to fix all the plot holes in one short chapter.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.