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.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.