Quite a storm went across my state yesterday, with high winds and flood warnings. An hour west of me, a EF2 tornado touched down in the town I grew up in. My parents were across the street at a restaurant and hid in a bathroom as the car wash business across the street was ripped to shreds. Someone died. Several houses were wrecked. As I was looking through pictures on-line I ran across a picture with three houses in it. Two had clearly been wrecked by the tornado, while the one in the middle was not visibly damaged from that angle. In their front yard stood a sign that said "Thank You Jesus." (above is the exact image I am referring to) Of course, the Christians in the comments section took this as a sign. Literally. Look at that. It's a miracle. That house wasn't harmed because they had that sign out in the front yard.
So let me get this straight...God spared this house from a natural disaster because they put a sign in their front yard thanking Jesus? Of course, the other two houses could have had the same sign and those signs were sucked up by the tornado that descended on them. But let's say that they are the only people proclaiming their religion, doesn't the Bible and Jesus state directly that you should not be proclaiming his name loudly on the streets? Aren't you supposed to do so quietly, living your life as an example of love? And what about your neighbors? Does God just not love them as much. I'm sure the people in all three of those homes were probably praying? (I live in the Bible belt. Most people are Christian and most people pray) Would God really allow someone's home to be destroyed because you didn't put a sign in your front yard?
Now, the God of the Old Testament would have destroyed everyone's homes. He wouldn't have spared anyone. Whenever the Israelites got out of hand, God punished all of them. Surely, there were some people who weren't all complaining or stealing manna or whatever, but God didn't care. God of the Old Testament also doesn't seem to care about people having homes. After all he destroyed the earth with a flood at one point, kicked Adam & Eve out of their home, exiled his chosen people several times, and most of his people lived in tents for hundreds of years. It must be assumed that at one point, someone's tent blew away in a sandstorm and I don't think God gave a shit. But what about the New Testament? Does Jesus care where people live? Well, he was homeless and told people to give up everything they had to follow him. This included homes and families, so I would say no. Paul would have asked people to open their homes to others if they had it, to be available for communal living.
This story gets more interesting though, because the most extensive damage to occur happened to a church. Now, they were openly telling people about who they believed in and loved and God didn't spare them. So with this logic, God only spares people who put signs in their front yards, but no other kinds of declarations of faith.
Of course, I mention this sign issue to my mother, mostly to gauge what crazy Christians think of this and her response was "miracles do happen". But why? Why would God, who clearly doesn't care about people having houses, spare someone's house because of signage? You know the answer. "God works in mysterious ways. Maybe God has a plan for those people. We may never know." Oh I can tell you...we will *never* know. I have always hated the, this-makes-no-logical-sense-therefore-it-is-mysterious crowd. To me, the answer is simple. If there is a god, he doesn't give a shit about your house, whether it has a sign out front or not. Natural disasters destroy things. That house probably did have damage, it just wasn't obvious from the angle that the picture was taken. It may have been minimal but things like pressure, the materials that the house was made out of, the age & repair of the house, how the other houses protected it, all come into play. Most likely they have insurance on the home and the damage will be repaired within the next year. The houses next door may either be repaired or take the money from insurance as a loss and buy a new house. This may make some people think about their mortality or whatever, but since no one was seriously injured, it will probably get boiled down to an interesting story to tell their kids and grand kids. The butterfly effect from this event may alter someone's life, but it is more likely that it is just a blip on life's road that is full of beautiful and shitty things.
This kind of thinking from the faithful is not good thing. It suggests that some people are better or more deserving of God's grace, even though scriptures tell us that God's grace is for everyone. It suggests that outward signs of faith will somehow cover you, like lamb's blood on your door, protecting you from harm, which is downright superstitious. (something else Christians are told to avoid) It also suggests that when a "miracle" happens, the cost doesn't matter because God spared one of his faithful. There's no way you can't get a bit egotistical if you believe you are the one God spared for a "reason". And although my mom wants to believe in miracles, someone died in this tornado and one house being spared will never replace that life. If what my mother believes is true, then it makes it seem like this god is more concerned about outward confessions of faith then human life.
Today I had a phone conversation with my mother that turned to my complaints about how PC my work is. I work for an academic publisher and everyone here really likes to believe they are super woke, to use a popular colloquialism. Although I absolutely agree that we desperately need to hire a diverse group of people, some of the things my co-workers are doing just feels more like slacktivism than actual change. For example: Some of my co-workers have begun introducing themselves at the beginning of meetings with something like, "Hello my name is [insert name]. I go by the pronouns she, her, and hers." And then they launch into the meeting. And it is stupid. People, I get that there are folks out there who do not subscribe to gender norms. I am okay with this. I will call you whatever you want to be called. I'll even ask if it isn't completely obvious or I am unsure. The ownness isn't just on the other person. I'll call you whatever you want. But there is no way in hell that I am going to introduce myself with the pronouns I use. I am female. I look female, act female, and present as female. I have never had anyone in my entire life doubt that my pronouns are she, her, and hers. I'm not adding it to my email to give some outward sign that I am cool with whatever it is we are trying to say we are cool about.
So anyway, that's just a setup for what my mother says next: "Well, they just want attention. That's what [the gays] want, right?" My reply went something along the lines of, Of course not. Not everyone wants attention. Gay or straight. Most just want to live their lives. Especially trans people who are in serious danger if they made themselves known. It's very dangerous to be trans in this country. Most just want to live their lives and have some happiness and fulfillment. Just like anyone. My mother then said something about the "people she works with really are dramatic and want to be known". She is now referring to the homeless people she serves food to once a week. Umm, mom, I don't think you should be using homeless people with serious mental illness issues as an indicator of how most gay people act. I have known gay people who are loud and proud, and I have known straight people who are that way too. No one gets mad and threatens to kill the overly macho dude who talks about how many girls he has slept with though. That's the difference.
What I didn't add was that she doesn't get upset about an in-your-face Christian with an obvious agenda who flaunts their spirituality and sexuality as if they are righteousness police.
My mother did not agree. Even though this is simple logic. Not every gay person is out of the closet. Not every gay person is effeminate or butch. (for lack of better terms) Not every gay person is political. Some quite literally are just trying to live their lives. Some are more conservative. I have a gay co-worker who doesn't think gay people should get married. Some are activists and have agendas. Others just want to be left alone to raise children, work, play D&D, and binge-watch their favorite sci-fi show. I've known a lot of gay people over the course of my life. Once I was able to knock down the wall that my indoctrination had created, I was able to see them as normal people.
Logic and my mother are not friends. I doubt this little conversation did anything to change her mind, despite the truth in it. Her fear and hate has led her down a dark path of contempt and prejudice.
When I first met my husband, he bragged about how he used to volunteer at a Crisis Pregnancy Center. This did not sit right with me as, by that point, I very much felt like abortion was not such a black and white issue. Certainly not in the way that my fundy parents had taught me. A few months into dating, I was having some issues with my period and headed to the lady doctor to see what the problem might be. I was put on birth control. I figured this was good as I did plan on having sex eventually, but most definitely did not want to have a baby. My husband, upon learning this, got uncomfortable and stated, "They won't let me volunteer if my wife is on birth control." To which I blithely replied, "I guess you won't be volunteering then."
But seriously, who the fuck are these people? Who are you to decide whether me and my husband get to use birth control or not? Why in the world would that be any of your business? Other than the obvious misconception that some people have that birth control is like abortion. There is no concern or nuance when it comes to these people. It's all or nothing. There is no box to check for volunteers that says, yes my wife is on birth control but we plan on adopting an abandoned/neglected/abused child. I have a friend with Type 1 diabetes. Having a child could literally kill her. She has decided not to risk it. How dare you suggest that she is doing something wrong by making that choice.
But most of all, how dare these people lie and trick people in order to get their way. The Bible makes it clear that there is no sin worse than another. So lying is on the same level as murder. Even if you think abortion is murder, you are no better than them if you lie and cheat your way into convinving them to not do it. Nevermind, that the attitudes expressed in the above video show very much that there is very little concern for women and their children after birth. The end does not justify the mean.
With the recent Facebook scandal, social media in general has become a quite touchy subject. My network engineer husband who has shunned social media since its inception, feels vindicated, while those who are a bit more ambivalent feel torn. I mean, that is where I keep up with friends who I now live far away from. It's where I see pictures of my nieces and nephews who live in other states. It's where all of my writing network is thanks to grad school and an active writing life. Not to mention the thousands of photos on it. After carefully culling my Facebook feed, I actually like going there. It really does keep me informed. It's where people post funeral arrangements, birth announcements, party invites. I don't mind not checking it very often, but not having one at all seems foolish at this point in the social media game.
What I wouldn't miss though is the constant looking over my shoulder that I feel about Facebook and being an in-closet atheist. I have to be careful what I click like on because I know other people will see it. I am afraid to follow certain groups or like certain pages because I know people will see it. If I post something that I think could be misconstrued in any way, I will make the privacy settings so that only a handful of people will see it. But it's not just in closet stuff. I am clearly a left-leaning moderate, but I find myself holding back from posting any political persuasions of any kind because I hate to argue. And then there's the posts that other people put out there that I have to talk myself out of responding to. No, this doesn't matter. This is your friend. You will not respond to this stupid meme that suggests that atheists are idiots. Of course, those posts usually get people instantly unfollowed.
The ones thing I have been struggling with concerning social media is deleting people altogether. The unfollow option is great, but I often wonder why I don't just unfriend the majority of them. Obviously, family is different, but why I am still friends with the ultra-religious ultra-conservative woman I used to homeschool with who now has seven children and an unhealthy obsession with Chik-fil-A? Is her being the sister-in-law to my now deceased friend mean I should continue any kind of relationship, even one as meaningless as Facebook? Or that friend of a friend that I met at a party who is semi-interesting, but never came to anything I invited them to and it's been two years now? Or that guy I met at a writing event who made me feel super awkward and hasn't sent me another free book since I rebuffed his advances? Oh and the girl who used to live in my neighborhood who used to bully me? Apparently online, I am a pushover.
I unfollowed the super religious long ago. I outright delete anyone who is openly homophobic, racist, or misogynistic. I've never felt bad about those decisions. But social media, despite some of it's pluses, isn't really a safe place at this point. Not if you are trying to keep a secret. I think it's why I have headed to places like Lifehacker, Reddit, YouTube, and blogs. I may be anonymous, but at least there I can find "my people". So I think I'll keep my Facebook for now, but continue to treat it more like friend newsletter with pictures, update on big life events, and the occasional life decision that I have to keep my mouth closed about.
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've always had trouble making friends. As a kid it was a bit easier because you didn't worry about things like having something in common or what life stage you were in. You like to play with paper dolls? Me too! Let's do it. As a teenager I struggled with making friends because I was sheltered and naive. I knew that some of the kids in my youth group weren't wholesome per-se, but they were at church so how bad could they be? Little did I know at the time, but the other kids could see this in me and rather than exploit it, they too protected me. No one told me they were in a gang. I found that out much later, after I had left the church. My best friend in high school (who also went to my church)...well, it turns out she was using me as a way to manipulate her mother. I wasn't even her best friend. She had another best friend and they would send each other notes laughing about how stupid it was that I didn't see through her lies. I know this because when her mother and I finally caught wind of what was going on, her mother showed me. The level of hurt I felt was deep.
Around eighteen, I started to make a nice group of friends. No longer as niave or trusting, I was more cautious around these people. I vetted them carefully. I held back from the people in our friends circle who seemed too wishy washy or dramatic. This served me well. I made several really good friendships from this time. Those friendships have been a struggle to maintain, but I am quite proud that I have had the same best friend for almost twenty years now and talk to many of them regularly. There's about five of them and I really do value their friendship.
I have moved several times all over the country and I readily admit that I struggled with forming connections with people. I thought at the time that the way to build friendships was to just go to church. Of course, looking back at my most lasting friendships, none of them were formed in a church. Not a single one. But I had bought the lie of the church that says that the church is where you should go to fellowship. It's where people are who will support you and encourage you. So everywhere I moved, I would immediately start looking for a church to go to, because that's how you become friends, right? Proximity + one single common interest (God) = friends. Right? It took me way too long to realize that this was a terrible formula that did not work for me at all.
So let's break down for a moment some of the barriers that exist that I think limit my opportunities to make friends:
1. Questions. To me, playing the twenty-question game with every new person I meet is exhausting. I try to have more organic conversations. If I mention I have a sibling, I'm not going to drill you about whether you do too. I mean, I just assume (perhaps incorrectly) that if you had a sibling you would now insert it into the conversation if you wanted to. I have been told by people that this lack of asking questions makes it seem like I don't care. I do. I just don't want to have to pry information out of you.
2. Opionated. I am opinionated. For the most part, my opinions are well-informed as I read a LOT, but it can come across as a bit strong. I hold my tongue a lot. People have no idea how much I hold my tongue. I have some really strong opinions about some subjects that I don't share with a damn soul. But even with me holding back, the being opinionated can be a bit much for some people.
3. Bossy. I've been bossy my entire life. As a kid it made me precocious and annoying, particularly to adults. As an adult it has served me very well in business and drives people nuts at game night. I would like to think that I am not as bad as I was when I was seven, but I also know it is always there, lurking. As a result, I often avoid taking on extra responsibilities where I would be in charge, because I know how easily I can slip that personality trait on and people don't like it.
4. Talkative. Folks, I talk a lot. A lot. I like talking. I may not ask questions, but I love talking to interesting people about interesting things. I could go on for hours about books, video games, movies, music. I love listening to others talk about their hobbies and interests. I learn tons of new things by talking to people. I also know that for those who aren't talkers, this really throws them off. I mean, I would rather chat on the phone then text and there is a whole sub-section of people out there who find this notion abhorrent.
5. Geek. Nerd. I am these things. These things are me. I know way too much about Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Firefly, fantasy & sci-fi books, writing, physics, violin, classical music, D&D, puzzle video games, and board games. I do not like nor do I understand sports, manicures, MLM schemes, chick flicks, and badly written apologetics books. In church this particular thing was a problem because it seemed that only the guys liked the things I liked and guys & gals weren't encouraged to be friends...not unless you were looking to date. So I was stuck with the ladies whose idea of a wonderful afternoon was watching the newest rom com, followed by mani pedis, with a little Mary Kaye party in the end for something extra. For me, the entire afternoon was one horror after another, but I was trying so hard to fit in.
For the record I am also an excellent friend to have. Despite my flaws I have many strengths too. I will rearrange my schedule to spend time with you, even getting up at 4 or 5 in the morning to go have breakfast if you are a morning person. I keep in contact through text, messenger, social media, email, and phone, even when you don't reciprocate. I will remember your birthday and buy you an awesome present that you will like. I will go do things I don't love just because you love it. (ahem....bowling) I will invite you to concerts, plays, movies with no expectation that you will pay for it. I just want the company of someone who will enjoy it. I will babysit your children for free. I will buy a plane ticket and come visit you if you don't live near me anymore. (I've been to Boston three times since leaving, and to Seattle three times as well) There is absolutely no drama with me. Even if you are behaving in a way that I think is wrong, I won't offer advice unless asked for and even then I am kind and gentle. I don't talk shit behind people's backs. Ever. I accept people for who they are, flaws and all. I find more value in being supportive and kind, then being the kind of person who "tells you how it is".
How does this all tie into making friends when religious vs. not. Well, one thing I have found is that the 5 flaws listed above are really frowned upon in the church. Christians are supposed to ask other people a lot of questions because that is part of evangelizing and also a part of making those surface level semi-connections that are supposed to make new church-goers feel welcomed. Being bossy and opinionated were big no-nos for women in the church, unless you were the church gossip who "prayed" for everyone. She was okay in that context because she was only bossy and opinionated because she was such a strong woman of God, don't ya know. Talking was fine, as long as you talked about the right subjects, which did not include any of the interests listed in #5. Those interests were wordly. Sure, everyone saw the newest Marvel movie, but have you seen the newest craptastic Christian film? Because that's what we should be talking about since we are both Christians and are interacting in the church. Even my awesome church in Boston was sometimes guilty of this, although there was an added dimension of extreme intellectualism that colored all of this.
Here's what I have noticed about trying to make friends outside of the church: People are more forgiving of my flaws. The fact that I talk a lot means that there are certain people out there who would never be friends with me, but it isn't because they think women should be quiet in the church. My interests matter more because I'm not expected to fit into a neat Christian-woman box. Informed opinions are seen as adding to the conversation, not subverting the status quo. Making friends didn't become easier, but it certainly feels like there is some pressure that has been put off be being outside of a church. A pressure that I wasn't even aware was there until I walked away.
For the record, I am a wonderful friend once we have formed a connection. I have flown across the country for people. I will keep in regular contact. I'll get up extra early in the morning to have breakfast, even though I am not a morning person. I have gone to concerts for bands I don't like, just because a friend loved them. You can be guaranteed that I will never fight with, yell, or gossip about you to anyone.
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.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.