I'm alone on this Sunday afternoon. For some reason, this day and time take me back to Sundays of my childhood, when church and Sunday school were sporadically encouraged. I remember the old parochial school, its stairs to the basement and to the second floor, the dustmotes in the sunbeams, the worn floor boards, the dry creak and groan, the ancient desks. Outside, the huge old trees. All torn down not long after these first memories, replaced by a cement-block school that was surely modern.
When I was a child, I wanted very much to be good, or should I say, Good. I believed, or thought I believed, in Jesus, but more importantly, God, that omnipotent being that could see everything I did, knew every thought I had. I was afraid of God. Of course I was. And I was afraid of Jesus, too. At around age 6 I had a dream that I met Jesus on a gravel road. He captured me and thrust me into an oven. I remember the dream and that my skin turned red from the oven's heat. Hansel and Gretel transposed onto Calvinistic, Missour-Synod-Lutheran dogma.
God was all about fear and ego. Ego, because God demanded worship and sacrifice and couldn't tolerate disobedience. He was like my father, but even scarier. I never, ever believed in God's love, because God was a frightening being who smote down whole nations, slayed blameless infants, decided to kill his own son, flooded the earth, and committed all manner of other depraved and vicious acts. Whatever was said from the pulpit about love was very pro forma. The parts that rang true about God were about his vindictiveness, his willingness to consign one to hell, his scourges and plagues and cruel tests of loyalty (e.g., the story of Abraham and Isaac). I knew that God was watching me for an excuse to send me to hell. I was ashamed of my bodily functions: God could see me in the bathroom, could see me vomiting.
When I was 12 or 13, I met an older girl at school who expressed doubts about Christianity. I doubt if she ever knew that she watered the seeds of doubt that had already started to germinate within me, but it was a relief to hear someone pooh-pooh the whole idea of God, to heap scorn on theism as something that was irrational and that made no sense. I had begun detaching myself from Christianity already, but she was an unknowing catalyst in this effort.
It wasn't Jesus so much as it was the whole Old Testament concept of God--which our sect was really into--that got me. I thought Jesus was okay, but the whole story of his birth and death, not to mention the miracles, was so much speculative fiction, as far as I was concerned. None of it made any sense, especially the idea that an innocent--a god, no less--would somehow be the scapegoat that vouchsafed guilty, sinful believers' entry into heaven, that airy, nebulous place.
It was a freeing experience--my second--when I read Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy. Although I had read a little about Eastern religions, this volume really opened my eyes, an experience that was repeated many years later when I read some of the works of Joseph Campbell on myth. No one who has seen the parallels among various myths and spiritual beliefs can really believe in the exceptionalism of Christianity unless he or she wears blinders. I was blown away, and I would never again call myself a believer.
Actually, by then I didn't call myself a believer, because circumstances led me to confront the pastor of the church I'd grown up in. Okay, I hadn't "grown up" in it, but had attended, under duress and off and on, for some time. Because my spouse was applying for conscientious objector status while already in the US Air Force, we needed testimony from a man of the cloth to attest to his sincerity. The only guy we could think of was the pastor of my parents' church.
What a meeting that was. It confirmed everything I feared was true about my parents' church. When I said that it was hard for me to believe in a god that would allow a nuclear bomb to be dropped on the Japanese, I was told that the bombs were good, because "a lot of heathens were converted to Christianity because of that." That was so repulsive to me that I've never forgotten nor forgiven. What a depraved scale of values. It was the same god of the Old Testament: greedy to have his ego massaged, to be validated, to frighten and torture "his creatures" into some skewed belief system that allowed him to massacre at will.
Later I was able to articulate the inconsistencies, absurdities, and human failings that make up biblical scripture. The contradictions that are explained away by the faithful continue to astound me. My reaction is always, "How can people believe this stuff?" The same people who abjure the faithful from believing in, say, witchcraft tell their community that NOT believing in the equivalent is anathema.
No more made-up stories and fairy tales, please. I can live my life and die my death without the crutch of religion, thank you very much.