When I was a kid, my parents didn't go to church but we lived within walking distance to four-five different denominations of Christian churches and for a couple of years my brother and I were required to walk down to which ever church we wanted to on Sundays until we turned 10 or 12. We tried them all and we also went to some summer day camps sponsored by churches and I still have a silhouette of praying children I made at one of them. I'm not sure if my folks ever found out but there came a point when we'd sometimes go up to the Indian mounds instead going to a church where we spent the time looking for arrowheads, which I count as part of my spiritual growth. You can't walk on those mass graves sites without thinking about the cycle of life, other cultures and our places in the world.
Back in those days the town I grew up in was called the City of Churches and when it comes to religion it was a source of anxiety for me whenever the topic came up. My earliest memory of religion being a hurtful thing was on a playground when a pigtailed little girl told me she could no longer play with me because my parents didn’t go to church. I’d been to her house after school the day before and I guess her mom determined my family was unfit. In high school I had the same thing happen when a boy I dated took me home and his parents made him quit dating me after they found out I wasn’t tied to a church of their liking. In between those two incidents I worked at honing the skill of ducking all questions and conversations that involved religion and I kept that going until just a few years ago when I flat out told a Red Hat Society sister that I didn't go to church, when asked that dreaded question. She was kinder than the little girl with pigtails of my youth but the shoulder she gave me after that had cooled. Or could it have been my pre-programed imagination working overtime? Some childhood scars never really heal.
In college I took three
classes on comparative world religions, one was at a large university, two were
at a small Catholic college. They made it clear---at least to me---that at
their core all religions have the same basic values. And when on a debate
website two years ago this question came up: 'Is the world better
or worse off because religions were established' this is what I wrote, “The evolution of
morality was well on its way thanks to the Great Philosophies before the major
religions were founded so I believe the world would have been just fine without
the introduction of religion. However, Christianity tends to translate the
messages taught by its founder into a worship of its founder and I have a real
problem with that. Jesus, like the founders of other world religions, was a
link in the evolutionary progress of societies trying to develop their sense of
right and wrong. He just had better a 'press corp' than other
founders of the major religions preaching with similar creation stories and parables. Religion is a living entity, changing and growing in acceptance. Some are just farther along in that process than others, but they all have there dark moments in history."
The way I was treated growing up by ‘good' Christians, makes it hard for me to respect any Christian denomination that claims that a belief in Jesus is the only path to finding God or salvation. I also have a hard time with the personification of God, even calling him/it the Supreme Being which is inclusive of other cultures and religions is too super-sized humanizing to me. I prefer to call it the God-Power which takes away the image of a man in the sky controlling everything like I was taught in those early years at Sunday school. I was in my mid-twenties when these thoughts jelled for me after a minister at a church where I was setting up flowers for a wedding told me, "The secret to understanding God is there is no secret. God is love and love is God. It's as simple as that." After our conversation is when I started using the term the God-Power. The power of love can save the world.
Up until the Great Book Purge last summer I had an unread book on my shelf titled, The God Delusion. I don't know much about Hitchens other than he also wrote, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. But I know enough about finding new friends to know I shouldn’t have that book sitting on my shelf when I move to the continuum care campus. The place is a non-profit supported by a deeply entrenched denomination here in town. So I know that I’ll have to go back to my lifetime ways of not being completely open about my views on religion, of avoiding conversations about churches.
Rightly or wrongly, I label myself an agnostic because I don't believe in a heaven or hell---we make our own heaven or hell right here on earth by the way we live our lives. And I define God as the combined goodness of mankind (love) and the devil as the combined evil of mankind (hate)---I got that definition from my dad. I see God more as an internal force, a power that drives us all to try to do good in our lives. If people need to go to church to be prompted to do good things, fine. I can respect that, even admire that as long as they don’t in turn look down on me because they think I need saving or educating. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the Bible quoted as if the quote was a slam-dunk ending all logical debate no matter the topic under discussion followed by the words, "Read your Bible!" Thank you very much but Charles Heston read it to me during my search-for-the-meaning-of-life era.
My parents were good people with good reasons for not going to church and while my dad and I had many “God and religion” conversations I never had any with my mom. When I asked my niece, this week, if she ever did she replied, among other things, “Whenever I read John Wesley’s famous quote, I think of Grandma. ‘Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can.’” I didn't really appreciated all the good things Mom quietly did for others until her funeral when I heard story after story from people she’d helped. I had hoped my niece could shed some light on which of my parents thought it was important for my brother and I to walk up to the churches. She couldn’t. But after our talk I'm guessing it was my Mom's doing. I'm guessing it was after the playground incident when I cried about it at my mom's knee when my brother and I started our Sunday mornings routine. Either way I’m glad they did send us. The Bibles stories and parables are so much a part of our western culture it would be hard not to know the references/code words. Eve and her apple. Noah and his ark. The speck and the log. And, yes, thanks to my parents I know that Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were not a '70s rock band. ©