Old Time Religion
February 11, 2010 4 Comments
I grew up in a religious household and while not the strictest, there were a few things that were very clear to me early on. I needed be sorry for my sins and accept Jesus into my heart if I didn’t want to end up in fiery pits of hell at the end of my life. Salvation was never a sure thing; sometimes re-commitment of one’s life to Christ was required. I was re-committing on an almost yearly basis by the age of ten. Lying, stealing, swearing, cheating and masturbation were wrong. At the very least, you shouldn’t get caught doing them. Drunkenness, drug use, pre- and extra-marital sex were exceptionally wrong. Violence was only a big deal outside of the house and no one was going to call you out on anger. But we could dance.
When I was fifteen my parents became missionaries and I went off to this missionary run boarding school in Kenya. The school catered to many different Protestant denominations of Christianity and the code of conduct for the students was at the more conservative end of the spectrum. I believe that it was in 11th grade that dating couples were finally allowed to hold hands—nothing more. And the discovery of sexual activity was enough to get you expelled when I attended. Passing Bible class was mandatory if you wanted to graduate with what was called a “college prep” diploma. I’m not even sure what the other kind of diploma would do to your life. Were you doomed to vocational schools? I have no idea—I passed Bible with flying colours.
After times like Spiritual Emphasis Week (a week of extra sermons and altar calls and whatnot), there would be open talk in the dorms about what we were going to do differently after our latest epiphanies. I remember having a conversation with one girl about how wrong masturbation was; I’d always felt like it had to be wrong but there was never any compelling Biblical evidence. Somehow this conversation cleared it all up—full stop, no more of that.
At this school, there was no dancing.
A week and a month after graduation, I moved to Toronto and was consumed with the goal of finding a church. And boy, did I ever. I’m going to leave the inflammatory language out of this, but let’s just say the environment was less than healthy. While we paid lip service to the idea of grace, it was all about the works. How many people have you invited to church; how many people are you doing Bible studies with; is everyone in your family group having their time in the morning with the Jesus; is everyone in your group giving as much money as they can; and on and on. It was like being a low level administrator in a puny dictatorship.
It was during this time that my ideas about Christians and non-Christians really crystallized. We didn’t swear, didn’t cheat, and didn’t lie (even when telling the truth was cruel, unusual and pointless); we didn’t get drunk, we didn’t masturbate, we didn’t have sex until we were married, we shared our faith constantly and we were always about the business of getting people saved. And we danced.
And non-Christians—well they were the opposite, but they danced too.
Now I’m agnostic and I am pretty much the opposite of what I thought a Christian to be. I cuss like a sailor, I lie if I think it’s the best thing to do (read: when I need to cover my ass), I masturbate when feeling led, I have sex if I want to, I get drunk sometimes, I have no faith to share and I don’t think anyone is going to hell. I don’t really cheat though—I’m pathological about fairness. And I dance.
In my continuing journey on the path of not-sure-about-godness, I’ve met or reconnected with a lot of really wonderful people who are Christians. But their lives probably more closely resemble my life now than my life before. And it confuses the hell out of me. I met a Muslim fellow recently who won’t drink or smoke or do pot anymore, but he was happy to sleep with me. He confuses me too. I know this used to make perfect sense to me—that you picked and chose what parts of your holy book, be it the Quran or the Bible, you would adhere to. And there was this feeling that you were picking and choosing exactly how God wanted you to—so that you really weren’t picking at all. But now it just seems like such a ludicrous idea.
What people take and leave is the product of their upbringing, their own faults and weaknesses, their social group and that seems so subjective to me as to make it pointless to try to label this as a religion. With all that being brought to bear on one’s beliefs, the Bible seems almost incidental. It’s like this rule book you have around to keep you from doing something really bad that you weren’t going to do anyway.
On a certain level I kind of respect the fundamentalist behaviour of Orthodox Jews or really traditional Christian sects in which woman still wear long skirts and cover their heads. There’s something sort of refreshingly ‘out there’ about faith that is so…out there; this faith that doesn’t allow them to blend into the main stream. There’s an intensity to it that just demands respect. I am reminded of Revelation 3:15-16: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. I used to live in mortal fear of being lukewarm (though I suspect I must have been since I was miserable). I have to say that most Christianity to me, as practiced, appears pretty lukewarm.
I read a Facebook post recently by someone I used to know from high school. In it she made some pretty ‘out there’ comments about women and their role as per the Bible and how the world was working against that. Do I want to have coffee with her? No. Do I have to give her props for kind of not giving a shit about what anyone might think of her beliefs, no matter how far afield of the centre? Yes. On the other hand, do I want anyone who thinks like her having any say in the law of the land as it pertains to my body and specifically my womb? Balls, no. On a political level, at least, I see the argument for not espousing extremism; or at least keeping church and state an ocean apart.
I have no great desire to see all my Christian friends turn into holy rollers. I don’t think we’d be friends much longer. As it is, they accept me for who I am, with my beliefs and confusion and anger about religion and what it seems to do to people, and I’m grateful for that. Maybe I just wish they’d take credit for being good people all on their own.