Religion is a Choice: how I made mine
At the risk of offending everyone I have ever met, liked, loved, known, spoken to, been acquainted with, or called friend: religion is a choice. You can choose to believe, or not believe, and either one, is pretty OK with me. [Note: I have exposed my children to the many various faiths, and will continue to encourage them to seek out information to make their own choices. I'll wax poetic about my religion later, if I feel like it.]
I was raised evangelical, born-again and all that happy horse shit that goes with it. Given that I was "saved" as a little kid, I truly believed that Jesus did love me. My first church memories were more Deist in that the preacher told us that we needed to live according to the mandates Jesus laid down, because it was the right thing to do. This was long before the prosperity gospel convinced people that speaking in tongues, sending money you can't afford for your bishops' clothes, and third Bentley and million dollar salary. Big churches were usually old Roman Catholic congregations, and "mega-church" was a phrase that meant absolutely nothing.
God was up there, in his heaven, doing his thing, you know, keeping gravity working, and making sure evolution didn't slow down. He didn't have time to hold my hand as I navigated life. It was up to me to make the right choices, and go along-- hopefully when life was over, and I finally met him in person, he'd be happy with me.
That was the Jesus I knew. The one who loved the entire world, but well, the man had shit to do! I wanted to be someone who he could be proud of, you know, that cousin you adore, as opposed to that one that everyone pretends isn't really related to them. Because of this, I swallowed the evangelical lies, hook, line and sinker. I was about 12 when I was first exposed to the idea of a more macho Jesus, the kind of person who supports war, and the death penalty, and of course, is all bootstrappy.
So I believed in him. Still, I was bothered. I mean, my Bible said he was a meek man, not a soldier. But, the preacher said otherwise, and you “don't touch gods' anointed.” that also means, don't ask questions if you don't understand, and if it doesn't seem to match what you read in that same book, you read it wrong. That's what they do, the entire body of adults, they beat kids over the head with You're Doing It Wrong!
What a way to fuck up your kid!
So I stealthily looked at other faiths; for a kid in a born-again church, that means looking into Methodism, the Lutheran church down the road, even Roman and Orthodox Catholicism, as well as Judaism, Islam, and all the rest. Main-line Protestantism was presented as just as crazy and out there as Hinduism. It was just as taboo, and just as “wrong” according to these assholes yelling at me every Sunday. They didn't use the right book, didn't wear the right clothes, didn't use the right phrasing. They just weren't Real Christians (TM). By the time I met a Universalist Unitarian I had left Christianity, else my head probably would have exploded!
I was fascinated by Judaism; just in awe of it. It was just so cool! So elegant, to me. Islam seemed much the same way; a simple elegant, “live this way” kind of religion. I was only a teen-ager, so I couldn't really dig very deeply into these faiths; what I found was what your basic convert would know. I've continued to dig into theology through the years though, so I do know more than I knew then.
I was about 15 or 16, fed up with the hypocrisy I saw every day around me, wrapped up in this christianity thing. I took World History/Comparative Religions that year for my history credit, and loved every minute of it. The growth of fertility cults, the branching of the various religions, the evolution of how religions worked; the Holy Roman Empire buying, selling and reselling the world in the name of god-- it was fascinating!
I learned of the various Councils of Nicaea, and Constantine. What a way to open a kids' eyes.
Better that that, though, was learning about how modern day religious people have done good in the world. The book talked about Mahandas Gandhi (called Mahatma, meaning great soul). His pacifism really spoke to me; I was a soldier's kid, still supported the death penalty (because my parents did), and never really thought about what the word genocide actually meant.
But his peaceful actions, they spoke to me in a loudness that his voice never would have had. He was so brave, putting himself out there like that. His actions spoke in a way that impacted me, and still do. I read about him voraciously; and that led me to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama (his religious name is Tenzin Gyatso, and often you see both the title and that name together). I read all about Hinduism and Buddhism, and found them both peaceful, whole and emotionally challenging philosophies. They seemed to have so much in common with my Christianity-- the kind that called to me from my childhood, not the morass I was stuck in at that time.
Then my grandmother found out I was reading about these men when she visited us in Germany, and she told me, “Well, what he did was good, but you know it's a shame Gandhi still went to hell.”
That stopped me cold. I remember asking her what she meant by that; surely someone like Gandhi, someone who willingly died for what he believed in would be in heaven! How could God be so wrong to shut out someone like Gandhi!
Then she pointed me to the often quoted, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians.” It was years before I found the quote and was able to read the last clause: For they are not at all like your Christ.
What my Grandmother took from this truncated quote was that Gandhi liked Jesus well enough, but the idea of converting to Christianity was not something he was willing to do; she fed me a line about how in order to convert you have to submit yourself to God-- there was more, but I blocked it out. I was still in shock, she was telling me this man who epitomised Jesus in so many ways was in hell-- forever!Just because he never publicly said, "Hey, dudes, I'm a Christian! Go me and my Sanctified Self!"
She compared him to the Roman noblemen, Agrippa, that Luke* writes about in the Acts of the Apostles, 26:28-- “And then Agrippa said unto Paul, You've almost persuaded me to be a Christian [paraphrased].
That galvanised me to study more; and wouldn't you know it, Jesus never did talk about hell the way Christians do. Jesus referred to Gehenna, the communal dump, where they burned their rubbish. Well now... one lie exposed, what else was there? For a little while, I was too afraid to look. What if Satan was tempting me? Lying to me, so I'd disbelieve God? I can't even explain to you how fucked up that made me. Threatening your kid's spirit, their soul, the bit of them that is really them, if they don't believe every single thing you say about God, that's child abuse. It's torture, it's terrifying to look at that, and try to figure out if you're brave enough to really ask the questions; brave enough to find the answers.
So, I find there's no real evidence of hell in the Bible these people are constantly beating me about the head and shoulders with. What else is there no evidence of, I thought? This led me back to the first rumblings of state-sponsored Christianity and Emperor Constantine.
If you have to vote on the divinity of Jesus, the dude you claim died to save the world from hell, that really doesn't bode well for the rest of the religion, does it? I decided by the time I was 16 that I wasn't a christian. I would not believe in a religion built by a misogynistic, persecution-obsessed man like Saul of Tarsus. It would be better to convert to Judaism, I thought-- get back to the source.
But Judaism didn't sit well with me, either. The one thing that I kept from that thought experiment is the idea that: I don't know what's going to happen after I die. I may or may not continue; I may or may not see God; chances are, there's not a thing afterwards. But that's not important. What's important is living a good life now; doing the right thing now, being loving and kind now. Let the afterlife take care of itself. And how to be OK with not knowing.
I love science, especially astronomy. I love being a teeny tiny insignificant atom in the workings of the universe! That feeling of being completely unimportant has helped me come to grips with not knowing what's after-- if anything at all. If I can be OK, celebrate even, the state of being of nothing important in this life, and still strive to be all that is good, that I can muster, than fuck the afterlife!
I'll deal with it when I get there.
Not too much later I found Neo-Paganism, and started studying it about the time I turned 17. My dear friend Matthew Snyder, who I've since lost touch with, was my teacher for a good while, and really helped me feel brave enough to ask those questions that I'd been afraid to ask aloud before. Stuff like, what about all those people who never were Christian? Is god sending them to hell too? And why are all these Christians so vindictive? Was it really OK to question God?! When you're brainwashed that questioning god means you're going straight to hell, that it's a real place full of tortures, and pain, and you deserve to go there for asking anything, and not trusting, it can be so hard to break out of that!
Damn, that's a scary thing, to start to use the brains in your head, and ask questions about religion. (My mother always encouraged us to ask questions about everything except religion. Oh, and religion intersecting with faith; that whole ID thing? I learned about it when it was called creationistic-evolution, and God was the Designer).
Trusting God meant sitting down, shutting the fuck up, and letting God do his thing in your life, whether you wanted it or not. These people really mean it when they say Jesus is their Co-Pilot. They reckon he's right there, sitting in the passenger seat, map across his lap, navigating for them. Some of them at the church I attended as a young teen actually claimed Jesus was the pilot, and they were the co-pilot! They were passive riders in their own lives! That was something to celebrate! To get up on Sunday nights, and testify about, something to thank god for!
So, I studied the various Neo-Pagan branches. I figured out really quickly that I wasn't Wiccan. For many years I just told people I was, so I didn't have to explain the differences in the various paths, but I was Wiccan for about five minutes. I see the world in shades of grey; Christians see the world in black and white; Wiccans tend, to, too. Must only do light, white things, bringing goodness and happiness and sparkles to everyone, all the time! We don't call them fluffy bunnies for nothing... So, for me, Wicca was out.
Given my family background is Celt, I wasn't really surprised to be drawn to a more Celtic Paganism. Technically speaking, if I spell it out: I am a Celtic Reconstructionalist Shaman. I'm not a witch, more of a kitchen cauldron-bubbler. For me, my religion is based around my family, and then tribe. Course, if you're like me, anti-social and outcast, your tribe is little, but be that as it may, I include my friends and embrace them like family. The idea of hospitality, protecting someone you invite into your home; always being honest, and expecting the same in return-- even if it's not going to make someone happy [this doesn't mean be a dick about it, though]; the golden rule, of course, and leaving the world in a better place than I found it; these things resonated with me.
So, I devoted my time, to figuring out exactly how I could go about doing my faith, as opposed to talking about it. I wanted to personify those good things I read in the stories and myths, be a living example of the kind of person I respect and look up to; I'm still working on that, if I'm honest. But it's something that is meaningful to me, so working on it is a good state to be in. Being that we're all our worst critics, I doubt I'll ever be happy with myself, but I'm seeking to be part of an ongoing evolution, and it's OK!
If you're not “walking” your beliefs, then you don't really believe them. I'll grant you, it's hard, really. You have to get up, do more than talk, actually treat people! You have to think, and ponder, and be willing to evolve.
No, not all Pagans worship every single God and Goddess we have stories about; Pagan theology is pretty messy, and so I won't go into it-- at least we admit it's messy, I guess. No, we don't all go vegan; we span the spectrum from vegan to carnivores. Just like everyone else.
We don't wander around naked, completely stoned, covered in glitter and singing. Although, I admit, that does sound like fun, minus the glitter-- that shit never comes out of your hair! There are just as many different kinds of Pagan as there are people practising Paganism. We take a path and make it our own-- with or without glitter.
Personal evolution often means changing the way you think, the beliefs you hold dear can be thrown aside as you grow and change. For me, I embraced choice even more and discarded support of war and the death penalty. I went from being willing to fight if the country went to war, to not being willing to fight unless I am being killed. I'm not afraid of death, I just can't justify killing someone else just because some prick in a suit told me to. Fuck him, he can go kill people! I'll stand right here, nurturing the pretty birds in my yard, celebrating the sunrises in the desert, and being thankful that I have eyes to see the colours painted in the sky.
The death penalty thing, that changed because my friend Stone challenged me to think, really think, about who was being put to death. Not why, or for what crimes, but who. If the country can't be fair about it, but merely arbitrarily passes out the death penalty to minorities and even mentally retarded people, as well as a lot of innocent men and woman-- what kind of justice is that? Damn, what a shot in the guts that was.
I was willing to evolve, to let my belief's change as I learned more and more about the world. Christianity doesn't let you do that. You can't change-- Jesus never changes, you can't either!
There are some days that I consider myself more of a Humanist, and not so much a Pagan. I find myself politically an Atheist. You know by now how I feel about religion in public, and if you don't-- read my blog from yesterday. I have no problem actively working to exclude religion in public completely, and if that ever comes into vogue, I will make certain that I tuck my pentacle, Tree or trefoil into my shirt (depends on the day if I'm wearing one of them, or none of them) or just leave them home; not a problem. I support reasoned thought; actions based on expectation of a good and fair reaction and accepting divergent opinions.
I don't know if there is a God, or a Divine Presence. I honestly don't know. I call it Goddess, yes, and God, and sometimes merely The Divine. I don't know if I'm merely naming the majesty of the universe Goddess out of reverence at the amazing nature of it. I don't know. But I'll admit it. Besides, the Universe is pretty majestic! I mean, black holes and star nurseries, quasars and exo-planets, nebulae and Saturn's rings! Holy Fuck, that shit is cool!
Anyway, what I do know, is that I can think about these things, ponder them and still get out of bed in the morning not knowing the answers. I'm willing to talk about these things, the mysteries of the universe**. I can disagree with you, discuss it, and maybe we come around to a new way of thinking.
I don't care if you believe the Cosmic Chicken laid the Cosmic Egg, and that's how we got here; I don't even care if you're confused by that statement, and immediately thought “Cosmic Omelette!” As long as your beliefs have room to evolve; mine do, and between the lot of us, we can figure some of this shit out.
I do promise this about my faith: I won't ever whip it out in public on you. It doesn't come out in public unless I'm defending myself from crazy-assed Missionary-Christians (yes, this included LDS, and JW's too). You won't even see it in my home unless you pay really close attention to my books. My speech might give it away; and I might be wearing a weird pewter or silver necklace that outs me. But I'll never use it as a bludgeon against you. My Path is not Your Path. I'll defend your right to believe anything you wish, and merely ask the same in return.
*Luke is thought to be the writer of the Acts, at least by many Protestants. I don't know who wrote it, and I don't care.
**I had a dream once, about the phrase "Mysteries of the Universe". It really stayed with me. One of the cornerstones of the Roman Catholic faith is that it safeguards the Mysteries of God. However, those Mysteries are never for the likes of you or I to figure out. We're supposed to swallow the little bits that the Priests feed us.
In my dream I was talking to a drag-queen dressed like the Pope (no joke, she looked just like RuPaul!). After we giggled about whether her gold eyebrows were straight (I have no idea where that shit came from), she asked me, “Well, what are the mysteries?”
I said: "The mysteries are, that there are no answers-- just guesses. We'll never know the answers in this life. See, if there is an afterlife, it's not like you can come back and warn people, right? And if there is one, and you decided through much study that you could see no reason how there could be a God, I don't think God's going to be mad at you. If God made you, and you used your reason and thoughts and brains, what's he going to do, punish you for using them? Please! That'd make the Creator of the Universe into the biggest bully, an absolutely evil fucker! I mean, what an asshole, right?! So much for that “God is love” shit, huh? (That's the biggest reason I can't believe in the god known as Jehovah, the one Christians, Jews and Muslims worship. He's a fucking bully!)
"Conversely, if there is no afterlife, if shit just ends, and our energy goes back to the cosmos, then we still won't know. Because there is nothing!"
Pretty crazy dream, huh? I woke up thinking, "What the fuck is that shit? Straight eyebrows? Drag-Queen Popes, and the Mysteries of the Universe? Shit, and I don't even do drugs! Damn!"