by kehote on March 1, 2012
It’s because I’m a father.
I used to go to an Evangelical Christian church, I used to believe, I used to tithe 10%+. I used to volunteer, I used to hold small groups in my home. That was all back before 2003. That was before Bush wanted a second term and my church was mobilizing to help him do it. They handed out Republican propaganda, they preached how Bush was a godly man and we should all “honor our King” (exactly as they said it).
The final straw came when they emailed our entire congregation a raft of lies about Democrats, and didn’t BCC it. I thought “What right does our pastor have to press his political opinion on all of us? We go to church to hear the word, not politics.” I saw an opportunity to speak to the congregation with a gentle voice of moderation and reason, imploring them to consider the wars and killing, the torture, the loss of civil liberties under the Patriot Act, etc. etc., so I took it. I provided links to news stories that showed the contradictions in what we were being told and I asked them to seek the truth before they made a decision about the future of our country. I realized that Kerry was a very, very poor alternative, but I thought that another 4 years of Bush was enough to weaken us to the point of no return. I tried to get that across as gently as possible.
It was a firestorm of hate.
I was cursed at by people I’d known for years, people I’d prayed with. I was told I hated the troops. I was told that waterboarding wasn’t torture, and even if it was, it was okay because America was worth it. My small group I hosted at my home was subjected to Nazi-like brownshirt investigation, with the small group pastor dropping by to “keep us on point” in our discussions.
I was invited to a private meeting with the pastor, who suggested that “politics was the true opiate of the masses” and that “for every hour of political thought, I should spend two hours praying for guidance”. I was told that government was chosen by God and that I had to honor my King (Bush). I was told that his son currently stationed in Iraq was laying his life on the line for my freedom, and that I was being “disrespectful and out of alignment with God’s word”.
People in church stopped speaking to my wife, who is possibly the sweetest woman on Earth. We were ostracized to the point that it was palpably uncomfortable to sit in service. The small group I hosted decided to “host the group closer to most of the other members’ homes”, meaning 1/2 mile closer to them.
We left, my wife hoping to find another church home. I was still shocked and angry at my treatment from these ‘godly’ folks, so I didn’t exactly make it a priority.
The second realization came when my young son began to realize what death was, and connected what he heard of hell and demons in church. He became terrified of his parents dying, and then his death, and then everlasting torture. I opened my mouth to explain the sacrifice of the Lamb, and why he’ll never see Hell if he loved Jesus and then it hit me like a freight train.
As a father, I was about to tell my terrified son the fairy tale equivalent of this: “If he didn’t want to end up locked in a dark, dank basement filled with spiders and child molesters and murderers, then he should love me with all his heart and soul, and if I truly believed he was sincere, then I wouldn’t lock him in the basement forever. I would tell him I sacrificed myself to work very hard for him, and that I was giving him this gift of a chance to live upstairs with me forever. However, if he didn’t want it, then it was out of my hands and he would have to go to the basement and be locked in there, away from the warm beacon of my love forever.”
I couldn’t tell my child this. I couldn’t tell him that invisible demons were real.
It occurred to me that if I didn’t tell him, then I was betraying God by not passing on ‘holy truth’ to him that he MUST KNOW TO AVOID THE BASEMENT, but if I couldn’t ask him to believe this, then why should I believe it… and it all fell into place for me. I had been a stooge. I had believed this idiocy my whole life, I had even held off on having kids earlier because I feared the coming Apocalypse was just around the corner. I was a fool and I was so ashamed I was numb.
I held my son and soothed him. I told him not to worry, there were no such things as demons, and we would all be alive for a very long time. I told him he had nothing to worry about, and that I and his mommy loved him very much. Slowly his sobs subsided, his tears dried, and he looked up and smiled at me, hugged me tight and said, “I love you, Daddy.”
He fell asleep as I rocked him in my arms on the couch. I gritted my teeth and wept. I’ve never been to church since, and I never will. I now raise my children to be critical thinkers and to resoundingly reject magical thinking.
I’m now comfortable with the words “I reject Christ”, because it holds no more power over me than if I was saying, “I reject the Flintstones”.
Some follow-up and bit more background:
I’ve been asked several times if this story is true. It is. I wish I was a good enough writer to make up a story like this. I know the church-speak because I lived it – I’m sharing my story with you because it was time. I needed to share.
I’ll admit, even though I’m totally comfortable now with the phrase, “I’ve rejected Christ”, it was a bit spooky saying it out loud at first – like walking into an abandoned “haunted” house and loudly daring ghosts to rip your face off. Sure it can be done, but the first few times you’ll need a shot of tequila to get started. ; )
As for my wife and how she took my epiphany, I’ll tell you this: never has a man been luckier in marriage than I. She’s about 12 shades of wonderful and loves me despite my many and oddly varied faults.
Let me give you a bit of background…
She was raised Catholic in a large family but we never had issues between religious flavors. I hadn’t attended regular service since I stopped going as a teenager, and while I maintained my faith more or less, I tried to follow Christ’s teachings. Mostly. I think it’s because there was wine involved.
I guess I wasn’t as ‘committed’ a Christian as some.
Anyway, after we’d been married a few years we talked about going back now that we were going to start a family, so we followed our programming, found a nice Evangelical non-denominational church home and settled in around 1999.
I tried my best, but church seemed different now. It was more militant, more “Armor of God”, more frenetic. There was a serious end-of-days vibe. When we started hosting the small group in our home, we had many good conversations over passages and how they related to our current society, but it was becoming obvious to us that war and killing was not as high on everyones list of “bad things” as was abortion and gay rights.
My wife and I commiserated about our differences with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we continued to make the best of it until ‘the email incident’. She knew it’d take some time for me to feel comfortable in a church environment again, so she didn’t push it.
So, when I came to her after I had come to my new conclusions, she wasn’t as taken aback as I thought she’d be. We discussed it at length, I started reading Dawkins and Hitchens (felt like I was slow-dancing with the devil), and I continued to think about it. She stood by me as I worked through it, and listened and agreed with me on some things, others… not so much. We were simpatico politically and and in many other ways, so we could weather this. It wasn’t a source of tension, as we’d already been kicked out of church for my un-churchy ways.
It was just us again.
She still had her Catholic faith (and her mom is very religious) but she’d been ruminating on my assertions about the meaning of faith, war and the role of religion throughout the ages, as I learned more and shared. We have a daughter as well, and they had gotten used to not going to church anymore, but my daughter had one friend from church that keeps trying to “save” her. We’ve talked to the kids about my doubts, and that Mom still has her faith, but we don’t dwell on it. There’s too many other things in our life to occupy us with school, work, friends, etc.
Then, a couple of years ago my wife picks up Sam Harris’ “End of Faith” for herself. She reads it almost every night for a week, and when I ask her what she thinks, she says, “I’m still reading it.” Poker face. I go back to my book.
A few days later, one morning after we get the kids off to school and we’re talking over coffee at the kitchen table… she’s got a twinkle in her eye and she seems to have a secret, but then she says she gets it. She understands what I’ve been talking about and we talk for hours. It was great.
She still occasionally speaks of “being blessed” and thanks God before half-stopping herself, but then she gives me that sweet “who me?” smile of hers and a twinkly eye. I’m not saying anything. That early training will always be a part of us, but it no longer guides us. I’m thankful for that.