I’m not religious. At all. My husband says that I don’t believe in God. Sometimes I don’t think I do – but I can’t look at my son without the belief that his presence is anything less than a miracle. The moment of childbirth solidified my belief in a higher power. I do believe… just not in the traditional, Southern way that I was encouraged to.
I was raised in a church. I was baptized, went through all the ceremonies of First Communion, Confirmation… all that. And then I was pretty much free to do whatever I wanted. So I followed my sister to her church. We were both vulnerable and passionate teenagers. We loved our friends and having fun… we shared confusions and frustrations that we didn’t know how to verbalize. We were “normal.” We were as normal as two loving, spirited, vulnerable teenagers living in the South could be… so it was a perfect time to stumble across a church that would attempt to transform us into little Christian soldiers. For awhile we were both hooked… to the point that I remember actually believing that because my parents didn’t approve of our attending the church, this meant that they were destined for the fiery depths of hell. And all the pastors could tell me was that “not everyone is destined for the promise land.” While I recovered pretty nicely from this temporary insanity in college, it changed my sister’s life forever. She hasn’t been the same since. We stopped going to that church right around the time we left for college.
We both left for college determined not to let the separation from our newfound baptism (that church) shake our faith. I entered college as a Bible thumping, glorified Christian ready to take on all the sins that awaited me with a solid, “No.” I left wondering if God existed at all… and believing if nothing else, that if he did exist, the last place he was to be found was inside a church/mosque/temple. I don’t believe in Christianity. I am not a Christian. Calm down now… I promise you it’s okay. I always feel so defiant and rebellious still when I “admit” to that. It horrifies my husband. It horrifies my sister. My sister changed forever when she entered that crazy church – she is as brainwashed today as she ever was. She once told me that the reason I was depressed was because I had a “hole in my heart where God belonged.” She actually said that to me. It was a strange moment in our history as sisters. She felt so bad for me… and in a very different way I felt so bad for her. We will never understand each other, and for the most part we’ve stopped trying. I am sure that my way of life disappoints and confuses her much the way hers disappoints and confuses me. I am sad for her, and I’m sure she is sad for me.
It’s an interesting study. We were raised in the same house – and while I cannot say that my parents didn’t sacrifice for us or love us – I can say that we experienced the same level of hypocrisy and contradiction in our upbringing. My parents tried, but not as hard as they could’ve. Maybe that isn’t fair. Their generation didn’t encourage self-reflection…rather I guess it was more about where and how they were raised in their own houses and less to do with the time they were coming of age… which would’ve been the 60s and therefore they should truly have no excuse for not having explored themselves and their limitations a bit more. Regardless, as loving as they were – they weren’t and they still aren’t whole people. They think that they complete one another – but truly I believe that they have grown to fill a space in each other that each of them gave up on in themselves. My dad has been a functioning alcoholic for as long as I can remember. My mom, although highly educated, never has been able to separate herself from the traditional “wife” role her Southern Baptist upbringing taught. Although I did watch her rise against it in protest many times throughout my life, and she’d deny it and be utterly offended if I were ever to tell her, but my opinion is that she ultimately settled in defeat. She decided, almost overnight, that her life would be less challenging if she stopped fighting and instead, allowed herself to fall second to my dad. I am sure it was gradual, but sometime I am sure I will post a blog about the night I think she made this decision. For now… back to religion.
Everyone in my life is full of contradictions. As am I. Maybe it’s unfair for me to talk about my mom giving up on herself because sometimes I feel like I am in the process of giving up on myself… at the very same time that I feel more empowered and strengthened than I ever have… I still can’t gather the strength to accept that I have changed and that my marriage hasn’t changed with me. It isn’t my husband’s fault that we are unhappy. He hasn’t changed. It’s me who’s gone through an enormous shift – and while I’ll tell anyone who asks that I’ve become stronger and less insecure and aware of healthy boundaries… maybe the truth is that I’ve just gotten very good at telling myself that I don’t have to settle for what I’m settling for, even as I settle for it. I know I’m not free of hypocrisy. That’s my point. But at least, I know it. At least I own it. This is something that many people do not even recognize in themselves. I worked damn hard in therapy to get to this place where I do recognize it.
My sister goes to church nearly every Sunday… and between her and her husband they also each attend another church function at least once during every week. She has always looked down on the rest of us in the family because we don’t share her “passion for Christ.” I am sure that her heart genuinely aches when she imagines, through her religious goggles, that we aren’t destined for eternal happiness in Heaven as she and all her fellow church going Christian friends and family are. She doesn’t know that I’m not even a Christian. She’s fully aware that I don’t subscribe to the ways of any church. A couple years ago I told her I didn’t believe in missionary work. She nearly lost her lunch. I explained that it’s not the “doing good for others” part that I don’t agree with, but the “doing good so that you’ll think Jesus is your savior” part that I cannot fundamentally support. I believe in helping others because we should want to be helped if we were in need. I believe that our desire and at times our need to help one another is fundamentally human. In fact, it’s not just a human trait… we are animals, and just as most living things do, we are generally programmed to help and protect one another from harm. I don’t believe that it is fair or genuine to help someone under the pretense that by helping them, they should then believe in the same thing that you do. This steals the love out of the very deed you boast about to your fellow church goers. I only pick on my sister because I have a window into her world. I am therefore exposed to this religious vision of the world that she has. It is draped throughout every area of her life. Her blog makes me sick to my stomach… many times. While I agree that I should let her live as she lives – it is painful to watch and listen to her put her all into something that doesn’t even bring her genuine joy. All it brings is guilt. Constant guilt – her blogs are filled with “I should’ve… I should…” and praising of those people in her life that agree with her and support her religious beliefs and her overall struggle to find God and Jesus in everything… right down to the Easter egg hunt that she put together for her very small children…she’s all about keeping Christ in everything. While she’s busy finding Christ in everything, she’s worrying about how inadequate she is in every way – as a mother, as a wife, as a servant to God. She is constantly apologizing and explaining and talking about how unsupported she feels and all at the same time she’s blogging about how thankful she is… wait… so am I! So who is to say that we are so different? I just went to therapy, instead of church. I recognize this. What I rejected about religion as I went through my journey, was the guilt it encouraged in me. I grew up with so much guilt it took me years to find myself in all the layers that were so neatly put together over my spirit throughout years and years of being told just how “wrong” I was about pretty much every thought I had. I’m not sure my sister’s experiences were the exact same as mine were – but they weren’t far off. We were raised by a perfectionist whose pride caused immense pain and confusion in our hearts. He loved us, but we were never doing what we should. If anyone did what she should, it was my sister. Until she found that church. My parents hate that church – ironically for much of the same reasons that I do.
I go to church, as I did this morning, with my husband from time to time, to show support to him… although he knows that I do not believe as he does. When we met we were on the same page with religion. We understood each other. We shared the general believe that God didn’t belong in a church – that Christianity was just one of so many religions that claimed to be “the way, truth, light” when ultimately all they were doing was creating war against one another. He changed a few years ago when his life took a devastating turn and he experienced something that few will ever know, including myself. It’s not to be shared now, but I understand his turn toward religion, because it was the only way that he could make sense out of what happened to him. And that’s okay. Maybe that’s what the undertone of my sister’s search is as well. And that’s okay. It just doesn’t make logical sense – I wish it did. But it just doesn’t.
This morning, and every morning that I sit in church I am utterly disturbed by the militant and mindless worship. Repeating a creed while raising your hands in the air… is different than bowing towards a temple and repeating a different creed… how exactly? Telling your “followers” that they are right and others are wrong… in the same breath that you tell them to have hearts filled with love… is teaching love… how exactly? One thing the priest said this morning was true. He said, “For it is love that builds faith, and not the other way around.” This is true. If I felt that what was behind this Christian movement was more about love and less about faith and whose is stronger/louder/more correct, then perhaps I’d sympathize with it a little more. I’d understand and even sympathize with my sister a little more. But the underlying message that she and all other religions teach is that it is faith that builds love… and only the “right” faith leads to “true” love. That’s why my sister has built a protective wall between us… because my lack of what she calls “faith” contradicts her own, and the church teaches her that those who do not walk in the kind of love that they seek, will only lead them astray. It’s a great analogy they use with the flock of sheep… genius, really… like everything else that’s brought the Christian empire where it is today. It takes a certain genius to gain power and maintain it for so long. They even change the sacred “word of God” every couple years by coming up with a new “version” of the Bible that helps translate their message through each and every era we’ve experienced as a culture… and few question it. It’s okay to have doubts… God can help you with that. But to question the word of God… that’s blasphemy. It’s faith that she thinks she has. All that she is truly searching for is the kind of love that we were never really shown. The kind of love that comes naturally at the start of life… when a person who has experienced some serious radical self-love and acceptance can feel. It’s the kind of love that I feel for my son. The kind of love that is unparalleled and unyielding, selfless but with a healthy dose of selfishness too – because the only way you can truly love someone is to love yourself. It’s that self love that religion frowns upon. Because if taught to love ourselves with all our faults… then what would our faith be? What good would that do the church? If people don’t feel guilty all the time, they don’t give money, they don’t gather and worship, they don’t feed the insatiable need for power that every religion from the beginning of time has held.
So, that’s it. Another great divide between my husband and I. That’s not really why I blogged about it… I blogged about it because it’s been heavy on my mind. Marriage is an offspring of religion… and I am still studying how and why I am so scared to imagine that it is as free of logic as religion itself. Some things are so ingrained in us that even years of acknowledgement can’t cure our denial. Maybe I’m not really that different from my own mother, after all.