Memoirs of My Religion II

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Increasingly I found myself dissatisfied with Christianity and the exclusivist attitude that it had. For a long time, and I’m not sure exactly how long, I had this dire sense of unease growing inside of my that something about the way we approached the religion, something that was very, very important, was being overlooked.

In time, this urgency grew inside of me, and the smug attitude of Christians and the superiority complex mixed with the needless victim complex began to overwhelm and disgust me.

The original theological break with Christianity began one day when I sat in my 8th grade class and asked my Bible teacher a question.

“What happens to all the people of another religion, say, the Buddhists, who haven’t heard the Gospel or haven’t had a chance to hear the Gospel?”

Her response?

Said with a smile on her face: “They go to Hell.”

I argued, “But that isn’t fair; they have no chance, they don’t know about Jesus!”

To this she said, “God is not a FAIR God, God is a JUST God, so he gives them what they deserve. If Buddha had begun praying and said, ‘Hello, I know there’s a God out there,’ God would have revealed Himself to him.”

This was the first time I openly and blatantly disagreed with the teacher on the matter, the first time I had challenged Christian doctrine and teaching in any sort of way and began to search for myself the reality on the matter.

Until this time, I had begrudgingly accepted that this was simply the way that it was, but no more; that statement by my Bible teacher created the first true break that existed inside of me with Christianity.

Now, it is here, and everyone can see it as exactly how it happened.

Being trapped in an evangelical worldview, I had to search through the Scriptures desperately to try to understand salvation for people who would otherwise be considered so-called “unbelievers.” (We’ll address the presuppositions of worldviews in a later blog.)

This led me to read 1 John, which speaks of God’s love for us and essentially states that whoever had known Love has known God.

My theological perspective shifted to the notion that if someone has loved, experienced loved, and loved another person, then they have indeed experienced salvation, because otherwise, they would be unable to love.

Another influencing factor at this time, though not quite as large, was that my interest in Japan had essentially begun around this time. Japan’s religious affiliation is mostly in two religions- Shinto and Buddhism. The concept that the Japanese people as a whole, with their vivid culture and language, were somehow destined for an eternity in Hell did not set well with me.

At age 15, I began branching out. With access to the internet, I was able to read more and learn more about religion, Bible, and God.

A former friend recommended me to a few different sites, including web pages that spoke about astrotheology (the concept that our religions are ultimate based off of worship of the stars and planets; this is oversimplified but with suffice for now) along with sites on comparative religion, which show how the names of various deities and entities that have been worshiped in all ancient cultures etymologically overlap.

In addition, we ourselves argued; he was an atheist, I was a devout evangelical Christian. I suppose in this matter, he ended up winning out. Still, he was neurotic and disturbed in his own right, and I was an impressionable teenager looking for guidance from someone who did not assume the evangelical Christian worldview.

One such theological breakthrough came when I was told that miracles have happened in other religions. If miracles and accounts of healing can happen in other religions, it was, by my own reasoning, none other than the Holy Spirit who caused such miracles to happen; thus, if the Holy Spirit was able to act and function accordingly in other religions, then were they really wrong?

Naturally the first argument that someone would bring up is that these miracles happened by means of demons; yet the same accusation is made of Jesus according to the Scriptures, in which the Pharisees accuse Him of casting out devils in the name of the prince of devils.

Jesus’s response? A house divided against itself cannot stand.

For a while, I adopted the position that Jesus was another mere mythological figure and never actually existed. In time, this perspective has been amended, and I understand that the there is both a historical Christ and a mythological Christ.

My interests turned mainly to Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Eastern religions. So, too, did I take interest in Wicca and Neo-Paganism. A new conflict arose in the midst of these, but we’ll get to that in a future blog.

I was unaware of exactly how cult-like the behavior of evangelical Christians were until I tested the waters for myself and saw the backlash. Suddenly in church I was questioning things, pointing out parallels in other religions, and one day, while going over the lesson of “Other Religions and How They’re All Wrong,” I had enough when the Sunday school teacher said, “Every other religion except Christianity a cult.”

That did it for me! I was outraged, furious, that such a narrow-minded, ego-centric accusation would be thrust on other religions by a person who was acting as cult-like as any cultist.

When I expressed my opinions and pointed out parallels in terms of prophecies that exist in other religions written down way before Christianity, I was told to shut up, and that if I was going to go that church, I had to believe what that church believed.

…and every other religion except that one is a cult?!

Please.

That’s sufficient for the moment. Happy reading, and don’t worry about getting too passionate in reading my blogs; I get passionate writing these! We’ll continue with the happy memoirs in the next series of blogs. And please remember, this is just skimming over the top of things.

Beaux


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Memoirs of My Religion I

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For the first five years of my life, I was raised Southern Baptist. The peculiarities of Baptist theology were not necessarily present at this time in my young mind; that is, the differences between Baptist theology and older Christian philosophies and positions did not stand out.

The theological view on things that I had was rather infantile. The basic idea is that if you were good, you would go to heaven, and if you were bad, you would go to hell. God, Jesus, and the Devil all existed, along with some mentioning of angels and less often, demons. Jesus was the Son of God, and that was about the extent of it.

The order of events at church wasn’t too intense. We went to the children’s Sunday school, then we went to Children’s Church, where we did some kind of craft and had juice and cookies.

At around age 5, we stopped going to church. That was actually quite fine with me- I had a Nintendo, and that meant more free time for me to play it.

Around age 6, the so-called Bible Story Ladies started coming to my Elementary School. This is where we were told stories about God and then we were compelled to ask Jesus into our heart, if we hadn’t already done so.

Think about that: at the age of 6, I was asking Jesus into my heart to save me from the eternal damnation that these women were telling me about.

I felt that believing in God was enough at this point, and that was what we were taught. I certainly didn’t believe that one had to attend church; that was inconsequential.

Around age 10, I started going to another church with some family members. This was an Assembly of God, a highly Pentecostal, fire-and-brimstone, fundamentalist, literalistic Christian church. The worship service was highly informal, and I never really cared for it.

My interests lay in studying the Bible and learning about theology. Always inquisitive (like my grandfather), always wanting to learn the abstractions of things, I asked questions, some of them a lot more challenging than the people at the church seemed to be used to. Thus, I often received answers, though many times they were not fulfilling and didn’t actually answer my question.

Bear in mind: this was before the days of the internet as we know it today. The kind of information on theology, etymology, liturgy, mysticism, and so forth that we have today was largely inaccessible in those days unless you had access to a good library, and being in a small town, that wasn’t going to happen.

One of the earliest and biggest intellectual hurdles I had when with Christianity was the doctrine (dogma?) of the Holy Trinity: for those of you who are not familiar with this particular central tenet of Christianity, the Holy Trinity entails that God exists as ONE GOD in THREE PERSONS: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. That is, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all ONE GOD but exist in THREE PERSONS. They are each consubstantial with one another but are not the same person.

I wrestled with this idea for years, because it was introduced to me later on, probably after I started going to church.

The image that had been presented to me as a child was much closer to the Jehovah’s Witness theology, believe it or not, and I’ve had other people say the same thing: God was our heavenly Father, Jesus was the Son of God (but not God Himself), and the Holy Spirit was the active presence of God’s Spirit on Earth. Not difficult.

Oh, but no. Suddenly that was not the case.

So one day when I innocently asked the question of why Jesus prayed to Himself in the Garden of Gethsamene, I was told, “He didn’t…He prayed to the Father.” I challenged this at some point because I was told that He and the Father were the same Person.

This is when a new bit of theology was thrown at me: I had already become comfortable with the illogical doctrine of the Trinity, only to suddenly be told that God the Father is still GOD, and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are like Gods, but not God Himself because of how in tune with the Father they are.

Good…grief.

Also around this time, the local school took a trip to Washington, D.C., where one of our stops was the National Cathedral. I remember being completely in awe of the blue window with the rock from the moon in it, as well as seeing the nuns and the entire High Church set up. I swore for a long time that this was a Catholic church but came to realize it later on that it was an Episcopal/Anglican church.

The mistake came because I thought when we inquired about the pillows on the back of the pews that the nun told us that there was a lot of kneeling in Catholicism, but she had actually said, “There’s a lot of kneeling in Anglicanism.” Now I get it.

But most of all, I was curious about the altar- why was it behind railing? What was the altar used for? Was it merely a symbol? I don’t recall anyone ever answering the question at that time. I do remember I bought something called the Comic Book Bible from the store. I also remember going into the side chapels and how rude the nuns were- except our tour guide nun, who was quite friendly and helpful.

At age 12, I started attending Emmanuel Christian School, a highly evangelical private school in the local area. It was here that I learned huge chunks of evangelical theology and essentially became a fanatical, brain-washed, fundamentalist Christian myself.

I managed to drive most of the people around me crazy with my insane rantings and fanatical positions on Christianity. What few people realized was that my own compassion drove me to be crazy- I was deathly afraid that my family members and friends would not accept Jesus and consequently would burn in Hell. It wasn’t about me being right- it was about me making sure people that I loved didn’t go to Hell for all eternity.

Catholics, of course, were frowned upon. The only thing I can remember really hearing of them was that they “Pray to Mary,” and that we’re only supposedly to actually pray to God. These words had some kind of strange, Puritanical influence that I sensed even at an early age.

My mother also defended Catholics as much as she made the above statement; she said that she couldn’t believe that someone who was faithful and went to Mass everyday would end up in Hell, that it just didn’t make any sense, and I agreed.

One of my friends at church had a Catholic friend who said that they didn’t pray to Mary, and we told my Sunday school teacher that. She simply, “Well, all of them but your friend do.”

I think I misunderstood what they were implying when they said these things: I understood them to mean that there were prayers addressed to Mary, but never did I understand it to mean they exclusively addressed Mary, which is what they were actually saying.

In 7th Grade or so, I learned about the Catholic Sacraments in my Christian school. Naturally, we were taught how the Good and Noble Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli liberated the Holy Bible from those nasty Catholics and freed the Gospel for all people from their clutches. But at the same time, the Sacraments caught my attention.

Specifically, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist- that the Bread and Wine become the actual Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, caught my attention. Something snapped in my head at that age, and something pushed inside of me to want to become Catholic.

At my podunk, backwoods church, I was ridiculed for saying this. I remember one person saying that the Catholics let you do anything- “You can get drunk, whatever. You saved!”

Ignorance is not pretty.

My mom’s advice? “You can’t just go become Catholic- you have to go to confirmation classes and such.”

I really wish I had pushed the issue at the time, but I didn’t.

Things changed heavily for me around age 14-15, and we’ll get into that in the next entry: there’s a lot of ground to cover.

Beaux