I'm Not What Some May Think I Am
** The following entry does not speak against having faith in any religion. It is merely where I have found myself after receiving a heinous advertisement in my mailbox **
My grandmother gets the Fiery One and I a subscription to two Christian magazines every year. These gifts are obviously not in any way related to who we are as individuals, but I don't have the heart to say what I think about the publications. There's no reason to go around insulting the faith of an older woman, especially when she's your grandmother. Because we get these two magazines, we end up on mailing lists for companies shilling Christian-targeted literature and gift items. Two days ago, I received a glossy ad in the form of a mini magazine advertising a discount mail-order Christian book sales company. I received a book by Max Luc@do for Christmas, and I could go on for days about its lack of proper scholarship and reliance on "truths" that are not necessarily biblically supported, so I wasn't exactly excited about being given the opportunity to buy a whole slew of Christian literature for one low low price. What did thrill me, though, was the picture on the cover of this mailout, which you can see displayed on the right. It's gag-worthy, hilariously cheezarific, and illustrates a large reason why I left mainstream Christianity in particular. I am not a Christian of any description now, but I left the mainstream end of that system of belief partially for what this image depicts.
When I was a little girl, I was given glossy handouts in Sunday school on stiff paper with colourful pictures depicting Noah on his ark and Judas betraying Jesus and Jesus surrounded by children. I loved getting them and would make sure to punch holes in them so I could keep them collected all together in a three-ring binder when I arrived home. Even then, though, I knew that these depictions weren't real. I just loved the novelty of their slick presentation. My mother still remembers me telling her that the Jesus in the picture could never have sat down surrounded by children of all the different races. Even then I wanted at least an attempt at some historical accuracy. What I was being told about God and the Bible meant very little to me if all I was being given were romantic images and nice stories. I had picked through my mother's green, leatherbound Bible, and I knew that a lot of what was in it was not nearly so idealistic as my picture of Christ walking on verdent hills with a fat lamb in his arms.
At that point, I believed in the faith that was being handed to me if not the manner of its transmission. Actually, I don't know if you could call it belief, because to believe in something connotes some kind of choice in following one system over another, which I did not. I was surrounded from both within and without by believers, the church, and church-related activities. I honestly did not know that there were non-Christians in any great numbers, if at all. Let's say that I was going about my life in the only manner that I knew how but was critical of certain aspects of the religious teaching nonetheless.
By the time I was fifteen, I was seriously struggling with some of the things I had been taught. Apparently, God wouldn't have me if I wouldn't acknowledge his omnipotence, if I didn't believe whole-heartedly in Jesus I was doomed, sins on this earth during my relatively-to-eternity miniscule lifespan could damn me to hell for time everlasting, knowledge of Good and Evil was bad according to the creation story but we were forever asked to choose one over the other in a fight for our souls, etcetera. I know that these things are all a matter of interpretation, but they seemed to be mainstays of the faith of my upbringing for the most part.
The minister of my church, a slightly less conventional scholar and wit, seemed like the best place to go in an effort to make sense of my struggle, so I asked him out for coffee. I was shocked to find out that he agreed with me on the majority of my issues. He found much of modern interpretation of the scripture to be superficial at best and misleading for the most part. He found that the driver behind most believer's faith was desire and rarely moved beyond that point. We discussed the vagueries of the original Hebrew and Greek text, especially as transmogrified into their many popular English translations, and wondered together what it meant for so many people to follow a faith based on inaccurately translated and culturally biased versions of a book they didn't even know the history of.
I came away understanding that I had been raised in a type of belief that was basically spiritual pornography. My minister wasn't exactly giving me great incentive to run back joyously into the fold, but it was comforting to talk to him all the same. He believed in a more scholarly approach and that a faith based in emotion and need could not hold when met with deeper exploration. I had been struggling so hard to hold on to a faith that I could not intellectually support, and now I knew that I didn't have to anymore. The picture of spiritual life I had been handed by virtue of my birth was not a requirement for living a fulfilling life. It certainly hadn't created a happy life thus far, and it hadn't provided a working framework for living and thinking reasonably. I decided that I could throw out my preconceptions and give myself time to decide if I would find my own way in Christianity or leave it altogether. (Fifteen was obviously a year of great seriousness for me).
It was not long before I chose to leave the church behind altogether. I thought and felt and read for another ten years, not fully willing to abandon the framework that I had been handed. I even searched to put my faith elsewhere in other forms, but nothing seemed to fit, and it was years worth of a slow, internal revolution before I could accept that my life would not have church to house my spirit. Or a religion. Or two shades of black that would finally actually match out of my whole wardrobe, my god.
So, back to that ridiculous ad magazine picture up near the top of the page... Her obvious desire, her submission before a depthless modern interpretation, her pleadingness: it reminds me of the god I was subjected to for many years, the god that would refuse me his grace if I did not make the first move, the god that would rather allow me to rot in hell than join him in heaven if I faltered without begging forgiveness, the god that allowed the responsibility of the choice between eternal damnation or salvation to fall from his shoulders and onto mine by giving me knowledge of Good and Evil, the god that I had to impress with my goodness on my knees as though I could avoid a spanking with periodic supplications.
I know that this kind of Christian belief is not universal, and I do not mean to sound as though I am passing any condemnation against the whole of Christianity. I am merely talking about the brand of it that I was raised with and found my freedom from. There are positive and negative ways to interpret any religion. What I am trying to say is that when I see Christian faith being marketed through glossy adverts, quietly working a message I consider to be obscene into the hearts and minds of millions of people, there are two things I experience. On the one hand, I want to grab that advert out of my mailbox and run to the apartment to laugh with the Fiery One over it, and on the other hand I find it truly sad that this is how some people would choose to live their lives or that some people are led into this brand of thinking by sheer lack of outside influence.
What I feel most, though, when I receive something like this in the mail, is a resurgence of the relief I felt when I first knew for certain that I was no longer bound by the strictures of my youth. It took me many years of feeling caught within a tight system that seemed to allow for little deviation to find my way to a point where I am able to operate freely under an understanding other than the one I was raised with without feeling pangs of guilt or a rolling anger. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made but one I cannot regret.
I've been playing with Google Scholar.
Read and listen to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.
And Smiggy Balls, leave a site or e-mail address. Are you scared, or what?!
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