you may (or may not) remember when a couple of months back, a young woman boarded the bus i take daily to work, and proceeded to give her testimony about her relationship with jesus christ. at the time, i thought it was touching, especially because at the end of her spiel, she prayed for the bus passengers. even though i no longer believe as she does, i appreciated her sincerity, and as we got off at the same stop, i thanked her for her prayer.
fast forward to this morning’s bus ride. after the bus pulled up to the stop she was at, this same young woman handed out religious tracts to each person getting off. (the stop happened to be at a church ministry that provides free breakfasts every morning, and there are a number of regular riders who get off here daily for that reason). i thought, ‘uh oh, here we go again…,’ and yes, after she paid her fare, she passed out tracts to those of us remaining on the bus… except to me, but only because i politely refused. and then she proceeded to deliver a little sermonette about living for god.
i only caught bits and pieces of what she was saying, because i was trying to listen to a podcast on gnosticism (would this be called irony?). however, the gist of it was the usual ‘if you’re not living for god, you’re going to hell’. and, on one level, i can appreciate what she was saying, because i’ve been in that place. i’ve been where i earnestly believed that anyone who had not accepted jesus christ as their personal lord and savior was going to hell. therefore, i believed that people like gandhi and mother teresa were in hell because they were not born-again christians, but someone like jeffrey dahmer was in heaven, even after the horrible things he did, because reportedly he had accepted christ into his heart before being murdered in prison. forgive me, y’all, but this is rather fucked up theology. a person such as gandhi, whose life was dedicated to the betterment of humanity, is currently being tormented by demons for all eternity because he chose not to believe that the jewish version of a myth was a series of historical events? seriously? and you do realize that christianity really is little more than the jewish adaptation of myths revolving around various sun gods (and related goddesses, who are strangely missing in the christianized version) dating centuries before the time jesus was said to have walked the earth. the major difference between the christianized version and earlier versions is that, due to various power plays between political factions at that time, people were convinced (basically by the sword) that this jesus character was real. (and i mean no disrespect when i say ‘jesus character’.)
if there is anyone reading this who has known me for many years, but not had any real interaction with me, you are probably rather shocked at this point. a number of you know that i spent (or as i like to say, wasted) many years believing and living this. jesus was my life. i lived in what you might call a christian ghetto: i worked full-time in a christian bookstore, was deeply involved in a church (or two), all my social interaction was with other born-again christians, and i was afraid (i didn’t realize it at the time, but it all boiled down to fear) to scarcely listen to anything that wasn’t ccm (contemporary christian music) or even drink something as innocent as a watered down wine cooler.
what gradually but ultimately changed things for me first was developing close friendships with people who didn’t have such a narrow view of what it meant to love god, people who helped me to see that what i was really doing was ‘churchianity’. also, after moving away from columbia in 2000, i read a book that removed the foundation from under my feet, ‘why christianity must change or die’ by bishop john shelby spong. actually the first time i tried to read it, it made me so angry, i couldn’t finish it. i couldn’t believe this so-called bishop was saying all these ‘untrue’ things about what i had staked my life on. for some reason though, a few months later i tried it again, and got angry again, but for a different reason. this time i was pissed because i realized that i had been lied to for pretty much all my life. however, the unanswerable question was, whom should i be pissed at? i couldn’t be mad at the people who taught me this stuff, because they were only teaching me what they had been taught, and what their teachers had been taught. and it seemed pretty pointless to get mad at an institution. i remember right after finishing the book, i said to god, aloud, ‘all i want to know is the truth.’ and i swear, i heard a voice in my head say, ‘now we can begin.’ and my life has not been the same.
i’ve been through a lot spiritually, and religion-wise, between then and now. (spirituality and religion are not the same thing; trust me.) i’ve studied various world religions, some more deeply than others to be sure, but i’ve noticed they’re all basically pointing at the same thing. the problem with most religion is that people get hung up on the thing doing the pointing instead of paying attention to the ‘object’ (for lack of a better word) being pointed at. (not gonna use the finger pointing at the moon quote here, not gonna do it…) a couple of people who have met me in the last few years have accused me of being an atheist, just so i can ‘get away with’ doing whatever i want. nobody gets away with anything, but that’s a whole ‘nuther piece of writing. i’m not an atheist because i don’t believe the bible literally anymore. (actually i’m not an atheist, period.) my belief about the bible, and, by extension, about jesus, is that although the bible is true, it is far from being factual. it, along with other religious texts, is a collection of stories about the human condition, about how to (and how not to) treat others, and about ways to find deeper meaning in life. and that deeper meaning does not consist of literally believing that a man born of a virgin was sent from heaven to die for your sins so you don’t have to. that’s what my problem is with the young woman on the bus this morning. i know where her head is at, because i’ve been there. but she’s got to get outside her own head somehow, and see the bigger picture. she, and all of us, can embrace the experiences that brought her to this point in her life, but she needs to know that there’s more to this life than keeping people out of a literal hell.
maybe this life here on earth would be a little bit less hell-ish if we stopped to realize that there are as many ways to live for god as there are people on this planet.
(this post is an adaptation of a note i posted on facebook earlier today.)