I’ve been sitting here all day trying to think of something profound to write about. My blog is usually a pretty quite place where I write about everything that crosses my mind, so guest-blogging for Feministe is “hitting it big” for me. There were other subjects that I started to write about but something has been bugging me for awhile now and I think that means I need to write about it. The problem is, well, it’s sort of embarrassing for me.
You see, up until about two years ago, I was a member of a cult. I was born into a family where almost everyone was a member of this religious group that dictated almost every aspect of our lives. I’m not using this label casually. Cults kill. Sure, they may not wield any guns but when you’re working with true believers, you don’t need to get your hands dirty in order to control people’s lives. The one that I belonged to is responsible for many deaths and I would have been among that number had I remained a part of it. I was fortunate. I was removed from approved status with the organization because I am a serial fornicator.
Back in the crazy nineties, when I was a teenager, I had sex. When I became pregnant (a situation that could have been avoided if it had been possible for me to be honest with my parents about being sexually active), it became impossible for me to pretend I was still a virgin, so I had no choice but to go and confess my sins to the church authorities. Because I was young and showed sufficient penitence, I wasn’t kicked out of the religion completely. They imposed several restrictions/punishments but allowed me to remain a member while I proved to them that I was willing to be obedient to their direction.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with incurable bone cancer and needed immediate treatment in order for the doctors to try to extend my life a bit. During the radiation therapy and subsequent surgeries, I was unable to care for my daily needs nor could I handle those of my elementary school-aged daughter, so someone had to be there to do it all for me. My life partner stepped in and became my full-time caretaker. Of course, this necessitated his move into my apartment.
Now, it’s not like we asked for this to happen. It wasn’t exactly my choice to have to ask someone to be there to pull up my pants when I went to the bathroom and I think common sense should tell people that when someone has a fifteen inch slit down their back, it’s going to be impossible to engage in anything the average person might consider to be sex. Even stretching out my arms in the normal motions needed to put on a shirt could have opened up the surgical wounds and exposed my spinal column. However, to the organization’s leaders, none of that was relevant. I was living with a man who was not married or related to me, ergo I was a fornicator deserving of ostracism from everyone who wished to remain a part of the religion.
Even after they made this announcement to the entire congregation, I still wanted to work towards bringing my life into alignment with the groups’ expectations and regain my former status as a member in good standing with the organization. However, that never happened. Instead, I became a feminist.
I began to see that I had been a victim of clergy abuse. Never again will I sit in front of a group of men and answer to anyone about the details of my sex life. You simply can’t convince me that these guys weren’t getting their jollies off while convincing people that they were only doing it because God commanded them to. Thankfully, I found feminism before my daughter reached an age where they could warp and abuse her too as they surely would have had I remained a part of the cult.
However, as empowering as my post-cult life has been, I still find myself yearning for some sort of connection with the divine. I know there are some folks who’ve had similar experiences and sworn off of religion altogether but maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. I’ve really wanted to believe that just because I had one truly horrific, quarter of a decade-long association with a group (whose name I am reluctant to use here due to the harassment that I’ve seen others subjected to online), that doesn’t mean that all organized religions are evil.
A couple of years ago, my life partner met a guy at work who was the pastor that had relocated to our city in order to build a local congregation of an association of churches that originated back in the seventies out on the west coast as part of the Jesus Movement. When my partner was invited to speak to the people at his work place about how the United Way has helped our family, the pastor came to him and asked if we’d mind if he put us on his church’s prayer list. Later on he invited us to visit his church and we eventually decided to do so.
Since then, we’ve visited several times, enough times for me to begin to feel like I was a part of the congregation. I never did agree with everything they taught but the great thing about them was that they didn’t require you to do so in order to be accepted as a part of the church. It was one of those “Come as you are” places where even the pastor wears jeans most Sundays.
Coming from a religion that raked in millions of dollars every year and sent missionaries to witness in impoverished countries across the globe but never saw fit to build so much as a single school or water pump in any of them (an injustice that always reminds me of an article that I read on The Onion last year), I loved the fact that their ministry work was focused on feeding and clothing the poor and homeless. Every three weeks they go out to the F.E.M.A. trailers where thousands of displaced New Orleanian victims of Hurricane Katrina are still living and feed anyone who wants to come and get a hot meal or two and then take some food back to their trailers for later. They also bought and renovated a house where they provide housing and employment to guys who are trying to reintegrate into society after stints in drug rehab centers and/or prison.
I thought I’d found a place that reflected most of my values. Though my partner and I have very different religious and political philosophies, I thought we’d finally found a place where we could go without either of us feeling totally offended and out of place. Just when I had become fairly comfortable and settled in, things took a turn.
One Sunday, the pastor was in the middle of a sermon about how we should not condemn others since the Bible doesn’t spell out absolutely everything we should believe. He goes into this spiel about how, during Bible times, some of the Jewish Christians used to criticize Gentile Christians who didn’t get circumcised or follow kosher dietary restrictions. Then he talked about how the Jews were wrong because they should have recognized that the Gentiles didn’t need to do any of these things and the Gentiles were wrong because they weren’t acknowledging the fact that the Jews were and are God’s chosen people. In fact, he added, as Gentiles we are commanded to pray for and support the state of Israel even today.
Okay, he didn’t exactly say that this means we’re supposed to be okay with everything that the Israeli government does but I know enough about Christian Zionism to get nervous when I hear this sort of talk. I made up my mind to give the guy the chance to explain exactly what he meant by what he said before I just wrote him off.
Not long after that, I was in a conversation with one of the guys at the church about whether Christians should carry guns and fight in wars. Though I didn’t know it, the guy I was talking to used to serve in the U.S. Navy. He didn’t see anything wrong with participating in wars. My view was that it would be immoral to do so for many reasons, the fact that innocent people are always killed being a very important factor for me. The pastor of the church overheard us talking and remarked that fighting in the military was a part of being obedient to our government so Christians needn’t worry about that.
I tried to reason with him by pointing out the fact that if all Christians took that view, one could very well wind up killing their Christian brethren fighting on the other side of the conflict. In answer he stated that it would make him feel less worried if he knew that the people he killed were Christians too because he’d know that they were “right with the Lord” and had gone to heaven. He’d be a little more sad if the people he killed were non-Christians since they’d have gone to hell because they weren’t “saved” (i.e. born again) before they died. This response left me truly gobsmacked.
At this point, I’m beginning to wonder if it isn’t the specific religious groups that are the problem. Perhaps it’s the actual religion itself. Or maybe it’s just religion itself. I don’t know. I used to be among those who take the Bible as infallible. However, it seems to me that no truly righteous God would really command people to do some of this stuff. So where does that leave me? Where does it leave anyone who thinks that following Jesus’ teachings might not be a bad way to go but just can’t find any justification for a lot of the actions and views that go along with Christianity?
Cross-posted at My Private Casbah