Many Denominational (2/2)

StainedGlass2
The Episcopalian faith follows a liturgical calendar and has cool stained glass. It’s Catholicism-lite with married gay priests.

After my grandmother had a personality conflict with the jovial and kind pastor, we went to a Pentacostal church for a few months. All I can really remember is that I didn’t like it and wished we were back at Calvary. A lot of non-church-related life stuff happened around that time, including me reporting a neighbor’s dad for sexual abuse, my brother moving to California to live with our estranged father, and my mom completing her PhD.

She took a job in Iowa, and she, my sister, and I moved. Grandma stayed behind to move in with her father into the two-bedroom trailer she would live in for the remainder of her independent days. For two years in Iowa, we didn’t attend church. My mom was burnt out on extremism and needed the break. Over the summers though, my sister and I would fly back to Florida to stay with grandma. We would go with her to a home church held in someone’s town house living room. The man who played guitar only knew about six hymns, so they were the same each meeting. 

My mom, sister, and I moved a few miles to get me out of a school that refused to address the bullying I was put through. Church was back on the menu now. My mom joined a singles group at a Lutheran church, while my sister joined a Presbyterian youth group, and I joined a Methodist drama club. We put on a production of Elijah and the Valley of the Dry Bones, and my official credit was “assistant to the Voice of God”. The job entailed holding a microphone deep into a paint bucket while the Voice of God, another girl my age who could fake a deep voice, spoke into it.

We lived so close to a Community Church that I could and did walk there on my own on Sunday mornings. I’d never attended Sunday church without an adult before, and I felt independent and mature. The church was a simple country style, white clapboard with white lattice work around the bottoms of the wheelchair ramp that wrapped the front porch. The pastor was a gentle man who gave gentle sermons, focusing on God’s love for all humanity and the importance of showing that love in our actions with family and neighbors. There was a living nativity scene that Christmas and I got cast as a shepherd. After years of drama and choir, I really didn’t know what to do with a sheep that wasn’t a prop and the sheep tried to escape for the totality of the nativity.

We moved again, this time back home to Florida where our extended family lived. One of my aunts was the worship leader at a Vineyard Christian Fellowship and we started to attend Sunday service there. I still sampled other youth groups as the mood struck me. Over the years, more and more of my family members started to attend VCF and we began volunteering – playing in the band, teaching Sunday school, leading youth group, making cappuccino for new visitors, running the sound board and lyrics display, and serving as church elder. When the pastor I admired suddenly retired, my family members made up half of the new pastor selection committee. But I didn’t like their choice, and I stopped attending.

I started going to university and tried out the offerings there. I joined Chi Alpha, a campus ministry, and played guitar in the band. I visited the Methodist and Lutheran churches just off campus, but they weren’t an ideal fit for me. I ended up going to the Episcopal church my mother was attending at the time. I was later married in that church while seven months pregnant and had my baby baptized there as well. My infant found the church’s impressive pipe organ to much to bear so I stopped attending Sunday service, but stayed involved in quieter church activities like marriage counseling and an eight-week parenting class.

Two years passed by this way, in nominal attendance of a largely accepting and open-minded faith. The head of the church was a woman; gay bishops were allowed to marry each other; my priest was the one who dared recommend divorce to me when I really needed someone to suggest (and permit) it. I probably could have stayed happily in the Episcopal church for life if non-denominational was truly all I was. But one night I Googled my grandmother’s name and learned that, in addition to all the denominations I knew I had experienced, I’d also been raised in a faith healing cult my entire life.

I personally didn’t find a way to separate losing faith in my grandmother with losing faith in God. I certainly had exposure to lots of concepts of the Christian god, some more concerned with holiness and others more with grace. I had an almost religious double life, being both in a cult and simultaneously permitted to explore and engage in outside theology, so long as it was Christian and non-Catholic. When I rejected Christianity, I did so from a wealth of diverse experiences and at least a shallow knowledge of many different service styles and theologies within Christianity.

I don’t see a good reason for a scientist with a boring personal narrative to dominate the story. I have to think there are people with more fascinating, compelling reasons for coming to atheism and rejecting faith. I have to think anti-theism means rebelling against something worth fighting, not just fighting tradition for the sake of rebellion. I want to challenge anyone reading this who writes about atheism and atheists, for your own blog or a major publication, to find more interesting stories from more interesting atheists and stop writing about Richard Dawkins.

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11 thoughts on “Many Denominational (2/2)

  1. I was relatively inexperienced in Christianity when in 2001, aged 21, I decided to look into e.g reading the Bible, going to churches, talking to others about Christianity. I had a bad depression in late 2001, that led me to want to explore spiritual things to see if they would help. I ended up being quite seriously committed to Christianity for a time, probably too serious because I ended up in another serious depression in late 2003. In mid 2005 I think I saw that I wasn’t suited to Christian communities i.e Church and stopped regularly going. I ended up becoming very independent, conceiving of my own ideas about heaven and earth. I ended up becoming a bit alienated, because of my independence. Since then I think I have returned to agnosticism, though not with the disinterest in religion that I had before. Basically I think all gods are made up and that stories about men having encounters with God or gods are fantasy or heavily romanticized history. I would class “God” as a concept alongside concepts like fate, destiny, luck and Mother Nature. Poetic ideas that aren’t really meant to be proven true or false. I write poetry myself and sometimes refer to those concepts. Poetry itself I regard as fantasy and fiction, though obvious a lot briefer than stories and films and in most cases it’s clear that the poems aren’t to be taken too literally.

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  2. I was raised Jewish. You know how some families practically run a church in the figurative sense? In other words, that family that was strongly involved and was in charge of a whole bunch of different things within the community, but aren’t actually preachers? That was us at the synagogue. Four out of five of us taught at some point, my brothers and I all were aids, I was head aid, we ran a whole bunch of events, my parents were on the board for a while, etc etc etc.

    I have very few negative things to say about my experience- and that was what made my growing questions difficult. It wasn’t about worrying about my eternal salvation (which is a far more vague and debated concept in Judaism), but it was simply because I liked being Jewish and I guess I thought I’d have to give up a major part of myself up if that stopped. I think I saw being non-religious as a conscious decision to cut out every aspect of religion from your life. Once I realized that there was nothing wrong with being non-religious and still enjoying going to seders on Pesach and sometimes Shabbos dinners with my family, I became a lot more comfortable with who I am.

    So yeah, I’m one of those “secular Jews” you keep hearing about. No update on what my position will be in the New World Order. These days, calling myself Jewish seems weird, since I don’t practice. I don’t quite understand why that’s a thing amongst former Jews. I’m an atheist with a Jewish upbringing who enjoys the occasional latke. Oh and challah. Challah is delicious. But I’m pretty upbeat about the whole experience. I definitely wouldn’t take those days back. I can’t say my experience with religion was negative. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good for me. I sometimes wonder if that makes me unusual amongst people who convert and deconvert from their religious upbringing.

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    1. I’ve read of many Jews in the entertainment business who may no longer be dedicated, practicers of the Jewish religion, but who take an interest in Jewish religion and tradition and religion like Bob Dylan, Ben Stiller and Paul Simon. I’m not far different in that I still take an interest in my “Christian roots”. I think my life led me to the point where I wanted to find out more about the religion behind Christmas, Easter and which had been the source of many other everyday things, including heavy metal music and horror films. It felt important to know more about Christianity. Of course I learned much about Judaism too through studying the Old Testament.

      I can still look at Bible verses today not be that offended by them. I mean I hate how people read Bible verses and how they use them on others, but some of it is kind of interesting. Of course I don’t read it with the same Christian bias as before i.e seeing the Pharisees of the New Testament as the “bad guys” and Jesus as the hero. And I don’t presume the prophecies of the Old Testament to be about the coming of Jesus, though I’ve read that some Jews believe that there are prophecies about false messiahs in the Old Testament that refer to Jesus.

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      1. Yeah, that debate always interested me. My oldest brother is now Orthodox (we attended reform and conservative synagogues for most of my life), and there’s a massive debate about that and about whether or not worshiping Jesus is a form of idolatry. If you ever refer to an Orthodox Jew refer to Jesus as JC, it’s because they take the affirmative side of that argument. The other reason some call him JC is because some people who convert from Christianity to Orthodox Judaism emphasis the distinction between what they used to believe and what they believe now. We have lots of Christian relatives, so I think my brother prefers to stay out of that debate.

        It’s interesting. I do feel like I hear a lot more stories about atheists who were unhappy with their religious backgrounds, but now that you’ve mentioned it, yeah, there are plenty of secularists who still have a connection with their background. I think sometimes it’s hard not to, especially if your reasoning for not being religious has nothing to do with your experience with the religious community. Honestly, I learned more about questioning my beliefs from my former rabbi than anyone else. But that’s another story.

        And latkes are still delicious.

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      1. Yeah, I’ve wondered about that. We have very different backgrounds and reasons for deconversion, Angie, and I would make no claim that religion played nearly the same role in my childhood as it did yours, but when you did deconvert, was there any difficulty in the transition? Like, going from something being a major part of your identity to it being something you no longer believed in or could support in a lot of ways? I’m talking more on a day-to-day emotional level, not just in regards to your relationships with other people. I don’t know, I still find not practicing certain traditions such as prayer weird and awkward, and I’ve been an atheist for the good part of a decade.

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    1. I’ve heard that Jews like to debate “truth”. As for my experiences within Christianity, well I think I always had an uneasy relationship with Christianity. I think that I probably appeared to want to introduce new ideas, new Bible interpretations and that while on the surface some Christians were welcoming, they probably had a lot of reservations and suspicions. I’d just come in from very little Christian upbringing with a rather passionate interest and self-confidence. It became clear though that Christianity was just too straight-laced for me. I had thought I was reasonably straight-laced, but among Christians I felt too liberal. I couldn’t/didn’t want to fit in.

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      1. Certainly philosophically, Jews love to debate. There’s that joke “two Jews, three opinions.” My brother was telling me that the rabbis have “just in case” answers to, let’s say, some odder questions… Vampires aren’t breaking kosher laws by drinking blood because they’re undead, but if you meet a humanoid extraterrestrial, don’t go Captain Kirk, because that’s bestiality. It’s pretty funny. I’m thinking that comes from love of the debate. Or a lot of table top RPGs. Ha!

        There were certainly “no touch” topics, but a lot of them were current event related. Having a somewhat neutral view on Israel (that is, thinking that the issue is far too complicated to have a black-and-white view about which side are “the good guys”) was not something that made me particularly popular amongst my elders and my peers. The Reform movement, perhaps surprisingly, is a lot more gung ho about Zionism than the stricter denominations. The Orthodoxy and the Hasidim are far more likely to be critical of Zionism and, by extension, the Israeli government. With the Hasidim, it tends to be for religious reasons. With the Orthodoxy, it tends to be because more of them have actually *been* to Israel.

        The upside to moderate religion for me was that coming out as bisexual didn’t make anyone blink much. I thought of being a rabbi, and being a woman wouldn’t have made that unusual. But people who wanted to became more observant didn’t get a lot of encouragement. My temple refused to get its kitchen kashered (made strictly kosher), and people who wanted to follow stricter kosher laws were SOL. It was a better environment for me than my brother.

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