I was taught, for a long time, since infancy that only we Christians were God’s chosen ones, redeemed by Christ’s blood and everyone else, even those of other Christian sects who did not have our exact bible exegesis and worship practices were going to be punished by God when He brings the world to and end. Thankfully, I have come a long way since then. But even back then as a teenager, I could not actually fathom God engulfing my wonderful Roman Catholic, Hindu and Moslem school mates in fiery destruction just because they were in a different religion. I would look at my fellow Naps girls, Ms. Alverado, Ms. Boodoosingh and Ms. Khan and worry constantly about their future. I would preach fanatically to them, often driven to tears when my urgency for them to convert was met with their cool confidence in their own beliefs. I tried to believe that somehow they were bad for not wanting to accept what I was taught to be the only true path to salvation. But they were no more evil than I was. In fact, some of them possessed admirable moral qualities I was still struggling to live up to. Being an Evangelical Christian did not make me automatically happier, brighter or more self-confident than they were. In fact, I had very low self-esteem from years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. I came from a divorced home, and yet many of them came from what I deemed far more normal, two parent families that seemed happier and more stable than mine. All in all, it was hard for me to rationalize being, “specially chosen of God” as my life did not reflect this. God certainly did not seem to be answering my prayers to rectify many of the things that troubled and hurt me in my life.
Of course, I could have taken the route many of my fellow Christian youths took. They separated themselves from anyone they considered, ‘worldly non-believers” and seemed to go above and beyond to invite exclusion and ridicule from peers which only justified what they saw as being persecuted in Jesus’ name. They wore their religiosity on their sleeve like a badge of honor. Acted in a pushy, obnoxious, overly critical fashion in total “Us” vs. “Them” mentality. You know that bumper sticker that reads, “Jesus may love you but everyone else thinks you are an asshole.”, it applies to quite a few of my Christian peers back then, hopefully they have changed and learned a few social graces like tact, humility and altruism. Back then, they carried themselves around like picture perfect Christians, even though their lives belied such claims and the less obvious forms of non-Christian behaviour- gossip, pride, overeating, materialism were rampant in the ranks. Soon other “sins” began to show up as we got older. It is a well hidden fact that when you go into most evangelical congregations, the number of single mothers is staggering. It’s very true what they say about Pastor’s daughters, as Ms. Alleyne, the fourteen year old who Akon acrobatically dry humped can attest. I can tell you from experience watching my female Christian peers turn from boastful and self-righteous one minute to shame-facedly pregnant out of wedlock or caught in some other compromisng position the next. So it was not just me, the academically struggling, troubled teen with a different sexuality and horrid home life that proved that Christians were just as human as everyone else. Soon, it became obvious to me, that I had no real right to be preaching down to anyone.
"Jesus may love you but everyone else thinks you are an asshole.”
Thoroughly humbled, I still practiced my faith, but with quiet reserve and growing despondency. You see while you may get a single Christian to admit (some more willingly than others) that they are no better a person than you are and they too have the same challenges, personal demons, family problems, self-development problems and social challenges, it is different with a large group Christians. When gathered en masse, or speaking as a group to the world, Christians like to project an image of not only moral superiority but the ideal in everything from personal development and happiness to family life. They do this outwardly to the world and among each other, it is even worse. There is a constant vigilance and pressure to keep that picture perfect outward display on at all times. Everyone is monitoring everyone else’s behaviour. However, remember that any large group is made up of flawed individuals. Having Jesus as your personal savior does not automatically solve all your problems nor automatically make you a better person. My personal experience of seeing Christians screw up their lives and mine had dirtied my rose lenses a long time ago. As a result, I have always been quite self-depreciating among them, something they lacked the courage to do. I would publically announce,
“I am such a screw up!” and it would be met with uncomfortable, critically assessing gazes instead of a disarming smile, support or better yet, them opening up about their shit too. So back then, I felt thoroughly isolated in my depression and personal problems.
While you may get a single Christian to admit (some more willingly than others) that they are no better a person than you are and they too have the same challenges, personal demons, family problems, self-development problems and social challenges, it is different with a large group Christians. When gathered en masse, or speaking as a group to the world, Christians like to project an image of not only moral superiority but the ideal in everything from personal development and happiness to family life.
I would like to say that it was my increasing academic knowledge of world history, evolution, geography and the basics of forming a philosophical argument learned in public speaking and debating class that sprung doubts in my mind. But I was agnostic long before I reached Cambridge A’levels. I was a secret agnostic even while attending bible study, worship and fellowship. Those things were done out of habit (I actually relished bible study for the sheer pleasure of learning) because I had no choice. Truth was I had stopped praying ages ago. The point of final conflict came while my father led me in bible study and we were discussing the flood in Genesis. I began asking questions it never occurred to me to ask before. What about polar bears, were they in the ark? How did Noah get all those millions of animals in the ark from all the continents? How did they get released in the same habitat after the flood and not totally damage the natural eco-system let alone return to their original habitats? How did salt water fish survive all that fresh water? What about plant life? What about reefs that date back millions of years? Little by little, I could see the growing frustration on my father’s face. What started as pleasant bible discussion became about threats.
“Stop asking seditious questions! That is the Devil trying to move you away from God! All you need to know is the bible is true! It is true you hear me!” he said firmly.
‘But Daddy, how can you tell if it is true or not? How can call this bible study if I cannot ask questions or investigate other opinions? Why do you only want me to read and repeat what you say? Why can’t I see if what I am reading is true?”
“If you are reading from the bible then it is true! There is nothing to investigate!”
"How do you know?” I pressed.
“I have faith! Plus am older than you and I have seen much more than you! This is a pointless argument! Are you going to humble yourself before God or not? Remember, the bible says that wisdom of this world is foolishness to God! You have to be a child to understand the things of God and that means being humble and not doubting!” he yelled. Blood vessels were starting to protrude on his face. I knew a slap may not be too far behind but I persisted.
“But Daddy, how can I really believe if I am not convinced."
"You need to just have faith!"
"So having faith means just believing despite your questions or knowledge that something is not logical?"
"What does the bible say?"
"Faith is the hope in things yet unseen."
"There is you answer right there! There is nothing more to discuss!"
"But Daddy, I cannot just shut off my brain like that! I cannot force myself to believe.”
"Well you had better believe if you want to be under MY roof and use MY money and eat MY food! If you prefer the world to God’s knowledge, then you are free to go out into the world! Go and see what will happen to you! Remember what happened to those who strayed away from the faith. You see how their lives are a mess now. Are you a child of God or Satan? Tell me! Choose this day who you will serve! Will you serve God?”
“Okay Daddy.” I said and instantly he became relieved and pleasant once more. We continued the bible study with no more questions. I basically regurgitated what I knew he expected me to and told him all the things he wanted to hear and he seemed pleased with that. It did not matter that it was not genuine. Suddenly it dawned on me that this was not about me but
neededme to believe more than I actually needed to believe, in order to validate
hisown belief. So much so that real belief on my part was not even necessary. Just a display of belief was enough to soothe his fears and doubts. For it was indeed fear I saw behind the rage. To have to resort to threats in order to get someone to believe in anything is a sure sign of fear. Who knows, if my father’s reaction had been different perhaps I would have never left the faith.
That was fifteen years ago.
I am no longer a Christian and my father and I are not on speaking terms but we are civil when we do chance to meet and greet. Every time we do, he is surprised that I am in fact alive and well. I am not a prostitute, drug addict, wasted down and used up as he predicted I would be, when I departed from his home and church. I have not been punished by Satan’s world any more so than anyone else, including him. I do not credit my intelligence or abilties entirely for this. The fact is, I learned good judgment and common sense from my father. My messed up family life exposed me to such a diverse variety of dregs of society that I knew exactly what to avoid when I went out on my own. The other thing that helped were those same friends I made in high school from those different religious backgrounds. They have proven to be a blessing indeed. It was fortunate for me that I never was so blind to associate ‘goodness’ with any particular religion including my own former one. It helped me discern wolves in sheep’s clothing more often than many less fortunate young women who left the church and fell directly into the hands of predators who took advantage of their sheltered, naivety. Nope, a Danah Alleyne I was not. My ability to see in colour and not black and white helped me pick good friends and they bolstered me up when I was down. Of course, the biggest credit of all goes to my Creator, Divine Parent, and Loving God. Despite feeling abandoned and doubting God’s existence, God was always there.
It was fortunate for me that I never was so blind to associate ‘goodness’ with any particular religion including my own former one. It helped me discern wolves in sheep’s clothing more often than many less fortunate young women who left the church and fell directly into the hands of predators who took advantage of their sheltered, naivety.
By no means do I know everything there is to know about God but I do know this from my personal experience, God is limitless and available to everyone who seeks. I had preconceived notions of where I will discover that vital link to God, but I found it where I least expected. I have been a staunch Evangelical Christian with a strong apologetic foundation and I used to tear a non-believer to shreds with a well chosen bible verse. I know the doctrine and methods inside out. It still surprises many who only met me in my present incarnation when I start quoting scripture. I have also been a disenchanted, doubting Christian, an angry agnostic that battled constantly with fundamentalist Christians. Today I am now a free and independent theist and the anger and resentment is gone. Perhaps at some later date, when I feel a little more open about it, I may tell you the exact moment I went from agnostic to theist. Right now though, I just want to talk about where my head is at. From the vantage point where I now sit, I have a better appreciation albeit different to the fundamentalist bible view, of Christ and the scriptures themselves. However, there is no driving need in me to battle constantly with those who believe differently. I can laugh at things. I can find common ground. I can acquiesce and wish others well in their own faith. I attended Christmas Mass last year, with some friends who are like family to me and I did not see denomination or religion but only universal messages of love, peace and joy. I have explored other faiths but I am not a follower nor will I ever be a member of any sect ever again.
Sometimes I wonder where I would be if I were from a conventional family that never got divorced; if I had different parents; if I had not witnessed such rabid dysfunction within the church and in our own household; if I was never repeatedly sexually abused and see it quickly glossed over as something just mildly unpleasant by church leaders; if I was allowed proper counseling instead of just prayer and my depression treated like a serious illness and not “just being difficult”. What if I were someone who could conform easily? What if I was more eager to believe I was special and wanted to be accepted in an exclusive club chosen by God? What if I never ever had a personal crisis and disenchantment that made me question God’s existence? What if I were less educated? What if I were less brave to face the world out there and all the uncertainty and challenges that come with it? Would I still be an Evangelical Christian? What makes someone accept a certain religion all their life and another question and seek all their life?
I have been a staunch Evangelical Christian with a strong apologetic foundation and I used to tear a non-believer to shreds with a well chosen bible verse. I have also been a disenchanted, doubting Christian, an angry agnostic that battled constantly with fundamentalist Christians. Today I am now a free and independent theist and the anger and resentment is gone.
It seems so many factors influence faith. When I was a Christian and someone expressed their lack of faith in what I believed, I treated it like it was such an insult to God but really, it was more of an insult to me. It hurt my feelings. It made me feel insecure and unpopular. It made me fearful. Today I know that their lack of faith does not mean they are deliberately trying not to believe or want to be bad. When I was an agnostic it was because God was never revealed to me in any substantial way that convinced me absolutely and the religious doctrine had massive gaps in it. This was not because I was wicked and wanted to do bad things. I think anyone with common sense knows faith IS subjective. If there really was one religion that had all the answers, had the perfect formula for happiness for everyone and had universal appeal, then there would only be one religion on this planet. But no one religion does that for everyone. Then there is God. Why must there limits on the ways God must relate to different people? Who benefits by claiming a monopoly in the access to God? Why would God create such a diverse range of people and allow them to experience such a diverse range of human experiences, cultures, racial heritages, family histories, political and geograhical influences to shape their world view and personalities and sensibilities in different ways, then ask them to fit into one narrow spiritual mould? I remember I had to be in the right place, right time, right state of mind for God to be revealed to me finally. One twist in those circumstances, and who knows? So how can I today condemn or pre-judge people and assume wicked motives on their part or even that they are misquided. Perhaps they are exactly where God wants them to be at this present space and time, just as I was.
Having seen things from all sides now, perhaps the biggest contributor to the birth of a seeker is humility.
To be continued.....