I was raised being forced to go to church every Wednesday and twice on Sunday. I was put in private schools from the 5th to 9th grades, and I feel the same emptiness that poetryslam feels when it comes to an ability to believe in God, at least the God I was introduced to. It all just smacked of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. And the whole "getting saved" business really did feel like being recruited. I was only four when I decided to do what my Sunday School teacher told me to do, but I can still remember feeling like they were quite pleased with themselves about the whole business.
Then when I was baptized in front of the church, I blanked out right at the important part and forgot that I was actually supposed to be dunked under water, so I didn't take a breath. The pastor was apparently ready for this eventuality (maybe it had happened to him before?) and somehow managed to shove my face under water for a split second, in spite of my sudden resistsance, and make it all look smooth and cool to the congregation. I wasn't traumatized by it though, I was eight years old by then so I knew I had just screwed up a little bit. Nothing was ever said about it.
We had one sermon one Sunday night that was dedicated to how evil Rock music was. I think it was highly influential to my parents' decision that I could only listen to "Christian" music growing up. They even put a baby monitor by my clock radio to make sure I wasn't listening to sinful music. (That's what originally got me turned on to talk radio - I was litening to Larry King's radio show before most people had ever heard of him and long before he was on CNN. I couldn't tolerate crappy "Christian" music, so I just listened to the news.) Anyhow, I remember during this sermon that the preacher was talking about that old heavy metal band, WASP. He said that some Christian reporter had interviewed them after a show one night and (probably in an accusing tone) asked them what they represented, or some other obnoxious Christian-reporter-like question. They said that their name stood for We Are Sexual Perverts. Of course the Christian reporter guy took them completely seriously, took that and ran with it, and that information spread like wildfire across the nation via the Underground Church Radio Network, and suddenly Doctor Dobson and Focus on the Family and all the rest of them bought it completely. I mean, come on, if you're doing a rock concert and some annoying accusing Christian reporter is trying to get you to admit that you worship Satan or some shit, are you not probably going to give some smart-ass response? It really blows me away sometimes how *not* street-smart some Church people are.
Backmasking was the term we were given for when evil satan-worshipping rock music artists would put a message in their music that you could only hear if you played the track backwards. There was even a video set devoted to this topic: Hell's Bells. I was subjected to that crap while I was in private school. We got in trouble during that class if it even appeared that we weren't paying attention, but inside my head I knew it was a huge crock of shit the whole time. I mean, they'd say "Listen to this message" and then play a section of a song backwards. You couldn't hear a damn thing until they told you what it said. (Power of suggestion)
Then there was Rob Linsted, the principal of the private Christian high school I went to. Fucking hypocritical mind-altering bastard. That man would tell you that what you were doing is "New Age" at the drop of a hat. New Age. "New Age is EVIL!" New Age was its own religion to him. "New Age" was (and this is my interpretation of his definition) actually paganism, mysticism, TM, and every other non-deity-centered bit of religion or spirituality all wrapped up into one convenient stereotype. You know those asian meditation balls that sort of chime and you rotate two of them in one hand? They usually come in a nice box? A kid brought those once and had them confiscated. "Those are New Age!" said Rob. Within the hour he convened an emergency session of Chapel (which the entire school was required to attend) and we all got read the riot act about "New Age". I mean, even Yoga was included. Anything moderately spiritual that couldn't be associated with an existing, deity-centered religion was automatically evil and New Age. All of it went under the umbrella of being "spiritual but not centered around God" and therefore could be classified as Having a False God Before Me or whatever it is. Some New Age type religions say that nature is what should be revered and respected. Others say that you are your own God. Regardless, all that stuff is "New Age" and WRONG! I think Rob was on a personal mission to stomp out New Age singlehandedly, and by god it would start in his school.
The school actually started out as a Church, of which he was the pastor. His house was on the same chunk of property, next door. Most of the faculty of the school attended the church. Does anyone see a "You take care of me, I'll take care of you" scenario here? You be generous to the collection plate and maybe I'll hook you up with a job. Just remember, I know how much you make so be sure you're kicking back that ten percent. It gets better. A large chunk of the kids who went to that school had parents who attended that church, and a lot of those kids had parents who were on staff for the school. My "best friend" during that time, his father was one of the instructors there. German, Greek, and history, I think. The coach's daughter who was overweight and had no athletic ability whatsoever was on the cheerleading squad because her father was the coach. Notice I don't say what he was the coach of - he was the coach of every sport that school was large enough to participate in. Pathetic, yes? But it gets even more fun than that. This kid named Chance was about 5'5" but he could sink a 3-pointer from anywhere on the line, even when being guarded by someone who was a foot taller. This kid singlehandedly was responsible for every game our basketball team won. So naturally when it came time for the MLB playoffs, Chance and Kyle (Rob the principal's son) went next door to Kyle and Rob's house to watch it on the big screen while the rest of us actually had to stay in class. I skipped one hour of one day and got detention for a week, those two watched every playoff game and never had a consequence. What a load of shit.
That fucker Rob even tried to capitalize on the first Persian Gulf War. He actually made a video of himself preaching about it. Of course, very few people knew that the audience was a select group of preferred students from the school. Anyhow, he all talked about the whole deal and related it to Revelations and tried to draw parallels between what was going on and what Revelations said. Yeah, he was one of those "convinced that God is coming back any day now" guys. He actually sold those videos in those big wire video bins in Wal-Mart. I was astonished when I saw that video at Wal-Mart, considering he was the principal of my school and I'd never even heard anything about the video. What an ass.
And yes, our Youth Group did all kids of fun stuff. We went on a few canoe trips and I went to Summer Camp in Colorado all seven years it was available to me. I mean, hell, cheap trip to Colorado, right? I will never regret that. But I never really bonded strongly with anyone. I would just hang out with whichever guy near my age happened to be along on that particular trip.
The whole experience I had growing up with religion being forced down my throat left a nasty taste in my mouth for church and religion and all that. I can't even go to church , any church, with an open mind because of all the pre-conceived notions that were planted in my head at an early age. The correct way to talk and behave and think and be, that just isn't who I am. I can't get around that. They say that God is accepting and loves me and all that, but what good is that if the people at church aren't the same way? I'm totally uncomfortable when I go back to that church. My parents still go there and I like to go on Christmas and whatnot, but I try like hell to avoid talking to anyone while I'm there. There are lots of new people there, but lots of people who have been there for as long as I can remember. I dread being asked that one question, "How's your walk with God?" I'm not going to lie, but I don't want to say "nonexistent" and then have some well-meaning and horribly misguided person trying to, in the space of a five-minute conversation, convince me that Jesus is cool and Church is the way to go. Or worse, say "Let's have lunch some time" or "can I call you?" or some shit like that. Motherfucker, you can't tell me a damn thing I haven't heard a thousand times before inside this very building. What makes you think you are going to suddenly be the one to make me go "oh, snap, I never thought of it like that, ok, let's do this!"? What brilliant piece of insight do you have to offer? Can you make up for the years of hypocrisy and preferential treatment I observed?
This is why I say that my thoughts on religion are an intensely personal topic. Because I don't want to discuss it with you. I don't want you to give me your opinion, to push your thoughts on me, to parrot back some shit you heard in one of your weeknight Bible studies, and I definitely don't want you to invite me to ANYTHING. Don't try to Save me because it's the Right Thing to Do.
I think this all stems from guilt. I was trained to think that I should feel guilty for a lot of the things I wanted to do. I wanted to listen to the music all my friends talked about, but I was told that it was Satanic and that I would become a terrible sinner. I wanted to have sex with my girlfriend and although I did it anyway, I was told that pre-marital sex was the biggest of all sins. I think what they really meant was that it was the one thing they were the most afraid of. And I don't really put a lot of this on my parents. Probably less than I should, in fact. I put most of this on my church and the private school I went to. My parents just went along with it, and they've mellowed out a lot since then. Anyhow, so much of what I wanted to do, stuff I viewed as harmless, was looked down upon by the churchy people. Eventually I got to a place where I was so fed up with being made to feel guilty all the time that I became angry at guilt. I hate being made to feel guilty, but it's extremely easy to make me feel guilty, which does cause problems for me sometimes. Guilt is a feeling I have an unbelievable amount of resentment for. Actually, I should qualify that. I resent guilt when I feel it's unneccessary. I did some dumb shit when I was young and I hurt some people, and for that I feel guilty, and I'm ok with that. I should feel guilty. But being made to feel guilty when I don't think I've done anything wrong is something I have a huge problem with, and that's because of the way I was brought up in religion. Guilt was used as the primary motivator. It doesn't matter how well it was disguised, what fancy words and phrases were used to represent it. It took me years to figure it out, but it's all about guilt. I wouldn't know how to deal with a religion that wasn't based on guilt. What I mean by that is that no matter what the real deal is, I will always be suspicious of any religion for that reason. I would never be able to have that wonderful relationship with Christ that people talk about (assuming I didn't think that idea was messed up to begin with) because I would feel like I had to hide my thoughts from him, and I resent feeling like I have to be someone I'm not.
What is that relationship with God, anyway? People say that they talk to him by praying and that he talks back by them reading the Bible. There are so many opportunities for self-inspired psychological influencing in that scenario that it just taints the credibility of the whole deal for me. You feel bad about something, you pray (thereby getting it out somewhat by talking and imagining that someone is listening) and then you read the Bible until you find some vague thing that you can twist to interpret to have something to do with your particular issue. Then you go to Church and talk about how God spoke to you and you felt so much better. Only you fail to mention that the particular thing you read was written by a person, not god, and was written thousands of years ago and has been translated at least once, from another language. It just doesn't add up for me.
See, I have issues when it comes to religion. I need therapy about it or something.
And yeah, the only reason I even give a shit about it anymore is that I'm a little concerned about what happens next.