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Walking away from Faith [Oct. 14th, 2011|07:40 am]
In honor of International Skeptic's Day, I'm pulling this post out of the drafts folder and dusting it off. It's long, too long, and not funny enough. But on the other hand, you're not PAYING me to entertain you, so you'll just have to suffer. And while I'll even have to post it in two parts, it's so damn long, tough. I'm all entwined in Virgina Faire work and Scary Perry prep, and while nominally they make me happy, still, it's a lot of work for other people. So, I'm going to exercise a little self-indulgence.

I was baptized in a Congregational Church. We occasionally went to a Congregational Church, maybe once a month or so. Maybe more when I was younger, but I do have a distinct remembrance of always feeling like a visitor in Sunday School, that the other kids were regulars and I always felt like the new kid. Gold macaroni on a cross.

On weekends, we or I, often stayed with my grandparents, who had a house on a lake. Kid heaven. Occasional Sundays we went to an Episcopal Church. It was a lovely old stone cathedral-esque church, gigantic, stained glass and sternly gaudy compared to the plain jane Congregational Church with its clear lacquered pine, white paint and simple altar. I pleaded and got to skip Sunday school there, instead half-napping in the pew during the sermon, loving the sound of the minister’s voice echoing off the stones. Plus, you got to hear an extra hymn if you stayed. Church at that point was already becoming Blah, blah, blah punctuated with wonderful songs. Step One. We didn’t go all of the time. My grandparents had a bit of a lackadaisical attitude toward church attendance. In retrospect, I suspect that Saturday cocktail hour and the length thereof, might have had something to do with whether we all got up, dressed up…or not.

Kindergarten through third grade I went to Lutheran School. I never learned the state capitols, but I did learn the books in the Bible, in forward AND reverse order. My report card included being evaluated on my Sunday school attendance on weekends. I always got screwed because of all of the times I was with my grandparents. Never a gold star, always a silver. Even though it wasn’t my fault. Step Two. Each weekend we had to memorize a passage and then recite it back to the teacher, one by one, on Monday. You weren’t allowed to talk or interrupt the teacher while we were doing the recitations. So, my anguished little hand-waving was ignored one Monday and I was THAT kid. The kid that peed in her pants. Step Three.

What else did I learn? That if you used more than one paper towel, you got your hand slapped. If you talked while in line, you got your hand slapped. If you stepped out of line, even if Laura Kringle PUSHED you, you got a ruler smack across your bottom. No steps here. That just fell under general unfairness of being a kid in a totalitarian regime. I was taking God very seriously at the time though. I had a picture of Jesus beside my bed, and he kept me safe from the thing that lived under the bed. And we often had nuclear bomb drills, where the siren went off and we all had to crawl under our desks and pray that God would keep us safe. God and a desk. Yeah, that'll work.

We also went to Lutheran Church on Wednesday afternoons as part of our education. The whole class trooped up the street and spent what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only an hour. Easter week, though, we got an extra church visit – Good Friday was a very big deal. I remember listening to the story and staring at the big red velvet curtain at the back of the altar. Waiting. Waiting for the skies to darken and the curtain to tear asunder. But it never did. Step Four.

And then we moved and I went to public school where I no longer got smacked, at least by the teachers. My peers, not so kind to the bookish, non-Catholic kid who had an alarming grasp of the Bible. THERE I was graded on my handwriting and got the first C of my life. Perhaps a little less time memorizing Bible passages and a little more time learning to write legibly, O, Lutheran School and I could have kept my perfect grade record until I hit trigonometry. Clear handwriting and the state capitols would have been more useful skills than knowing Josh, Judge, Ruth, Sam, Sam, King, King, Chron, Chron. Really. Step Five.

We moved to a very heavily Catholic area. Jane Haskell and I were the only kids on the bus going home on Wednesday afternoons, when the school was invaded by the penguins for Catechism. I don’t know if I’d ever seen a priest or a nun in person before; they unnerved me. I felt immediately guilty. And I don’t know why. One of the rectories was in our neighborhood and when I trick or treated there, and the priest answered the door, I froze. He greeted the other children I was with, and asked me why he never saw me in Church on Sundays. “Because I’m a, a, a, Prostitute, I go to a different church” I stammered. He gently corrected me “I believe you are actually a Protestant, and that’s okay.” And priests then made me a little bit less nervous. But still, it was like having a State Trooper of God driving next to you, you knew any second you were going to do something wrong and get pulled over.

Immersed in Catholic culture, and exposed to some lovely churches, and lovely people but it just seemed a bit too overwrought for someone like me growing up in churches where stained glass was an indulgence, and where capital improvements were regularly put off because it had been a hard year at the foodbank. And time consuming. All of those classes and requirements, the confessions, penance…none of that set well, with someone who was raised, nominally, at least, to believe you had a direct line to the Almighty.

Not to mention, being one of those kids who hung out with adults, rather than my own peer group, I overheard a lot of interesting discussions. A neighbor whose father committed suicide, but if his estate helped out with the church building fund, could be buried in the churchyard with full services. Friends whose aunts were nuns and how poorly they were treated by the priests. Another family friend whose brother ran an “inn” farther up in New England, where women pregnant by priests went to have their children. Wrapping my head around: not all people who profess faith and goodliness are actually good, and walking the path they preach. Step Six, and skepticism in full bloom.

By high school we’d moved to a new town, a more traditional New England town, where the WASPs held sway. My father had abandoned all pretense of church and religion, responding to my mother’s pleas to at least go on Christmas Eve, or Easter, with “Look, Jane, if I’m going to go one day a year, I’m going to go on an off day, July or August, sometime when they need to fill up some pews. I’m not going on Easter when all the other reprobates show up.”

My mother kept trying to get us to go, but there was the whole getting dressed up thing, that my brother and I firmly rejected, and if I had a choice on a Sunday morning, being on the back of a horse, outside, enjoying nature, definitely felt more spiritual than pantyhose, a hard pew, and droning. The killer of course, was when, with teenage smartass on overdrive, I told her “No one is stopping you from going to church. Just go! Why do you need us to go with you?” And she replied “Well, it won’t look right if I go without my family.” Step Seven where I learned that faith was a pretty weak concept in my family and church had a lot more to do with fitting into society than God. Add a cup of that to a one fifteen year old girl and rebellion is the only way a recipe can come out.

[User Picture]From: sestree
2011-10-14 12:26 pm (UTC)
Ours were more Baptist but same thing: if you don't drag your kids to church then you can't show your face in the beauty parlor.

The Catholic church in my lil town though was all about catering to the whims of nature. They rearranged mass during harvest, people showed up in jeans and boots, kids were welcome ... it was nice. However same thing - if you didn't show up then whoa the fuck be unto you.

I think that's why I disdain organized religion.

I think being a prostitute sounds more fun than being a protestant anyway ;)

Edited at 2011-10-14 12:27 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: kiltboy
2011-10-14 12:45 pm (UTC)
I've always wondered at going to a building built by man, adorned by man, with things man finds precious, and calling it a House of God. Go walk out into the woods or to the beach, or anywhere you can't find a sidewalk and a 7-11: that's the House that God built.

To paraphrase a Buddhist koan: show me where God is not.

Not even going into the whole "people wearing their Sunday Finest, showing off their wardrobes for each other" thing.

Yes, I am still a very religious person, I just can't stand all the bullshit that goes along with organized religion. Just read the book. Don't kill your neighbor, don't fuck his wife, don't steal his shit, and help each other out. Not all that hard to do, really.
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[User Picture]From: kiltboy
2011-10-14 01:46 pm (UTC)
The words in red, man. The words in red.
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[User Picture]From: acroyear70
2011-10-15 02:38 am (UTC)
John Muir always wondered why, in the midst of the largest natural cathedral on the planet (Yosemite Valley), someone insisted on building a chapel.
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[User Picture]From: pyratelady
2011-10-15 07:30 am (UTC)
That is one way to look at it. Another way; it's a House that God built because it was faith in God and the desire to worship God together that inspired the church to be built. People came together, donated money, perhaps donated materials and labor, and built a church. Then they gathered together to worship. Many churches are quite literally works of art; I like to think that faith in God inspired the art, and that the art itself was also meant to inspire.

I'm not saying that a peaceful wooded glade isn't inspirational; it is. But so is a gorgeous stained glass window. If one is gifted with artistic talent, one might say the God gave him or her that gift and one might choose to use that gift to praise God through paintings or music or stone carvings. So art could be seen as God's grace made visible.

(An interesting thought occurs to me, though; people can't create actual wooded glades but they can plant gardens and trees. I suppose an interesting way to praise God in a concrete way through creativity/working with your hands yet also include nature could be to plant and tend a garden or a forest.)

When I was growing up (in the Catholic Church) we wore our Sunday Finest not to show off, but to show respect. We didn't wear jeans and t-shirts to weddings, or to funerals, and certainly not to church.

Now before you decide I'm an apologist, yes, there is a great deal of bullshit in organized religion. Rampant pedophilia, abuses of power, and a 70-year-old childless unmarried man trying to tell me what to do with my uterus come to mind.
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[User Picture]From: kiltboy
2011-10-15 06:53 pm (UTC)
Interesting point about the church. Hadn't thought along those lines before. Makes sense.

My biggest problems have always been the hypocrisy. Read the book, still treat other people like dirt. As well as the other things you mentioned above.
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[User Picture]From: ren_tigger
2011-10-17 04:15 pm (UTC)
Yah, I have always enjoyed annoying people (often at faire) by hugging a tree and saying. "I am closer to god right now than I ever will be in a man made building." It does frustrate them as the few who choose to respond always fall into that 'remove all doubt' category.

Now I can see where PyrateLady is correct in the magnificence of those man made cathedrals. I love visiting Europe and going to as many cathedrals as time permits and being overwhelmed by them. And some take some serious dedication. Like this one in the Czech Republic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedlec_Ossuary
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[User Picture]From: quislet
2011-10-20 06:06 pm (UTC)
I read this and find myself jealous. I wish I could put my finger on discrete points that accumulated into my own de-conversion. ginger_rose can do that, but I can't.

My own walk was much more gradual and continuous in nature, my faith eventually fading into the background noise or sloughing off as vestigial. I sometimes think of it as my polliwog tail.

I'm going to have to try to write a similar post in order to finish figuring out what I think about it.
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2011-10-20 08:06 pm (UTC)
Well, admittedly, there's some literary license there, in making it seem such a clear path. Sloughing off - shrugging off, I think that's why I used a cloak metaphor. Although the very carelessness with which I was raised -- the ah, you decide, it's there if you want it, devil-may-care, if you will, it wasn't that hard. I'm glad that I tried all that I did. I'm overeducated in that, at least.

Funny, though -- it's hard for me to visualize how you could go from where you were to where you are -- a continent's worth of spread, compared to my travel through Rhode Island, practically, and still think of it as gradual. At some point you were COMMITTED. That I can never claim, so I have to look askance at you when you say "fading".

Hmm. This could require another band rehearsal and another bottle of wine.
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