Monday, May 15, 2006

A brief history.

Sometimes I think life would be a lot easier if I believed in God. I was watching Grey's Anatomy last night and Denny The Heart Patient was saying he wasn't worried about dying because he believed in heaven and so there. And I thought Hey! Why don't I believe in heaven too? Because I just don't. You can blame it all on Tracy, my short-lived best friend in 8th grade.

I grew up going to church almost every Sunday. Lutheran church. When my mom and brothers and I lived in Eugene, the service, as I recall, was conducted from a kind-of Preacher Island loaded with randomly scattered candles and pulpits and flotsam (it's a little fuzzy - I was only 5). The congregation was spread out around this island on folding chairs and there was a lot of singing and merriment and cookies and hippies. Awesome. It almost all made up for the fact that my mom made us wear Lederhosen every weekend, which gradually became stiff with sweat, grass-stains and spilled grape juice. It was a real sense of community, and that feeling persisted with the churches we attended in Goldendale, Storrs and for a short while, Kelso.

Then one afternoon during lunch in eigth grade Tracy invited me to her sleepover birthday party. It was going to be a special occasion, because we would all be going to church with her the next morning, and could we please okay that with our parents? I was a little confused by the focus with which the church part of the sleepover received. Who cared about church, were we going to be able to run down the road to see the boys that lived at the end of her street? Yes, it turned out, we were! Church was forgotten until that Sunday morning, when we all woke up bleary-eyed and cotton-mouthed from too many Smarties. We were asked to circle up and pray for the sinners of the world over our morning cereal. Even that didn't really phase me - it's not like praying was foreign, just usually done in private when I wanted Chris Parker to notice me or I really wanted it to snow.

Church, it turned out, was the Longview Assembly of God. I'm not up on my religious vocab, but these people are the book-burners, gay-haters, talkers-in-tongue, and hell-fire and damnation hooligans. In fact, Tracy's dad was leading the charge to ban Huck Finn from out junior high library. We saw it all that morning during that 4-hour service. As I was sitting up in the bleacher seating in that enormous concert hall of a church, I changed. When, for the 20th time, the screaming preacher told me what I sinner I was and how evil all non-believers are I just woke up. It was as if I were riding in a car, watching the scenery run by, tree after tree after tree, then Bam! the ocean appeared. I remember snorting. Tracy's mom was next to me, and the noise and clammer of people yelling out in tongues had actually died down for a moment as they dunked someone in a giant fishtank to keep them from going to hell, and she heard me. I know she did. She looked sharply at me, and I smirked and snorted again. On purpose, because she suddenly seemed so simple-minded. I smirked and in my mind I was mocking her, and she knew it. I never stayed the night at Tracy's house again. In fact, I don't think I ever even ate lunch with her again.

A few weeks after the sleepover my mom asked if I could help teach Sunday school and I said no. I said I wouldn't be going back to church anymore. It made me sad, because I knew I was disappointing her and I really did enjoy the community of people, but all I could think of was how ridiculous and contrived the whole thing was. That feeling of mocking and ridicule stayed with me for a long time. I just couldn't shake the feeling that the whole thing was so hypocritical and made-up. Sure Jesus existed, but he is the son of God? John Smith said the same thing. There was a guy outside Safeway every Saturday that said the same thing too. Boy, God gets around! And the biblical stories? Uh-uh. I was 13-years-old and I knew it all.

But that's changed. I still don't believe in God, but I don't judge people that do. I think Jesus was a great man, one to be admired, studied and emulated. I think Muhammed and Buddha were great men too. They help a lot of people in ways that I can't imagine. AA is based on the belief in God (isn't it?) and I would never EVER point fingers at that institution as hypocritical or wrong. I still admire the sense of community created by churches, I just can't go back. I can't force myself to believe something I don't.

Sometimes I wish I did, though. Just so I could tell my babies that's where we're going to be someday, instead of in a dark muddy hole in the ground. I think that's where it all came from. A mom trying to protect her babies from sadness. I've decided I'll let Madeleine and Quinn decide for themselves. If believing in God makes them happy, that's what I want for them. Me? I just get to sleep in on Sunday.


Blogger Tink said...

Damn woman. You took the thoughts right out of my head.

I was feeling the same way after GA last night. It's the same feeling I get when Hoop (who believes the same as you, and I do) jokingly tells me I'm going to hell. I have to stop and think about what that means.

I believe in Darwin. I believe that good people like Jesus and Buddha were real. But I don't worship them. I believe in nature, but not in heaven or hell.

So why does it hurt to think that someone believes I'm going to hell? Why do I sometimes wish that someone would prove there's something after all this?

5/15/2006 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Pygmalion's Wife said...

You and I are theological twins. For me it started much younger, though--at age three when my midwife mother tried to read me a picture book about Jesus at Xmas time. I went and got our copy of "A Child Is Born" and opened it to the page with the sperm and asserted that Mary MUST have had sex at some point or she COULDN'T have had a baby.
I was very unpopular in play groups.

5/15/2006 11:05 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

Yep. Right there with you. I do believe in something, a energy that guides the universe? The force? But not God in the religious sense - mostly for the same reasons as you Mignon - having the shit scared out of me by crazy religious zealots on a daily basis when I was Madeleine's age.

5/15/2006 11:50 AM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

I saw GA last night, too. The whole "I believe in heaven" thing seemed to be a huge departure for Denny. Hu-what??? Heaven? A bed-bound heart patient confesses that he's not afraid to die because Heaven (or the idea of it) is superior to what we have on Earth.

I confess that I saw this statement as the GA writers getting us ready for the inevitable. I think all our human energy has to go someplace. It doesn't just die off. Right? It has to go someplace. Wherever that is...I guess that's heaven.

5/15/2006 12:42 PM  
Anonymous DD said...

The idea of paradise has also been extraordinarily useful for controling others, by making them endure hardship or even death in return for a reward that supposedly comes later. It's a dangerously effective concept.

"Religious people frighten me. Spiritual people inspire me."

5/15/2006 2:44 PM  
Anonymous tmo of pdx said... had an Assembly of God moment too! I was seven when I was taken to a family friend's church and I saw people speaking in tongues. That same year, when I discovered that Santa and the Easter Bunny were not real, I asked my mom "And God, too?" She answered with "No, God is real". I was a bit confused but continued to believe that there was a God (cuz mom said so). I had my real moment in an art history class at the U of A (it took me a bit longer to get where you were at 13). Things fell into place when I studied religious paintings from various cultures. The evolution of belief and where the stories all came from began to make sense and I became an atheist.

I do think things would be easier if I believed in God. I get such looks of pity from people and I hate hearing "I'll pray for you". Some say "you just have to have faith"...but where do you get it ? It's not something you can just decide to 'have' either believe or you don't....I think to pretend would be the biggest hypocrisy.

5/15/2006 4:31 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

I so so so relate to this post. I'm married to an agnostic, and I am a VERY lapsed Catholic. Frankly, I don't know who's running the show anymore. Maybe that's what happens after too many heartbreaks.

Very very well written and thoughtful (as usual!).

5/15/2006 5:20 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

Holy cow (heh, not trying to be funny) -- this sounds like me. I would love to really believe, but I just don't. The concept of a higher being is just pretty implausible to me.

I am kind of glad I don't watch Grey's Anatomy -- about the only one in the whole world, probably. But it sounds like it's such an emotional hour. I need happy shows more these days. ;-)

5/15/2006 6:00 PM  
Anonymous kathie said...

I"m sure you're watching Grey's as I write this...this show rocks, though Izzie is more than insufferable. I believe in God. My problem is organized religion. I can't get my mind around the catholic church even though I was raised in it. For me the depth and breadth of things wrong with it overrides any wholesome intentions that might undergird it. I'm trying the whole presbyterian thing--hopefully there's more tolerance in that church. I think there is. Here's hoping.

5/15/2006 6:15 PM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

I don't think it's a matter of "believing" or "not believing." I think faith is about embracing the questions at the heart of human existence--through science, reason, theology. To me, it's not so much about seeking complete answers but being willing to live with the absence of answers while still embracing the idea of the Divine, the power of Love and absolute goodness, the reality of evil.

Jesus embodies the reality and mystery for me. Faith is bigger than the institutions built around it. As your site says, it's an "opening your mind" point of view.

5/16/2006 4:10 AM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I can relate to a lot of this. I wasn't raised in a religious home at all and really know nothing when it comes to religion. And right now, I'm okay with that.

5/16/2006 6:08 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

I'm occasionally sensitive about the whole religious issue, and I thought this was a very respectful post. We are all formed by our own experiences. I was raised Catholic and had a very positive experience with it and never had any reason to look elsewhere. I don't subscribe to every last tenet, and I'm certainly not perfect, but I do consider myself both religious and spiritual.

I tend to keep my religious beliefs to myself, more out of fear of being mocked than anything else. I occasionally tell someone that I'm praying for them, if they're into that. I get the occasional harsh, "I don't NEED you to pray for me," which I don't really understand. If someone told me, "I'll be burning some sage and chanting for you," I'd smile and say, "Thank you." I really think that all good energy directed at someone is helpful.

It's interesting: sometimes I think things would be easier for me if I didn't believe in God, but I do, and that's life. I guess we naturally tend to speculate about people different from ourselves having an easier time.

5/16/2006 6:23 AM  
Blogger Mignon said...

Thank you all for chiming in. It's a little unnerving throwing something like this out there, not knowing if I'll offend someone. I have three, potentially four, sisters-in-law and their all Catholic, so all of my kids' cousins are Catholic. The one SIL that lives here would be offended by this, I'm afraid, so religious holidays can be a little tense.

Luckily Jim feels the same way I do. Luckily? I don't know - I've always enjoyed and gained a lot from speaking with open-minded spiritual people.

5/16/2006 6:55 AM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

What a wonderful post, Mignon. As another lapsed Catholic married to an agnostic, I could SO relate. I remember asking too many questions and thinking, "But this still doesn't make any sense to me!" I guess my brain is just not compatible with organized religion. Or the concept of some kind of spiritual father figure keeping tabs on the billions of us on the planet. And the more I think about it in those terms, the more likely it seems that we're either wired to believe or we're not.

My husband loves to mess with his religious friends, which sometimes embarrasses me. Recently, when a friend rationalized his religious beliefs with "But without religion, people would have no morals!" J responded with, "So before Jesus was born all people were evil & didn't know right from wrong?" To which his friend could only stare, mouth agape. J said that he could literally see his friend's mind bending.

5/16/2006 1:41 PM  
Anonymous stella said...


words out of my mouth.

5/16/2006 1:50 PM  
Anonymous kathie said...

You've struck a hot one, Mignon. Hope you're day's going well.

5/16/2006 2:20 PM  
Blogger Jaye Wells said...

Everyone has made great points here. I'll just condense my point to this: I don't buy any organization run by humans that tells me there's only one way to live.

5/17/2006 8:00 AM  
Blogger pdxbrian said...

Pass up an opportunity to comment on religion? Never!

Jess - your husband rocks. It's all about mind bending.

Jaye - well put. Especially considering the extreme arrogance of those humans that depict god in their own image.

Firmly atheist here. I get really confused trying to make sense of the spirituality of religion. Much like I get really confused at how what's-his-monkey-face got re-elected. (Hmmm, any correlation there?) To me, it boils downs to people not being able to cope with their own finality... which is somewhat understandable. But the fact that organized religion has turned that fear into self righteous, judgemental, hateful and uber-fund raising acts really sucks.

5/17/2006 9:24 AM  

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