Even as a young child, I despised church. Church meant itchy dresses, uncomfortable pews, and two hours I could have better spent playing outdoors. Being a child, I never understood gOd in the way Christians want gOd to be understood. To me, gOd was like a friendly old man in the clouds, the same way Santa Clause was a friendly old man in the North Pole. And I don’t remember a thing about Jesus. As far as I knew, Jesus was Starbuck to gOd’s Ahab.
Religion was never my turn-on. Watching cartoons and playing with my dog were more important than understanding the consequences of sin. As far as I was concerned, the Seven Deadly Sins and the Ten Commandments were just more lists of things adults didn’t want you to do. I was more afraid of parental retribution than heavenly vengeance.
In first grade, a little boy was burned, head to toe, in a fire. My father was a fireman (now chief) and one of the first responders on the scene. By the time they found the boy, the damage had been done. I overheard my dad telling my mom that he'd never forget the way that little boy cried. Burned. Scared forever because of a malfunctioning appliance.
"I keep thinking, 'that could have been Pamela.'" He told her. "They're just the same."
Eventually, the little boy came back to school, but this time with scars and with classmates that couldn't see the little boy beneath them. He was alone during recess, and I thought about how my dad said we were the same, and one day I asked him to play with me on the teeter totter. Even though he looked different, he was still a little kid, the same as I. I didn’t understand the idea of hating or excluding anybody just because everyone else did. To me, the idea of hating or excluding others because the Bible says so is the same thing as shunning that little burned boy.
Later in life, during high school, I didn’t understand why people thought religion was so important. They seemed to work so hard to build the appearance of Christianity – going to church, being involved in Christian clubs and organizations, attending prayer groups before school, going to youth groups – and I never understood why it wasn’t enough to simply be a Christian. It seemed to me they were putting on the make-up of Christianity for everyone else to see, painting a better picture of themselves than what was really on the canvas. I, on the other hand, was simply myself. And I didn’t have to work hard at it.
However, my friends seemed to believe it wasn’t enough that I was just myself. I needed to be a Christian too, and I needed to go to church and be involved in church activities to prove it.
My first and last Christian outing was an Easter retreat for all the youth of a Southern Methodist church. I assumed it would be a weekend heavy with organized prayer, boring sermons, and crappy games. I was mostly right. My first night at the retreat was an eye-opener. The youth minister preached about the usual sins teens are prone to fall into and then suggested that all these people, who had worked so hard to apply their Christian make-up, were still ugly, and they needed to be saved right away.
Most people started crying. As if teens didn’t have enough troubles with self-esteem, these good, “Christian” leaders were telling them they weren’t even good enough for their own religion. Hell, I’d probably cry too. A few people tried to lend a shoulder, including me, because as much as I didn’t understand these people, I also didn’t enjoy watching them cry. But I was immediately rebuked. How dare I shoulder lend? Didn’t I know that gOd himself would “heal” these people? Didn’t I know that gOd was the only answer to their problems, and that I could do nothing but watch them suffer?
That is exactly what I was told. “Don’t touch them. They need to be touched by gOd.” But they were still crying. Maybe gOd couldn’t help them because gOd was too busy touching me at the time. gOd had a special message for me that day. He said, “This is crap.”
It was then that I jettisoned gOd and religion like leaden cargo . If Christianity didn’t want people helping other people, then I would have nothing to do with it. I would have nothing to do with any religion that supports loving and devoting yourself to a god before doing the same to the people around you. And that’s my problem.
I believe in loving human, flesh-and-blood people above any god. I believe in taking care of the people, animals, and environment that surrounds us. I believe in accepting all people despite race, gender, religious beliefs, political stances, or sexual preferences. I do not advocate hatred. I do not believe in relying on others to fix a problem if we are capable of fixing it.
I don’t believe that god exists, but I do know that people exist. And we are all we have.