Sunday, January 22, 2012

the arrogance of religion

I spent a week in Kentucky, caring for my 90ish grandmother. She's a lovely lady, wife of a Baptist preacher (my grandfather, now deceased). I helped her organize a couple of Vacation Bible Schools back when I was a teen - more than 30 years ago.

For my grandmother, being a believer is joyous. Religion is a celebration. It isn't something to bring a person down, to humiliate a person, to assert one's superiority over others. Had it not been for my grandmother, I probably would have embraced my Atheism much earlier. Even amid all that joy, that singing, that fun, I wasn't a Christian. But I kept my mouth shut, because I loved being around my grandmother, and I kept hoping I'd eventually feel that thing everyone else at church was saying they felt, that thing that makes you believe.

She doesn't know I'm a non-believer, and as that would break her heart, and she is in her 90s, that's how we're going to keep it. I'm not ashamed of my lack of belief, but I wouldn't hurt that woman for anything - let her last few years be without worrying about my immortal soul.

While I've been in Kentucky, my grandmother's sister-in-law died, and we went to the funeral.

And it was the worst funeral I've been in my life.

If I had been on the fence about Christianity, this would have pushed me right onto the other side of the fence, hitting the ground and running away as quickly as possible.

Three different preachers - including the woman's 17-year-old son - talked about just one thing: if you believe Jesus was the son of god, you go to Heaven, and you absolutely, positively cannot be happy without Jesus. One of the three asserted that all of the times he did something dangerous as a young person but didn't get hurt or die was because god intervened. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes. So when all those other people die during a risky activity, is the magical invisible friend sitting on his hands?

The kid even said that all Atheists "know, deep down, there is a heaven." What is up with that, with that Christian assertion that Atheists don't really believe there is no god? I can assure you believers out there: I do NOT believe in any god. None. Zilcho. I don't believe in the supernatural. I don't believe a heaven nor a hell. Really. Truly. If you want to believe in secret invisible friends and magical places, fine, but could you at least accept the fact that millions of other people do not?

It was an hour-long speech of arrogance, filled with interpretations of the Bible that can never be reconciled with scholarly and history-based studies of the earliest texts on which the scriptures are based - geesh, if you are going to take the Bible literally, at least use a more correct translation in English than the King James Version! And to top it off, they spent probably 15 seconds of the entire time actually talking about my grandmother's sister-in-law - I know NOTHING about her at all. Two of the three didn't even know the correct pronunciation of her name! One preacher told endless anecdotes regarding Christian conversions that he must use in his church regularly - he cried at the appropriate moments, as though he were on TV and would soon be saying, "So send in your donations so we can keep up our work..." The service was all about these two men posturing regarding their religion - not about this woman that had just died.

I have no doubt these men avoid all talk of science and facts and the history of Christianity, or that the 17-year-old will father children someday (as this is Kentucky, that will be soon) and he will pass on his arrogance to them, and work to keep them ignorant of any fact that would contradict his warped view of life and morality. I'm sure all three are delighted that the Governor of Kentucky gave a $43 million tax break to an anti-science, pro-"Creationist" museum while cutting education funds drastically. It disgusted me. And it made me ashamed to be from this state.

After the funeral, as I sat eating Chinese food with my grandmother, I thought about that awful sermon. And I took comfort, once again, as I do so often when I visit this state, that I am not a Christian. I remembered the incredible relief I felt in my 20s when I accepted my long-held doubt instead of being ashamed of it. I had never believed in the magical invisible friend, and in accepting that truth that I had always known, the sky didn't fall, the rivers didn't boil, I wasn't struck down by lightening (although it could still happen - I do go outdoors a lot), and that I still felt joy. A LOT of joy. I still felt inspiration. I still felt like singing and dancing. I still felt a sense of awe at the world. I experienced all the things men like those at that funeral said I could feel only if I were a Christian.

We got home and sang some hymns my grandmother loves. They were very joyful, full of love and comfort. She never referred to the funeral service. Neither did I.

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