Stuart asked me a question the other night that I had sort of considered a fact of life. The more I thought about it though, the more it seemed like a pretty profound thing. Maybe its just me....
Church is something that I grew up with, and assumed that everyone else did too. It's one of those childish ignorances that inexperience yields, like my confusion as everyone on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego wanted to go to California. (why would anybody want to go here on vacation? Don't we all live there? Wouldn't you rather go somewhere exotic?)
Of course I learned a long long time ago that not everyone goes to church, but it's been a long time ingrained in my that everyone, least most everyone, grows up with religion in their life. I never thought of my family as being religious, but I went to church every Sunday for....well.... I assume it was at least a few years. Then it was every other week or so, then for many years it was Easter and Christmas (incidentally the worst times to go to church, because it was taken entirely too seriously). In fact, going to church on Easter and Christmas as a non-practicing family was something that I remember being a cultural norm well into my jr. high years. In high school people who "weren't religious" were really surprised, if they "were religious", shocked, to find that I had stopped attending church altogether. Ever. This despite the fact that I referred to myself as "Christian, I guess" and definitely thought of myself as spiritual (a phrase my mom still uses frequently when being religious seems inappropriate).
It's important for me to note that, although my parents are Christian and do not entirely share my ideologies, their beliefs and guidance are definitely a big part of why I think the way I do. I hold most of their beliefs about the world, save that one about God. But they never lied to me, never mislead me, and always helped find answers to any question.
Religion and theology are grand ideas, central to much of humanity and possibly older than any other cultural beliefs. They are fundamental to our understanding of the universe. At the same time, they are very, very much a matter of opinion. We have more direct evidence to support theories of physics that we have never experienced and are in direct contradiction with the ones we do.
I was never told that God existed. Or that Christianity was truthful. But it was heavily implied, and no attempt was made to directly dilute phrases like "thank you God who art in heaven" or "we give thanks to you our Lord, father of all". Those are big statements for an impressionable kid, and my church was full of them. I assume that most churches are, because mine was hardly evangelical. We read scripture and talked about being a better person. But you were really hard pressed to go more than a few sentences without hearing something from the set [God, Jesus, Lord, Savior, Praise, Worship, Almighty], all words which I now hear with definite distaste.
Actually, I'm sure my folks did tell me things like "no, we don't know if God exists" and "no religion is the right one". I think my mom always gave a little sigh before she said things like that, like they were opening a door she would've preferred to stay shut, but knew that it needed to be opened.
This is all a little melodramatic, so I mention how quickly I was disillusioned and began my journey to non belief. All this grandiose high and mighty crap comes from Sunday school. I loathed Sunday school. I think we're all pretty susceptible as children, and being told that in the past there used to be magic is a big thing. It's like Santa, or the Easter bunny, or anything that you're led to believe is true up to a certain age. The fact that you know they exist gives realism and hope to dozens of other beliefs that culture tends to rely on to define "childhood". Not that you reeeeeeeally believe Sata exists as he's explained to you, but for a time the fact that the impossible is possible gives explanation for so many unknowable things. Most are just revealed to be not true. Santa, bunny, card tricks, the democratic process. Some actually do endure up through adulthood. I wish I could forget all the times I've heard the word "magically" used to explain how skin care products work.
Sunday school for me was about real life stories. Now, I'm a little surprised that adults are fed lines about mystical forces and vague generalities about how to live, and the children are given specific, concrete examples that could hypothetically take place today, but involve miracles and earthly evidence of the devine. This seems a little bass ackward to me. I guess kids can't be expected to make the leap of faith! I think adults just think kids are stupid. At least Santa came when I was asleep. "God is with you all the time" was a pretty easy statement to disprove when I didn't understand it's poetic depth.
So, one day, when we were being told about Jesus healing the sick and transmogrifying matter, the skeptic that had been growing in me for years crept out and asked my hapless teacher "was Jesus a real person, or is he just a character?". I got a deer-in-the-headlights look from my teacher for a few minutes before it was followed by a very respectable, very ambiguous "some people believe he was, but we don't really know for sure." This prompted me thinking there was really no real reason why we were Christian and not Jewish, seeing as Jesus's existence was the only difference between the two in my mind. This, in turn, prompted my questioning of our being any religion at all, since we have no way of choosing.
I think my resistance to going to Sunday school was pretty solid from that point forward. It didn't take long to reject words like "worship" and "lord", but rejecting words like "God" and "heaven" was a much more scary process.
It just seems really strange to me. A belief structure, religion in general, is a pretty heavy thing to incorporate into your life. It's like a wierd scary movie where there's this invisible thing around you all the time. Except it's friendly. It's supposed to be so important that it becomes a major part of your life, an assumption, and for some a focal point.
So how come we were all dragged back to church? Why do we need weekly shots of God to maintain the faith? Along with broccoli and homework, God was one of those painful thigns that was good for you. If it was so wonderful and natural, why did everyone hate it so much? Nobody ever said broccoli and homework were great. Just necessary.
Coming to the conclusion that religion wasn't necessarily true, and that all I had to do was STOP BELIEVING, was a frightening freedom. Coming to the conclusion that it was essentially a millenium old scam to trick people into not killing themselves and others was an insulting jolt.
I do miss my church-inspired beliefs. I miss thinking that everything was goign to be ok, no matter what. I miss dreaming about Heaven. I miss thinking that there was always help out there. I miss thinking that whatever happens, I'll always get another chance and another life. But I'm glad I found my own answers. Church always left a bad taste in my mouth similar to when the answer to a question was "because".