Religion is such a funny thing. It concept seems simple and so complex all at once. I decided to combine two blog list posts because they made more sense this way, especially when applied to me.
This post started out huge, and it was a rambling mess. But I want to improve my writing, and do this was a good post to try and do that. It’s long and complicated, and I want to explain my reasoning as well as I can.
Growing up, we were not a religious family. My siblings and I are not christened, we did not attend church and we did not recognise religious holidays or traditions. My 'religious education' came from the weekly scripture classes, held in our public school for 2 hours on Tuesday afternoons. My mother, I believe is like me and open to spirituality. She did not reject the idea of it all, but found that mainstream religion was not for us. She was never openly judgemental of it, (in front of us as kids) and really let us make up our own mind.
(Click read more to continue - I didn't want my entire blog page completely taken over by my essay of a post!)
Up until the age of 13, my understanding of the Christian religion
could have been broken down as follows:
1. There was a god that created heaven and hell and the earth. He was the all commanding boss man, in a kind of grandfather sort of way. You could talk to him through prayer, anywhere and anytime.
2. Milestones within the religion included the creation of the universe, Adam and Eve, Noah and his Ark, the poor soul who was swallowed by a whale, Jesus’ birth and crucifixion, and the battle of David and Goliath (thank you Simpsons).
3. There were Christians, Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses'. I knew that the Jehovah's Witnesses' did not celebrate Christmas, and poor Tracey M of my class had to leave the classroom each time we engaged in an activity that involved Christmas (and the teacher always showing extreme frustration whenever she meekly reminded her that she was not to be involved).
Although I was exposed to the idea, I still didn’t believe in god. I occasionally held a quick prayer, usually for junk food or a later bedtime and liked the idea that heaven was somewhere I didn’t have to go to school.
I was introduced to the church at 12, through my best friend and a girl I had recently met at my new high school. I was painfully shy, desperate to make new friends in my teenage years. I started attending a church program called Youth Group, an initiative that gave pre-teens and teenagers an opportunity to come together, play games and hang out. In a small country town, these programs were really to get the kids off the streets and to introduce them to the church community.
I managed to be heavily involved with the church without the issue of religion coming up. The leaders and pastors seemed open to having a group of kids there that we’re only interested in the social aspect of the program, rather than the religious side. We would hold fundraisers, movie nights and attend church functions which in retrospect were really good, old fashioned, clean fun.
At 13, I was slowly introduced to the religion itself – I think the church was a Christian Life Centre church, associated with the Assemblies of God and because they were involved with the Hillsong Church, a branch of Pentecostal Christians. The belief structure held that the bible was accurate and authoritative in matters of faith and that Jesus reconciled humanity to god through his death and resurrection. They believed that in order to serve the lord, one must seek to be baptised in the holy spirit. They taught that homosexuality was unnatural, that embryonic stem cell research and abortion was wrong and supported the idea that creationism and intelligent design should be taught in schools.
About 12 months into my time with the church, I was invited to a Hillsong conference, in Baulkham Hills, Sydney. After a lengthy discussion with my mother, I was free to attend with my new friends in the Youth Group, and members of the church. Here I attended sermons held by the pastors, in crowds of thousands. I also attended a youth program, and attended bible workshops and met others my age. Amongst the seriousness of the conference, I attended dance workshops, concerts and generally spent quality time with the church group.
12 months following the trip, I fell into the religion and became a Christian. My mother did not allow me to be baptized, as she believed I should be at least 16 before making such an adult and lifelong commitment to anyone or anything. But I attended church, felt guilt for my sins, prayed and lived as the bible instructed. But, there was always something small, niggling in the back of my mind. I had managed to supress the ideas that went against my new found religion, but eventually at 14 they began to emerge.
I came into the religion because I had met others who shared my passion for community and kindness. I loved the idea that they worshiped openly at church, and were passionate about their beliefs. I loved the idea that they accepted anyone and everyone, sans judgement. But, it did eventually change.
I did not understand why the condemned homosexuals and judged them so harshly. Deep down, I felt that this was not an abomination, as all mammals displayed this behaviour. God created man and the beasts. Why did he create the behaviour he condemned? Each time a member of the church spoke out about this ‘choice of lifestyle’, I would feel angry. If I fell in love with a girl, and I wanted to be with her (remember – at 14 I was not thinking about sex in any shape or form, but companionship) why was that so wrong? Why was love conditional?
I noticed this judgement flowed into all different areas. The group was not forgiving and kind to all – but to those they thought worthy. They would also gossip, and deem some guilty by association. My best friend at the time came from the wrong side of the tracks. I was once told, ‘if you spend time with her, you will become like her and god will reject you and you will not be forgive’. They seemed to forget that her and her family were the most honest and generous people I knew, and although they didn’t have a lot of money they were those I trusted and loved.
I also felt uncomfortable with the idea that god was a man. I was never the raging feminist type, but the idea of a female creating and giving birth to all things seemed much more natural. Mid-way through my religious journey, I did in fact start to refer to god as she. This caused some concern, especially with some of the women. I was spoken to on a number of occasions about this.
There came one day – Sunday church. The pastor’s wife was leading. At this point, I knew the bible back to front. I didn’t stick to recommended passages, but devoured the whole thing. One of my strengths was being a strong reader. She started her sermon by speaking about - 1 Corinthians 14:34.
"Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says."
She laughed how absurd this passage was. That we must adapt our interpretation as time goes on. But as the sermon went on, spoke about Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination, and they shall surely be put to death.” We had to live by the bible, and its teachings and in this case, homosexuality was wrong.
Now, I knew that the bible was old school, and some things out of date (like the treatment of women). I was open to this and how we interpret the writing. But this moment started the idea – Who gets to decide what passages should be held true, and what we should ignore? And thus began my information hunt (before Google, iPhones, iPads and Wikipedia). Different people chose different things, but each one claimed they were right and others were wrong. I was starting to come to the conclusion that religion was not divine, but man-made and fallible. Different people took different things, and where in one church one thing sent you to hell, in another it was ignored. Here started my search of the different religions. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca, etc.
At this point, I started to move away from the church, but held the idea of there being a god. And slowly, this too began to change and disappear. I began to learn more about evolution, physics, biology, psychology.
Significant moments included a trip to the zoo, and watching the primates. I had grown up with pets, but there was something about these animals that completely changed my perspective on animal welfare, and my ideas about defining who we were. There was a connection that we were not too different - something in me knew that we were all the same and we all lived the same life, just a little differently. We were no better than them and vise versa. Did you know that an Orangutan can develop language skills that match that of a 3yr old child? They also plan, use tools, deceive (yes, they lie!), they teach and they are self aware.
Also, the idea of a man, commanding from above and punishing humanity for incredibly insignificant indiscretions was starting to sound, frankly stupid. It's almost the same argument people use regarding horoscopes - a group of men sitting around, determining how one may live from day to day? I began to meet more and more 'christians' who were far from what their teachings claimed them to be. They were arrogant, insensitive, judgmental xenophobes. The lacked reason and logic, and grew impatient and irrational at any mention that they may not be a god, in any forum. None would commit to a discussion on religion, unless they believed they could convert you.
I have to point out however, I do know a small handful of those who follow a christian religion and do not fall into this category. They are humble and open to change and ideas and discussion. They are out there, and the difference between them and the others is that they accept religion/atheism is a personal choice and no one should force any belief structure on anyone. These people, I adore.
For many years, I actually followed a path that was a mixture of everything. No single higher power, but an energy that surpassed anything we could imagine. Everything was equal - people, animals, plants and the earth. The key to life was good living - being humble, compassionate and thankful. Open to learning and ideas and not be wasteful. Striving to know yourself as you are, and being the best person you can be. Experience life as it is now - the good and the bad and learning to not let fear keep you locked away from the things you truly love doing. Think good thoughts and encourage those around to to think the same. We live our life, and then we pass, and make way for others to follow in our footsteps or create their own ideals and dreams. I think if I tend to fall into it again, this will be the method I chose to use.
I honestly have nothing against anyone who has found religion that works for them. The idea that everyone is free to make the own choice in life greatly appeals to me. But while I respectfully NOT try and convince you otherwise or push my ideals without invitation, I hope that you can afford me the same consideration and do the same.