We were talking about religion in my women’s group today. We’re all middle-aged, grew up in the 60’s, and someone has stolen our God, our religion, our churches. We think it’s selfish, power-mad men who’ve absconded with all the good stuff.
One gal was saying that she no longer feels close to God, that the spiritual joy she had in her life has just, POOF, gone missing and she can’t figure out where it went, that everyone in church seems so mean or so narrow or so rigid now that she no longer finds happiness and peace in church, so she doesn’t go much any more.
Another lady said that she had always felt very connected to God up until a few years ago, but somehow that just deserted her. Sure, there were other problems and complications, and she still felt she had faith, but that the religious support just evaporated somewhere between a serious crisis in her life and now, and she misses it.
I have always been a skeptical Christian. That may seem like a contradiction in terms, but my skepticism is directed at churches and organized religion, rather than at God. I may trust God, but I don’t trust those who claim to channel him or to speak for him. I just don’t. I suppose a better way to think of it would be to say that I’m a thinking Christian.
I suppose I’ve had too many encounters, from my childhood onward, in which the person who considered himself (and it’s usually HIMself, not herself) anointed, has problems with being a control freak more than a Jesus freak. And the net effect is that I can no longer enter a house of worship with an open mind; I go in defensively and on guard against nutburgers and power freaks, against superficial Christians and people who really need psychoactive medication rather than to go around bludgeoning others with their infallible, glassy-eyed, static faith.
I never thought of God as being overwhelmingly dictatorial. The God of my childhood had infinite forgiveness, infinite love, a few loose rules about being kind to one another and trying to be the best person you could be, and some outlines on trouble spots to avoid. He never threatened me with fire and brimstone on a daily basis; rather, he tempted me with warmth, understanding, and compassion.
I remember the Southern Baptist church before it went nuts. The church I grew up with supported families – not by telling them how to be, how to love, how to treat each other – but by providing an accepting, nurturing environment for spiritual growth, with potluck dinners, Christmas pageants, Vacation Bible school that was SANE and NICE, bible study meetings, Sunday school, and Sunday services where we could meet other nice, ordinary people who were trying to live decently and be kind to one another.
Our pastor was a soft-spoken, well-read, thoughtful man. The choir leader didn’t have magnificent ambitions, was patient and considerate of everyone’s ability level. The children’s Sunday school teachers understood small children’s attention spans and that most little kids were not going to go out and be warriors for God; we were too busy trying to tell the truth, be nice, not wet our pants when we got scared, and remember not to be greedy about treats. We also learned to share, to be patient with others, to engage in community service work, and to help out around the house because it was the right thing to do.
Sometime around my middle 20’s, the self-anointed and publicly known religious decided to involve themselves in politics and national policy making, to return to a repressive, regressive, barbaric patriarchal view of dominance and submission. The PromiseKeepers cult evolved and provided an excuse for those with little vision but a great need for vicious dominance to begin taking hostages in their own homes. Organized religion decided this was a great way to be and supported the subordination and abusive dominance of women. Further angry, abusive cults have evolved, wormed their way into mainstream churches and religious philosophies, and now all kinds of cruelty and perversions abound on every street, in every church, getting louder and meaner and shriller and narrower and more exclusive of those who need Christ the most.
I don’t recognize American Christianity anymore. It is no longer the God of my fathers that is being worshipped; instead the gods of power, dominance, control, and psychological abuse are being worshipped, pursued, exhorted and required of church-goers, and I can’t find my God anywhere in those houses of worship.
I don’t want to hate gays, I want them to have good lives filled with happiness and good works and love, just like heterosexuals. I don’t want to hate anyone. I just want folks who choose religion to strive to achieve their personal best without stress, without self-disgust, without yet another excuse to beat themselves to death emotionally. Heck, I don’t care if they’ve got religion or not, I think that seems like a universal good thing.
I don’t want to hate “liberals” because I am one, and so was Jesus; he was the most liberal of all! I don’t want to hate Republicans, I don’t want to hate taxes or Democrats or universal health care or Muslims or big cars or little cars, and I don’t understand what all of that has to do with my relationship with God. What ever happened to “render unto Caesar that which is his…” etc?
I thought that meant that things of the temporal world belonged to that plane of my existence and that matters of my spirit, i.e. my understanding of God and my relationship with my deity of choice belonged to God. I thought it meant that they were functionally separate, but that as a Christian I could, if I chose to do so, use my own understanding of the Ten Commandments, my understanding of the wishes and example set by Christ, to add compassion and depth to my priorities and choice matrix, but that overall, I would still be a Christian, still be a GOOD Christian, and still be a person striving for personal growth regardless of how that worked out.
I don’t hear that from religion anymore. What I hear is anger, control, vicious, divisive, restrictive abdication of choice and personal responsibility to the self-anointed and loud. I think that’s wrong, and I’m not alone.
I think people like me are in the majority. I think we are the new Silent Majority, who think that spirituality never had, nor should it have anything to do with controlling others or forcing them to do what WE think is right. I think spirituality has to do exclusively with controlling and adapting ourselves in the direction that we each, as individuals, believe to be an improvement, and that it should be done with compassion for ourselves, with a desire to understand the lessons of the Bible, not just follow them blindly, and to achieve a higher state of understanding which will naturally and organically lead to a state of grace over time, with patience and forgiveness and faith in the infinite love of God.
Where the heck is the church for us???