A very brief flirtation

sent in by Barry

A friend of mine posted here recently, so I wanted to do the same. I grew up in a not very religious Methodist family. We only went to church 4 to 5 times a year. However, I always considered myself Christian, believing Jesus died to sacrifice for our sins. But I never thought about what that meant.

In my freshman year of college, I met a very cute born again Christian, who I'll call Kate. Her father walked out when she was just seven. He never bothered to see her again. The trauma of being abandoned drove her to drinking, drugs and unsafe sex. Then at 16, she found Christ. She quit drinking and drugs and became one of those born again virgins. Jesus, she said, saved her from her inner demons. I was fascinated by her and her story (which she almost immediately told to everyone she met).

Anyway, we started going out and I got into the whole born again thing. I really enjoyed church and bible study and all the get-togethers. Everyone was very nice and friendly. Then a problem emerged. All of these people took the Bible literally including the six days of creation. I saw the creation story for what it was; a primitive people's attempt to explain the origin of the world. I'm part Cherokee, so I knew that every culture had its own creation story.

I couldn't help but think that these people were really gullible and unquestioning. From this seed other doubts emerged. I started to question the whole thing about Jesus. This is where my questioning led:

"God creates flawed humans. He creates an evil being to tempt these humans to do bad things. He decides he won't let these humans into heaven to be with him because they do bad things called sins. Of course, since God created everything he was the one responsible for creating sin and evil in the first place, which is probably the reason God decides to relent 4000 years later. He will send himself to Earth as his son to save everyone. So, he impregnates a young virgin and she gives birth to him. Now oddly enough God is both in heaven and on Earth at the same time. God prays to himself and calls himself father. Then God has himself tortured and brutally murdered. Now in doing this he somehow atones for the sins that he himself created. Believing that God (in the form of his son) did this for us gets us into heaven. However, if we don’t believe that God did this for us, his atonement does not apply and we are sent south to spend eternity with his nemesis."

I couldn't help but think that if I were God I would do things in a much less complicated way. Like, I would create perfect humans, so I wouldn't have to go through all that suffering. Or I would just forgive sins without requiring any blood sacrifice. Or maybe I wouldn’t bother creating humans in the first place and just create more angels to worship me.

Anyway, I told Kate my doubts and she couldn't answer me. She brought in a guy I'll call Dave to help. Dave came from a “secular” family. His parents went through a nasty divorce and custody fight when he was 10. Dave blamed his parents’ lack of religious values for the divorce.

Dave and I got into a long discussion. He never really addressed my questions. He talked around them and he talked so much I was sort of overwhelmed. After a few hours of failure to answer my questions Dave resorted to telling me it was part of a plan that we will understand once we are in heaven. I told him this was a copout. He then told me I would never be happy without Christ in my life. Christian values are an anchor. Without that anchor we will be adrift in chaos and immorality. Anyway, he failed to convince me. Kate and I broke up that night after three months together. Dave and Kate got married in their senior year of college.

Last year, I went to McDonalds for coffee after doing a job interview. I ran into Dave and his two children. He told me he and Kate filed for divorce a week after their first wedding anniversary. I was stunned. He told me that sexual frustration wasn’t exactly the best foundation to build a marriage on. They had a daughter. A few months after the separation Kate handed the baby over to Dave and to his surprise offered him full custody. It turned out she was using again. She has been in and out of rehab for the past five years.

I was so upset when I heard this because Kate really was a lovely girl. I felt sad that religion didn’t help her conquer her inner demons after all. Dave said that religion can have a placebo effect. He said maybe it can help some people overcome their problems permanently but he said he had met enough drunken, drug using, anti-depressant popping, sex addicted, abusive and divorced born again Christians to know that religion is not the cure-all it promises to be. As he put it Jesus was a real person, but Jesus the Christ is just a myth. He said belief in a myth can only do so much for a person. Dave said he soured of religion after his marriage went bad. Christian values did not help him avoid the same fate as his parents.

He said he is happy now. He is married again and he is a stay-at-home dad. He apologized for preaching to me but he said he truly believed in what he was saying. He said that between his strong desire to believe and the peer pressure and groupthink from the born again people he was always with, nothing I said would have shaken his faith. But as his marriage crumbled everything I said came back to him and made perfect sense.

I realized that this was the difference between me, and Kate and Dave. I came from a happy, close-knit family. I did not have any holes in my life to fill, so I didn’t “need” religion. I think need is a big part of why people embrace religion.

My wife and I are both spiritual people. We are very interested in Cherokee wisdom, and we love to study and discuss issues related to morality and ethics. But we are opposed to organized religion. People should seek truth and wisdom themselves and not depend on flawed clerics and corrupt religious institutions (which are simply businesses) to do it for them.

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