Why I Broke Up With God

Photo on 10-22-14 at 6.05 PM #6

I talk a lot about God. People who know me well get used to it. People who know me well also know that when I use the word I’m likely not referring to any conventional ideas of the Paternal Deity that most of us grew up with. I’m tired of arguing with my atheist friends trying to prove to them how similar our ideas of a potential metaphysical universe (or universes) are. It’s annoying to them. It’s even become annoying to me. My ideas about God have come more, I think, from what I have ceased to believe that what I have come to believe. The older I get, the more comfortable I become with relaxing into the mystery of it all rather than ever trying to constrict and refine my ideas about my Creator and indeed about creation as a whole.  Even my insistence on continuing to capitalize words like “Creator” causes some of my more science-minded friends to roll their eyes at me. I love them still. They still love me. The hippie philosopher, Alan Watts said he was a philosopher because “existence is weird.” I loved that immediately when I heard it. I can say I believe in God for the same reason. Maybe its because the existence of God was an idea I was born into (I was in church nine months before I was born and ever after for many years every time the doors were open) or maybe it’s that I have a poet’s heart, or that I did so many drugs that I have absolutely no problem believing in forces beyond those seen or easily explained. I feel comfortable praying in the traditions of the Native Peoples of this continent. One of my favorite names for God comes from the Lakota. “Wakan Tanka” most easily translates as “the great mystery.” The things that happen to me and through me when I am in ceremony, are not easily explained. The great news to me is that they never need be. My “soul’s salvation” does not depend on my being able to explain it all in some neat and clean treatise. That was more characteristic of the religion of my youth. It’s not going to become the purpose of this blog post to shit-talk the religion of my youth. Its an easy target and most people who have have been hurt by conventional religion (as many of us have) don’t have to look very far into the mythologies of those religions to find things that when stated in a certain way make the beliefs of these faiths seem ridiculous. Hurt people hurt people. That works in both directions when it comes to most religious debates. During the whole Prop 8 debacle, a lot of my Mormon friends (yes, I have them) got their toes stepped on by the things I said about the LDS faith. I was so tired of being targeted by religion for my sexual orientation that when that church put their money and their microphone to work against the idea that I deserve equal civil rights, I fired back with a vengeance. (“‘Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the Lord.”) A lot of the Mormon teachings sound silly to non-Mormons. I played this to my advantage when the leadership of that church was going after us with a  vengeance. (“‘Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the Lord.”) Coincidentally, I was living in the city that serves as headquarters of that church all the while events were transpiring that would ultimately become textbook proof of why LGBTQ people need these protections. Marriage is legal in Utah now. But it came too late for me. People who think civil equality for LGBTQ people is somehow about their religion are dead wrong and their ignorance hurts people, people like me, badly.

I have a Nordic Rune tattooed on my right wrist. It is the rune Teiwaz, the rune of the Warrior. As is the case with all my tattoos, its meanings are plural and layered, mostly though it is there to remind me always that the battle of the Spiritual Warrior is always with the self. Y’all have had a ringside seat for some of the most bloody battles in this war. I appreciate your pulling for the side of Good. See? Even writing that pulls me into a desire to more thoroughly discuss ideas of duality and how I believe “the knowledge of good and evil” might be what gets us thrown out of Paradise. I believe it’s the real story behind the Garden of Eden. Milton’s already done it, and well. If I’m going to attack the subject (war metaphors die hard with a Marine writer), I’ll have to do it in more than a blog post. Let me push-pin the heavy philosophy before I put y’all all to sleep and get back toward what I really wanted to say by telling you the story of how I “broke up with God.”

I was raised in The Church of Christ, a denomination of Southern Fundamentalist Christianity born out of the Second Great Reformation— although any true believers in that faith would rebuff my saying so. I was raised to believe that when the Bible speaks of the “one church” that we were it. It wasn’t some idea of the unification of many faiths or even many sects of Christianity as more liberal and progressive-minded Christians may interpret it but that we were  the church that was established on the Day of Pentecost when “tongues of flames” ________ on the Apostle’s heads. As I said before, its not the purpose of this blog to shit-talk that religion (or any really) and especially not to shit-talk those people who did and do believe the teachings of The Church of Christ. In that church, from the time of my youth, I have met some of the most wonderful people one could ever hope to meet.  They are generous and kind and give of their means to help others even when what they have is meager. When I think of the concept of “Christian Charity,” the examples set for me by people in that church come to mind still, beginning in my boyhood and continuing certainly to today. During the time of my father’s illness and passing, people from the church were kind and supportive in ways that helped me get through one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. They are, in short, good people. I can also say, because of conversations that I’ve had with longtime members of the Church of Christ that they might not necessarily believe all the things that have been taught from those pulpits over the years and since there is no central governing body to that church, I see it (boy am I going to tread on dangerous soil here) as a dynamic and evolving faith. It was well know who Adam was to me while we were together and we would attend church with my family while we were visiting Alabama, he was welcomed as warmly as if he had been female and my wife. But before I paint too generous a picture about the Church of Christ doctrine on homosexuality, if hard pressed to do so, the “authorities” on the doctrine would maintain that it is a sin according to Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:27 and others. Since you know what you do about me, you might guess that this was where I parted ways with the beloved religion of my youth, but that’s not the way it happened.

It there is a God who created me, that God gave me a brain with which to think. Any strong faith tradition should be about to withstand questioning or else its purported strength is based on illusion and is therefore not worthy of my continued belief. I was a precocious child. (Can you imagine?) From very early Bible school I asked questions and I asked them often. My teachers were always able to give an answer, don’t get me wrong— but often those answers did not resolve the quandary in my mind, even if I pretended that they did. By the time was fifteen (or so) years old, I was done pretended and even though I was told “you will go to church as long as you live in this house,” I was an avowed atheist (actually agnostic but I didn’t fully understand the difference) and even those I was forced to go, I spent my time on the pews sitting is silent judgment often, I would imagine, letting a lot of useful lessons pass me by. What was it that caused me to break with the Faith if not with faith altogether?

I was told that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and that without Him [sic] there was nothing made. The reason I included “[sic]” here (and promise not to do so every time) is because of the gender specific pronoun that is actually in service to a hurtful patriarchy. I don’t believe God is a male but at least for a little while here I’m going to refer to God as “Him” so that you will know I’m talking about the concept of God that was handed to me from that religion. So so far we have that God created it all. That means there was nothing before God. When I asked where God came from I was told that he had always been and oddly that didn’t seem like such an unreasonable prospect. The fact that my young mind was so ready to accept the infinite is further evidence to how weird I was (am). I was also told that God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent. That is to say that he is all-knowing, everywhere all the time, all-powerful, and all-good. “Does that mean that God can see into the future?” (I can almost hear my six-year-old self.) “Of course he can.” I’d be told with a smile. “And there’s nothing God can’t do?” My mom had the smart answer for this one: “The only thing God can’t do is lie because if He says it, it’s so!” Mother’s faith has always been precious to her. “And God knows everything we think and everything we’re going to do, even before we do?!” I’m sure my inquisitiveness and hunger for knowledge was pleasing to the adults at Hatt Church of Christ. I’m equally sure there must have been many points when it became annoying. “God knows everything. Now let’s sing a song! ‘Jesus loves me this I know….’”

Speaking of Jesus, now’s as good a time to talk about him as any. I still claim Jesus as my Savior (sound of jaws dropping), I do! But that is because of how my relationship with him (or at least my idea of him) got me through some of the darkest times in my life. Jesus (the man, they myth and/or legend— it really doesn’t matter to me and I’ll soon tell you why) had given himself a sacrifice for me to demonstrate victory over death, how to operate based on spiritual principle and most importantly how to love and forgive unconditionally even in the event of his being tortured to death. I felt like an outcast as a kid. There were certainly times when it felt like the whole world was against me. I feel like the world hated me for being queer and different for most of my early life. I identified with Christ because I felt like he understood what this felt like. I felt like he demonstrated a way of existing that transited the wicked and harmful actions of so many humans— in his day and in mine. I loved him for it. I love him for it still. I don’t care if you believe every single thing you read about the historical Jesus or if he’s not more real that Peter Pan. To me, that’s not the part that matters. He’s with me always, as a living, loving manifestation of the Loving Power that created us all. That’s different than the story I got about Jesus as a kid.

I was told that the Jews were God’s chosen people (boy am I headed for trouble here). I don’t believe that. I believe the Jews were the Jews’ chosen people and they (and later Christians too) took their sacred text as holy scripture to the exclusion of any other. I don’t believe (as I was told, evidence Old Testament passages) that God told the Jews to go in and take land from other people and then, at least in one case, got pissed off at them for not killing every man, woman and child. I don’t believe this is true of God. I was told that God’s people, the Jews, were commanded to bring an “unblemished” animal sacrifice to the altar to be killed and burned to make up for their sins. After I stopped being completely traumatized by the idea, I realized that I did not believe it to be true. Oh I believed that the Jews did it, just like a lot of other ancient people performed some pretty bizarre and cruel rituals; I just knew that no loving God would ever have demanded this. I can’t explain how I knew it. I just knew it. I guess in that way I’m no better off that those who, when pressed on the finer points of their religion, say “that’s just how I believe.” Well, that’s just how I believe. I, for a very long time, have not believed that from one man and one woman (and subsequent incestuous copulation) the entire species was born. I have not believed for a very long time that God destroyed the Earth, except for Noah and the other inhabitants of the ark, by a global flood that killed everyone. Have you ever seen an infant? Have you ever seen toddler? Give yourself a few seconds to imagine them drowning. Imagine a few thousand (or perhaps more) drowning in one horrific liquid disaster. Go to the nearest mirror and look yourself in the eye and try to pimp that idea to yourself as the actions of a loving God. If there is sanity left in you, you will likely come to the place to which I came as an early teenager that led me to think of these ideas as preposterous. Do you know the story of Abraham and Isaac? The part about when God told Abraham he was going to have to sacrifice Isaac? The story of how a father bound is son and carried him to the altar where everyone including the boy knew that he was about to cut his son’s throat and burn him as an offering to God? The story was told to me as an example of obedience— it’s okay!  God stayed Abraham’s hand and caused a ram to get caught in the bushes so it could be killed and burned instead. Go to a mirror and tell yourself this story. Do you believe it? This story horrified me as a kid. I hated when my father dragged me off just to hit me, I don’t think I ever thought he was actually going to kill me! — well, maybe a couple of times.

If ever I brought up the incongruent nature of these stories vis à vis the concept of a loving God, if I pushed the point too far, I was usually told that I should be careful— that it sounded like the Devil was trying to tempt me. The who? Yes, the Devil, formerly an angel who “chose to disobey God” and was cast out (along with his demon friends) into a lake of fire where we would ultimately go if we were not baptized in water for the remission of our sins. Wait a minute, I thought, where did the angels come from? From God of course! “Without him there was nothing made!” What’s hell like? “It’s more horrible than the human mind can imagine!” I was told. “If you imagine the most horrible pain you could ever feel, that’s not even a thread in quilt the size of the world of how terrible and awful it is. And if you go there, you go there for good.” This concept had paralyzed me with fear since I first heard it. And here, I was being told, that my questioning all these stories about God that I had always been told, was putting me in danger of being sent there. That my friends, no matter what you believe, is psychological abuse of a child. it is spiritual abuse of a child. And that kind of abuse is hard to get over, if one ever gets over it.

But my deciding that I didn’t believe all these Old Testament stories is not actually what drove me from the church and from, at least for a number of years, any concept or willingness to “believe in God.” It was the basic premise of the whole thing.

In the beginning was God.
There was nothing before God, there was only God.

God created everything. Nothing was created by anything but God.
God knows everything.
God can see into the future.
God can do anything.

God made the rules.
God is not subject to any greater powers.
There is no power greater than God.

God created a universe in which we, humans, would live and would be tempted to do certain things that were forbidden and so we had to kill animals and burn them to pay that debt to the God that created us until he decided instead to send his “only begotten” son whom he loved so completely so that he might be tortured to death in one of the most horrible ways that a human might day so that the “debt might be paid” to him for sins that humans would go one commit, billions of whom had not even been born yet— but God knew we’d sin— because he knows everything.

If God could see into the future, why would he create a system wherein there was even a possibility of all this horror if he is “all good?” Ask most Christians this and their answer is “God gave us free will.” Bullshit! This is such utter bullshit! “Free will” to do what? To chose what? Without him there was nothing made. God is not subject to any powers greater than Him. This premise is utterly false. This idea of God is wrong and abusive. It has been able to control the masses for millennia so that the greedy elite could continue to live as kings and queens while the ignorant masses would unquestioningly follow. Indeed, “the love of money is the root of all evil.”

I thank God for giving me a brain. I thank God for the example of Jesus (which I could never ever live up to but) that teaches me that the religion of the masses is often the most evil and corrupt power there is. Thank you for the example of Jesus to speak out against such ruinous “truths” and expose them for what they are. Thank you God, for the example of Jesus who teaches me (even though I so rarely easily go there) to forgive my enemies, do good to those who spitefully use me and even if they torture me to death, I am commanded to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” Am I capable of such spiritual grace, love in this unfathomable magnitude?” If not, I dare not even call myself Christian. You can. But I’m not.

Now I’ve told you what I don’t believe. Next I’ll tell you what I do.

See y’all tomorrow.

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