1, Verses 1 through 19
1. In the
beginning, my memories of God stuff are clear but confused.
I grew up in a family divided along the spiritual front. My Mother gave
me the God she had been raised with, the standard fundamentalist Christian
God: The Old Testament God of wrath and anger, jealous, justly to be feared,
needing constant praise, and covered with a one micron thick veneer of
Jesus' love. In other words, God says you must believe what He wants you
to believe, and to do and not do as He commands, or He will roast you
on a slow spit over a lake of fire while demons torture you for all of
eternity. Oh, and He loves you! (I have a learned friend who tells me
that there is an Old Testament God of Love, but on my sojourn through
that half of my bible, I never bumped into him.) Also, this God hasn't
had anything to say since the bible was finished about 340 CE.
2. The other
side of the coin was my Father. He went to church and observed all
the religious formalities, but he really worshipped science. (He would
probably dispute this, but I call em as I see em. Sorry, Dad.) My father
didn't believe anything which couldn't be proven by the scientific method
and, it seemed to me, was constantly hoping that some radio telescope
would spot God someday, so that he could get rid of an annoying glitch
in his rational worldview. So I was forced to choose between a rational
world which was cold and without magic (fairies, elves, and all the things
in the books I loved to have read to me in the dark had been proven to
be garbage by science years before), or a nightmare world where a massive
God watched every move I made.
He knows when you've been
He knows when you're awake,
He knows when you've been bad or good
So be good, for goodness sake.
Even Santa exercised
a level of ultimate authoritarian control which Hitler and Stalin would've
3. At Presbyterian
Sunday school, they taught us the standard bible stories like David and
Goliath, Jonah and the whale, Joseph and the coat of many colors, the
Christmas story, and how Jesus got nailed to a cross, but rose in 3 days
to save our sins. Excluding the last one, these are the stories which
adults believe, for no discernible reason, will appeal to children. In
actuality, at that age I viewed them as vastly inferior fairy tales, which
adults really loved for no reason I could make out. The theological content
- God helps you kill your enemies; if you don't do what God wants he will
sic big fish on you; and God will let you be unjustly beat-up, but will
give you a fancy coat to make up for it, (I pictured it as a rainbow striped
bathrobe,) were mercifully lost on me. Anyway, I knew that science had
already labeled fairy tales as the purest bunk, so I didn't give em much
thought. (As for the crucifixion, the pictures made my stomach hurt so
I tried not to look at them, and "died for your sins" didn't mean anything
to me since God was making His list, checking it twice, and was gonna
find out who was naughty and nice regardless of Jesus getting nailed.)
The only comfort to be found in Sunday school was the song, "Jesus loves
the little children," which seemed warm and hopeful, and in later years,
the story of how the disciples had tried to ditch the kids when they came
to see Him, and Jesus had rebuked them. I wasn't quite sure what "rebuked"
meant. It was just one of those arbitrary words people only used on Sundays.
But it didn't sound good for the disciples, and the pictures showed the
long-haired gentle Jesus with a bunch of kids, so I figured he had let
them through anyway.
4. I spent
a lot of time trying to figure all of this out, as God came up often in
conversation, although usually when discussing restrictions. I remember
when a friend called up one Sunday afternoon and asked if I could go to
a movie with him and his family. My mom said that God wanted us to keep
the Sabbath holy, (meaning to think about Him all day), and as a day of
rest, so movies, being morally suspect anyway, were verboten. (Evidently
Mom didn't know that the Sabbath was Saturday, or else she figured that
He wasn't particular about which day got set aside for Him, in spite of
biblical injunctions. However, I didn't know this back then, so I couldn't
use it to argue my case.) Meanwhile my Dad was extolling scientific rationalism,
which turned out to also incorporate things which were invisible to the
senses, like electrons. I think at one time I pictured God as a giant
electron. (Speaking of pictures, when I heard that you got a new body
when you died, I was a little confused about what a body was. For some
reason I figured it was a euphemism for your butt. (Euphemisms were in
large supply back then. You didn't pee, you tinkled, and the thing you
tinkled with, was your squirt; bowel movements were BM's and, to my cousins,
the process of making BM's was "grunting",) So I had this picture of dead
people rising into the air, their butts falling off, and new ghostly white
bottoms taking their place... What can I say, it made as much sense as
anything else I was told back then.
5. I now think
that the problem is that children don't see a need for God. I think that
when Jesus said, "Blessed are the children", that He meant just that.
They are already blessed and special to God, so don't bother them with
this stuff. Just be sure not to mess em up with your distorted perceptions
of what's what, or you'll wish you had a millstone stuck around your neck
compared with what you're really going to get. (Jesus is thoughtful in
not describing God's vengeance. Or, even more likely, He's just being
accurate, since God undoubtedly thinks of things no mortal can comprehend.)
In addition, children don't feel the need of a Heavenly Father watching
their every move. They already have a real father who's doing that, and
one is more than enough. Also, the idea of a judgmental Father who you
can never sneak away from to enjoy yourself places a granite damper on
a child's spirit and only makes him more paranoid and furtive, and provides
him with a load of guilt and shame, more than any little shoulders can
or should carry. That certainly does deserve a millstoned neck in my book.
Maybe two, and being tossed in a boiling pond as well, just to even things
out. As my mentor Sterling Ellsworth said, "If you don't like your father,
you won't like your Heavenly Father," so let's just stop turning children
away from God, shall we?
6.. During the summers my mother would take us over
to my Aunt Martha's, so I could go to Vacation Bible School with my cousins.
A least likely group of young Christians would be hard to find outside
of Saudi Arabia or Mainland China. We were a rough and tumble group of
boys who just wanted to be left alone to play in the little neighborhood
woods, catching crayfish in the little stream and spin tales of the imaginary
violence we would like to wreak on the big kids who destroyed whatever
we built and, legend had it, would gladly trap and torture us if they
caught us back there.
7. No one considered the possibility of using the
natural setting we loved to explain to us about the magnificent bounty
of God's creation, or the innate beauty and majesty of being surrounded
by His works. Anything natural was suspect, and something to be avoided
back then, by our parent's generation. God's creation was to be tamed,
the trees cut down, the stream forced to flow through a concrete culvert,
and the entire area planted with grass and ornamental shrubs, all of which
needed constant mowing and pruning to keep it from growing back into the
way God had intended. The woods were eventually replaced by a strip mall.
8. So instead of the majesty of the woods, we had
to go and sit on some woman's enclosed back porch, (stifling in those
pre-air-conditioned days), and have two anal retentive women try to indoctrinate
us into their version of Christianity. We had to memorize 5 bible verses
each week, with the promise that when we had successfully enshrined 25
of them within our youthful craniums, we would receive "the book!"
9.. The verses were hard to hold onto as the ladies
used the King James version of the bible, (the least accurate translation
available,) and we stumbled over hath-begotton-upon-the-land's and verily-I-say-unto-you's
which rendered each verse meaningless to a pack of boys in the late 1950's.
(The translators of the King James version used language which was archaic
even in 1611, because they felt it sounded quaint. They also played to
their patron King's prejudices, translating "You shall not allow sorcerers
to live," as "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," because King James
had this thing about witches. A tiny change perhaps, but it would lead
to over 450,000 people being tortured or burned alive over the next three
centuries.) Eventually we managed to cram 25 verses into our short term
memories, (I can't recall a single one now,) and we received "the book".
10. Contrary to what we had expected, the book had
turned out to be 3 inches square, and handmade out of colored construction
paper. When I opened mine, I discovered that each differently colored
page was entirely blank. The book turned out to be a mnemonic device to
help us remember all of the nonbiblical doctrines of the fundamentalist
Christian church. As near as I can remember it, each colored page was
BLACK is our hearts full of sin.
ORANGE is the flames of hell which await us.
RED is the blood of our Savior who died for our sins.
GREEN are the hills of heaven which await us
WHITE is the light of God shining in our hearts.
There were probably a few more colors mentioned, but they
are as erased from my memory as the bible verses I struggled through to
11. The best part of bible school was that we were
each given a quarter to place in the offering basket. Instinctively knowing
that Jesus would have been as furious about our being charged money to
hear what passed for His word as He was about the money changers in the
temple, we short-changed the collection basket with smuggled dimes and
nickels and spent the remainder at a small store on the way home for ice
cream, soda and candy bars. All, more tangible signs of God's bounty than
the little construction paper books.
12. I said that those books contained nonbiblical
doctrines because the entire concept of original sin was made up out of
whole cloth by Saint Augustine around 414 CE. It has no biblical basis,
and would have undoubtedly horrified Jesus as it does modern Jews, because
it spits in the Creator's face, saying He did a lousy job by creating
two human beings with the power to totally screw up the Divine plan for
all of eternity. The Jews and I know that God's will is not so easily
corrupted, as God is infinitely more powerful than two teenagers in a
13. Saint Augustine would later go on to write the
first authorized document allowing followers of Jesus to stage a holy
war, the Christian equivalent of the Jihad. Some centuries later, St.
Bernard of Clairveaux would expand on Augustine's idea, saying not only
did God approve of holy wars, He actually wanted people to kill as many
non-Christians as they could. This lead immediately to the horror of the
Crusades, where Christians killed over 600,000 Muslims, Jews, and other
Christians. --- To quote the shortest verse in the New Testament: "Jesus
14. What those two women did manage to teach us in
summer bible school, burning it indelibly on each of our frontal lobes,
was that the bible was a tedious and painful thing to read. I know that
I would let 15 years go by before I ever voluntarily opened one again.
15. By the time I was 13, I was so bored with the
church and it's endless monotony, that I was a pain in the butt to all
of my poor Sunday school teachers, with one exception. Mr. Fix was a man
who attempted to apply rational thought to religious matters. We had never
seen or even imagined such a creature before. Although I now believe that
no question of spiritual significance can actually be answered by the
rational part of our minds, I owe a great debt to Mr. Fix for showing
me that religion was something which could be thought about, as opposed
to a bitter and noxious medicine which had to be swallowed whole, with
nothing but faith to wash it down.
16. I remember one Sunday morning he asked this group
of 11 and 12 year olds, "What does 'Jesus died for our sins' mean?" We
all sat there with stupefied looks and mouths hanging open. What did it
mean? What the hell was he talking about? It didn't mean
anything, it was just something people said on Sunday mornings! Finally
one student ventured:
STUDENT - He died to wash away the sins of the world?
MR. FIX - What does that mean?
ANOTHER STUDENT - His death was to atone for all of us sinners?
MR. FIX - And what does that mean?
We all sat there, a group of kids who'd cut their teeth
on in the Presbyterian faith, and admitted that we hadn't the faintest
17. Mr. Fix's idea was that if Jesus hadn't died
and been resurrected, we wouldn't be sitting there, over-dressed on a
warm Sunday morning, because no one would ever have heard of Him! The
entire crucifixion and resurrection had been the world's most successful
18. We sat there in awed silence. Mr. Fix made sense!
The whole concept that religion could ever make sense was so novel and
mind boggling that we were literally stunned.
19. Now today, I don't quite accept Mr. Fix's idea
that the resurrection was to make people take notice, I have my own ideas.
(More on that later). However, Mr. Fix's idea that you could think about
what you'd been taught at church planted a seed that would ripen in my
teens when I actually did begin to think for myself. Other than Mr. Fix,
the church remained irrelevant to my life for years to come.