Film

My Spiritual Journey

..so far.

Chapter 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 sleeping,
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 envied.

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 translated thus:

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 earn them.

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 garden.

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 wept."

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 idea.

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 publicity stunt!

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.

 
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All images, text, animations,and music 2000 By Luther C. Conant III (unless where otherwise noted.)