itting in Sunday School and church, you’re constantly confronted with the idea that man’s knowledge is not only flawed (a point with which I wouldn’t necessarily argue) but foolish. For example, 1 Corinthians 3:19 states:
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”
Whenever this comes up in a lesson or a sermon you always hear a resounding, “AMEN!” from the congregation. While I was a believer I never really thought about the implications and I doubt that many believers really do. In the light of debates over evolution, the Big Bang, and the ever-narrowing god-shaped gap in our knowledge it’s nice to be able to point to a verse and say, “See? The things you think you know are utter nonsense in the face of god’s wisdom!” The Bible is a never-ending source of derisive rebuttal to anything even remotely logical. That’s why I loved it so much as a kid. No matter with whom I was talking, I could always feel confident that my god considered them fools and I was right.
here’s a very popular Christian hymn titled, “Are You Washed in the Blood?” It’s catchy enough to be stuck in my head now that I’m writing about it. Here, have a listen:
I used to love this hymn and now I really can’t stand it. The thing I hate about this hymn is that it trivializes the brutal concept of vicarious redemption via the slaughter of an innocent. When I was a Christian I thought it was a great song (and even better when my uncle would sing it because instead of “washed” he would say “warshed”) but when I was a Christian I also didn’t think too much about the concepts being presented. To me, Jesus’ death was simply a gift from my creator because he loved me and wanted me to be with him forever, avoiding the punishment and suffering I deserved, just for having been born. This made perfect sense at the time. Here’s what I missed:
ost Christians I’ve ever known view the Bible as an authoritative compendium of knowledge handed down to humans directly from god himself. For this reason, anything contained in the book(s) is deemed “good enough” for them. One of my very first exposures to this mindset was the following:
In Genesis 1:1 the Bible says, “In the beginning God.” That’s good enough for me! God created the heavens and the Earth; god created man; god is, was, and forever will be. That’s good enough for me!
This illustrates — to me — the Christian’s willingness to swallow the words in the Bible whole without really doing any substantial chewing. Instead of pondering god’s motivation for creating everything, his methods of doing so, or his inability to create everything perfectly the average Christian just revels in the bliss of being created and leaves it at that. The Christian calls this “faith.” I was guilty of the same thing when I was a Christian. I never asked, “why?” I just accepted what I was told without even putting much thought into it. I did this because I was taught that questioning god was wrong. God does what god does and you’re not worthy of an explanation. After all, you’re just a flawed human with a flawed brain.
nce you’ve accepted Jesus into your heart, your next step is showing your obedience and symbolizing your rebirth through baptism. The Christian denominations in which I grew up believed that baptism was only valid as a personal decision. Some denominations practice infant baptism or sprinkling, but in the context of what I was taught that practice seems to have no significance whatsoever (except to upset the baby).
The basis for baptism is vague and consists (like most Christian doctrine) of cherry-picked verses scattered throughout the New Testament and inferences from dialog contained therein. This site contains a lengthy discussion on why believers must be baptized and why immersion is necessary. A quick glance tells you right away that the ritual is heavy on symbolism and light on substance. Here’s the gist:
You are “crucified” (standing upright in water), you are “buried” (immersed into the water), and you are “resurrected into life” (raised out of the water).
s soon as I was old enough to figure out how much fun weekends were and how much shorter they seemed when you have to spend more than half of Sunday sitting in church I began to ask my parents if we really had to go to church. The conversations usually went something like this:
Jon: Do we have to go to church today?
Parent: No, you don’t have to go to church today. You get to go to church today.
Jon: But I don’t want to go to church.
Parent: You ought to be happy we have such a nice church to go to. Besides, you’re not staying home alone. Now get a move on!
This was exasperating every single time. I’m sure it was frustrating for my parents as well. They wanted to raise their children in the church with good, Christian values and their children seemed to want to be little unwashed heathens. What irritated me the most about this exchange was the unreasonable nature of the argument. I, as an autonomous human being, didn’t have the desire to spend most of my day cooped up in a building listening to people talk when I could be running around the woods with a toy gun, saving the world. My parents, as dictatorial heads of the family, didn’t acknowledge my autonomy. How unfair.
ow that I was saved (theological debate surrounding the sincerity of the act notwithstanding) from Hell, it was important to those charged with my education to ensure that I became the best possible Christian. In order for this to happen, I had to become familiar with the doctrine of Christianity — namely, that god created me and loves me and that Satan is trying with all of his might to destroy god’s creation and claim the souls of believers for himself. This means war!
peaking of prayers, there was one thing about Christianity that always either embarrassed, frustrated, or confused me: public/group prayer. It always seemed that a spectacle was made of talking to god whether in a church service, at home, or at an event. Nobody appeared to be capable of just communicating with god in a personal way — quietly, in their heads — and instead we were always being led in group prayers.
When I was a little kid the prayers were like advertising jingles. I memorized a phrase one to four sentences long with catchy rhymes so I could remember what to say. For instance:
Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
etting saved through Jesus Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit sounds like it would be a really big deal. I mean, the sheer mechanics of opening up one’s heart and having the Holy Spirit move in like a college kid moving into the dorms is difficult to wrap your head around. Oddly enough, Christians seem to think it requires nothing more than the ability to repeat phrases told to you by another person. This applies mainly to children who are too young to formulate a sentence based on the premise that a person died for you thousands of years ago so you won’t go to Hell when you die. It goes something like this:
Heavenly Father, I know that I have sinned against you. I want to be a better person. I believe you sent Jesus to die on the cross for my sins, that you raised him from the dead, and that he hears my prayers. Please forgive me and let Jesus come into my heart and life. I give my life to you, Lord. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
hen you grow up in Christianity, one thing is made very clear to you over and over: you are a horrible sinner and deserve to burn in Hell forever. This sentiment rears its head pretty early on, as soon as you’re able to understand and repeat the name “Jesus.” The adults begin to prime you for the doctrine of salvation through grace. In order to do this, you must first accept that you are undeserving of anything but the worst punishment imaginable. Just to clarify, this punishment can be presented in a number of ways. My family subscribed to the “lake of unquenchable fire, eternal torment and darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth” doctrine. Other sects of Christianity view Hell as simply the complete lack of the presence of god. Still others view Hell as obliteration (which, Heaven aside, aligns quite nicely with the atheistic view that once you die you simply cease to exist).
o there I was: a kid spending every Sunday morning and evening, Wednesday night and every major (and some minor) holiday in church. At this point church was still fun because I was doing arts and crafts, seeing flannelgraph stories and singing those great children’s songs that virtually everybody knows. Oh, the songs! They’re catchy, they’re cute, and they’re memorable. Regardless of how I may feel now about religion I can still sing all of those songs on demand.
Song is arguably one of the most effective ways to drill ideas into a kid’s head. There’s a reason you teach a kid the alphabet in song before they can read. When you want to remember something it helps to put it to music. For instance (and I can still sing this one too), children are taught to memorize the books of the Bible with this little number: