When I was about seven our mom accidentally took us to a evangelical puppet show. It was put on by the church at the top of town and one of my friends from school was going.
I asked if we could go too and she saw no reason why not- until the show started.
The lights dimmed and the curtain opened to reveal a sad little puppet who looked depressed slowly walking around the little stage proclaiming how lost and alone he felt in life. When who should appear?
Puppet Jesus, that’s who!
Puppet Jesus launched into a speech about how he could save you from all that and make everything better. In addition it turns out it is the only way to get into heaven.
This was bad enough and my mom fidgeted, uncomfterably and secretly wished for this to be over soon so we could escape. To her horror after the lights came back up all the children (who were sitting up front while the parents stayed in the back of the church) were ushered quickly into a side room to have a little chat about Christ.
She told me later that it was at this point that she almost lost her shit. Caught between her impulse to scream “NO!!!” rush up the isle and take us home and not wanting to make a scene in a church and in front of many other mothers who she would have to see everyday after this.
At the time I could tell by the look on her face from across the room that this was NOT OK with her.
She let us go.
I had thought the show was odd it certainly was not what I had been expecting from a puppet show, now seeing her stress assured me that what they had been saying was not endorsed by the maternal unit.
Once in the room with the door closed behind us the Sunday school teacher started to again tell us about how we all had to accept Jesus into our hearts or we would not go to heaven- we would be headed straight to hell.
I thought this was a bit intense, now understanding the look on my mom’s face.
This was not a safe place for my sister and me, not at all. I raised my hand and asked how they KNEW these things were true. The response was that it was written in the bible and the bible was the word of god.
I asked if it was god who had written the bible and was answered that he had apostles for that. I quieted for a moment and they continued to tell us that not only did we have to do this for ourselves but we had to make sure that all our families and friends did it too, or they could not come to heaven with us.
I interrupted again and asked if this meant that ANYONE who was not Christian would not be going to heaven and annoyed answer came quickly, that indeed they would not.
“Even if they are really good and kind people?”
“Yes, they have to accept that Chirst is the…”
I stopped him mid sentence.
“So the Dahli Lama is not going to heaven since he is not a Christian?”
“YES!” (Very exasperated now.)
“Then I don’t really think I want to go either. It sounds like there are too many rules and not enough kind people”
I grabbed my sister and left the room in stunned silence. The look on my mom’s face when we came out was an odd mix of confusion, fear, pride, and relief. She quickly said goodbye to the woman she had been talking too and hurried up the isle to meet us. Her first hushed question to me was her usual one.
“Did you get in trouble?”
“No. Well, I don’t think so. I just didn’t like it.”
“Fine.” she said with obvious relief.
Not wanting to say more while still in church and she hurried us out to the car. On the short drive home she made me tell her everything and after recounting the story and assuring her that I had not done anything too naughty while in the room she finally relaxed.
As always I had more questions:
“What was that?!”
“Is any of that stuff true?”
“How do they know it’s true, did someone go to heaven and come back and tell everyone about it?”
“Is the Dali Lama really going to hell?!”
I kept on coming back to the same question “how do they know they are right?” It seemed to me that if you were going to proclaim that someone who won a Nobel Peace Prize was going to end up in the same place as rapists and murderers on a technicality you better pretty damn sure your right.
My mom explained evangelicalism and dogma to us briefly and how glad she was that we didn’t just believe the puppets without question but she was more glad I had not made more of scene.
After that I became fascinated with religion and philosophy, even more then I already had been. It seemed as if all the religions were arguing about details that had no objective answers to.
I was fascinated with people that took the bible word-for-word in English. A language not spoken for a thousand years after Christ had lived (spending his whole life speaking Aramaic a long ‘dead language’ at the time of the first King James edition of the Bible.) When I leaned Spanish the concept of literal translation and fundamentalism started to seem even more ridiculous.
Most modern religions are defined though their respective texts. Each of them claiming to be the true word of god handed down through one prophet or another.
The Quran is the only one that claims to be written by an illiterate man, something I would require if I was to believe that the ‘word’ had not been tainted at all by the humans hands and mind of the prophet recording it.
The New Tesitimate is a selective collection of similar works of the time but omits the testimony of the person who most modern scholars believe spent the most time with Jesus.
The books of the gnostic gospels supposedly written by Mary Magdalene are not included or really recognized by the church and it is in her recounting of what Jesus had been trying to convey that I find the most wisdom.
All in all I have made a better than average attempt to study religion (I minored in philosophy at UCSC) as it had always fascinated me. About religion I am a sceptic.
It also seems to me that there is no harm in extensively questioning the truth. There is a great harm in believing or acting on something without examination.
In addition it should be obvious in this modern time of relative sexual equality that the sources of the bible come from a point in history defined by its widespread and absolute oppression of women.
I do not mean to imply that there is no value in religion, only that it should be tempered with study, knowledge and above all- kindness.
If reading the bible puts you in a frame of mind to reflect on your thoughts and actions and find a greater peace within yourself then that is a valuable tool.
If it is used to judge other people in the slightest- you have missed the point. We all arrive in this world alone and leave it with only ourselves for guidance into whatever is next.
Get to know yourself, what you think and why. Truth and honesty are gifts that only you can provide to yourself.
Be well and thank you for reading my silly little story.