June 28, 2013 § 12 Comments
It seems impossible, looking at where I stand today, that I once was a deeply devoted Christian. I was raised in a strict Christian home where indoctrination started early. I was told the beliefs of Christianity before I spoke my first words. When I was just a few weeks old my grandfather, an ordained minister since his early 20s, carried me onto the platform of the church he was then pastor of and took the liberty of dedicating my life to Christ and to the service of the Church. The entirety of my mother’s immediate family, including her two brothers, both ordained ministers themselves, stood around him while he did this, heads bowed, hands outstretched, focusing all their thoughts on my living a ‘Godly life.’ The photographs of this dedication (the Protestant version of a christening) unsettle me, to see my choices being taken from me so early in my life.
I would stay in the Christian fold for the next 17 years, attending church services, Sunday School, bible classes and youth group meetings up to 5 times a week. Every member of my family was a Christian as all their friends were. I didn’t speak to a non-Christian until I went to school, and when I did, it was with the assumption that they were less than me, that they didn’t deserve the same level of respect that a fellow Christian would. Throughout childhood and adolescence I had some non-Christian friends, but they were never as important to me as those I made at church.
I was taught the Christian view on everything during these years and never once did it occur to me to question the truth what I was being told. My grandfather was like God himself, so holy, so devoted to this belief system, that to doubt Christianity would be to doubt him, and that was impossible.
Amongst learning the Bible, I was told put Jesus before everything in your life, including your family. I was also taught that those who were not Christian were going to burn, to be tortured for an eternity in hell. This included those who never heard about Christianity, and was used as justification for the Church wiping out whole cultures and religions, refusing to give a homeless man food unless he listened to a sermon, even dismissing the other branches of Christianity, like Anglicans, and most certainly Catholics, who I was told were practicing idolatry, worshiping statues and necklaces and not God Himself.
I distinctly remember one sermon where a visiting preacher told us in the congregation that AIDS was a punishment God had created for gay people. I remember this moment so clearly because since the start of my sexual development I had felt myself physically attracted to other women.
For the first 14 years of my life, I didn’t even know that you could be gay, that it was actually something that even existed. It was pop culture that taught me about homosexuality, about people out there living a life where they were attracted to the same sex. This was an abomination, I was told, a demon that had taken hold of their soul. Thinking about the innocent crushes I would get on my female friends, I would, with tears of pure fright pouring down my face, beg God to rid me of this demon.
I was also told, in no uncertain terms, that abortion was murder. When I was 13 years old, I joined the members of the large congregation of the church I attended to line the busiest street in our town and hold up signs that read ‘ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN’ and ‘ABORTION IS MURDER.’ The main thing I remember about this day is my total lack of understanding for what I was purporting. I never once questioned the assertion of abortion being murder, never questioned why as a sheltered 13 years old my opinion on something that I knew nothing about was in any way untrue.
A couple of years later I argued the pro-life side of the abortion issue in my debate class, and did so by choice. With a macabre glee, I held up pictures of mutilated dead fetuses to scare my classmates into my way of thinking. I firmly believed I was doing the right thing. I was doing God’s work.
When I was 17, in my Grade 12 history class, I wrote a paper that started out as a comparison between Christianity and Buddhism. When I started the paper (which ended up being 30 pages long) I approached it as “all the ways Christianity makes more sense and is obviously right.” By the end, I had made a startling discovery. It was a question of faith. Religion wasn’t the truth, it’s something you put your trust in, that tells you you’re right for doing so. The similarities between myself, a Christian, and a Buddhist, in a lot of cases, were just the names we gave the intangible.
This first revelation would be the first step on a long journey that eventually lead me out of the Church and into becoming the person I was meant to be. I was able, over the following years, to take my back my right to choose, take my life back from the Church, from my family, and become my own person. It was an extremely painful process, to decry this thing that not only I had believed to be true, but that my whole family still did/doe. Many members of my family were people I had seen as my heroes, the most dependable forces in my life, and I had to come to terms with the fact they were devoted, blindly, to a political movement dressed up as a religion. My family punished me and continues to punish me for this break from the Church, and my life today, though being free from falsehoods and fake personas, is not the life I would have had if I had continued in the beliefs of the Church.
My main reason for sharing this story is to help those of you who never had a doctrine put in your head, who have never experienced life inside a religion, to help you understand how and why these people do the things they do. When I was transitioning out of the Church and into adulthood a quote from Maya Angelou was a motto: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” These people who are anti-abortion, who view gay people as perverts, who back the politicians who aim to push these views on the country as a whole, they’re doing what they know, what they’ve been told to do. Until they know better, which some of them never will, they will continue to do so.
I’m not asking you to forgive them, but I am asking for compassion, for some understanding. Those kids at the anti-gay-marriage rally, they were just regurgitating what they’d been told their whole lives, never thinking of the actual people who their words were directed at. It’s easy to mock them because of their ignorance, but it’s better to try to get them access to things outside the circle of the Church. It was pop culture that taught me about real gay people and all the different kinds of lives real gay people live. It was pop culture that taught me I had the right to make decisions about my own body. The fight for gay rights, for reproductive rights, win or lose, is a way of showing these kids that there is a big world out there that they can be part of it, if they so choose.
June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment