Saturday, July 30, 2011

Re-Thinking Christianity Part 1

Part 1

Growing up I was loosely Catholic. When other kids would ask me about religion I would say Catholic. But I wasn't really. My mom grew up in a very Catholic household and had five siblings. My grandma and most of my aunts and uncles on that side of the family still faithfully attend Mass every Sunday. When I was little my mom would take me to church maybe a couple of times a month, maybe less. We might go to church on Christmas and Easter. When I was in second grade I begged to go to CCD, but after that session of CCD ended I never went back. When I was in third grade we stopped going to church altogether. I think the church issue was difficult for my mom because my dad was a fallen-away Baptist and would never go to church at all ever, much less attend Catholic church with her and help her wrangle three kids.  My parents didn't even get married in a church, they hopped straight over to the Justice of the Peace.

As a young teen I felt extremely alienated from the Catholic church. All of my cousins had gone through first communion, so even if I went to church I was denied communion while my cousins got to partake. I wasn't baptized, so I didn't have any godparents like all my cousins did. I did not receive an extra gift at Christmas like everyone else, which made me feel less important or worthy than the other kids. By the time I was a young teen I was hungry for God, but I still had only an elementary understanding of the most basic principles of Christianity. In my mind it was too simplistic and actually didn't make a lick of sense logically. I was coming up with difficult questions and Christianity seemed to have no answers. It was just a bunch of superstition.

I was reading lots of fantasy and Anne Rice, attracted to stories about vampires and witchcraft. My reading of  Rice's Memnoch the Devil truly sent my sentiments far away from Christianity. In this book the devil is extremely sympathetic to humans and works in strained partnership with God to actually rehabilitate souls so they can reach heaven. Hell as we knew it was a fantasy just created to scare people into being good. I thought Anne Rice's explanation made a heck of a lot more sense than the Christianity I had been taught as a kid, I kept asking myself, "would a loving god really send people to hell for eternity as punishment for a few sins in their short lives?" I was sure the answer was no.

I turned to Paganism and Wicca, because it seemed to have better, kinder answers. I researched and practiced witchcraft, divination, astral projection, religious rites to celebrate the Goddess and God. I was sure that all paths led to the same god, no matter what one called this god. This god didn't really care the particulars of what you did in your life, so long as you didn't hurt other people. And if you did hurt other people, the only punishment you would receive was some kind of karmic payback in the present life. When you died you would be born again in a different body. You should never be afraid to have sex because it is natural. This religion was easy to get into, you didn't have to learn much. There was no strict morality, everything was subjective. It made me feel like I was more open-minded and even smarter than all my peers who were Christians.

All through high school I considered myself Pagan or Wiccan, but eventually I lost all the fervor I had at the beginning. In college I still held a Pagan worldview, but stopped practicing altogether. I went back to seeking. I started to consider myself a Deist and believed in one god who created the universe and then stepped back to separate himself from human affairs. Deism felt logical, but not fulfilling. I would still pray sometimes. Despite the claims of deism I still felt that God could hear me and answer prayers. For many years I floated on this river of nothingness. These religions could provide no answers when all morality was relative and unimportant.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Which church?

For the past few months I've been trying to find a church to regularly attend.  I want to become part of a faith community, instead of feeling cut off and emotionally/spiritually marooned.  I've gone to a few different churches in the past few weeks, sometimes alone and sometimes with my sweet, sweet cousin who doesn't mind stepping out of her Catholic sphere every so often.  Here are my feelings about the different churches that I tried out.

Disclaimer: I don't mean to criticize or offend anyone who attends any of these churches, but merely want to explain why these faiths did or did not seem right for me personally. I can see how any of these denominations might be a good fit for someone else.


It all started with a Quaker Meeting.  I was initially attracted to the Quakers because they emphasize the experience of the Holy Spirit (they don't always call it that).  It's an experiential religion, and if you go to a liberal Quaker meeting it's only slightly Christian.  Both of these aspects appealed to me at the time.  During a Quaker meeting all of the attenders sit in pews or chairs arranged to face each other.  You sit in silence for an hour, each person trying to hear the still small voice of God within.  If anyone feels moved by the light to speak they will stand and deliver a message.

I haven't been to a Quaker meeting since February.  I liked it at first, but I didn't always feel particularly inspired when I left.  I spent a lot of time just trying to quiet my mind and relax. Eventually I got to the point where I felt that my local liberal Quaker meeting just wasn't Christian enough. At least not enough to fit what I was searching for. The stickiest point here for me is that Quakers don't believe that water baptism is necessary, and my interpretation of the Bible says that it is extremely important.


More accurately, Apostolic Pentecostal. I attended a local church a couple of times. Walking in the church was a little intimidating. All of the women had long hair and were wearing dresses.  They didn't wear any make-up or jewelry. I partially fit in since I wear mostly skirts, but I do wear jewelry and occasionally make-up. Despite this, the church was so welcoming. Many, many people came up and introduced themselves and welcomed me to church. I really appreciated this kind of attitude.

I enjoyed the worship, too. The first hour is composed of singing religious songs, dancing, clapping hands, some people were speaking in tongues or crying, running around. I felt like I could actually worship god with joy without being ashamed. The second hour is composed of the sermon. Their attitude toward worship is to allow the Holy Spirit free reign to move them any which way. This resonated with my Quaker experience, like maybe this was the Quakerism for extroverts. The preacher was yelling and getting everyone all fired up, including me!

Although I enjoyed the worship and the people, there were some issues I had with their doctrines. The issue of baptism was important to me, but this church was saying that the holy Trinity was a human creation and that if you are baptized under the titles of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit then your baptism is invalid. They were teaching that unless you are baptized in the name of Jesus, that you can't be saved. I don't think that God would condemn people based on a technicality like this. I think that the pastor interprets the Bible very literally, and that some of the interpretations might not be in the spirit of what the original writer of the Bible meant to convey.


I went to the local Baptist church twice, mostly because their service times were at convenient hours. The church is also really pretty. I never really felt moved by the services, although the preacher did have some things to say that were worth thinking about. I will say that at the church I went to the pastor is very attractive, but this is not what you're supposed to be thinking about when you're at church. I also have trouble accepting the "Once Saved Always Saved" belief that crops up in lots of Baptist churches. I guess this is silly, but I also didn't like how this church printed a bulletin every Sunday which included in a prominent location how much money the church still needed to continue operations that month. Like maybe they just wanted my money.


I went to my cousin Jacob's non-denominational churches one Sunday. It was set up similar to the Pentecostal in that the first hour was singing/dancing/band playing, and the second hour was the sermon. The band was very good, and the songs were recognizable. I didn't care for the sermon portion. The speaker would say a few sentences in English, and then backtrack and say the same thing in Spanish. It seemed a little tiresome, and reminded me of a tour I went on during my honeymoon where the tour-guide would switch between about 4 different languages.  All. Day. Long. Despite this, I found that people were very friendly and welcoming, but the church was too far away to attend every week. I'm not sure what kinds of doctrines they believed in.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Staunch anti-Christian becomes...fundamentalist?

To start off this blog, I would like to share a piece of my journal that I wrote less than a year ago. When I read over this again I cannot believe the extent that my personal beliefs have changed.

"I went to Castroville Public Library today and got a library card. It was meant to be a ploy to talk to the library people so I could fulfill some of the requirements of a homework assignment I am working on, but that didn't end up happening.  I was looking through the stacks and spotted several titles just sitting there saying "read me!" that are caught up in tremendous holds lists at San Antonio Public Library.  So I also thought that CPL library card would be advantageous if I ever want to read something that I can't get quickly enough through SAPL.

The library is very sweet and cozy.  They don't have all that many books, but they sure do have the charm.  They have pictures and quilts on the walls.  It's all very cute.  Then I noticed that they have a little stand that at my library in SA uses to hold our Oxford English Dictionary.  Their stand was used to hold a big dictionary and a bigger Bible.  I suppose this disturbed me a little, as I have conditioned myself to be suspicious of Christian teachings and even more leery of creepy followers who think it is their duty to preach at me.  I mean...they had the Bible placed at the same level as the Dictionary.  One is a book of Hebrew mythology and the other is a solid listing of linguistic facts. 

I suppose this isn't a very charitable thought, but I can't help the workings of my anti-Bible brain.  I had to consciously stop myself from proceeding with the thought and remind myself that Christianity is a valid spiritual expression which keeps many people in the world feeling fulfilled [and restrained].  And that to many people [I have seen evidence of this] the message of the Bible is greater than error-free spelling and correct word usage.  I have to remind myself to respect the trappings of Christianity every day, in fact lately I have been trying to read the Bible in small doses.

My major problem with traditional Christianity is this: I don't believe in Hell or Satan because I don't think that a loving God would punish feeble humans for an eternity for minor wrongdoings that they committed in a mere 70-or-so years on Earth.  I don't like portrayals which give God a human sprinkling of emotions and pettiness.  I don't think that any form of worship is the One Truth, I think they are all valid.  Because I think all religions are valid I don't see any need for proselytizing. 

I've found it difficult in the past to be a person who believes in God but rejects major principles of the most widespread religion in my area. It's isolating and a bit disheartening.  I did the whole Wiccan thing as a teenager, but largely gave that up because it required a lot of rituals that I was too embarrassed to perform.  Then I labeled myself plainly Pagan, but was still too lazy and embarrassed to do any rituals.  Then I thought of myself as more of a Deist, but thought there's no point in trying to know a god who creates the world and then unconcernedly steps away.  So then I thought I was mostly a Nothing who believes in Something.  It's just odd.  But then just because so far I'm a Nothing doesn't mean I have to give up Everything.  

I have lately found that reading in the Bible about the life of Jesus is very inspiring; I love the lessons about treating others kindly and doing good works that benefit others without expecting returns.  I like the thought of lived religion.  Living your beliefs.  The Bible was written by men, but may have been inspired by God.  I don't know.  I don't take it literally, and maybe I interpret it in a way that is unorthodox...but I suppose everyone takes it the way that inspires the most good in them.  I'm also reading the Bhagavad Gita at the moment which I find significantly more intriguing.

The speaker in the Bhagavad Gita is the Hindu Krishna, the incarnate son of God. Many of his teachings are similar to the teachings of Jesus. My favorite verse thus far:

 "However men try to reach me,
 I return their love with my love;
whatever path they may travel,
it leads to me in the end."
Bhagavad Gita 4.11

What I'm trying to say with all of this philosophizing, is that I like to take my inspiration from different sources. And I must learn not to discount any source due to a personal prejudice, however just or unjust. Or discount a source just because it doesn't line up with ideas about what I should or should not be reading. Just take things as they come, and enjoy what they have to offer."

Since I wrote this I have attended Quaker meetings, a non-denominational church and a Pentecostal church. I still find that lived religion is the key, but I have since discovered the importance of the Holy Spirit of God in human life. I would hazard to suggest that the Holy Spirit is the key to living your faith completely. Since I wrote this post the Bible has become the single most important book in my life, and I can hardly believe that things  would turn out this way! Since I am such a new believer I still have lots of questions and lots of exploring to do, and I hope that writing my thoughts in this blog will help me figure a few things out.