You Believe In God? Yep. You Believe In MY God? Nope. BANG, YA DEAD

(thanks to the great atheist George Carlin for the title)

God is love.

God is love.

God is love?

Not the god I know. The god I know is cruel, and punishing, and watches all the time, judging, always judging, and condemning. This is what was taught to me. This is what is still seared into my brain. This is what was nailed into my head from age 3 to 17, a dogma that was accompanied by hateful, cruel “women of the cloth” who would have died laughing if I had ever said “I thought god was love.”

I don’t blame my parents, you know, for sending me to Catholic school. They were Catholic, still are. They have some more progressive views (no hating on The Gays, plz, and abortion isn’t a one way ticket to the big fireball in the center of the earth) but they are still religious. I mean, my grandmother first told me I was going to hell when I was 12. (I said that I didn’t take the bible literally.) Charming thing to not only say to a kid, but your own flesh and blood, yes? So no, I never learned that god is love.

It’s strange, to say the least. I’m 33 bloody years old. My “Jesus Year” as friends have dubbed it. “Time to do something important!” Well, that sounds neat. And it’s a lovely sentiment for the year. Should be every year, but I digress. So I ponder Jesus, who I believe existed, as a man with a following of miscreants and misfits, who preached what he believed to be the teachings of his god. I have no problem believing that. But…”God is Love” still baffles me, and I blame that entirely on my schooling.

The day I changed from a terrified little schoolgirl into a, well, miscreant and misfit was the day I raised my hand in Theology class and asked “if the stories in the Old Testament are representational and symbolic, how do we know the New Testament is true? Where is the line drawn between symbolism and reality?” It was an honest question, something I wasn’t trying to ruffle feathers with, something I was genuinely curious about, as a logic question.

I was thrown out of class.

That was the day I decided this whole “religion” thing was bunk. Why on earth believe in one book and not the other? Why believe that Jesus, but not the Buddha, exists? I mean, the Bible’s an interesting book, but so is Harry Potter. What’s the difference?

Faith, I was told. And I realized then that no matter how many times I was scared into “believing” in the religion of my parents and peers, I never would. I was sick of being scared all the time, and I made it my mission to realize my own sense of spirituality. And that had nothing to do with kneeling at a pew reciting lines written by a man countless years ago.

I wish I could say that fear left me, but it hasn’t.

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  • Mo

    I can relate. Twelve years in Catholic school did unimaginable harm to my psyche but my youngest brother had it the worst. In fifth grade religion class, the nun told these little kids that women are braver and stronger than men, that only the women stayed at the Cross and the men ran away. Barry raised his hand and asked, "but wasn't it a man who was ON the cross?" He got in terrible trouble for his logical, right-on statement.

  • Timaay

    I'm saddened to hear of your religious abuse. I hope some day you can outgrow the callous and cruel viewpoints that were branded into you and experience the unconditional love of God that is so precious to me. Truthfully, if you look at the parable of the good Samaritan you'll see that love is the key to eternal life. That's Jesus' true message.

  • Nic

    Oh, I have so been there. I went to Catholic school from Kindergarten through junior high and became a staunch atheist after that experience. I remained so throughout college and after. I felt god was mean, judging, punitive and that people only grasped onto him out of ignorance or desperation.

    But then I got to know people who were religious, though not Catholic. I still felt it was all kind of ridiculous, but as I listened to someone I really like and respect talk about how she feels loved by Jesus, I was kind of stunned. We talked about it because the loving, caring God certainly wasn't the one I had learned about but it was all she knew. So, I decided to give the whole religion thing another shot. I did research. I explored a variety of churches and denominations, finally settling in an ultra-liberal Episcopalian congregation. And yes, things changed. I do consider myself a Christian now, but I had to do a lot of work to escape the Roman Catholic mindset in order to look at the whole thing with a fresh set of eyes.

  • Emily

    I am a happy atheist. I hear you on the whole organized religion thing – I wasn't raised with one, and although I've sometimes wished for the security blanket of a loving deity watching over me, I do feel like I have MORE of a sense of personal responsibility because I don't have god's plan to blame for problems. I don't have a god to ask for forgiveness. I can't just pray to have my life change. I have to go out and take care of myself and be responsible for myself without the cushion of a deity padding my way. I find it freeing. I hope you get to the point of feeling freer for the lack of organized religion.

  • On behalf of Catholicism, I would like to apologize for any trauma Catholic schools or Catholic churches caused in any of your lives.

    I was raised Catholic and educated in a Protestant non-denominational openly anti-Catholic school (long story, great experience, wouldn't trade it). Now, at just about 25, I'm a Christ follower who still goes to mass at Catholic churches.

    I'm not sure who did what or how it happened but if my only exposure to Christ had been in my Catholic Church or my Protestant school, I think I would have walked away from either. My best guess is that the uneducated Catholics who taught me Sunday school and the "you're going to hell as long as you're Catholic" Protestants who taught me through 12th grade both ultimately pushed me toward studying and praying on my own and largely being skeptical about what either side had to say.

  • As a wee youngster my folks sent me to the baptist church across the street. It was handy. They slept in on Sunday. Then moved to suburbs. Again went to the protestant church across the street…

    I use to look VERY closely into the bricks on the house, looking for the god that was everywhere watching. Never saw him/her. Then at eleven I was introduced to Unitarians. Yes, now everything was clear. The sunday school teach wrote "Jesus / Christ" on the blackboard and drew a vertical line between the two words. "Okay" he said. What does Jesus mean to you and what does christ mean to you. It was my aha moment. Many years later I am a happy atheist and secular humanist. I try to live a "good" life instead of a life inspected by "god."

    This new project should be very interesting.

  • David Sheriff

    About the fear thing. This is how I think about it. Might cover several ways to interpret your sentence. When we die, we cease to exist. Period. When your body encounters conditions where it can't keep even the minimum going, that's all death is. Death is just part of how it works. It's a process that can take a bit of time, both before and after the heart stops.

    So what you have is existence, quite a bit, actually. Appreciate the existence (Experience what your senses are telling you) while it's your turn. We can feel, think. Appreciation for "nature" is built into us, Nature is ultimate beauty.

    Since it's all completely "meaningless" in any stretch of time, why feel bad? You are just upsetting yourself. Sometimes I try to follow what my dog is up to, snuffling around. It's all the same. It's how things work. Born, maybe shuffle chromosomes, experience, die. Wow. You're here. It's your turn. Live. Love – now that's worth the whole investment.

  • Damn you two! What an amazing topic to tackle. Too bad there will never be any specific agreement.

    I too am a recovered Catholic. The god I grew up with is not the god I believe in. I believe in spirituality. I believe people should always be given the benefit of the doubt, because that shows true love and acceptance. Love isn't being devoted 24/7 to ONE specific ideology. It's accepting your own while understanding there is more to it then just what you think.

    We all need to keep our minds and hearts open. Love comes in all sizes and shapes. If we close our hearts & minds, we can never experience it.

    I think of myself as a Christian, but I took many years to make that decision and have only done so in the past 5 years.

    My reality is that I am more spiritual. I believe. Somedays, I don't know what I believe IN, but I still believe. And I always will believe in myself to make a choice that will reflect that. Doesn't always work, but hey, love, life, spirituality, it's all work.

    We're not perfect. None of us.

  • JinMT

    I was raised in a very lapsed Catholic family. Church was where weddings and funerals happened, and beyond that I was raised to sort of vaguely believe in god and Jesus and say the Lord's Prayer once in a while.

    During high school I had a pivotal conversation with a friend of another christain based religion. She told me that, according to her beliefs, anybody who wasn't a part of her very specific portion of christianity was doomed to hell. (I still don't know if those are the actual teachings of her religion or not.) I asked her questions about people who didn't believe but were still good people. She assured me they were doomed. I asked her about people in the darkest reaches of the Amazon who perhaps had never heard of this Jesus guy and she assured me that they were doomed. I stopped right there and then and began to question. I knew there was NO way I could believe in the same god she believed in. So, what exactly did I believe? I began to search. I went to different services with different friends. I asked lots of questions. Mostly I learned about what I didn't believe and where I didn't fit.

    A year or two after that first conversation a different friend of mine and I went to a Lutheran church that we'd heard nice things about. The sermon was very much the loving god sort (not the hellfire and damnation I'd heard other places) and the people were very kind and welcoming. I was very willing to be open to that god and that church. It was a nice, loving place. So we went to the youth group after the service.

    At the youth group the pastor introduced himself to us and asked us (in a nice way) why we were there. We answered him honestly, that we were searching for the right church and the right beliefs for us. He gave us homework for that night. He said that when we got home, we should sit quietly with ourselves for a while and search within ourselves. He said to "look deep into our hearts" and there we would find god and Jesus, and that he'd be happy to have us in his congregation.

    Well, I went home that night and I followed his instructions. I sat quietly and I looked deep within. And I looked and searched and hunted. Sure, I was young, but I was looking honestly. I really wanted to find something to believe in. But I didn't find anything. Inside of me is blood and guts and viscera and stuff. I didn't find god or Jesus or anybody but myself. I was pretty sure I wasn't god, so that left me wondering… "Is there a god?"

    Over the next few years I went from agnostic to atheist and now I'm leaning more and more towards Atheist. Every time somebody tries to write their religion into law, or shows up at a military funeral with a "god hates fags" sign, or spends a ton of money on lobbying even though they're tax exempt, that capital A gets a little more capital.

    People can believe what they want to believe, whether I agree with them or not. I believe in what is solid and provable. I believe that religion in its current form can be too easily twisted into something ugly, hateful and horrible. I believe that the idea that you can confess your sins on your deathbed and be forgiven and granted eternal life on a cloud can help some people justify acting like horrible, mean, nasty people during their lifetime. I believe that judging and hating other people for who they are is where the real sin lies.

    I've met a few nice, open, non-judgemental religious people. Buddhists, mostly.

    If more religious folk were focused on this idea that god is love, I'd be fine with that. I could get along with them quite well. But the ones (and honestly, I think this is the vast majority) who think they should force me to live by their rules, or who really don't give a rat's behind about what goes on here on Earth so long as they go to the nice place when they die, make me very, very, very angry.

    And that's pretty much my story.

  • The day I changed from a terrified little schoolgirl into a, well, miscreant and misfit was the day I raised my hand in Theology class and asked “if the stories in the Old Testament are representational and symbolic, how do we know the New Testament is true? Where is the line drawn between symbolism and reality?” It was an honest question, something I wasn’t trying to ruffle feathers with, something I was genuinely curious about, as a logic question.
    I was thrown out of class.

    You were thrown out of class because they were afraid of you and that was the easiest way to deal with their fear. They had no answer for you because they had no real experience with a living and true God. You posed an excellent question and you exposed the bankruptcy of their system. Obviously, you were a very intelligent young lady and a great thinker. You were fortunate to be thrown out so they could not indoctrinate you with their traditions masquerading as godliness. Jesus, in his time, had the same kind of questions: "why do you trade the truth of God for the traditions of men?" Obviously, God is drawing you to himself.

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