book reviews, religion

Reposted review of I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Athiest’s Eyes

Here’s another reposted book review. It was written for Epinions.com on June 14, 2010, and appears here as/is. I’m still thinking about today’s fresh content.

eBay has changed the face of American commerce, making some rather unconventional methods of earning money available to people smart enough to come up with a clever gimmick. Hemant Mehta is one such clever guy. In January 2006, when he was 22 years old, Mehta came up with a very interesting moneymaking proposal. An atheist since he was 14 years old, Mehta held an auction to get eBayers to send him to church.

His proposal read as follows:

I’m a 22-year-old from Chicago. I stopped believing in God when I was 14. Currently, I am an active volunteer for a couple of different national, secular organizations. For one of them, I am the editor of a newsletter that reaches over 1,000 atheist/agnostic college students. I have written several Letters to the Editor to newspapers in and around Chicago, espousing my atheistic beliefs when Church/State issues arose. My point being that I don’t take my non-belief lightly. However, while I don’t believe in God, I firmly believe I would immediately change those views if presented with evidence to the contrary. And at age 22, this is possibly the best chance anyone has of changing me.

So here’s my proposal. Every time I come home, I pass this old Irish church. I promise to go into that church every day– for a certain number of days– for at least an hour each visit. For every $10 you bid, I will go to the Church for 1 day. For $50, you would have me going to mass every day for a week.
 (15)

Mehta continues by promising to go to church willingly and keep an open mind, yet not saying or doing anything inappropriate. He offers to volunteer with the church and interact with the people of the church and do his best to learn about the churchgoers’ beliefs. He also promises to maintain a diary, take photos, or secure any other type of proof the winning bidder desires in order to uphold his end of the bargain.

Proving that Americans love a good gimmick and are willing to pay for it, Mehta was successful in finding someone to pay him to attend church. The winning bidder of his auction was Jim Henderson, a minister from Seattle, Washington, who paid $504 to get Mehta to attend church. Mehta donated the money to the Secular Student Alliance, one of the organizations Mehta was involved with when he was a student.

Instead of just attending the old Irish church, however, Henderson opted to have Mehta try a variety of different churches and maintain his impressions on Henderson’s Web site, http://www.offthemap.com. And Mehta did make good on his end of the deal, visiting churches in four different states that ranged from mega-sized to small and intimate. Mehta’s eBay experiment led to his decision to write his 2007 book, I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Athiest’s Eyes.

My thoughts

This book wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be when I decided to buy it. I was under the impression that Mehta’s memoirs of an atheist sitting in church would be about just that… sitting in church. But it turns out I Sold My Soul on eBay is also about what makes an atheist tick. He offers some commentary on the atheist movement, as well as some insight as to why he gave up Jainism, the faith Mehta grew up in.

Mehta’s eBay experiment led him to attend some very well known megachurches, to include Ted Haggard’s New Life Church and Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. Mehta offers his observations of what it was like for him as a non-believer. While I’m no atheist, I can understand where he was coming from, particularly when he writes of his experiences in the megachurches, a burgeoning American phenomenon that I personally find a big turn off. That being said, not all of Mehta’s observations are negative. He has good things to say about Joel Osteen, going as far as to quip “I may be an atheist, but I love Joel” (123). Based on Osteen’s constant presence on television over the past few years, so do a lot of other Americans.

Toward the end of the book, Mehta offers his thoughts on both what works and what’s wrong with typical Christian church services. I didn’t agree with all of Mehta’s insights; for example, he says he wishes there was less singing. I don’t attend church regularly anymore, but one of the one things I do enjoy about church services is the music. Mehta also complains that a lot of Christians have an intolerant attitude toward atheists.  I can agree with that statement.  On the other hand, Mehta also observes that a lot of churches offer valuable community outreach, which he claims to find commendable, and some of the pastors he met made sure their messages were very relevant.  The pastors who kept their messages useful to Mehta today stood the best chance of getting him to change his mind about religion and go back to church.

At the end of the book, Mehta writes an interesting chapter about what it would take to get him to convert. He writes that he still has unanswered questions about Christianity, though at this point, he’s still a devout atheist. As I was reading this chapter, I started to wonder why it should matter to most people whether or not Mehta chooses to believe in God. But then it occurred to me that for many devout Christians, it really does matter. And so, for those people, Mehta’s last words may be the most compelling in the book. I’m sure former teen heart-throb Kirk Cameron, who has famously become a devout Christian and even ambushed Mehta on a radio program, would want to know how to get him to believe and be “saved”.

This book includes a guide for discussion groups. I’m sure the guide is very useful for those who want to read this book as a group and toss around some ideas afterward. Mehta also offers some notes at the end of the book with clarifications and more resources, along with an invitation to join his personal blog, http://www.friendlyatheist.com.

Overall

I liked this book. I guess I would have enjoyed it more if it had been more focused on just the eBay auction and was written more like a story instead of a progress report, but I did find Mehta’s observations intriguing. Mehta has a friendly, honest, engaging voice; he’s intelligent and seems to have an open mind, and that’s very refreshing. One thing potential readers should know is that Mehta mostly confines his church attendance to Protestant denominations, which may or may not have affected his opinions.

I would recommend I Sold My Soul on eBay to those who are interested in learning more about Atheism, as well as those who find religion stimulating. I will warn, however, that this book takes a broader approach than I was expecting. It’s not as much as a memoir as I was thinking it would be, which may or may not be appealing to other readers.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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family, funny stories, LDS, music, religion

Repost: Church jerks… or, the only time my dad wasn’t upset by my use of the f-word…

I’m sharing this anecdote from my earlier blog. It was written February 4, 2017 and appears as/is.

I’m lucky.  I grew up in a church that didn’t have that many jerks in it.  By and large, Presbyterians are a pretty low key group.  Or, at least that’s always been my experience.  They don’t tend to get in your business or act holier than thou.  Or, at least they don’t as much as some other churchgoing folks might.  My experience growing up Presbyterian was that we went to church for two hours on Sunday and that was basically it, unless we wanted to get involved in a social activity of some sort.  And it was entirely voluntary.

I just read an entertaining thread on RfM about the biggest jerks in church.  Some of the stories are pretty classic.  To really get the thread, you need to know something about Mormonism.  For instance, Monday nights are sacrosanct because they are “family nights”.  Monday nights are when families do some kind of church affirming activity together.  It’s supposed to promote bonding.

One guy wrote that he was trying to get some church business taken care of and this dude wouldn’t answer his emails.  So he called him at 8:30pm on a Monday night thinking that would be late enough not to interrupt family night, but not so late that it would wake up the guy’s kids.  The guy got an earful from the person he was calling.  The man of the house was put out that the guy would dare call him on “family night”.  Then the church jerk hung up on the caller.

Another person wrote about a bitchy wife who got into a Facebook argument with someone.  One of the parties involved wrote something along the lines of “I hope this disagreement won’t spoil our friendship.”  And the bitchy wife wrote back that she wasn’t “friends” in the first place and basically implied that she was better than the other person in every way.  Hmmm… how Christ like!

One guy wrote about being bitched out by a church member for “wasting the Lord’s time” at Walmart.  Even though it was “p-day”, the one day they got to do stuff like grocery shopping and laundry, this church member felt it was appropriate to publicly dress down those poor guys, who were no doubt tired, depressed, disheartened, and working for free, anyway.  Sheesh!

The only church related drama I remember from the church I grew up in happened when I was an adult.  I’m sure there were other dramas that I wasn’t privy to, but I am not really aware of them.  My parents mostly got along with people in our church, although my mom didn’t always attend because she was the organist at different churches.  There were two stints when she played organ at our church, but most of the time, she was playing at Methodist or Baptist churches.  I mostly attended church with my dad, who sang in the choir.  My sisters were out of the house, so I was left to sit with another choir member’s wife.

My dad fancied himself a good singer.  Besides being in our church’s choir, he was also in a number of local choral societies and singing groups.  He was often given solos by the choir director, a really cool lady who graduated from my alma mater, coached softball, and taught driver’s ed at the high school.  The driver’s ed teacher served as the choir director for many, many years, but had finally decided to quit.  The church had to find someone to take her place.

My parents were instrumental in getting a Jewish Russian woman hired as the choir director, even though a lot of people didn’t think she was qualified on account of her not being a Christian.  My parents wanted her hired because she had musical expertise, which the driver’s ed teacher hadn’t had.  The Russian lady, name of Olga, had degrees in music from the former USSR, I think.  The driver’s ed teacher had been very nice and was kind to choir members, but her lack of formal musical training had been a source of frustration for my mom, who was tired of playing the same shit every week.

After much debating among church members, Olga did indeed get the job.  She promptly pissed off my mom, who was the church organist at the time, by picking music and not consulting her.  Olga treated my mom, who had about fifty years of experience, with utter disdain.  My mom got so upset that she called the new director an “asshole”.  I had never before and have never since heard her call anyone that.  Mom eventually quit over the choir director and went back to playing for Methodists.

Some time later, the choir director infuriated my dad by telling him very frankly that he “didn’t have a soloist’s voice” and she stopped giving him solos.  To be fair, my dad could sing, but I hated it when he did.  That’s another story, though. 

In any case, this development, quite naturally, pissed my dad right the fuck off.  He was furious!  I remember him asking me to help him draft a resignation letter telling off the Russian choir director. 

I tried to explain to my dad that Russians and many others from the former Soviet Union tend to be brutally blunt.  When I lived in Armenia, it wasn’t unusual for strangers to stop me in the street and offer to sell me Herbal Life because they thought I was too fat and needed help.  And if you were a crappy singer or a lousy artist, they would flat out tell you you sucked.  Fortunately, Armenians always responded favorably to my musical pursuits. 

I understand it’s a bit of a stereotype to say that all former Soviets are like this, but culturally, they kind of are…  at least on the whole.  That’s just how they are… kind of like how a lot of Germans take a very long time to warm up to people they don’t know.  It’s not intended to be hurtful, per se.  It’s just their culture.

My dad wasn’t hearing me, though, and was extremely upset with the choir director.  So I helped him write a letter and titled it, “Fuck off, Olga.”  That was the only time my dad wasn’t upset by my use of the f-word.  I don’t think he ever gave her the letter.  He stayed in the choir for as long as his health permitted.  Olga eventually left the job and they replaced her with someone more appropriate for a Christian church choir.

I haven’t attended a service in that church since about 1993 or so… but there are still people there who remember me and my parents.  But then, it’s a church in a small town and people choose to be there rather than get assigned based on where they happen to live.  It’s my understanding that Mormons are basically assigned wards and they attend whatever ward serves where they live.  Either that, or they go to wards based on their marital status.  That could be why there are a preponderance of “jerks” out and about in Mormon and other “demanding” churches.

Anyway, I’m grateful that I didn’t have that experience with church jerks, except for ones that happened to be my age and were jerks to me simply because they thought I was annoying or weird.  It had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with our ages and/or maturity levels.  Thank God for that.

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marriage, nostalgia, religion

My religious “experience”…

It’s very early in the morning in the United States and I just traded comments with the man who hired me to work at a Presbyterian church camp back in 1993. At the time, I was definitely not a fan of church. I was raised mainstream Presbyterian, which is a fairly laid back denomination as churches go. I still hated attending every week. I found it a colossal bore and a waste of time.

Going to church was something I was forced to do, and it wasn’t even something we did as a family, mainly because my mom was always the organist and my dad was always in the choir. My sisters were grown and gone for most of my childhood. I found church dreadfully dull, and I wasn’t interested in it at all. I didn’t listen to the sermons, sing the hymns, or want to be part of any of the activities, although I was frequently compelled to do things like go to vacation Bible school and take the church’s confirmation class. When I was a teenager, I was also required by my parents to go to a career counseling class at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina. That school has since been renamed St. Andrew’s University. I remember not wanting to go on that trip and finding the experience “creepy”, although now I think I would have enjoyed going to that university myself. Fat lot of good the trip did for me anyway, although I ended up having some fun on it.

Despite going to church for many years, I didn’t know anything about church or religion or the Bible. I was basically a warm shell sitting in a pew, forced to be there every week and hating it. So why in the world would I have wanted to work at a Presbyterian church camp? It was mainly because I wanted to escape my parents’ house. I would rather be in a religious environment, sleeping in a platform tent, than living with my parents. In those days, my dad and I barely got along and my mom was stressed out keeping the business going. It was a hostile environment. Being at camp all summer spared me from having to be in that environment.

It turned out that church job was one of the best work experiences I’ve ever had. But I do remember being very nervous about working at a religious summer camp. Back in the 70s and 80s, a lot of churches had summer camps. In the area where I grew up, there was Makemie Woods. I remember being forced to go there a time or two when I was a child, though I never had to attend camp there. It looks like Makemie Woods is closed now. A lot of summer camps have ceased to operate, mainly because kids don’t want to go to camp anymore. They’d rather be online. I remember Paddy Run was at risk of closing, until my friend Amy got involved in saving it. Amy worked with me at Camp Paddy Run, as did a lot of other really cool people.

I remember the day I met my former boss, Simon. I walked up to him at a summer camp recruitment event held at my college. I had just spoken to a representative from Camp Fincastle, which was another Presbyterian camp located near where my dad’s family lives. I wasn’t all that impressed by the Camp Fincastle people, and it looks like now, Camp Fincastle no longer exists. But then I saw Simon standing by himself at a table. He wore jeans and a white sweatshirt that had the Very Fine juice company logo on it. He had short brown hair, wore glasses, and a cross around his neck. Before I knew what was happening, I was talking to Simon about being a camp counselor. He said they had enough counselors, but they needed a cook. And I said I’d be a better cook than counselor anyway. A few days later, after checking my references, that same man hired me. I remember thinking he was very uptight. Boy, was I ever wrong! But that didn’t change how I felt almost dread when it turned out he wanted to hire me to be the church camp’s cook! I wondered how I would cope with the religion.

I remember arriving at Camp Paddy Run in June 1993. It was, and still is, a very beautiful location. There was a huge meadow, enclosed by mountains on either side and a vast forest. There was a crude little church space out in the meadow, with weather worn splintery benches, a fire pit, and a cross that was strung together with rope. Deep in the woods, there was Paddy’s Run, a mountain creek, where kids would go rock hopping. There were cabins and “hogans”, and a garage that stored the canoes and camping equipment served as our staff lounge. I remember at night, the stars were absolutely incredible. There was no light pollution at all, so you could see so many stars in the summer sky. If I were inclined to be religious, I would say that God chose Camp Paddy Run to be a sacred place. I wish I had more pictures of it.

It took me awhile to get used to church camp life. I was pretty quiet at first. I wasn’t familiar with the Bible, despite going to church and Sunday School my whole life. I knew nothing about the origins of the Presbyterian Church, or the fact that my ancestry has a lot to do with why my family is mostly Presbyterian. I didn’t know anything about why church services are set up the way they are, and I didn’t enjoy “devotions” or “vespers”. I had nothing much to say during those meetings. Despite having gone to Sunday school and church and being raised in a religious extended family, I was never taught much about Christianity. My dad took me to church every week because it was something people did. It was the expected thing to do. But we never talked about religion at home. We didn’t pray before meals or bedtime (except when I was very little). So when I worked at the church camp, I wasn’t necessarily the best model of Christ-like behavior. I did get in trouble for cussing, too.

At camp, every day started early and ended late. It was my job to cook, and I was good at it. I had three teenaged guys working with me and we ended up becoming friends. I was introduced to canoeing, which was something I had never tried before I worked at camp. I also went on some wonderful hikes in the woods and found swimming holes, one of which had a natural slide. I slept on an uncomfortable cot in a platform tent with two or three other women, depending on the week. The pay wasn’t much, but I had few expenses. It was a healthy lifestyle, far away from “civilization”. I ended up enjoying the experience so much that I went back in 1994. Then, the following year, partly based on my church camp experience, I joined the Peace Corps.

I’m still not a very religious person, although I do enjoy sacred music. Perhaps that’s where my relationship with God is strongest. I don’t do a lot of praying and don’t feel comfortable in offering prayers to people. I still find religion kind of icky, especially since it’s been co-opted by powerful people who want to use it to promote their own agendas. And yet, that job working at a church camp gave me so much… especially in friendships. I still have many friends from that time period, including my former boss, who was a minister for some time and officiated at my wedding to Bill.

Simon has since left the ministry and become a Catholic. I’m not exactly sure what led him to take that step, although he clearly feels most authentic as a Catholic. His wife is still a Protestant. Talking to him now, I see that maybe it was a case of his being somewhat of a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. When I met him, thinking he was this very uptight religious person, I didn’t know that he was also a bit nuts like me. He has a great sense of humor, loves outrageous rock music from the 70s, wears nail polish, and has both earrings and long hair. In the 90s, he had to appear to be someone he wasn’t really. Now that he’s no longer a minister, he can be himself. That must be very liberating for him, although I’m sure the decision to leave his life’s work was extremely difficult. If I know him, he did a lot of praying and soul searching before he took that step.

Simon later became a certified nursing assistant and worked in a psychiatric hospital. I’m sure his skills as a minister were useful when he worked at that job. He recently had to stop working there due to health reasons and family responsibilities.

Like me, my former boss spent a lot of time in school. He’s earned a couple of master’s degrees that he doesn’t use for paid employment. He’s also a bit of an eccentric, like I am. Like me, he found his soul mate and has enjoyed a long, happy union. He’s married to a wonderful woman with whom he enjoys a great marriage and has three lovely daughters. I look up to my former boss as an example. He’s yet another person who didn’t take the conventional road through life.

Bill and I will soon celebrate our eighteenth wedding anniversary. Although the years haven’t always been easy… they’ve all been fun. We still love each other very much. I’m so grateful we were able to have our wedding officiated by someone who is a true friend. He made the ceremony very special and meaningful. We still talk about what he said to us during our wedding. And despite all of the little hassles that come up in our daily lives, we remain committed to each other and happy to be in each other’s lives. I realize how very fortunate we are every day, especially when I go a little nuts.

So… even though I know people read this blog and think all kinds of things about me, the truth is, I’ve been blessed with a lot of good things in life. And I have many good people in my life, too. Especially Bill… I could not have asked for a better partner. When I look back on my pathway through life, I realize that every decision I made, before we first encountered each other in a chat room back in 1999, led me to him. Even working at a church summer camp when I am not particularly religious myself.

I’m also really glad I grew up Presbyterian. If I had to go to church, I’m glad it was one that embraces education and scholarly research. I’m glad I didn’t come away from the experience with religious baggage. The Presbyterians also have the distinction of being from Scotland, too.

And now I have to decide what to get him for our anniversary, since we can’t travel anywhere. Wonder what Hallmark says the 18th anniversary present is. Guess I’ll go find out, especially now that the power is back on.

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musings

An unusual Easter…

Today is Easter Sunday, which is a day many people typically spend in church. Or, at least they spend an hour or two in church, celebrating Christ’s rise from the grave. This year, we have a global pandemic going on, and people are being asked not to congregate. Many wise people are following this advice and staying home. Some people are worshipping remotely, using the power of the Internet to connect with religion. Some are having church at home with family members. And then there are people like me, who aren’t particularly religious and won’t spend much time thinking about Christ today.

Easter has become kind of a special holiday for Bill and me, mainly because it was Easter 2000 when he and his ex wife drove to a notary public in Tennessee and signed their divorce papers, which were later filed in Arkansas. Ex hadn’t actually meant to get divorced. She’d stupidly issued an ultimatum– as Captain Lee on Below Deck would say, “her mouth wrote a check that her ass couldn’t cash”. But rather than admit that she’d done something really stupid… which actually wasn’t all that stupid in the grand scheme of things… she stubbornly allowed Bill to take her by the hand, lead her to the car, and drive to the older couple’s house, where they began their divorce proceedings.

I’ve always thought of that moment as the day Bill’s life was resurrected. Things only got better for him once he and his ex wife split up. Sure, he went through some hard times, but at least he was with someone trustworthy… himself. And he had already met me online when this was going on, so a year later, we were able to meet in person. And now look at us. We don’t mind the social isolation, because we enjoy each other’s company immensely. We still have a good time talking, listening to music, eating, drinking, watching TV, and laughing at each other’s jokes.

A lot of people are not content to stay home today. I’ve read about it in the news. Some stubborn folks– much like delusional ex– have decided they’re going to going to go to church. I read one account of a pastor who expects 2000 people filling his pews today. Reverend Tony Spell of Baton Rouge, Louisiana is conducting business as usual at his Apostolic Life Tabernacle Church, despite the governor’s stay-at-home order. He says “Satan and a virus won’t stop us.” Spell adds, “Like any zealot or like any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend. True Christians do not mind dying. They fear living in fear.” I think the real reason these folks want to have such huge Easter services has to do with money. As one astute friend cynically pointed out, Easter is like the church’s “black Friday”. This is a time of year when people make donations. So what if some of them get sick and die?

Up in Idaho, Ammon Bundy, a rancher who made news in Oregon by leading an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge, is up to his old tricks. Fed up with the government telling him what to do, he’s now leading a “liberty rebellion”, calling upon others to ignore Governor Brad Little’s orders to stay at home. Bundy says that a group in the Boise area was looking for a venue to host an Easter service today with a potential crowd of 1,000 people. He said a man in Twin Falls plans to host communion in a park. Bundy himself holds regular meetings with scores of people to decide how to fight back against what he considers government overreach.

Meanwhile, last night I read about some very sorry people who spent time at Florida’s beaches last month. They were dancing, drinking, bonging beer, getting some sun, passing out hand sanitizer, and now a lot of them are sick with COVID-19. As of last night, there were 38 people who from one group who had gotten the virus and a couple of them have died. And again, as of last night, Florida itself has over 17,000 COVID-19 cases, and of those about 400 people have died. It’s true that most people who get the virus aren’t going to die from it. They might not even get very sick. But those who are at a higher risk will no doubt suffer more, and some will wind up on respirators in intensive care units, where the chances of leaving without a body bag are very slim. I almost wonder if some people, when faced with the prospect of being on a respirator, won’t just take matters into their own hands and avoid the huge hospital bills.

I can’t really blame those folks in Florida, though. I remember what it was like to be young and relatively poor. When I was in my 20s, I had no money for trips to Florida. I never took a “fun” spring break trip in high school or college. I think if I had spent money on a long awaited trip to Florida and a virus came along, I might be tempted to risk it. People in their 20s often think they’re invincible anyway. I can see why so many people thought this virus wasn’t a big deal. They live in the United States, and a month ago, it seemed like the risk was just in far away places like Italy and China. It didn’t seem like a tsunami of respiratory disease was on its way. Spring was coming; deposits were paid; people wanted to party. Some of them are now paying the price.

I do hope that things get back to somewhat normal soon. I would hate to spend the rest of my life living this way, even though Bill and I get along so well. I do think this pandemic could change a lot of things in the future. Some people will come out on top. Some will make the ultimate sacrifice. I’m reminded of an old George Carlin quote from about 20 years ago, when he made his album, Jammin in New York. He was taking on all of those people who think they can control the Earth, and trying to “save” everything. In his routine, Carlin rightly points out that humans can’t control nature. And trying to control nature is what gets us into trouble. Carlin says the Earth has been here for billions of years and has been through a lot worse than human beings. He compared human beings to a bad case of fleas. The Earth will shake us off. The planet isn’t going anywhere… we are. Shit… Carlin even mentions viruses, and how difficult they are to control or eradicate. Yeah… he was way ahead of his time. Wonder what he’d think of the coronavirus.

Maybe all this social isolation really is pointless. But this isn’t about preventing people from being exposed to COVID-19. It’s more about making it so that not so many people are sick at the same time. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go to church today. Luckily, I wouldn’t be going anyway.

Maybe he was right.

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religion

Blue sky cathedral…

A few days ago, I read an article about how millennials are turning away from religion. A college friend shared it. She’s a devoted churchgoer and she thinks it’s “sad” that so many people are turning away from religion. I was intrigued, so I decided to share it with my own friends.

The first person who responded clicked the “sad” reaction. I was perplexed by that, so I wrote this:

I don’t think it’s a sad thing. Some people simply aren’t into religion, and many people have suffered abuse in religion. If they are happier outside of it, that should be alright.

I grew up mainstream Presbyterian. For the most part, I don’t miss going to church, even though I went for most of my childhood. When I was growing up, everybody went to church. Most of my friends were Baptists or Methodists, but a few were at the Presbyterian church with me, and I had a few Episcopalian friends. I didn’t have Catholic friends until I got to college and started mingling with people from Northern Virginia again. It wasn’t until later than that that I encountered Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish people, and Muslims.

A lot of people my age have quit attending church, and it sounds like a lot of younger people have, too. I didn’t hate church… well, I shouldn’t say that. As a child, I didn’t like it because I found it boring. My mom was always playing organ and my dad was in the choir, so I sat with the wife of a man who was also in the choir. She kept me occupied. But for me, it wasn’t really a family thing. I know in some families, religion and church attendance is important and part of being in the family. For me, it was almost like it was optics. We didn’t say grace at my house, or bedtime prayers– at least not beyond my toddler years. My dad was more religious than my mom, but I really think it was a social and musical outlet for him. For my mom, it was a source of income. And I went to church because they worried what people would think if they didn’t take me, even though my parents rarely attended the same church.

The guy who clicked the “sad” reaction wrote, “some of us seem to have found a really secure, not so corrupted home church – though not within the doctrine we were raised.” So I responded,

Good for you. If you like church, by all means go to church. I’m for people doing what makes them happy, as long as they don’t hurt other people.

I think it’s much sadder when a person feels “trapped” by religion because if they stop believing or acting like they believe, they’ll be disowned. The LDS church was used as one “reason” Bill wasn’t fit to see his daughters. Of course, that was complete bullshit, and the truth about what happened is now becoming very apparent to his younger daughter.  

Every day, I read stories written by young Mormons who feel forced to go on church missions or be disowned by their families… Or people who have to hide their sexuality because of religion and the threat of being ostracized. For too many people, religion is used as a means to control others or an excuse to be closed-minded to other people’s lifestyles or politics.

It’s not just the Mormons who are guilty of this, of course. That just happens to be the religion that affected us personally.

But if you’ve found comfort in religion, great. I am happy for you. Personally, I didn’t have a bad experience with church. I just don’t think it’s a tragedy that some people have turned away from it. Not everyone needs church to be happy.

Just this week, I read a thread on RfM written by an 18 year old guy who is upset because he doesn’t believe in Mormonism, but is scheduled to start his two year mission in Tampa, Florida next month. He doesn’t want to go. His believes his parents will kick him out of the house if he doesn’t do his two years of door knocking for the LDS church. He came to RfM to ask for advice– ideas on what he can do to get out of the mission, yet not wind up homeless.

I know it sounds far-fetched that loving parents would disown their child over something like religion. Sadly, this was not the first time I heard or read of such a thing. In fact, the Mormon church is rife with stories about adult children who have found themselves cast out because they don’t believe in the religion, or perhaps they suffer from what the church calls “same sex attraction”. Lots of homosexual Mormons deny their sexual orientations and try to live the straight life in the name of religion. It’s not fair for them, and it’s certainly not fair for their spouses, who will never truly be attractive to their partners.

Not long ago, Ed Smart, father of kidnap victim turned activist Elizabeth Smart, came out as gay. He and his wife, Lois, have six children and are divorcing after many years of marriage. I’m sure Mrs. Smart is devastated by this turn of events. She’s not alone, either. LDS writer, Carol Lynn Pearson, who is still a devout believer, was married to a homosexual man and had children with him. After it became clear that her husband is gay, Pearson got a divorce. Her ex husband later contracted AIDS and died. Fortunately, his family, including his ex wife, still loved him very much and were by his side as he drew his last breaths. Carol Lynn Pearson’s daughter, Emily, went on to marry Steven Fales, a homosexual man who had been raised to believe that he had to marry a woman to be able to make it to the highest echelon of heaven. The marriage failed, just as it had between her parents. Wouldn’t it have been better for everyone involved if homosexuality weren’t deemed sinful? It would have been so much easier for everyone to find partners with whom they were sexually compatible.

I’m picking on the Mormons here, but that church is certainly not the only one guilty of screwing up members’ lives by causing people to feel shame for simply being who they are. Life is already difficult without people coming over to your house, looking to see if you have a coffeemaker or judging you for the DVDs in your collection. Moreover, people are very busy. Sundays used to be for rest, but a lot of people are forced to work on Sundays. Maybe they would like to be in church rather than at work, but maybe they would prefer to stay home and rest.

Personally, I don’t miss attending church. Bill is not a fan of organized religion and doesn’t want to go to church anymore. But he’s one of the most soulful, spiritual people I know. He believes very much in God. He doesn’t believe in organized churches, although he has said that if he had to go back, he’d go back to being Catholic. That suits me fine, although I am not Catholic myself and know little about it.

Another friend wrote that she finds God when she takes walks in nature. I can relate to that myself. In fact, Rhonda Vincent sang a song about it.

I think you can find God anywhere… if you seek God, that is. Not everyone believes, and that’s not necessarily a sad thing.

As for me… I can’t say I’m an atheist yet. I believe in God. I don’t care about church. Some people find comfort and value in religion, and that’s fine with me. Many of my family members are devout Christians, even though they cheer for Trump. I find that hard to reconcile, since Trump pretty much is the opposite of a Christian role model in my opinion. For me, the music was what meant the most… and sometimes if a pastor was a good speaker who was wise and kind, I would relate to that. But I don’t feel like I need to dress up and go to church every Sunday anymore. Don’t shed a tear for me, though. I’m fine, and so are a lot of other people who live just fine without their weekly dosage of religion.

I will admit that I love this little chapel, though… We used to have a view of it from our backyard when we lived in Germany the first time. Wurlinger Kapelle
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