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How Religious Are You, From None to Westboro?

In Opinion, Opinion/Personal, Personal, Random on February 1, 2013 at 10:38 pm

I will apologize in advance for the length of this post, but it will take every word to fully explain.

I’ve been tossing around this idea for a long time.  It’s one that I encounter almost daily.  For a long time, I went with what I was familiar with.  Then I realized that I didn’t buy into the familiar anymore, but I was too afraid to say that out loud.  Then one day, I just said to myself, “why?”  I was honest in my head – why not be honest out loud?  Of course, that only opened up a whole new arena of judgement and questioning, but I feel better about it now because at least my reactions and my answers are really mine.  I know this sounds like an amazing close to a long post, but I figured I should get it out of the way early on, just in case I offend someone and they decide not to finish reading.  I stress to anyone any time I have this conversation that my belief and my vocalization of my belief holds no weight against another’s belief.  It is our right as human beings to have the sense of mind to develop our own beliefs.  I also do my best to never judge someone based on differing beliefs.  I say I do my best because, inevitably, it does happen.  However, it only happens in special cases, which I will address in this post.  I suppose, first and foremost, I should start with my main point: I do not believe in religion.

I was raised in the hills just about as east in Kentucky as you can get.  If you look at a map of the state of Kentucky, my town was right in the little nub on the right hand side that somewhat resembles a nipple (in my opinion).

kentucky-county-map

*My county. The circle emphasizes the nip of KY.

Small, southern towns have several big characteristics:

  1. The twang/drawl/slang – I grew up on a holler.  I leave off the g at the end of words sometimes still.  I’ll be honest, that one letter does take too long when you’re in a hurry.  My a‘s are normally aaaaaaaaaaa‘s and there is no possible way to type out the appropriate sound of a southern i. 
  2. The women – One southern woman can start her day cooking a “big breakfast” (which includes sausage, bacon, eggs, homemade gravy, and biscuits), then throw on some jeans and take a four-wheeler into the hills and maybe through some mud holes, then get back home in time to shower and curl her hair to go out for dinner and a movie that night.  Southern women are also physically bigger.  Curves are not a bad thing.  This goes back to the big breakfast just mentioned.
  3. The churches – My town had a church every couple of miles.  Hollers that were so small that if you met a car going the opposite direction, one of you had to put it in reverse until you found a wide spot to pull off in, had their own churches.  There might have even been churches in churches, they were so plentiful.

Obviously, I will focus on the churches.  The drawl and the women are pretty self-explanatory.  The church is where it gets complicated.  There are tons of different branches.

Baptist.

Freewill Baptist, which was basically the same thing, but didn’t matter.  In my experience, there could be Freewill Baptist Church A on the right side of the street and Freewill Baptist Church B on the left side of the street and even though they were the same thing, Church A believed that Church B was going to hell because they weren’t in Church A, and vice versa for Church B.

Old Regular Baptist, which was very strict.  The women are never allowed to cut their hair, wear make-up, or wear pants.  This has resulted in the unfortunate Old Regular style of ginormous poofed up buns with horrid bows stuck in them worn with ankle length jean skirts that are paired with any range of tops from a button up to a sweater to even a t-shirt.  This look is finished off with a nice pair of sneakers and folded down socks.  Just picture this for a second, if you can.  Also, the women are not allowed to be part of the choir.  I am not extremely knowledgable about the further specifics of this branch, but I have never heard of any restrictions for the men.  Almost as tell-tale as the outfit is the style of preaching and singing.  The preachers always have a handkerchief in their pocket because once they get started, they don’t even have time to swallow their own saliva.  It turns into a sing-song talk / gasping for air because they barely have time to breathe, either.  The singing is done in the style of repetition.  One man leads the song by saying the line on his own in his regular voice.  Then the rest of the choir joins in (and sometimes the women from their pews in the church) to repeat the line in a very slow and drawn out cadence.  There is no music.  Both are a very interesting yet painful sight to see.

Here’s a song everyone knows, so you get a clear picture of the Old Regular style:

There was 1 Catholic church, but not many people attended it.  I saw a priest 1 time in the 18 years I lived there and the many visits I’ve made since I moved away.

Then there was Pentecostal.  This might have the worst reputation out of all the branches.  This was also the branch that I was raised as.  No, I never witnessed snake handling.  That is an even more separate branch.  But I did get the opportunity, many times, to see people overcome with the power of the Holy Spirit.  They would scream, jump around, I even watched one lady in her 50’s run laps around the pews in the church during the service.  I have seen people, my own family members even, be “slain in the spirit.”  If anything is ailing you, you just go up to the pastor during the appropriate time in the service with you prayer in mind.  The pastor prays over you and slowly others gather around behind you because they know what is coming next.  At the end of the pastor’s prayer, he (quite forcefully) lays the heel of his palm against your forehead, which causes you to be overcome by the spirit.  If you don’t faint for around 5 minutes, you are at least stunned and of balance and fall to the floor, which is why the people gather behind to catch you.  I have seen people, again, my own family, speak in tongues.  This is described as a message directly from God, using your body as a vessel.  The only problem is, no one can understand it but you.  And you can only understand it while it is happening.  I don’t know, in truth, what these phenomena are, but I know that my grandmother whole heartedly believed it and took part in it.  However, most of the scamming televangelists identified as Pentecostal, so if the tongues and all that didn’t already give this branch a bad name, these fakers definitely did.

This video doesn’t only focus on Pentecostal, but it includes the above mentioned characteristics of tongues and being slain:

Being raised Pentecostal presented many problems for me.  First of all, my mother was not religious and never had been.  My grandmother was fanatical, burning my mom’s AC/DC vinyls because it was “devil music” and crying because my uncle started dating an African-American girl.  My grandmother is not prejudice; she had just been taught her whole life under this branch of Christianity that inter-racial relationships were a sin.  When my mother sat her down and had her look through her Bible to find this in writing and she wasn’t able to, my grandmother apologized and accepted my uncles girlfriend into our family.  I think this was the beginning of her questioning phase.

It also happened that the church my grandmother belonged to, that I had attended with her my whole life, began to fall apart.  There was drama and adultery between members and an increasing focus on tidings.  FYI: tidings were the donations put in the pans that were passed around during service, and the demand for more and bigger tidings became unreal.  Then the pastor’s services began to seem awfully similar to events that were happening in the lives of church members and it wasn’t a celebration of God anymore, but a finger-pointing lecture in front of the entire congregation.  Needless to say, my grandmother left this church and set out to find the new place she belonged.  She bounced between churches and found one that she really enjoyed.  I don’t even know what branch it was under, but they were genuinely nice, caring people and while they held their religion high, they did not make you feel like an outsider if you didn’t “belong” to their church.  She attended this church until it got to be too long of a drive for her to make with her other responsibilities, but the church members still kept in touch with her.  She now gets her dose of Jesus via television programs in the early Sunday morning hours and independently studying her Bible.

Basically, my grandmother was the holiest and most religious person I knew and seeing her struggle through this made me really question the whole idea of church.  There is also a big trend in eastern Kentucky of people making a big scene to praise God and Jesus in church on Sunday just to go home and have sex with someone who isn’t their spouse, have some beers, watch an R rated movie, and fill their mouth with foul language – all of which are actually prohibited by the church.  It’s all just a show so other people will look at them and think “look how nice it is that they came to church today.”  Forget about how they are actually living, the only thing that matters is that their body sat in a church pew once a week.  I’m sorry, but I don’t think so.

Then there are the overly religious.  Example: I knew a girl in college who was the overly fanatical religious type, and her mother alike.  They were so religious that they were much better people than those who were not as religious.  They were so religious, they used their religious as a badge giving them the authority to yell “FREAKS!” out their car windows at teenagers wearing black clothing or baggy pants.  They were so religious, they used their religion as their excuse as to why it was okay that they treated other people that way, because obviously those freaks that they didn’t even know didn’t believe in Jesus.  And let’s not even get into the Westboro Baptist Church.  It’s a disgrace.  I absolutely don’t think so, and I’m not sorry on this one.

I got into the religion debate recently and was told that my reasons for disagreeing with religion were “man-made” and not the religion itself.  With the points I’ve presented so far, this would be true.  However, it goes deeper than that.  I see organized religion as man-made in general.  Every church got started by one person saying “here’s what I think this means, and if you agree, then follow me.” *BAM* church is formed.  The Bible is man-made.  A long time ago, men wrote down events and stories, which were then transcribed and translated and eventually turned into what we have today.  But there is still more – here are a few of my questions that I have never gotten answers to:

  • If the Bible tells us to be accepting of others and that only God can judge, then how is the Bible also used to explain people condemning other people for being different?
  • How can the Bible say “an eye for an eye” just to go back a while later and say “oops, just kidding.  Don’t kill or any of that.”
  • How did a man ride inside a whale?
  • How is it okay to pick and choose which aspects you want to believe in?
  • How do we know any of this is accurate?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Why do good things happen to bad people?

So I developed my own answers in the lack of getting any from anywhere else.  This has developed into my belief.

My belief is that the tales in the Bible are stories.  Similar to fables, they are exaggerations of events that are used to teach lessons.  Also, we will never know how the original event happened or what the original writing consisted of.  Each writing is influenced by the perspective of the person that wrote it, and then was influences indefinitely each time it was re-written or translated.

If you buy into one part, then you should buy into all.  That means you can’t say “no gays” while using the Lord’s name in vain, binge drinking, and sleeping around.  That’s just a cop-out.  I also have picked up little tidbits of other religions from around the world, which further my developing belief.

I do not pray.  I understand that some people pray because it puts their mind and soul at ease.  That’s great, I do not judge people who pray.  I admire it, I just don’t feel that I would benefit from it personally.  I do not feel that there is an all-knowing listening ear every time someone says “Dear God…”

I do believe that there is something out there bigger than me, bigger than humans as a whole.  Whether that is God, a Goddess, Mother Earth, karma, or whatever else – I don’t know.  I am comfortable enough in my belief that there is something bigger that I don’t have to question what it is.  However, I feel that humans are often left to our own devices a lot of the time.  This is one reason why I do not pray and what I mean when I say that no one is listening.

The core of every single religion is the idea of just simply being a good person.  I believe that people are given opportunities – by God, by the universe, by whatever – to be a good person or a bad person, but it is ultimately his or her decision.  Based on that decision, what each person chooses to do will come back around to them.  My belief is that organized religion may have started as a mutual appreciation for the Bible and those beliefs, but has now mutated into a show in which most of the characters wear their Christian painted masks until they get behind their personal closed doors.  This is why I will probably never attend church again in my lifetime.  But I will continue to do good things.  I will do good things for myself, for my loved ones, for strangers, for my community, for the world, to the best of my ability and I will keep the faith that my good deeds will come back to me one day.  I will treat others as good people in the hopes that I will, in turn, be treated as good people.  For me, this is the bigger picture.  And for me, this is enough.

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  1. Have you ever seen Jesus Camp? If you have, I went there! I grew up Pentecostal in North Dakota! So naturally SO much of this resonates with me. I’ve taken a very similar journey, to a remarkably similar conclusion as you. I hope that more people from backgrounds similar to ours feel open to question, explore, and leave an often times oppressive belief system.

    Thank you for your post!

    Like

    • I’m not familiar with Jesus Camp…I actually never knew until I got older that being Pentecostal wasn’t just a middle-of-nowhere-on-a-holler kinda of thing 🙂

      I do think it is important to build your own belief system. It’s more concerning to me if a person just accepts things as they are instructed and doesn’t do a little searching of their own.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I love hearing feedback!

      Like

  2. I applaud and respect all your views. Like you I was also born into a Christian Family on my mother side that is. My father has always been agnostic, my mother religious in her own way but always keep an open mind when it comes to religion. So luckily, there was never a talk of religion in the house. The books are there, it’s up to you if you want to read or not. In short, I always have freedom to choose where I want to go or what to believe.

    Personally I am also agnostic in a way that I don’t believe that the bible is holy. I believe it was written to control. I do believe in a supreme being and I still pray every now and then mostly to thank that BEING ( whatever or whoever he may be ) for all the blessings bestowed, but it’s just me. I like to believe that there is something or someone greater than me.

    So now I more on reading HIstory on different religion and currently reading Karen Armstrong’s “History of God.”. It’s a very eye-opening. I think you mind find it interesting too 🙂

    I have a great time reading this article, full of .. how do you say it.. Common Sense, no hypocrisy and I like it very much. 🙂

    Like

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