Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What's God got to do with it?

Note: This post may come across as controversial but is not meant to be so. It is merely the perspective of one person's experiences.

Most know I was raised with a conservative christian background. For the better half of my life, it was all I knew. From a small child, I took adults at their word that God existed, Jesus saved us all, and the bible was the holy word of God. I took these things and made them my truth without any real question or controversy.

In my teenage years when I dealt with a lot of different emotions and yearning, I was told to set that aside and yearn for God instead. I was told homosexuality was a sin, masturbating was wrong, sex was only after marriage, and yet I was also told it was wrong to judge others. Transsexuality was never a focal point in our family discussions but whenever it did come up, the obvious response was that God doesn't make mistakes. I'm sure we all have heard that one. Continuing into adulthood, I tried to follow all of these guidelines placed upon me. Some of them I was able to accomplish while others, I failed miserably at, buried in guilt and shame.

It wasn't until I started to better understand myself as a person that I found myself in a position where I was forced to ask questions about things that I had previously blindly believed. How could I feel like I was a girl and yet God made me a boy? Why was crossdressing (something as simple and harmless as wearing the other gender's clothes) wrong? If God doesn't make mistakes then why are countless babies born with birth defects worldwide?

At first I fought these questions, tooth and nail. Somehow I knew, the narrow-minded bubble of a world I had lived in all my life, was about to be popped. But frankly, it was just too late. There was no closing pandora's box. The new knowledge and emotions about who I really was only became stronger as days and weeks of suppression went by.

And so those original questions led to other questions like: 'If homosexuality is a sin, why was the word not even in the bible until a century ago?' and 'How can a book that was put together thousands of a years ago, translated from multiple languages, and reflecting multiple cultures be expected to be taken literally as a guide for how someone should live their life today?'

For the first time in my life, I did a lot of research, questioning both sides of the arguments and began to come to my own conclusions about what God and religion meant to me. As I transitioned, I clung to a modified version of christianity, claiming Jesus preached a message of love, not hate. My parents of course reacted with violent emotions, tearing me away from their everyday lives. They were much happier to live in a world where I no longer existed than to come to grips with their child making life choices that would bar them from ever getting to Heaven. As time went by, their reaction to my changes would meld with my childhood raising, turning God and religion into a painful place to dwell.

From this, I was not satisfied to keep my own version of Christianity because of one simple question: "If a man is born in another country where he never hears about Jesus (therefore never having the chance to be 'saved') but lives a good life, would he go to hell when he died?". There is no right answer for this question. Some answer it saying "Yes, he would go to hell" and I have to wonder how a just God could allow that; it's not fair. Others answer "No, he wouldn't go to hell" and with that, I ask: How can Jesus be the only way if this man gets to heaven without him?. It's quite the conundrum really.

I suppose it was that question that really broke me out of my Christian roots. Christianity, the bible, how could that be the ONLY way for someone to live their life spiritually when it was merely based on where one grew up; what culture they were born into. So I explored Unitarianism and was delightfully surprised that they openly accepted and celebrated all major religions. That made more sense to me; the idea that truth was what each person experienced in their own lives. After all, how could there be one absolute truth with so many unique perspectives?

Perspective. It's now a word I use in my daily life. For me, it began as a way of explaining my own transsexual feelings: one person's perspective of gender and biology aligning correctly from birth didn't invalidate other perspectives that had much different experiences. And yet it can be applied to many different topics, controversial or not. Unitarian Universalism took the same approach with religion.

As much as I enjoyed the open and affirming feeling of Unitarian churches, I only attended services a few times and soon became too busy. As months went by, I realized I was no longer praying before meals or thanking God for good things that happened in my life either. Doing either of those things made me feel awkward and uneasy. Was someone up there even listening at all? What was the point? It forced me to continue on my spiritual journey, asking even deeper questions about the origins of the universe, the morals of right and wrong, and the age old question of 'Why are we here?'.

Recently, I came across a newly published book called De-Converted by Seth Andrews, author of the website, The Thinking Atheist. I picked it up right away and started reading and found that I could relate to much of his own story of family life growing up. I was once again disgusted at the idea of scaring children into 'accepting Jesus as the only way to heaven' or they would go to hell as I remembered my own childhood fears of God rapturing my parents, leaving me behind. In my opinion, no child should ever be forced to have such dark fears and frankly, they can't begin to understand what they are truly 'accepting' or 'believing' at such a young age. This narrow-minded blind acceptance leads to horrible judgement and inequality in adult life; I've experienced it from both sides.

Anyway, in the book, Seth goes on to talk about how the crisis of 9/11/2001 impacted his already crumbling belief in Christianity and God. He asked questions like 'How could God let something like this happen to all of these innocent people?' and as christians world-wide tried to make sense of it and concluded in their usual way that the catastrophe was merely 'God's will' somehow, he refused to agree. That moment seemed to be a focal point in his life, where he turned away from God.

Personally, I don't know that I'm there quite yet. Growing up, I was taught that God made the angels to worship him; they had no choice. He then made humanity with 'free will' so they could choose to do right or wrong. From the start however, as we all know, Adam and Eve chose to directly disobey God and immediately felt the consequences for doing so. Whether that story is true or not, there is some truth to the idea that positive actions lead to positive results and negative actions lead to negative consequences.

I often take this one step further by saying that one person's negative consequences not only affect themselves but often those around them as well. For example, if a pregnant mother chooses to smoke during pregnancy, this may affect the development of the child and the life they live. Or say a father abuses his son; that child may grow up bearing negative habits brought on by the consequences of his father's choices. These are very small examples but as more negative choices are made, more negative consequences impact more people and who's to say the build up of such could not lead to disasters such as 9/11? Then again, there are still other questions such as 'Why is God so silent through all of this?'.

I asked my boyfriend recently about his perspective when it came to God, prayer, and thankfulness. He was raised catholic but had come to similar conclusions as myself on his own journey. When it came to prayer, he simply said: 'Why not? What could it hurt?'. And on being thankful, while he agreed that one should take pride in their works, he also said it gave one a sense of modesty to thank God or the universe or whoever, for their circumstances.

His wisdom made a lot of sense to me and yet I still have a hard time making both prayer and thankfulness a part of my everyday life again. It feels like there's a roadblock there; the rejection of my parents feeling like a direct rejection from God. Perhaps this is because they were my direct connection to God for most of my life. In a way, my nightmares as a small child were a foreshadowing of what I'm feeling today. Ironically, the two people in my life who wanted nothing more than to bring me into a loving relationship with God, have ended up being the pawns who shut me out.

So here I am in the present. I am far from feeling like I have things figured out but I have definitely come a long way. Some questions just cannot be answered and we often have to let them go, concentrating on living our short lives, before they're snatched away from us. Why are we here? How were we created? What happens when we die? I can't say I'm really sure but I can say that I believe in loving others, following passions, and making the most of the time we're given here on earth. If God does exist, I think he can agree with that.


Halle said...

A wonderfully thought-provoking post.

It seems the gap is between religious people and spiritual people. From what you wrote at the end, you are definitely in the second group as am I, finding it impossible to buy into believing in an all powerful, all seeing God who cannot stand up to a bit of critical thought that allows for your own experience and perspective.

I love the saying 'God Doesn't Make Junk'. If you believe God made you, then just carry on Debra, and God will never consider you a lost cause. You will come 'round right without following some human being's teachings.

Wishing you a wonderful year.

Anaheim Pepper said...

I am so sorry that my life has not been a better testimony to the presence and love of God. Please, forgive me.

Carolyn Ann Grant said...

"Why are we here?" Does there have to be a reason?

"How [are] we created?" An apparently simple question. Unfortunately it's generally unanswerable. We're not "created" per se; it also depends on what you mean by 'created'.

The biggest problem with theological questions is that they presuppose an answer (sometimes you have to figure out how, but it's always there); the question is usually phrased in a way that prompts *one* answer - the one that includes worshiping some deity or other.

Try turning your questions on their head (e.g. "Should anything happen when we pop our clogs?") Instead of "Why are we here?", how about "Why do we believe?" or "What is belief?" Eventually you get to "Why believe?"

Good luck. :-)

Sherri Lynne said...

Debra, thank you for a well thought out article. I am a devout Christian, my ultimate faith has never wavered, though I too wondered how God could have created me as I am and that it was an abomination to be born with the mind and spirit of one gender and the physical body of another gender. My opinion is that the reason is an anomoly of the physical body, not the mind and spirit and there is no sin in having a biological condition that through no action of my own came into existance.

Over the years I, as a young immature Christian took the word of the Bible literally. But as it says in the Bible in effect is, when I was a child, I spoke as a child, that I had a child's heart and thought as a child. I am no longer a child. I am a grown woman.

I have sought my truth in what the Bible says, but also what the Bible does not say and I have sought my truth through attempting to learn "WHY" the Bible says what it says. Too often we as immature young Christians accept the Word blindly without attemting to understand why the Bible says what it says. We don't look at the history of the time when each book of the Bible was written or do we take in account the context of the culture and competing cultures of the day. We also don't take into account that the writers of the Bible were so much more limited in their knowledge of other peoples and their spiritual beliefs or how they came to be.

A way to understanding this position I have laid out is to look at Kholberg's Model of Moral Development and Piaget's model of Cognitive Development. We live in an age where we are able to reason morally and in a finer manner than we and our forefathers and foremothers were able. We have so much more knowledge available at our fingertips.

In most exercises of critical thinking, we do not make conclusions in black and white; absolutes are hard to come by.

What I have concluded is that I was born into a spiritual covenant. It helps me to make sense of the the world and guide my actions towards myself and others. That does not invalidate others' spiritual belief systems. That which I call God has been revealed to many peoples in many ways. The anthropomorphic belief in God was and is a mechanism we have created to understand that which cannot be understood by the human mind. For me, God exists. In what form God exists and God's relationship to me as a human is the eternal mystery and my journey in my walk of faith.

I have concluded that there is no conflict in who I am and who I love with my faith as a Christian. I will not present these theological opinions here in the interest of the brevity of my response.

I do wish to share that I have no judgement towards those who believe, what they believe and those who don't believe. My faith is MY faith. It is a full time preoccupation for me to work on this and that is enough responsibility for one person.

Sarah McCoy said...

In the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus Christ says that the two most important things are to love God above all things, and to love one another as brothers and sisters.

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