I once was a Baptist

January 23, 2012


The Lamentation of Christ, c. 1480. Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna.At a very early age I began questioning the logic of my parent’s faith. The answers weren’t what I expected. For instance, why did Jesus absolutely have to be tortured to death? Why did our sins have to be paid for and couldn’t there at least be a better way to pay? The souls of humans belong to Satan because of Adam and Eve and they had to be purchased with blood and pain and death. Well, is that a rule that God made up himself, and if so can’t he break it? It’s pretty weird and complicated and horrible so why didn’t God make better rules? If he HAD to do it this way, then he’s not all powerful, and if it didn’t have to be this way, and he just couldn’t think of a better way, then he’s not too smart is he? I was about 6 years old and I was pretty sure I could think of all sorts of better ways to make the sin debt thing work without anyone getting tortured.

Every week in Sunday School I would have some more simple questions about the twisted logic of the Christian paradigm. Why wasn’t Eve innocent, since she didn’t know Good from Evil when she reached for the fruit? But she disobeyed God. But God made her without a moral compass. And what if a monkey had eaten the fruit, or a bug? It only works on humans. But but but, these sorts of discussions always ended with “Just have faith that God knows why it HAS to be this way, as weird as it sounds, and that it all must be for the best.” And of course “God works in strange ways.” It’s all so convenient isn’t it? No matter how bizarre religion is, faith is the perfect panacea for not making any sense at all. God is strange but just trust us, I mean just trust us older folks and shut up about it. Faith involves a lot of shutting up. I also found out early that not shutting up led to violence and pain. Abraham feared God. Not only did children get beaten for challenging faith, but the threat of eternal torture was always part of the bigger religious bargain.

I think every child knows instinctively that the punishment should fit the crime. Trying to sort out the moral dualism of Heaven and Hell got incredibly complicated. What about babies? Well, for awhile they are exempt from the rules that send sinners to hell, even though technically they are born sinners, because how could they know? But once they are around seven or eight, even as much as twelve according to some, then they can burn forever and ever. What about aboriginals? God probably cuts them some slack, at least until a Christian missionary gets in touch with them and tells them about a Jewish guy on the other side of the world who died thousands of years ago. Then they are screwed. If the tribe ignores the evangelist’s warning, and refuses to cover their genitals and pray and stuff, then they suffer eternal horrible pain. God never tires of revenge. Hell is so out of proportion to the tiny blip of time that humans are given. How significant could the damage of disbelief be to an omnipotent creator? If God is really damaged by the brief doubts that a twelve year old child has for such an outrageous scenario, then he is far from omnipotent. He is pathetically vulnerable.

What's all this other stuff?I was told I had a bad attitude. Perhaps they should have beaten me somewhat less frequently, or with a bit less ferocity. I know I could have done without the daily instruction that I was an insignificant worm. They could have at least refrained from ridicule when I complained of being sexually molested by a pastor, instead of reminding me that it was I who personally drove the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet. They certainly didn’t need to always use the phrase “I’ll cut the blood out of you” when I stood up for myself. But basically, really, I think my attitude would have been just fine without all the physical beatings. How do we forgive our fathers? Forgiveness and understanding can be such a big part of that healing.

My parents’ framework of reality took such a huge, giant, Mount Everest of faith to accept. I had to have faith that my parents hadn’t bought into the biggest scam in history, but conversely just about everyone else had. I had to have faith that all the people of the other religions were totally wrong. The Jews were wrong, Buddhists were wrong, Catholics were wrong, all the non-religious geniuses like Einstein, all wrong. Then I had to have faith that each and every writer and editor involved in the piece-mealing together of the Bible over the centuries were somehow unerringly right. Faith is not really about having faith in God at all. It’s about having faith that the humans telling you about God know what the hell they’re talking about. Even in the cases where you know for a fact they don’t.

What about prehistoric cave people, Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon? I had to have faith that all the massive amount of unfolding scientific evidence of the history of the Earth was all wrong. Evolution…all wrong. Apparently the Universe is full of counterfeit evidence to test our faith. I tried to reconcile evolution and Genesis but that just got more and more convoluted and idiotic, I felt like one of those plate twirling guys in the circus, with that tense dramatic music blaring (DAH dun dun dun DAH dun dun dun) while the dishes keep crashing around me and the girl keeps throwing me new ones.

Prehistoric cave painting, Bison. c. 15,000-12,000 BCE. Image length 77 in. (195 cm). Located in Altamira, Spain.

It finally occurred to me that no matter which religion was right, almost all of the people alive had to be wrong. Indeed, if my parents were right, then 99% or more of all the people throughout history had to have been wrong. Someone tried to tell me once that all the religions were correct, and I tried that on for size, but soon I started hearing that plate twirling music blaring in my head again.

Then I tried something else on for size. What if ALL religions were wrong, after all 100% isn’t that much more than 99%. That’s when I realized what was right about this possibility. If religion has it wrong, then torturing Jesus was wrong. Hell is wrong. Buying souls with blood, talking snakes, faith healing, beating children, slavery, killing witches, bombing clinics, homophobia, subjugation of women; all wrong wrong wrong. The Beast rising out of the sea with 666 on his head, Armageddon… totally wrong.

If they are all wrong, then suddenly the invisible crazy asshole God of plate twirling Abraham goes away. The barbaric primitive paradigms of the ancients are like the brief wisps of smoke when you blow out a candle, while the fire goes cold. No one is reading and recording and judging my every thought which is nice. And best of all, the stupidities of the rules that God HAS to play by is replaced with simple humanity, and our real place in nature. It’s a completely self consistent paradigm, very unlike “God works in strange and complicated, and really stupid blood thirsty ways so shut up and have faith lest you be burned for all eternity.”

Without faith, suddenly we humans have to depend on each other for a moral framework. Sure the world is still quite mysterious and a bit scary even, but that doesn’t require any faith at all to accept. That’s just what I expected.

Tribal Star Gazers

, , , , , , , , , , ,


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

2 Comments on “I once was a Baptist”

  1. M.E. Anders Says:

    This was a fabulous post, Brad. I clipped it to my Evernote research stash. I wish I would have started asking those questions during my childhood. It would have saved me a lot of confusion in my 20s. What’s done is done, though.

    Thanks for sharing your story!


  2. David James Says:

    Did they really beat you? Were you really sexually abused? Damn, none of those things ever happened to me once as a kid! I was never even belittled, except by vapid praise. Gotta tell you, I felt particularly put upon by my childhood, but I never had to worry about money, I never doubted I was loved, and whatever i wanted to do with my life was fine by my parents; so, compared to you, I had it so easy that my alienation and angst feels inauthentic.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: