When I was a child, I went to a Presbyterian Church for a few years. I wouldn’t have gone at all, except that when I was in the third grade, a Southern Baptist church had opened up, down the street from my elementary school.
I don’t recall the flavour of the church, but in grade 3, I was already an Elvis Presley fan and this was around 1976, before Elvis died. So the church person was offering prizes if you brought friends – the more people, the better the prizes. But, the prizes where not what I was interested in.
I have always been a sensualist – I thrive on novel and diverse experience. And I wanted to experience some part of what Elvis did to better understand him and to have an understanding of his cultural context to better appreciate where he came from culturally to have and understanding of how he changed the culture.
Now, this wasn’t what I understood when I was in third grade, I just wanted, like any fan, to experience something that approximated what my hero experienced.
So the baptist church didn’t disappoint – it was everything I hoped for – the preacher hollered and jumped around, there was colour lights, the preacher pointed and shouted and I was captivated, swept up in the tide of the emotional roller coaster.
When I came home and told my Mom about what I’d learned and showed her the Adam and Eve comic book that I had been given. Well, she hit the roof. She knew I was going to go, but it was the comic book that upset her.
The comic book showed that Adam and Eve turned into black people after they ate from the tree of knowledge.
Now, as a child in the 1970s, in Canada, in British Columbia and in the lower mainland of BC – there were not any black people as far as my experience went. There were Canadians, there were native Indians and there were Asian immigrants. So, to my child innocence, I didn’t understand the significance of what the comic book represented.
My Mom then spend several weeks going to different churches and she settled on the Knox Presbyterian church in New Westminster and if you go down to the Sunday school round room, there’s a table with names carved into it, and mine is there. Was still there over 12 years ago, when I went to a reunion. It felt strange to touch the letters and remember the Saturday we gathered to play with the power tools.
But school, friends and television soon lured me away from Sunday school and since five days of school a week seemed enough for me and what I learned in Sunday school didn’t align with what I learned in regular school, I moved on and described myself as an atheist for many years – until now.
So what I didn’t know about Christianity was how adults interact within that faith. My view of religion, I see now, is actually as sophisticated as a child’s understanding.
A straightforward scientific quantifiable – is it likely? No, dismiss and dis it and then move on.
But, I think I might have cheated myself of something. Nuanced understanding – I could never understand how people could make the leap of faith to faith – because nothing I ever experienced with Christianity had any emotional resonance for me.
But, in reading Letters from a Skeptic – Jenny has opened up a new world of possibility for me – not to become a believer – but to be open to the goodness, the emotional value and language, that Christianity makes possible.
Because Letters from a Skeptic has provided me with a level of insight into the appeal, the beauty, the sense of grace and wonder and be humbled and grateful all at once. I read this passage:
I knew an old lady once who was the most ugly, bitter, mean-spirited person I’ve ever met. As a young lady, however, I am told that she was beautiful, personable, and fun. But at the age of 19, her fiance ran off with her sister three days before the wedding.
She was understandably humiliated and hurt. But what is most tragic is that she proceeded to choose to be hateful and unforgiving toward her sister and ex-fiance the rest of her life.
Though her sister was extremely sorry for what she had done and tried numerous times to make amends later on, over the course of 50 years, this lady would never budge.
With each decision against love and forgiveness, she solidified herself in bitterness. Like all negative emotions which are entertained over a long period of time, her bitterness eventually colored her whole outlook on life. She became her hatred. She became her bitterness.
The momentum of her decisions became irreversible. She no longer chose it, she couldn’t now choose otherwise!
All the good god originally intended her to be was consumed by the repeated course of hate she chose. What started as her decision eventually became her nature.
So it is, I believe, in every arena of our lives. The more we choose something, the harder it is to choose otherwise, until we finally are solidified – eternalized – in our decision. The momentum of our character becomes unstoppable. We create our character with our decisions and our characters in turn exercises more and more influence on the decisions we make. it’s the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill.
what applies to evil also applies to love. There was a time when I had to choose to love Shelly (spouse). There was a chance that we would not chose each other – the courting probation period.
But with each choice we made for love, the less choice for love we had to make. the less the possibility of not loving was present. now, my love is freely chosen, is is part of my nature. the snowball grows
Love must always start free, but it’s goal it to become unfree. to be unable to not love is the highest form of freedom in love.
I wept with the joy of having the sense of love that I feel for my spouse captured in such matter of fact elegance.
And I realized that this is the side of Christianity that’s missing from the public discussion. The meaningful personal part.
Because too often, the discussion over religion is about meaningless debates over methods of observance, trying to make the particular claims seem plausible or not – and all of it, the ritual, the gender roles, the symbols, the power and influence – these are all corruptions.
What I have learned from Letters from a Skeptic is that there is conversation places to honour and include – but, we often focus on the wrong part of the conversation and instead of fighting over differences, let’s take about the commonalities.
I am a married lesbian in Canada, and when I read Dr. Boyd’s description of his love for his wife, it felt to me, that he had captured how I feel about my wife.
We met in 1994 and we’ve lived together and were married in 2004.
We chose to choose each other and we’ve built a life on these series of choices, and we don’t have to think about those choices anymore. They are automatic. We both breathe easier when we’re together than when we’re separate and we are never out of each other’s minds.
Well, me more in hers, I have self absorption issues, but that’s just because I spend so much time living in my head instead of in the world.
So maybe if religious people could see that us gay people are just like them – we love, we breath, we laugh and we cry.
Then maybe, we could end the legal battles to bring about the equality that is supposed to be a matter of citizenship – rather than the endless social battles to make the law reflect the original ideas of the founding of America – which was not in christian values – but in libertarian ones – where the individual is the unit of social consequences, with the freedom to take liberties with whatever makes you happy – insomuch as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s freedoms.
We are each entitled to our beliefs, but we are not entitled to behave in the public shared world as if our beliefs were true and everyone else is wrong or stupid.
Our beliefs belong in our thoughts and express through our interactions with other people. If we can’t act with love and kindness and curiosity and compassion – then our beliefs are inadequate and haven’t prepared us to live, work and play well together.
The actions of groups of religious believers to prevent any other group of people from being equal members of society, is not loving or good – it’s wicked, bigoted and this behavior simply does not belong in a secular democratic society.
And no nation can claim to be a secular democratic society that tolerates inequality between citizens – the role of the government is to uphold the laws of the land and that promise includes equal treatment under and equal access to the law.
It means that women are not lesser than men, ethnicity aren’t lesser than Caucasians (as if even that was homogenous, because the Irish and Ukrainians and American Southerners would have something to say on that front), and it means that beliefs are a private matter and the public square is for everyone to share equally – not one group dominates and everyone else get with the mainstream program.
The strength of humanity is that we are adaptable.
Many animals species have complex societies, but only humans developed a society of such complexity that we ended up needing language and eventually, built up a body of knowledge that we had to learn to write – and once we had written records, we didn’t have to remember everything, we only had to learn where to look up information – and that information explosion changed everything.
Because it changed the way we could understand the world – no longer limited to understanding through experience, we could quantify and see the reality of things, instead of accepting that our faulty impressions reflected reality; when we tend to reflect more the reality that we’d like to be.
The first reality check that I have learned from the book exchange, is that as humans, we have a lot in common. And we need to focus on those commonalities and less on our differences, if we are going to find a way to coexist.
Because, I think a lot of the unwillingness to coexist, is this sense people have of competing with other groups – we have 7 billion people, we don’t have to race to outbreed or outkill each other – we can choose to coexist today.