So what is the name of this monstrous plant? Religion. It started out innocuous enough. In my heart I’d been searching for something for years and I had a deep sense of knowing that there had to be something more to life, something beyond what could be seen and touched. I’d felt it inside for a long time, I just had no clue what it was. When religion offered itself as the answer I accepted it. I had niggling doubts, some things just didn’t fit and didn’t sit right with me, but I dismissed them because I believed that the incredible spiritual experiences I had, validated the rest of the stuff it came packaged with. So when I got told that the bible was the final authority on everything I accepted that, because as I wrongly believed, to reject that was to reject God. Then I began a journey of cognitive dissonance, a constant conflict between my personal experience of a God who was always kind, gentle and loving, who treated me like I had the most enormous worth, while being embedded in a religion that sought to devalue me at every turn, and was harsh, judgemental, controlling, violating, unkind, even downright cruel. I came out of that experience decades later feeling like I’d been gang-raped on a massive scale, violated to the point that I no longer had a clue how to set boundaries and feeling overwhelmingly worthless. If the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, as asserted in Galatians 5, then you’re unlikely to find that fruit in church.
Losing my religion was a bleak experience, not least by realising that the people who had been in my life for years and who were like family, just moved on like I’d never existed. Even family members who were in the church would no longer let me walk through the front door of their home, saying ‘the front door is for friends and family, go round the back’; making it clear I was no longer considered family or a friend. I got invited to a meal with gushing exuberance, which I accepted gladly, relieved to know I still mattered to them, only for them to drop into the conversation innocently that I might as well come to church with them beforehand as they were having a special event – a sort of ‘bring your backsliding friend or family member to church day’. When I declined to attend, realising that I was a mere trophy to be mounted on their wall and bragged about, the invitation to dinner was suddenly withdrawn. The mask of Mr Magnanimous fell, exposing the vacuous face of religion beneath. The mask slips on many occasions, for example when he offered to counsel one of my children who was facing a deeply distressing crisis. Asking why he thought we needed his involvement, his response was that my child needed to know that they were going to burn in hell for all eternity. Jesus was spot on when he called religious leaders white-washed sepulchres full of decomposing corpses.
In 2012 a 5 year old called April Jones was abducted and murdered by a paedophile. The police stopped looking for her when they found her DNA in his stove. I don’t know if he burned her alive or dead, nor do I know what happened to her in the time between her abduction and death, only that her suffering must have been enormous. Thinking about this awful crime, it struck me that the central message of Christianity is rather like saying to April’s parents that not only would the killer not go to prison, they would have to spend the rest of their lives living with him and telling him how wonderful he was. Telling people that God loves them and at the same time telling them they will be tortured every second of every day for billions upon billions of years without end if they refuse to believe that such a god exists, seems like the ultimate blasphemy to me. Such hate has never been my personal experience of God, though I have seen such judgement and hate played out in the lives of religious people for years.
God is love. If it’s not loving, it’s not God. Christians rush for their bibles at this point to prove in fact that God is hateful and mean and as a way of showing his love he took all his hatefulness and meanness out on Jesus instead, so we can do what the hell we like and still get into heaven. You know in your heart that is just crazy shit right there. Ask yourself, would you want to spend eternity worshiping someone who while having you live with him, was simultaneously imprisoning and torturing your child continuously in a terrifying location?
I guess this is what happens when you take a collection of random writings by men from different places and times, have another bunch of men decide which of the writings conform to their own personal beliefs about God, compile the writings as separate books within a larger book, break down each of the smaller books into chapters and then verses, so that in the future Christians can use the verses like fortune cookies, or to smash into each other like bricks of judgement. If this is really the way God speaks, then how did people hear God before literacy became the norm and people had access to bibles? God speaks to everyone, they way he always has – through that bigger part of you, the part I now refer to in this blog as Big Sue.
Coming next: The worst 10 minutes of my life