Disability: Proselytizing To Sick People

[Content Note: Surgery, Religion, Nazis, Swearing]

Ana's Note: If you are related to me, do not read this post. I'm serious.

Two days before my surgery, a member of my family wrote me asking if I was "right with God".

Surgery is a funny thing. My husband and I had spent the day before receiving this email at the hospital, meeting the doctors, finalizing the surgical approach plan, receiving last minute instructions, and being generally cleared for a procedure so invasive that my husband anxiously called it "rebooting the human body". And in the days between that one and my surgery, I fell into a truly uncharacteristic lull.

I didn't write new blog posts, though I usually write one or more a day. I didn't read and review books. I didn't watch movies and analyze them for problematic issues. I didn't do much of anything except play Kairosoft games, watch "Dirty Jobs" on the Discovery Channel, and visit Half Price Books with Husband so I could stare at the rows of titles without actually reading them. I wasn't scared or frightened so much as I was just... passing the time. I felt like I was mentally on hold.

And it was in Half Price Books that this email came to me, written by a family member that I truly love and deeply respect, and my mind briefly surfaced from its cottony cocoon of shock long enough to screech with rage for a few sustained moments before settling back down to sleep again. (It sounded kind of like a really angry scavenger bird or possibly one of those guys from Dark Crystal, for the record.)

Husband didn't understand my rage. "They just care about you," he consoled me. "It's sweet."

It wasn't sweet. 

Now I want to say this: I know in my heart that my beloved family member meant well. I know that they are genuinely concerned about me, and I believe they felt that they had to write this email in order to be at peace.

I also honestly believe that this email was written under a sort of spiritual duress. I receive 3+ emails from this family member a day (so I am intimately familiar with the way they write) and this email sounded completely different from their usual style, as though they were writing for the benefit of a third party. Even before I got to the "right with God" bit, I scrolled up to the top twice just to double-check that the email hadn't been CC'd to someone or sent by someone else. It just sounded totally wrong, like it was written by someone else, for someone else, and very possibly for a group of people instead of just a single one. It didn't sound like an email from hir to me.

So this isn't a post about how my family sucks, because I love my family in general and this person in particular more than most. And it's not a post about what an awful person they are, because I don't think they are an awful person and I don't think they would have written this email if they'd realized how deeply it would hurt me. But it is a post about why this particular thing is a really, really shitty thing to do to someone about to go into a surgery. Just for the record.

Because when you write someone prior to a surgery asking them if they're "right with God", you're communicating an awful lot to that person, including:

1. It has occurred to me that you're the sort of person who might go to hell. You don't mean it this way, I know. At best, you are trying to convey the concept that the particular brand of god you worship is such a malicious douchenozzle that zie would send Shirley Temple to hell if zie could find a loophole to do so. So you're not singling me out as an obvious Sinner McSinnerface so much as you're trying to remind me that if I don't say the magic words prior to keeling over dead, god will mischievously zip me right off to hell with no take-backsies because that's just what zie does.

But let's be honest here. You don't send "are you right with God by any chance?" emails to the family members who attend church weekly. You don't send those emails to them because it's largely redundant and faintly insulting. They already know they need to be "right with God" because their pastor tells them that on a fairly regular basis, so your reminding them of the same would seem to indicate that you don't think much of their listening skills. So with that data point we're back to the beginning, which is to say that because you sent me this email, you think that I kind of look like the kind of person who gets sent to hell. With, you know, Hitler and folks like that.

And that's exactly the sort of thing that is nice to hear from friends and family prior to invasive surgery: I look like Hitler. 

2. It has occurred to me that you might die soon. You noticed that too, did you? Because I've been intimately aware of that for every day, week, month, and year since I was told I needed this surgery. I've spent several tearful weekends clutching on to Husband and reminding myself that my doctor hasn't lost a person to surgery yet and promising that I won't be the first one. We've drafted and signed wills, medical powers of attorney, and directives to physicians about what they may and may not do in order to keep us alive. Husband has clear and detailed instructions about what to do with my blog, my writings, my possessions, and my pets in the event of my death.

So believe me, I've been thinking about my impending possible death a lot. Nice to see that you have too.

But here's the thing: I don't like thinking about my impending possible death. Now that I've gotten the responsible adult stuff out of the way with wills and whatnot, I want to focus on spending a few final happy days with my family and friends. I want to eat at the restaurants I love, cuddle the cats that I adore, and play board games with Husband one-possibly-last time. And here you are telling me that I have to set all that aside and deal with something that you feel is important.

And I recognize that you think this is just one more responsible adult thing I need to do, but you need to recognize that isn't your call to make. It's not even your place to make the suggestion. Because my death, and how I die, is none of your business. It's as much your place to tell me which god I should be "right with" prior to my death as it is to tell me who should get my limited edition Dragonball Z figurines, which is to say it's not your place at all. And reminding me that I may die soon when I'm desperately trying to forget that and enjoy the last few days of health and life possibly remaining to me is a really jackwagony thing to do. 

3. It has occurred to me that I know more than you do. Obviously, or you wouldn't be telling me which god I'm supposed to be "right with" prior to my surgery. Because implicit in that question -- Are you right with God? -- is a lot of assumptions about my beliefs, and about what they should be. Implicit in that question is a lot of assumptions about the nature of the universe, and our place in it. And implicit in that question is a huge baggage of You Know Better Than Me and how I need to gather up the pearls of wisdom that you are tossing in my direction.

Again, I recognize that you don't mean it this way. You're just sharing what you believe to be the good news about god and stuff. (Where "good news" is that if I fail to say the correct sequence of words, I'll be tortured for all eternity. Great!) It's just a belief, you're not making some kind of fact-based claim of absolute truth for god's sake and why is everyone so freaking sensitive about this? But the thing is that you are demonstrably causing harm (by causing me serious emotional distress in a time where stress is something that I cannot sustain more of) and potentially causing possible spiritual harm (because, honestly, what if you're wrong and you're converting me from the Right religion to the Wrong one?) in order to proselytize to me about something that you kind of think might be right?

That seems pretty irresponsible, doesn't it? To inflict known pain and possible spiritual damnation by witnessing to a sick person who may already have the right answer and you may be the mistaken one? I certainly think so. Incidentally, this is why I belong to a religion that doesn't proselytize and which holds the individual experience and choice as utterly sacred and not to be questioned or impinged upon. Which is kind of convenient for you, since it means that when you next go in for surgery, I won't be writing you lengthy emails asking if you've gotten yourself right with Cthulhu or whatever.

4. It has occurred to me that I don't value your feelings. This is really the worst one. I can dig that you look at me and see the sort of person who goes to hell because, hey, at least I'll apparently be in good company what with everyone else like me getting sent down there. And as I mentioned earlier, I realize that I may be dying soon, so while it's crass of you to shove that in my face again when I'm already struggling to cope with that idea, it's not like it's news. And, really, I can even deal with you believing you know more than I do, even down to the nitty-gritty of how to conduct my spiritual life because it's not like it's personal. You do that for everyone, I reckon.

But your email has also told me, loud and clear, that you don't value my feelings. And that hurts.

I'm sure you feel like it's a worthwhile sacrifice: my feelings for my eternal soul. And who am I to tell you where your convictions should lie? But I'll tell you something. I do care about your feelings. I cared about your feelings enough to write you back a non-committal reassuring email. (Everything is fine. You don't need to worry. I love you.) I cared enough about your feelings to turn to Husband, post-rage squawk, and tell him that "if I do die, tell hir that I was the appropriate brand of Christian. It'll make hir happy." I cared enough about your feelings to reassure you the next day that I loved you, that I wasn't mad at you, that everything was okay, that it was all good between us even though you sensed that I was feeling a little chill what with SURGERY and DEATH and ETERNAL DAMNATION and FAMILY CONFLICT on my mind thanks to your email. 

I recognize that you're in a bind. You've been raised to believe in a god that doesn't give two shits about people's feelings. The god you were raised to believe in really would send me to hell and not give it a moment's thought to how much pain zie was causing you. I know about this god because I know you and I know the person who taught this god to you. And I know that no matter how many people disagree with hir version of god, I know it's the version you're stuck with. I love you anyway, and I don't blame you for any of this.

But you need to be aware of this, of how much your question hurts. If you really feel you must ask the question, you need to be aware of how thoroughly hurtful and abusive the question really is. Because you are saying (though I know you don't want to be saying) that I need to drop all my feelings about surgery and death and loss and pain and fear and everything else, and I need to put all that aside to come console you about your feelings about surgery and death and loss and pain and fear. Because ultimately that's what this is about: you're scared of losing me, so you're clinging to the one thing that will make you feel better. If Ana says the magic words, I'll see her again in heaven!

I get that. I do. But you're making my pain all about you, and you're doing it at the worst possible time and in the worst possible way. Because "I'm scared of losing you" is something I can proactively discuss with you: "I know, I'm scared too, we have to believe it will be okay." But "I'm scared you'll go to hell" is something that I can't deal with in any form whatsoever, and yet if I care about you, I feel that I have to. You're placing me in a position where I have to lie to you in order to comfort you.

And that's not cool.

I'm not writing this to you; I specifically told you way up at the top not to read this post and I know that you'll respect that. I love you so much that I don't want you to read this because I know it will cause you pain and I don't want that. But maybe someone else will read this and will come away with a lot of good reasons to not do this to someone they love.

Because, seriously, don't do this to someone you love.

Commenting Note: This is a Religion 202 post, which means that the comments will remain a safe space for atheists and members of non-proselytizing religions, including the blog-mistress. Comments that contain statements purporting to explain my family member's perspective for my benefit will be deleted right out; I know more about my family member and hir views of god than anyone else here and I don't need to repeatedly explain that. I can and will put this thread on moderated lock-down if I need to, so please post thoughtfully, respectfully, and with utmost care. Thank you.


melancthe said...

Oh that's horrible and I'm sorry it happened to you. All the hugs. That's just incredibly rude.

Gelliebean (disqus is broke) said...

This was one of my breaking points with Church (the regulation, the culture, the entity as a whole).

Much of what I encountered through my times at different churches was a mindset that only makes sense if you take a few things as givens. If you assume that the world is in danger of ending at any moment (after all, "no one knows the day or the hour") and even more, that anyone could die at any moment ("What if you were hit by a bus tomorrow?") then there is a sense of massive urgency involved. I encountered a lot of people who saw themselves as modern-day John the Baptists, lone voices crying in the wilderness "Repent and be Saved!"

When the message we heard every Sunday morning was that we were following the one, true way; that the rightness of it was self-evident and written in every man's heart to be quickened with the moving of the Spirit; to hear the parable of the sower and the seed repeated over and over, you start to believe that anyone who doesn't believe the same thing has either never heard the message before, or has deliberately placed themselves in direct rebellion and opposition to God. Either way, of course they would need to be badgered and lectured on what was right until they gave in. :-( After all, it's all of eternity in torment and hellfire at stake, and what's a little earthly discomfort compared to that?

I had to get away from the whole man-made structure and organization of Church before I could start to see the cracks in the foundation.

Yamikuronue said...

I swear, there must be something in the water lately. This is the third case (counting mine) of major emotion-laden rifts in families based on well-meaning incidents and words that were trivial to one party but devastating to the other that I've heard of in the past week. Hope you're feeling better by now.

JonathanPelikan said...

Ana, I'm so sorry that happened to you. That's terrible, flat out.

I suppose it was something somewhat related to this that finally provided the straw that broke what passed for my religious faith; after a while of getting nothing real from church aside from occasionally some kind of pretty music, I started thinking about how, as a younger kid, I was always a bit worried for mom. My mother is a saint, and i know everybody says that, but seriously, she's the most moral person I personally know. Everything she ever fraked up in her life was due to accident or miscommunication; she never had ill intent at any point, as far as I can tell. So it's not like she never hurt people, myself included, but she is still rather a human. And, since she didn't say the Magic Words, she was going to burn. Forever.

So I started thinking about what kind of god would send my mother to hell but give Pat Robertson the free ride to the other place. Either it doesn't work like that, or if it does, such a god deserves not worship or obedience, but open rebellion. It's not about Love over Power like Fred Clark says at this point; like in LB, it's just Power under Greater Power. It's Lovecraft. So either way, fuck 'im. (It's always Him in these sorts of things, what a weird phenomenon)

RedSonja said...

AFAIK nobody mentioned this to my dad during his stay(s) in the hospital last year. Which is a good thing, because if they had I would have gone full on skeksi on them. And I think what gets me the most is your point about the proselytizer's feeling superseding the sick person's. I can guarantee you, whatever worries I had about my dad's illness I kept between myself and my husband, because he had enough on his plate without having to worry about my feelings about what he was going through. I am so sorry you had to deal with this. *hugs* if you want them.

Ice said...

Oh, Ana! All the {internet hugs} ever!

TRIGGER WARNING: religion, fear of damnation

This really explains, in a much more lucid and eloquent manner than I ever could, just how selfish the act of proselytizing can be. I have had a family member tell me that zie wants me to accept Pascal's Wager and "just believe in God, just in case" because zie didn't want me to burn in hell. And zie didn't understand why that was an incredibly hurtful thing to say.

My belief or lack thereof has no bearing on my goodness or badness as a person, and I prefer to be judged by my works, rather than by my faith. However, if anyone is going to make a judgment about me based on my non-belief, rather than my goodness or badness, then I prefer zie keep that judgment to zirself. I just don't want to hear about it.

As a random side note, I have to say, Kitler is the CUTEST THING EVAR!

Hyperio said...

I am sorry to hear of what happened to you - sick people need rest, not a religious debate with hell threats (implied or otherwise). I hope you will feel better soon.

Ana Mardoll said...

There's a whole site for them, bless their fuzzy hearts:


SherryH said...

Wow wow wow. What a thing to do to you, and at the worst possible time. I'm sure it was prompted by the best possible intentions, but that doesn't make it right, or sting any less. I hope it was not, as you somewhat suspected, done at some other party's urging. That just adds another layer of ick.

I'm sorry that happened to you.

Aidan Bird said...

Holy, I just can't ever understand why someone would do that. Especially right before a surgery, that's just... so selfish of them. You articulated so well how problematic and hurtful it is. I'm sorry you had to experience that; thank you for sharing this with us.

This post reminds me of this incident...

Trigger warning: Hell, religion

it happened nearly eleven years ago when I was still in high school. I was waiting in line for lunch, and the girl in front of me just burst into tears out of nowhere. I was concerned so I lightly touched her shoulder and asked if she was alright and if there was anything I could do. She replied that she wasn't alright, so I asked what was wrong and if she wanted to talk about it.

She turned to me and said, "All the people in this room, they're going to hell and I just can't bear it!"

I stood there flabbergasted. Did she seriously just say that? My reply: "Wait, what? Are you god? Because that's the only way you could ever know that."

She then sputtered something about the Bible and Jesus, upon which I cut her off and said, "Jesus said Don't judge, so why are you judging all these people? You don't know what they believe. Nor what is going on in their hearts and lives. Saying that just hurts people."

She just stared at me after that. We didn't really speak again that day, but she at least stopped crying. I guess I just don't have any tolerance for that. Crying because she thought everyone was going to hell? Holy. Sad part is that I've encountered way too many people that do that. Your post here really ties into why I think that reaction is really, really hurtful and highly problematic.

I also really don't like it when people try to shove their religion on others. :/ And I never did care much for Pascal's Wager either for it's too simplistic and ignores the fact that more than one religion exists. Once you add in all the other religions to the wager, well, it's no longer fifty/fifty.

WingedBeast said...

I know you don't want to hurt this beloved family member's feelings. But, I would have the urge to respond back with an email asking "Are you right with Satan?" and then follow it up with all the talk of God being a "deuchnozzel".

Still, good for you for being able to think of his feelings when he was theologicially incapable of considering yours. I have no prayers to offer, but I can cross my fingers for you.

Loquat said...

I was once acquainted with a feral cat colony that included a hitler-kitty. The humans looking after them had named him Adolf, and also named another cat Napoleon. Apparently they liked the theme of "would-be conquerors of Europe who were defeated by the Russian winter".

Thomas Keyton said...

Wow. I'm really sorry that you had to experience this. Unsolicited proselytising is inappropriate at the best of times, but in these cirucmstances... all I can say is that you responded better than I would have.

Dragoness Eclectic said...


I agree with you that it's a rude and presumptuous thing to send to someone. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but in the tradition I was raised in, we're directed to comfort the sick, not lecture them in an attempt to convert them.

So, er, *more hugs*.

Smilodon said...

Yea. Hugs. It sounds like you dealt with it in a really loving way, and I'm glad that you were able to do that, though I wouldn't have judged you if you hadn't been able to.

Like most not-Christians, I have stories of people I cared about trying to save my immortal soul. I'm pretty good at dealing with it by now, but it was rough when I was a kid. The worst was when I was young, and in the car with my best friend's mom on a fairly long car trip, and she told me that I was going to hell, the world was ending soon, and I should read Revalations. I didn't start crying until I got home. My dad was raised in one of the less mellow versions of Christianity, so he dealt with the situation by handing me the Bible, opening it to Revalations, and telling me to read it. Which I did.

After a while of reading, I asked if it was supposed to make sense. My dad said no, it didn't make sense. I pointed out that I couldn't find any references to the end of the world, or hell. My dad agreed, and said that I didn't have much to worry about. I calmed down quite a bit then.

Mary Kaye said...

Many years ago I got an email (as a response to a Usenet post about roleplaying) from a roleplaying gamer who was a fundamentalist Christian and wanted to talk about Christianity and Paganism. I said, sure, I'll talk about that as long as you give me your word not to try to convert me. He gave his word.

About nine months later, after a *lot* of emailed conversation, he sent me an email in which he said he had to break his promise, and proceeded to use everything he'd learned about me in the past nine months to craft a maximally painful conversion-bullying sermon. (Luckily he did not understand me all that well, so it wasn't quite as painful as it could have been.)

That was the end of that relationship, permanently. I still don't understand why he thought breaking his given word was going to impress me with his rightness. It was about as ineffective as a conversion attempt can be, because it started out, in effect, with "I am a liar and oathbreaker and I don't respect your feelings or honor your decisions. Given that, here's what I think you should do--"

Silver Adept said...

Argh! Just about any time something like that comes up, I want to point them at the relevant section of Matthew about those who pray on the streets and those who pray in private. It always seems like those requests should be given the retort of "so, have you not read your own holy book, or what?" Which is incredibly rude of me

Less angrily, I think Fred Clark once posted about his encounter with a woman who felt it was her duty to ask everyone whether they had been saved or not, to the point where she was phenomenally nervous about asking the question.

And finally, most personally, we're sorry for all the hurt that this email caused and all the spoons extended to not snap back and cause a similar hurt.

Ana Mardoll said...

I remember that post. But I think it was a short story or an article, not Fred himself? Someone wanted to cross the woman's land, and she asked if they knew Jesus, and zie said yes.

The woman looked kind of skeptical, but mostly relieved that she'd done her duty. And, yes, that "I'm being forced to ask this" vibe was ALL OVER this email. Poor dear.

Ana Mardoll said...

Er, to clarify, Fred definitely posted on it, but I thought he was quoting someone else. I would love to remember who. Assuming I'm right, and I may not be.

Smilodon said...

That's what I remembered as well, though my internet skills are low today, and I couldn't find the post.

Asha said...

I've been an ESL tutor, and I invited my adult Japanese student over for Christmas one year. My aunt, who tends to be More Christian Than Thou (also accused me of witchcraft for dabbling in D&D) decided to sit down and ask him if he knew about the true meaning of Christmas. My student, bless his heart, acted dumb. I knew he was acting dumb because he tended to act down how much English he actually spoke. I was quite proud of him.

On the other hand, I once had a very desperate evangelist/missionary try to pin me on my way to my apartment when I was in college. I promptly told him I was about to wet myself and ran away. It worked?

graylor said...

It's been a while since I read the New Testament, but I seem to remember something about not trying to convert people with words but with actions. Possibly in reference to being married to an unbeliever you should just be the best gosh darned person you can be and after a while your unbelieving spouse will ask why you're just so gosh darned awesome and then you can tell them. Of course since atheists and members of other faiths can also be awesome, that approach might not be as fruitful as first imagined, hence the kick 'em while they're down method.

I'm very quiet about being a minority religion (agnosti-pagan, that's a thing, right?), aside from the 'witch' books and tarot decks scattered around the house. None of my close relatives have given me any grief, though admittedly I'm only open about it with my Wiccan sister and her raised-Baptist-but-eh husband. There was one cousin though who 'felt compelled by the Lord' who came down to pray over the whole family several years ago, but I don't think she got much satisfaction. None of us donned the dowdy denim and yielded our souls to her great pastor.

EdinburghEye said...

Many many many years ago, I was in London with a close friend who had two small children, and we were all going to LGBT Pride.

So I was wearing the kind of t-shirt and lots of badges that very publicly indicated I'm a lesbian.

And then small children needed to go to the toilet, so I was standing outside in the sun guarding our bags while mum and kids did their business.

I was approached by a nice lady who gave me a flyer and asked if I wanted to know more about God.

I thanked her politely and said no thank you and stuck the flyer into my pocket, I think, fully intending to giggle about it with friend, but not planning to do so until out of the way.

She looked at me a bit cautiously, taking in all the badges and the t-shirt message.

"Can I just ask you ONE question... if you were standing at the gates of Heaven, and Jesus asked you why He should let you in, what would you say?"

"Well, I don't actually believe in any of that, I'm an atheist, but you mean suppose it was all really true...?"

(and she nods)

"Then I would tell Jesus that it says in Matthew somewhere [it's chapter 25, I've looked it up since] that to get into Heaven you should give food to the hungry and clothes to the naked, and since in modern terms I've always tried to do that, he should follow his own rules and let me in."

(and she looks at me speechlessly)

"I see my friends," I said, seeing friend and kids at last finished with the toilet. "Excuse me, I've got to go."

And I go. Leaving her speechless.

I think proselytising anything to sick people stinks because of all the reasons you mentioned and because it's damned unsporting. Proselytise to people who are able to fight back, dammit, Christians.

★☆ keri ☆★ said...

Ana, I think you left off another important thing that this email says. Or I might be missing it by reading what you've written differently than intended? I understand that people derive some goodness from knowing that others care enough to pray, but it just feels to me like the praying-and-not-doing is awfully selfish and lazy. I think a lot of your post makes a similar point about the selfishness, without actually saying it, but "Are you right with God?" is slightly different, though not entirely in all cases.

Anyway, when I was at the Hospice with my dearest Nanny the December before last, a lot of very well meaning people came by and talked about how much they were praying for her. And then they left. Same thing when my mom had some major surgery (multiple times in the last few years) - though some brought food for us the first day or two after she got out of the hospital.

It always frustrated me not just because I'm an atheist because it bothered me when I was a believing Catholic that these people would take time to talk about how they're praying and then pray and not actually do anything. Yes, it's nice that you're concerned, but how about something that actually matters? Let's socialise about television or places we've traveled to, or gossip about family members. Or instead of sitting here on your knees praying by her bed, why not spend those ten minutes helping us tidy up and make the room feel fresh and welcoming? or something!

And, yeah, my mom might like to have someone pray with her, but she needs someone who can run a vacuum or change the sheets. A tidy and clean house does so much more for the spirits when recuperating from surgery or illness than sitting around for an hour talking about how you're a sinner and need redemption and so on.

(I surprised myself writing this - I'm still really very upset over all the religion nonsense when Nanny was in Hospice, when all I wanted was to sit by her side and talk about our memories with her. I hadn't realized that I hadn't totally moved beyond that. I kind of feel that precious time was stolen from me?)

Makabit said...

I insist on referring to the kitlers as Chaplin cats. It is not their fault they have teeny mustaches.

Ana Mardoll said...

I don't understand what you think I "left off", sorry.

I do think I wrote a post note saying I know what my relative meant by the question. Are you asking me to clarify what zie meant?

Makabit said...

I'm thinking Annie Lamott was the woman who was asked about if she knew Jesus.

★☆ keri ☆★ said...

No, I understood. I tried to say that I think you omitted the selfish element of the question. It's kind of pervasive through your post, but wasn't explicit, so I wasn't sure if I was reading into it or not?

And then I tried to explain why I see that question and the statements of "praying for you/your soul" as selfish, because of my experience with such people and illness/surgery.

Need to know said...

I'm so sorry you had to deal with that. It's completely inappropriate.

Ana Mardoll said...


English language sucks. I thought you meant I'd left out an actual section of the email, as in real words.

I can definitely see proselytization as being selfish. I tried to touch on that with the end, with their feelings and scares and concerns being prioritized over the sick persons.

Having said they, I don't think this particular relative was being selfish in a "notches on my belt" kind of way, but those people do exist out there, and I understand your anger at being denied space with your loved one to make room for the needs of strangers.

Anonymous, still unbaptised said...

I'm sorry you had to deal with that, Ana. That was insensitive of them. I can imagine where they were coming from, and I'm sorry too for the spiritual hurts that prompted them to ask that. But above all, I'm sorry that you had to deal with that kind of tactlessness in an already stressful time.

I've got some spiritual wounds that I won't get into right now, but when people prosteletyse to me, or since my religion doesn't really do that, if close family members ask about my religious practices (just in a "how's the community" way or in a "did you go to $celebration? we went to it in our community and i really liked the [prayers/music/discussion]" sort of way), I feel nagged, even if it's not what they're doing, and triggered, and it's like they're poking their fingers in wounds to check if they're healed yet and it just makes it worse and it pushes me farther away from the thing they're hoping I'll draw nearer to.

This one time, I had a cold and really wasn't feeling like dealing with anybody and a person on the street wanted to ask me if I believed in Jesus and wanted to come to some meeting and I whined that I had a cold and she said "but you can read, can't you?" and handed me a pamphlet. Which is nothing compared to your situation, but I bring it up only to say that even a mild illness can make a person irritable and not in a receptive mood to a religion I likely already have heard of (and chosen a different path).

tw: suicide

When I was a lot younger, I was suicidal and confided this to a close friend. Her reaction was a horrified "but you haven't been baptised!"

Ana Mardoll said...

Oh my gosh. I'm having a blue screen of death moment at that "objection". O.o


Silver Adept said...

Us, too. That is a complete segfault. (My scholarly brain would chip in with the objection about suicide being considered a sin that sends you shut up shut up, scholarly brain, not appropriate.)

I can't fathom that response. Error, error.

Anonymous said...

*hugs back* well, she was only 17... (isn't Brin around that age? Brin's got more sense than that friend of mine did)

I think it's kind of funny now -- it's been years and years, and some of these things get funny with time. I think at the time I was more confused than hurt by it (I didn't believe in hell, after all). But it wasn't a helpful response.

@Silver Adept. I don't know what brand of Christian she was. Maybe a baptism would've got me to a slightly less hot circle of hell? Maybe it would have got me purgatory? Maybe it was a faith not works Christianity where the baptism would've been a counterspell?

tw abuse

There was another teenager who told my teenage self that "maybe I hadn't prayed the right way/used the right and proper words/something along those lines" when I complained about God's failure to read between the lines (the context was praying to be a better child so my parents wouldn't have to abuse me so much). My contention at the time was that God should have listened to the spirit of what I wanted, or provided me with the end result. A small child shouldn't /have/ to word it perfectly.

Some peoples' Gods, you have to dot all your i's and cross all your t's and submit all queries in signed in triplicate.

Fluffy_goddess said...

Sadly, the last time a missionary pinned me down (waiting for the light to turn so I could cross a busy street, as I recall) I tried the line, "well, I'm currently living with a pagan who was baptised catholic and raised jewish, two different sects of christianity, an atheist, and a guy who is investigating buddhism, so we really have enough religious pluralism in the house and there isn't room for any more ugly statuary on the mantle; would you like to hear any of their good words?" Unfortunately, she said yes. I should have faked some sort of bathroom-related emergency, I guess.

*hugs and sympathy to Ana for the whole disheartening situation*

Mr Son said...

Reading this, what popped into my mind was that when I went into surgery (for carpal tunnel, then again for trigger finger) I got paperwork that included a section for religious consultation. With options (I only recall Christian and Jewish, but I think there was at least one other).

I also recall visiting my grandmother in the hospital while she was in for a week or so recently. I went to get a soda, and walked past a little room set aside as a mini-chapel, with a pretty little faux-stained-glass picture, and a bible on one of the tables, and cushioned chairs...

Really, there are options in the hospital for a priest to come in. One whose job it is to comfort the ill, injured, and/or dying, and assist last-minute confessions and conversions.

So there's ALSO the assumption that if you WERE worried about the state of your 'relationship with God', that you wouldn't have checked that little box that says you'd like to talk with a priest. Or rang a nurse and asked them to see a priest. That a sick, injured, or dying Christian/Christian-leaning person would never have considered such a thing without receiving an email about it.

Of course, as you basically said yourself in point 1, if they saw you as Christian/Christian-leaning, you probably never would have gotten that email.

(Apologies if I left any incorrect assumptions in this post or used any inadvertently-hurtful language. I edited out/wrote around the possible ones I saw. If I made any, please point them out and I'll try to remember for any future posts I might make here.)

jill heather said...

That's very obnoxious, Ana. I'm sorry you had to deal with that.

In a sort of vaguely related but amusing story:

My grandfather spent the last year of his life in hospital, due to a power play argument between the hospital and my grandmother. (He was a real asshole, too. My mother and aunt -- his daughters-in-law -- did some birthday celebration for him while he was there, and he gave a speech that went like this: "Thank you, [daughters-in-law], for this birthday party. Next time, you should invite these people instead. Next time, you should serve this food instead. Next time, you should decorate this way instead." And on and on -- ten minutes of how they did it wrong. When my cousin's baseball [hockey? can't remember] team came in second in the province, my grandfather told him "Maybe next year you won't lose." Charmer.)

My cousins -- who were at the time around 20 and 17 -- visited him fairly regularly (I stopped after I went with my sister and he made a whole bunch of racist remarks in front of his Black nurse because my sister has dark skin for a white person). One time when they went, he looked at the younger cousin and said "Do you know who you remind me of?"

She figured it would be her mother, or his mother, or a cousin he had before he had to escape Germany, something like that, and asked "No, who?"

"Hitler! You remind me of Hitler!"

(She is quite over this story now. But the Hitler kitten tends to make me think of it.)

Lily said...

Content note: Fear of hell and death, physical disabilities and church

I'm delurking, finally! I'm so sorry that happened to you, Ana. My extended family is Baptist and they've tried to "convert" me several times. I have cerebral palsy, so I always had doubts and issues regarding church; it's grown into an absolute terror of hell, death and believing the wrong thing. I'm nearly 23, the guy I love is an athiest and I've just always had a difficult time spirtually. I was the only physically disabled kid in my youth group. What I'm trying to say is that I totally understand where you're coming from. I'm so sorry that happened to you.


Ana Mardoll said...

LOL. Ugly statuary. Don't know why that brings laugh-tears to the eyes, but it tickles me so much.

Ana Mardoll said...

In this case they were concerned I'd cark it on the operating table right after check-in at the hospital and that a pastor wouldn't get to me in time, but that's an overall great point that I'd not thought of. Nice add! (We need Blog Assist nods more often. So +1 to the house of your choice ;).)

Mr Son said...

Normally I'm Slytherin-favored, but in this case, I think any points should go to Hufflepuff, because what's needed here is the power of friendship!

Ana Mardoll said...

Lily, all the hugs. I went through a horrible fear of hell for a long time after I left the church and finally I decided that (a) I'd rather be with my atheist loved ones there than without them in Heaven and (b) therefore the place simply couldn't logically exist. It took me a LONG time to get to that place though, so I feel your pain. All the {{hugs}] if you want them. My step-daughter has cerebral palsy, and I just... gah. Anyone badgering *her* about the state of her soul would send me into Anger Mode, so I'm just especially wanting to give you hugs right now. Hugs hugs hugs.

kbeth said...

I believe the story Fred quoted was Annie Dillard's Teaching A Stone to Talk. Here's the first post I could find that quoted it (in the second half):


Silver Adept said...

[Lucy van Pelt]THAT'S IT![/Lucy van Pelt]

kbeth, your skills are awesome. And the post, where pity and other sympathetic and empathetic responses are best manifest in deeds and not just sentiments, as well as the bit about people creating burdens for others they would not touch themselves, seems quite relevant to the post and thread. Thanks.

Lily said...

Content note: fear of hell, abuse, genocide and possibly ableism, anxiety/depression

Thank you, Ana. *hugs* At what point will I get to that hell-can't-exist thing? I have a view of God as being like an abusive parent and I don't have abusive parents. I can't square God being genocidal with Jesus in the New Testament; it doesn't add up at all. I've been told I'm disabled because of sin and not God. It's just a huge source of stress for me all the time since I have severe anxiety and depression. I'm just spiritually confused because church doesn't square with Jesus to me, but if I don't Believe The Right Things I'll go to hell. It's just very confusing. I also was exposed to Left Behind for kids at a young age and that just made it worse, as well as the relatives crying and "worrying about the state of your soul."

Sorry, I don't talk about this much.


Ana Mardoll said...

Oh, sweetheart. So many hugs.

It took me about two years to get there, to the "wow, Hell is a logical impossibility, I can't believe I never realized that before", after I'd finally had my "well, then, I'll go to hell" moment after realizing that a number of people I loved would be there. I seem to recall several books by non-Christians being helpful, including -- oddly enough -- "Rapture Ready" (if the author is going to hell for not being Christian, I want to be there with him to buy him a beer).

I also recommend Robert Price -- he's a very kind Christian a la Fred Clark (are you reading him? he's on the blog roll. I find Kind Christians helpful because if even THEY don't even believe in Hell, then why should we believe the Nasty Christians?) who believes that the idea of Jesus is to help some people be better people, not as a tool to whack everyone about the head with Hell. I've read his "Incredible Shrinking Son of Man" and "The Reason Driven Life" (as opposed to that "Purpose Driven Life" stuff written by Rick Warren).

That whole "you are disabled for sin" is bullshit that gets trucked out whenever disabled people reasonably point out that they've prayed and their disability hasn't been taken away, or that a loving god wouldn't subject them to such intense pain.* It's shifting the burden of blame to you -- just as handily as in Fat Hatred where "you're fat because you ate donuts all week" is 'true' even if you DIDN'T, it's just true because it can't NOT be true -- to avoid having to deal with the complex questions of the fact that your Theology / Diet Theory HAS HOLES IN IT.

* I don't know if it helps at all, but being disabled-for-life, I've decided that I chose this form on purpose so that it could teach me something and that the NEXT life I'll take a break and have a nice, non-disabled body and pursue dancing. That's been so much easier than feeling like I only have one chance and most of my choices were stripped from me at the very beginning.

I don't know if it helps at all, but when I left the church, I also said something like this:

"Jesus, if you're there, I believe that you love me and care about me at least as much as I love my cats. I know that you would know that I'm following this different path because it *feels right* to me, not because I want to be a bad person. I believe that you can understand that and wouldn't send me to hell over a misunderstanding any more than I would send my precious cats there. If you really need me to stay in THIS religion, you have an open invitation to come down to my bedroom and chat with me and help me understand why; if you don't, I'm going to assume that you understand and approve of my choice."

Or something like that. But, ultimately, dear, if God exists the way the Nasty Christians make him out to exist -- omniscient yet loving -- then he KNOWS you're just trying to live your life for the best, to be happy and to minimize any unhappiness of others that you can. If he THEN sends you to Hell despite that, simply because you didn't say THE MAGIC WORDS and he never bothered to come down and tell you the magic words personally in a way you can genuinely believe in, then we're ALL fucked from the get-go because that means God is a colossal jackass and NO ONE can be sure they did or said the right thing in advance and we're all placed randomly at the roll of a dice. That's why Hell makes no sense.

So many hugs.

Anonymous said...

*offers hugs to Lily if wanted*

content warning: discussion of sin

You were born with CP. I'm not up to date on what causes it exactly but I know that it's present at birth, and can start before birth. When a child is living in the womb, the child has no opportunity to sin. Even without getting into the details of knowing the difference between right and wrong (which also applies, since many people who believe in the concept of sin also believe that a person needs to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong for it to count), there was nothing to covet when you lived in the womb, there were no lies you could have told and no one you could have told them to, there were no poor people there with you that you did not feed and clothe. There are no sins you could have possibly committed to cause you to be born with CP. You were born blameless and innocent. You were given the body you were given through not fault of your own, nor the faults of any surrounding you. I know you probably know these things already -- it's easy to know something in your head, harder to know it in your heart, but sometimes reinforcement helps. There are things I'm working on learning in my heart too.

content warning: discussion of hell

I don't know if this will help or not, but it might help to know that hell isn't mentioned much in the Bible. Jesus never talks about hell. There is very little scriptural basis for the concept of hell -- a lot of what we think of hell comes from the poet Dante.

Brin Bellway said...

Well, of course their diet theory has holes if it revolves around donuts.

(Okay, not what you meant, but the juxtaposition struck me.)

Lily said...

Content note hell, fear of death, death of a friend's parent, religion

I guess I should clarify--people say I'm disabled 'cause there's the whole original sin thing, which admittedly makes no sense to me. My dislike/terror of God and my anxiety when my close friend lost his dad and that triggered all this crap. My friend's been going through a lot of crap anyway and that just makes things worse. What scares me are near-death experiences; apparently people have gone to hell sometimes and it's enough to scare me into a faith that doesn't work for me.

There is very little scriptural basis for the concept of hell -- a lot of what we think of hell comes from the poet Dante.

So how did it become a big, scary thing if it's not in the Bible? I had a caregiver once who said I needed Jesus because I was an angry and frustrated young lady. Her words, not mine. I remember I started yelling.


Lily said...

Content note: hell, death, fear of God

I do read that blog! :D The Left Behind sporkings are a HUGE relief to me since I grew up thinking I'd be left after the Rapture. I found a book about how people in my age group (18-25) are leaving church in droves. The whole hell thing was enough to drive me away once I got old enough to think about it.

But, ultimately, dear, if God exists the way the Nasty Christians make him out to exist -- omniscient yet loving -- then he KNOWS you're just trying to live your life for the best, to be happy and to minimize any unhappiness of others that you can.

I get this, but why have so many relatives sat me down to ask God into my life? Makes me feel like my doubts are wrong and it brings up my death terror, which is paralyzing. The guy I like lost his dad a few years ago and he was already going through crap, sp it felt very unfair. It also kicked my death terror/anxiety into overdrive. What bothered me when I was faithful was that God never spoke to me and, being raised in an evangelical enviornment, I couldn't and can't have the relationship with God my relatives expect. I don't have a speech impediment so of course I'm apt to throw tough questions at people. One of my fundamentalist Christian caregivers said I needed Jesus because I was "an angry and frustrated young lady," which made me feel worse even if I thought she was full of crap. (She spoke in tongues and stuff and this...thing where people get healed when you lay hands on them, I think? I don't know what that is.)

It's hard grappling with this stuff when even my mom believes hell is real. God just seems mean in the Bible, so I don't read it.


Silver Adept said...

@Anonymous, still unbaptized -

Perhaps. Even so, I still think there's some serious Frowned Upon about that particular idea, for other theological reasons. Not the appropriate thread, perhaps not even the appropriate blog, for an in-depth discussion of such things, though, in my opinion.

@Lily - Great Maker, that's horrible. My first and instinctive reaction is to go find my NSRV copy of the Bible, ask you just what these people are using as their justifications, and them go merrily yet savagely through all of them pointing out how very, very WRONG they are. That's not very productive, though, and it wouldn't really do anything to change the situation.

Dante's poetic conception of Inferno is very vivid and leaves an impression upon the mind. (I recommend it in Italian with a facing and scholarly translation. You get the rhythm of the original with the understanding of a translation.) If you take a look through the writings, preferably with a version that points out where there's a Hebrew or Greek word that has been translated and loses some of the implications of the original (or that explains what Sheol and Gehenna are, along with the fact that satan is a job description that eventually becomes Capitalized), you find out that a lot of the conception that the modern Christian, evangelical or not, Catholic with original sin or not, has is either unsupported or has contradiction inside the text itself.

TW for Superdickery-like enumeration of the acts of the Christian God

I do not hold with the Nasty Christians that the being represented by the Tetragrammaton is a nice deity - in his own words, he is not. He is jealous, favors genocide, grants the requests of his prophets to have bears eat children that make fun of those prophets, and he has no particular objections to ruining a faithful man's life on a dare, among other things.

(end TW)

Anyway, before I ramble too much more, here's my encouragement to you - wherever you end up, with or without faith, you will get there though testing, inquiry, and finding what you believe. That, if nothing else, is a true and time-honored practice of every religion. (The apologetics are not writing for the faithful, after all.) You get not just all the hugs, but the gold stars as well.

(Says the person that is still wandering, looking for a practice that contains all the right elements and figures to worship with that practice.)

Jenna Moran said...

> and that a pastor wouldn't get to me in time,

If only there were some higher power capable of arranging for pastors to be where they're needed!

Aidan Bird said...

I went through this as well for other reasons. And I offer hugs to you both for those situations! It is terribly painful to go through this.

Trigger warning: Trauma related to sexual assault, people not believing sexual assault, and PTSD

Due to family and some friends not believing me, I was convinced for years that I would never go to heaven because of what happened to me. That because I was marred and no longer a virgin, that because I didn't do enough to stop what happened, that I'd never go to heaven. I grew up in a Catholic family, and although I knew the Catholic Church's teaching outright said that no one knew who was in heaven or hell - only God - and that none of us could ever say anyone was in hell with any certainty - no, that teaching was all in my scholarly part of my brain. It wasn't in my emotional part, because I had too many family members and friends who treated me as if I needed to be cleansed, to repent of the "bad dreams," to 'get over it' and seek reconciliation with God. What did "reconciliation with God" mean other than I was now drenched in the acids and filth of sin because of what happened to me?

It took me a very, very long time to deal step away from that fear of never making it into heaven. To deal with the fact that there's nothing wrong with me. I am not drenched in sin because of what happened, and I am not at fault for what happened. And when I reached that realization, I became furious at God for a very long time, for I had been taught from a young age that God was always there to protect me. But God hadn't.

This, coupled with three other crucial reasons, led me to walk away from the Catholic Church. I'm a bit of a drifter now when it comes to spirituality. Except now, the family's concern for my soul has increased sevenfold, and all I can do is just never speak of it, avoid all conversations, and if they send me any messages about "getting right with God before the end" ever again - which they do whenever I get sick - I have to delete them, walk away, and remind myself that my health is more important than their selfish behaviors. It just sucks that it keeps happening and that I can never get them to understand, even when I try to be as gentle and as loving as possible in my words and tone.

Jenna Moran said...

So I think when we talk about things, we talk about measurable conditions. A book is here, or not here. It is heavy, or light.

A lot of the time people talk about God as a thing, but they don't know how to measure God or God's qualities. They don't mean that the room gets physically brighter or darker, that anything gets heavier or lighter.

They're not talking about a thing in the way that books or tables are things.

The stories people tell of God aren't stories about how things are in the physical world.

And ultimately I think that means that whenever people talk about God in thing-like ways---including presence or absence---that it's coded talk about how to behave. They're not looking for a change in measurable, observable, objective elements of somebody's life: they're looking at a change in the structure of how someone behaves.

Ultimately, there are two reasons to want to change how someone behaves: to help/teach them, or to control/manipulate them. People tend towards a mix of both, with all the bad stereotypes about religious people coming out of recognizing controlling elements and all the good stereotypes coming out of recognizing helping/teaching elements. Since life is pretty contextual, I think sometimes it's even the very same spiel in both cases: one day, person A asks God into person B's life in a genuine and possibly even practical effort to help person B live more successfully, and another day, person C asks God into person D's life in a conscious, vile act of manipulative one-upsmanship.

Lily said...

Content note: genocide

I became furious at God for a very long time, for I had been taught from a young age that God was always there to protect me. But God hadn't.

I'm so sorry, Aidan. I can offer hugs and tea if you want them. That was essentially my problem with church when I hit twelve--I didn't get why Jesus could heal other people, but not me. I do go to Bible study, but I guess I pose questions that make my group leader uncomfortable. The genocide in the Old Testament that always bothered me, but I like Jesus a lot & in my Methodist evangelical church you have to believe in both. My mother guilt-trips me when I bring up things people from church or my family did that bugged me and tries to make me see where they're coming from, which scares me more, if that makes sense.


Lily said...

Content note: genocide

Thank you, Silver Adept. *hugs* I only have a Message Bible, so I don't know if Sheol is explained there. My really frustrating caregiver also said it's about a relationship with God and not religion, but how can I have a relationship with a diety that advocates genocide and has a turn-or-burn mentality?


Silver Adept said...

@Lily - It's not likely that your Bible talks about its roots, even back to, say, whatever English translation it bases its own work on, much less what the ancient Hebrew of Tanakh and the ancient Greek and Aramaic of the New Testament/Christian Foundational Writings said and how those have been translated to attempt to capture the spirit of those words. (You usually get a little of that when the sermon about agape comes around, but that's often the only time it happens.) Since I took a course on the Bible as a work of literature and history, I got a very nice and very well annotated one, and it proves immensely helpful when it comes to questions like "what was the original phrase there?"

As for the other question about personal relationships, I think you're supposed to have a personal and loving relationship with Jesus, the Intercessor, and through the mystery of the fully human, fully divine nature of Jesus, by extension, you have a personal and loving relationship with the genocidal God as well. So long as you keep his commandments, anyway. I think most Christians prefer that to the large amount of sacrifice required for keeping favor and forgiving sins and transgressions required in Tanakh.

Its not usually fair to spring this on Bible group leaders, but pastors are fair game - they should know this stuff. And it can be a useful defensive weapon against pushy and frustrating relatives that want to put their own comfort above your seeking the truth that works for you.

Lily said...

As for the other question about personal relationships, I think you're supposed to have a personal and loving relationship with Jesus, the Intercessor, and through the mystery of the fully human, fully divine nature of Jesus, by extension, you have a personal and loving relationship with the genocidal God as well.

That doesn't make sense. :( I'm just being honest. Also, I think the Message was translated by a pastor and he doesn't talk about what an English word meant in Hebrew or something.


Aidan Bird said...

Thank you for your kind words and the offer of hugs and tea. Tea and hugs always seem to cheer me up.

What you said about your mother guilt-tripping you does make sense, especially the fear. I've had that problem as well, for my own mother does the same thing - especially if the topic is about religion. Though she is often very harsh and the guilt trips will last for days. It was bad enough the denial, and all the other stuff they put me through, but the guilt trips is what took me so long to realize that I wasn't the problem - that there was nothing wrong with me. This is why I don't live at home anymore, because whenever I do, I fall right back into that unhealthy mode of thinking, and that falling backwards in healing is just so intensely painful. I'd like to think that after these past few years on my own I am strong enough to handle them again, but at the same time, that was nearly ten years of agony, and I often just don't want to risk it. So my visits with family have become very, very short, focused, and all religion topics are avoided at all costs.

Content Note: Genocide

The genocide in the Old Testament always alarmed me as well. I... just can't believe God would mass murder people. Jesus may provid a means for a loving, caring God, but you can't really separate him from the God of the old testament. I don't really know how to tackle this, for my route ended with me rejected a lot of Christianity and keeping only two things: 1. Love does no harm; it doesn't judge. 2. Love fulfills all spiritual laws, thus insuring a peaceful afterlife if such a thing exists. Both are paraphrased from some verses in the New Testament.

Nenya said...

All the hugs for Lily, and Ana, and Aidan, and everyone else. <3 I just want to say that y'all in the comments here are showing far more love than people who email friends asking about the state of their souls.

Content note--ablism in the church, disability

Lily--I get what you mean about people trying to pray for you for healing. I'm mostly deaf, and repeatedly through my childhood/teens random people (usually visiting preachers, never my actual family and not usually people who actually lived with me and *knew* me) would offer to pray for my hearing to be restored. It took me a long time to realize that it was probably more about them being uncomfortable with my disability than anything. *They* couldn't handle that I was deaf, so they wanted me to be magically healed. Whereas to the people who lived with me day in and day out, my deafness wasn't a big deal, it was just something about me like my having red hair.

I was really pissed off after every time someone would pull the "let's pray for you to be healed" thing, because God never did answer the prayers and give me my hearing back. Hell, I'd LOVE to be able to hear! But it never happened. So I deal with the life I have, the body I have, and the hearing aid I got through a social program that's done far more to mitigate the effects of my disability than any of the preachers prayin' and believin' and laying on of hands. I like what Ana says about how maybe in the next life (or in heaven? if that exists) we'll have bodies that do what we want better that what we have now. That helps me a bit, too, to think of it that way. I don't know if it works for you. :)

Anyway, I don't think you're Doing It Wrong. I'm sorry you're sad and worried right now. I think what you're doing, thinking through things and noticing inconsistencies and saying to yourself, "NO, this doesn't work for me, this doesn't seem right," or "I'm not sure about this, it might be true and right but I don't know," or "This makes me feel weird/good/worried/happy/unsure"--everyone honest goes through that. I think you're doing exactly the right thing. And Ana's blog isn't a half bad place to come talk about it. Again, all the hugs. <3

Lily said...

Why couldn't they just say, "I'm uncomfortable with you being deaf/physically disabled"? At least that's honesty and not something like, "You're disabled because sin is in the world." I don't know; I just don't like being patronized. I thought Jesus set an example to be open with the disabled.


Nenya said...

I guess they don't even realize that that's what's going on. Or they're so used to seeing the world in terms of things like "sin" and "faith" that they apply those ideas even when it doesn't fit? I don't know.

And, yeah, I mean--in the stories, Jesus healed people. He also told us to take care of each other, including the sick. So if you don't have magic healing powers yourself (and most of us don't, despite what some people think), I feel like the thing to do is to do things that *will* help. Try to make sure people have access to useful medical care. Treat them like human beings whether they're sick or healthy, able-bodied or not. Jesus had a lot to say about those who lay burdens on other people (all kinds of religious rules) and don't lift a finger to actually help.

Silver Adept said...

@Lily re: personal relationships with deities - I recognize it doesn't make sense. Most of the time, I think practitioners compartmentalize the various aspects of the deity: when they want to be nice or we paying for pleasant things, they tend to pray to the nice Jesus aspect. When they're feeling vengeful or they want bad and destructive things to happen, they pray to the God of Tanakh. In any case, that "personal relationship" with both the nice and awful aspects of the deity is a mystery, in both senses of the word.

@Nenya re: disability and prayer - If a pastor/priest/preacher has a sufficiently Left Behind view of the world, they often characterize life as the battle (often literally) between sin and faith. Oddly enough, virtue is sometimes not brought into the equation, excepting perhaps as ways of demonstrating one's faith to the unbelievers. There is at least one teaching that talks about people who pray on street corners and who exalt themselves, and a lot of those religious officials demonstrate the point made in those teachings repeatedly.

Lily said...

Content note: religion, abusive view of God

@Silver Adept: Lately, my "relationship with God" has been "Please don't kill me." I've had this terror of God/heaven/hell since I was a very small child and it's just extremely hard to break away from church, even if it doesn't work for me. I can't hear God at all. I read His Dark Materials (great trilogy) this year and that made it a little easier, but the terror keeps coming back. :/


storiteller said...

The genocide in the Old Testament always alarmed me as well. I... just can't believe God would mass murder people. Jesus may provid a means for a loving, caring God, but you can't really separate him from the God of the old testament.

I have to say, even as a Christian, I deeply struggle with a lot of the portrayals of God in the Old Testament. I believe some of it is the cultural artifacts of a particular group of people in a particular place at a particular time and should be understood in that context. Unfortunately, I haven't taken the time to truly do this, but I think the most insight on the subject is probably in Jewish writings. Christian writing views everything through Jesus, often glossing over some of the uglier issues, as you point out. Jewish theology has to deal with a God that does those things head-on because it is so much of their holy writing. As you no longer seem interested in being Christian, it's probably of not much interest to you any longer, but I do think Jewish scholars have much more insightful thoughts on those issues than Christian ones in general.

storiteller said...

Why couldn't they just say, "I'm uncomfortable with you being deaf/physically disabled"?

In addition to an overly simplified theology, I suspect a lot of these people think that if they are uncomfortable, it's something wrong with the thing that is making them uncomfortable, not something wrong with them (like prejudice). I suspect that it's where a lot of the "that's icky" aspect of how they interact with non-straight people comes from that they then also dress up in bad theology. Sadly, the people who made others deeply uncomfortable (Samaritans, tax collectors, women who didn't follow social rules) are the ones that Jesus embraced the most.

Lily said...

Sadly, the people who made others deeply uncomfortable (Samaritans, tax collectors, women who didn't follow social rules) are the ones that Jesus embraced the most.

This is why I'm wary of joining a church--it doesn't seem to be about embracing outsiders, at least not the church I used to go to.

Dan Audy said...

If you desire a church and people to worship with that won't tell you how or why to worship the Uniterian Universalists are a not bad place to start. Beyond that I've known people who have had good luck email the pastor/priest/minister of churches in their area and asking "Tell me a bit about your church and who is welcome there" which gives you a list of possibilities to try out and make sure the reality matches up with the promise, but more importantly allows the ones who are incompatible with you to remove themselves from the running with their own words.

Lily said...

I've been in CBT before and it hasn't exactly worked. :/

Ice said...

Oh wow, I just got around to looking at this link! Kitlers are maybe my new favorite thing!! They are wonderful!

Smilodon said...

I can't speak too much to the New Testament, but there's no Hell in the Old Testament (aka Torah). The only Hell I learned about in the Jewish tradition is that you spend the afterlife in the absence of God, and there it's not so much a Hell-as-punishment as "Being with God is awesome for believers, but obviously non-believers wouldn't want that, so after they die they don't get it." Whether I believe or not, I find that idea pretty ok.

I come from a Jewish tradition, and I was never expected to read the Torah and agree with everything God did. In my synagogue, one of the things that Abraham was most praised for was for arguing with God. God came to him and said "I'm going to destroy Sodom and Gmorrah now" and Abraham said "That's not OK," and started bargining with God to try to save the city. I was taught that questioning God's decisions, and not simply accepting everything in the Torah as moral, was the "right" way to read it.

I'm not trying to tell you what to believe - I'm not even telling you what beliefs I hold now. I just want you to know that there's a religious tradition that reads the same book that you're reading, but doesn't condemn you for the things you're thinking about it.

Aidan Bird said...

In Dan Simmons Hyperion Cantos (four books in total), there is a Jewish scholar who spends a good portion of his spare time in the books examining the paradox of Abraham taking his son Isaac to be sacrificed at God's command. He relates to this idea because of the situation he is in with his daughter, where the only hope to heal her from her bizarre time-related disease is to take her to the source - the place where she "caught" the disease.

Content: Spoiler for those that want to read the books.

By the end of the first book, the Jewish scholar realizes that Abraham didn't offer up his son in blind faith. He offered up his son as a test to God, to test if God truly was merciful and worth worshiping. If God called off the sacrifice, then God would have passed the test. It was the only way, as a father, the Jewish scholar could reconcile himself with that story. So instead of interpreting it as God testing Abraham, he saw it as Abraham using it to test God in turn. Which I found to be wonderfully insightful. (The books itself are amazing works of science fiction and really dig deep into some fascinating philosophical, religious, and scientific quandaries.)

I do wonder if that interpretation exists outside of that particular science fiction series? I very much like the idea of testing whether or not God is worthy of worship. It also makes me wonder if perhaps some of the incidents in the Old Testament is people using God to try to validate their terrible, awful choices.

Aidan Bird said...

Lily, I am also wary of joining a church for the same reasons. *offers hugs* It's so sad the things you've gone through because of this. Sometimes religion can be used for great harm, and it's a frustrating and sad thing, especially when the people involved think they're 'doing the right thing' but really are just unwilling to truly listen and love.

I always did admire Jesus in the New Testament because of his ability to really and truly listen and love all sorts of diverse people. If I remember rightly - I think he rebukes someone who claims a blind man is blind due to sin. I find it incredibly sad that people who claim to hold Jesus as their savior and the one they worship, seem unable to apply his lessons or else don't seem to truly understand his message.

Content note: Patriarchy, Cognitive Dissonance

This may seem slightly off topic, and I suppose it will reveal me as the big geek I am, but this conversation make me wonder if there is some major dissonance going on in how some of these Christian denominations read about Jesus. For an example (that isn't religious in nature but is a very obvious example of intense cognitive dissonance): in Dragon Age: Origins, you encounter a male character, who after you rescue him from a town that wishes to hang him for a crime, that joins your group. He's of the Qunari, a race who have such an intensely patriarchal society with an intense socialization regimen, to the point that he literally cannot comprehend the new country he's in, where the society is more egalitarian. In this one exchange:

Sten: Why are you here?
Morrigan: Excuse me?
Sten: Obviously you are no priestess. But shouldn’t you be… running a shop, or a farm somewhere, rather then fighting?
Morrigan: You think to tell me my place, Qunari? You are very brave.
Sten: It is not done.
Morrigan: But it is done. Do not be such a blind fool.
Sten: I speak the truth. It is not I who is blind.
Morrigan: Look around you, then. You see women throughout this land, fighters and mages both.
Sten: That has yet to be proven.
Morrigan: Which? That they fight? Or that they are female?
Sten: Either.
Morrigan: So I am not truly a woman to you? Hmm. ‘Tis good to know. [Dialogue accuracy thanks to Dragon Age Wiki: http://dragonage.wikia.com/wiki/Morrigan/Dialogue#Morrigan_and_Sten ]

Here we see how he literally cannot comprehend female fighters, for they do not exist in his society. His background story - once you gain his trust enough to coax it out of him - reveals that this is perhaps the first time he ever left his highly insular society. This particular exchange shows in vivid detail how blind he is to the fact that his way does not exist in this new more egalitarian country, and so through a trick of cognitive dissonance, he consciously (or perhaps unconsciously? hard to tell) chooses to not "see" female warriors for who they are. Instead, he maintains that it's all yet to be proven.

It makes me wonder if the same sort of cognitive dissonance in my video game example is happening to people in certain Christian denominations, where they approach the text about Jesus and due to their socialization within a somewhat insular (patriarchal) social group blinds them to what is actually written on the page before them. It makes me wonder if they are like Sten, the Qunari, just unable to see what is really there in the texts about Jesus. I'd like to think this is something that can be overcome in time if and when people realize they are doing it?

(As a side note, Sten does eventually make headway in overcoming some of his socialization and starts to accept female warriors, which is definitely a relief to see. Also note I used a video game example mostly to avoid implicating or accusing any one denomination of this type of behavior. Trying to stay neutral on the issue of denominations. So this example seemed like a good way to provide an obvious example of severe cognitive dissonance without pointing a finger at any one group that I encountered in my travels.)

Lily said...

I love Dragon Age! Very interesting; I never picked up that character in my party. (I'm stuck in the mountains trying to help the dwarves. Alistair's my favorite.) It sounds weirdly applicapable, if that makes sense. What really upset me--and I don't mean to complain--was when one of the youth leaders implied that good works don't matter if you haven't accepted Jesus.

Weirdly, The Prince of Egypt makes me feel better; I saw it as a kid and I felt like I understood the culture the Bible came from. (Also, I like to think my crush on Ralph Fiennes started there, but anyway...)


Smilodon said...

I've not heard that interpretation. That said, I'm not an expert, and Jewish tradition has a wealth of stories and commentary that cover every event in the Torah.

And I'd go even further than saying that the Old Testament was "people using God to validate their choices." I was taught that some of what people did in the Torah was wrong, and it's recorded in the Torah because the first few books of the Torah are a story about the people that formed the bloodline of the Jewish people. It's not about saints. Isaac isn't told by God to steal his brother's birthright, he's told by his mother. His son, Jacob, is tricked by his uncle into marrying the wrong girl, and neither Jacob nor his uncle bring God into the matter - it's a domestic problem, not a religious one. It matters a great deal because these people had a particular faith and bloodline, but teasing out morality from the stories requires a deeper look than "Abraham did it, therefore that action was blessed by God". The interpreation from story you read sounds like the sort of thoughts that came up at my religious discussion groups, trying to understand why someone would act in a way that seems so wrong to us now.

Of course, Judism has as many different varieties as Christianity does, and your milage may vary talking to other people raised as Jews.

Silver Adept said...

@Aidan Bird and @Smilodon and @Lily and everyone in the thread,

This is a fascinating discussion, thank you for it.

When it comes to the individual beliefs of individual denominations, the TvTropes rule of "YMMV" most definitely applies, and as Smilodon points out, there is a rich exegetical tradition with rabbis (imams/pastors and/or laity) interpreting and promulgating their views of what the books read, and attracting followers based on those interpretations. There are as many interpretations of the writings as there are people reading them. Including the people who deliberately choose not to see what's there, or choose to obey some Levitical prohibitions and not others.

It can be scary, however, leaving the church you've grown up in and that family is in, because there's the chance that leaving them will get you cut of from that support network. And the possibility of leaving the True Faith for one of the Satan's snares.

Perhaps, though, one can be heartened that if there are people entrapped in that snare, they have not been smote for being so. I have yet to be lightning-struck or have any sort of disease or calamity visited upon me upon entering the church of my family, despite not having been a practicing member of that religion for years.

Charles Matthew Smit said...

With the exception of a sort of three or four year hiatus in my teenaged years, I've been Christian all my life, and not a year has gone by without at least one person deciding from the way I look or the way I talk that I need proselytizing. Some of them do this because they assume I'm not a Christian -- because I (well, until two weeks ago) have very long hair; because I vocally support gay rights; because I read fantasy books -- I've had all sorts of absurd and bizarre excuses made as to why OBVIOUSLY I must not be Christian.

But -- and weirdly, this is MORE true in my experience of Evangelical Christians -- often Christians target me for proselytizing because I am one of them. There's a prevailing attitude of fear, discomfort, and judgement that leads them (the ones who proselytize me! Not all people in such a denomination, I do not want to generalize in that way) to avoid people who are not like them. They fear dealing with non-Christians in any way would corrupt them, and that anyway such people are morally bankrupt and beyond saving. But I'm a Christian! There must be something right with me! Clearly not my looks, or my lifestyle, or my opinions, however, all of which must be "lovingly" corrected to make me 'the right KIND' of Christian.

As a Christian who in fact believes in the Great Commission, this bugs the Hell out of me.

As for my own efforts at proselytizing, well, you're never going to hear me say you should convert. I'm a Universalist (though not a Unitarian). I think God loves us all and saves us all (or saves us all if we want saving). And I also see that nothing is more likely to make a person more resolved in their beliefs than arguing with them, so even if I DID think anyone needed to mend their ways, talking to them would be a waste of everyone's time. St. Francis of Assisi is (possibly apocryphally) quoted as saying "Preach the Gospel always. Use words when necessary." This seems wise to me. There's also the song "You will know they are Christians by their love." Well, if I'm doing my job well (and I may or may not be), then that's how you'd know me. As I see it, if the great message of the Gospel is that there is a caring, forgiving God who loves and accepts us all, who for whatever reason cannot or will not interfere in our world, but is waiting to accept us and heal us of the damage this world has done us after we die, then the best thing that I can do to spread that message is simple. Act like it's true. be kind, helping, and nonjudgmental. Listen. Be charitable. Let everyone I meet know and feel that they have value, EXACTLY the way they are.

It's hard to love everyone you meet and treat them well, and I fail at it a lot. But that's my mission. I have no need to change people of good heart and good will. What anybody believes is none of my business and anyway they're just as likely to be right about their beliefs as I am about mine.

Usually, the only time I give this speech is when someone tries to proselytize me, and I attempt to convince them that, actually, their way is shortsighted and inefficient.

Lily said...

Content note: discussion of hell again

As I see it, if the great message of the Gospel is that there is a caring, forgiving God who loves and accepts us all, who for whatever reason cannot or will not interfere in our world, but is waiting to accept us and heal us of the damage this world has done us after we die, then the best thing that I can do to spread that message is simple. Act like it's true. be kind, helping, and nonjudgmental. Listen. Be charitable. Let everyone I meet know and feel that they have value, EXACTLY the way they are.

I want to believe this and I try to do what you're describing, but the minute my mother says, "Christians who don't believe in hell don't want to deal with the consequences of hell. They want to believe everyone will be okay," I get terrified again. I recognize this is unhealthy, it's just hard to break this kind of thought process. That and my grandparents sat me down to pray for me three years ago and I felt like there was something wrong with me. Near-death experiences that discuss hell scare me, too. :(


Nenya said...

Yeah, people who one respects, or who are authority figures in one's life, who sound awfully sure about themselves about these kinds of things...yeah, it's difficult to shrug that off. Even if they're wrong or you hope they're wrong, it can be hard. My mother used to say something that might be a little helpful here: just because the other person seems more sure of themselves, or can talk more convincingly, or is louder, doesn't mean they are right. Even if you can't articulate why you disagree, that doesn't mean what they are saying is true. You're allowed to have reservations.

And sure, I want to believe everyone will be okay! I'm not ashamed of that. I believe that infinite torture is unjust, and unworthy of the God Christians claim to worship. Not just because it is unmerciful, but because it is unjust.

There is also a Christian tradition going back to the first century AD that when Jesus died, he went to hell himself, and broke the prisoners free. "Descended to Hell after his burial, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of Hell, and took from the devil all his power," is apparently how the Lutherans put it. And I say, why not, if Jesus is supposed to be the saviour? Why should his reach stop at the gates of hell?

depizan said...

I like that tradition!

I've always been puzzled by the insistence on hell by some Christians, actually. If Jesus died for our sins, doesn't that kind of wipe out the concept of hell? It seems (to me) that it cheapens his sacrifice if it didn't actually work for everybody.

Charles Matthew Smit said...

It seems (to me) that it cheapens his sacrifice if it didn't actually work for everybody.

I agree, as it happens, but there is also a theological point there which I will undoubtedly explain wrong. As I understand it, it *did* work for everyone -- grace is offered to everyone. But they must accept that grace.

Now, what it means to accept that Grace is trickier. Prevailing interpretations say that one must be a Christian -- that becoming a Christian is the way by which one signals acceptance.

Personally, I do not hold with that. That's unjust -- it means that people who never heard the Gospel are punished. It means that the staunch and faithful who followed other paths are punished, despite their virtue and their steadfastness. And I believe in a just God.

To some people, believing in a just God means that if God did it, it is just. We may just not understand the myyyyysteryyyyy of how it magically transmutes itself into justice. You know, I'll buy that we do not understand the ways of the divine, but.... To me, it means that if someone says God did it, and it is visibly unjust, then I disagree that it was an act of God. If I ever saw something that could not be denied as an act of God, and that visibly served injustice not justice... well, I'd start doing some comparison shopping to look for a better deity. But I have never seen ANYTHING that I was sure was an act of God, and most of those I suspected were divine intervention were subtle, internal things, so I'm not too worried on that point.

Lily, I have some further thoughts on Hell, and what Scripture and theology have to say on the issue, but I don't want to trigger you and make things tougher for you when I'd like to do the opposite, so I'll leave it up to you whether or not you'd like to hear more. It boils down to, I don't think you'd have to be a Universalist as I am for the bit of my explanation you quoted to apply.

Smilodon said...

Content note: Heaven and Hell, Slavery and Colonialism

The thing that really confuses me is the version of heaven I keep hearing about from a certain version of Christianity (I would call it evangelical, but I know that there's a lot of diversity within that group, and not all evangelicals believe what I'm describing). Please excuse me if I'm misconstruing it, since I try to avoid discussing matters of faith with people who are convinced I'm going to hell, but here's how I understand it.

Let's assume that I convert to the correct form of Christianity, and follow all the rules. So I end up in heaven. But most of my friends and family aren't going to be there. In order for heaven to be perfect, I'll have to have my memories erased or changed so that I'm not constantly sad about people I care for. And some people I think are morally bankrupt are Christians. But God gets to judge their hearts, not me. Even if you assume only a tiny fraction of those people make their way into heaven, something will have to be done to stop me from campagning for social justice in heaven. And my addictions and lusts will disappear too, so I can be more pure - no coffee, no sexual desire. By the time I'm done being adjusted, the person in heaven won't be Smilodon anymore.

And I wonder about people from the past as well. Slaveholders really and truly believed their actions were compatible with Christianity. So did the British colonialists. Saying "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is a huge cop-out, because these people were told by their churches that they were doing the right thing. I'm sure future generations will condemn me for actions I don't even think about performing. I don't want people going to hell for things they were told were Good and Right. But my sense of justice wonders how heaven is even supposed to work if someone who perpetrated some of the horrors of colonialism ends up there.

Aidan Bird said...

Content note: Hell

I've been on the receiving end of those remarks as well, and I used to be pretty terrified - especially when my family prayed over me to help heal/'cleanse me" from my trauma (having seven siblings and my parents is way too many to be touching me at once). So to combat the fear, I tried to alter my way of thinking by examining if Hell exists in scripture (for if there's no evidence then what they're telling me isn't true and I can talk myself out of the fear), and everything I've found thus far shows that there is little to no evidence. In the Old Testament, the most you can clean is the idea of Sheol - and that just is depicted as being "asleep" until the Messiah comes. In the New testament, hell is never mentioned. Heaven is discussed and how to each Heaven, but hell? Nope. The closest one can come to any mention at all is in Revelations, and even then one can debate that it doesn't discuss hell at all for it's never outright said.

So then we're left with: How can people claim that hell exists and at the same time claim that scripture is God's inspired word if it doesn't contain any references to the hell they describe? So then aren't people, who claim that 'those who don't believe in hell aren't dealing with its consequences' actually being deceived themselves just as they are (unconsciously or not) deceiving others? This is what goes through my mind now when I hear those words, and because of this, the fear has gone away. But I also spent years training myself to think these thoughts, for I felt a ton of fear at first too.

I don't know if this different way of viewing it will help you, but it's the route I took to escape the endless fear those statements used to bring. Either way, I really hope you find some way of battling the fear - for it can be so crippling, at least in my experience it was. *offers hugs*

Aidan Bird said...

I love Dragon Age as well! Alistair is pretty awesome, though I like Leliana and Morrigan the best. Morrigan just has some of the best lines, and Leliana is full of surprises. That youth leader doesn't make any sense to me at all, good works always matter. I simply cannot believe God is that heartless and lacking in mercy and love. Also the Bible is full of instances where good works mattered a whole lot, so... is that youth reader having the same problem Sten had?

I absolutely adored the Prince of Egypt as a kid.

Smilodon said...

That explanation about heaven makes sense, in a "good chain of logic" kind of way. It doesn't surprise me that centuries worth of theologians have troubled over these points. Thanks for explaining that.

Charles Matthew Smit said...

Afterthought -- the other thing I like about the theological formulation of Grace being offered to all who accept it (whether by act of will or acts in life) >

It gives humanity agency in the divine relationship. God's grace reaches everyone, but it's up to each individual soul how to feel about that. A lot of people have said they find the concept of Heaven invasive, the very notion of an afterlife as terrifying as I find the thought of death without an afterlife -- as far as I can tell, theologically speaking, they have the option of declining.

Nobody gets dragged off to Narnia after they say "stop".

Lily said...

Content note: religion, death, misogyny

She basically said good works if I hadn't accepted Jesus didn't count. Except God hasn't talked to me. I tried to save myself several times through prayer and it didn't work. I was taught I'd feel better afterwards and I didn't. I can narrow my issues down to several things; the one that I forgot to mention was a sense of exclusion. (I'm just copying and pasting from my journal.)

1. The misogyny in the Bible leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth. So does the genocide. (Judges 19 makes me sick to my stomach--don't read it unless you have to.)

2. I keep going straight to God's voicemail when I pray. I didn't get as a kid why Moses could hear God and I couldn't. I tried really, really hard. Several times. In the privacy of my room. I felt like I was doing it wrong & would attend church feeling like a hypocrite.

3. I have no historical or cultural context to go on. The first time I got cultural context was when I saw The Prince of Egypt in 1998. I feel bad for Rameses because he grew up in a different culture than Moses in the movie, so of course he'd be hostile and upset when his little brother shows up and says, "The Hebrew god said I needed to take your slaves away." The Bible was composed in a completely different culture thousands of years ago, so I can't relate to most of it.

4. God is mean and scary in the Bible. He took away Job's family on a bet.

5. This is the big one.My friend lost his job two years ago and then right after that his father passed away. Surely God can prevent a little bit of this kind of suffering? I'm not saying God should eliminate suffering altogether, but surely a sympathetic God would do something? Jesus would do something. Jesus and God are supposed to be the same person, though; how can you say he's loving and mean at once?

6. The fear of eternal torment in hell is enough to scare me back into that thought process where God has a gun to my head and could kill me whenever he pleases, never mind that I want to be happy and grow into old age. Seriously, my prayer is usually something like, "Please, God, don't let me die."


Charles Matthew Smit said...

The Book of Job is a hard nut to crack. Obviously, everyone needs to find answers that are individually satisfying to them, but for me... I couldn't even begin for years. The Book of Job is at least 50% of why I wasn't a Christian for four years. No explanation my minister or my parents could offer satisfied me.. it wasn't until I was told, by academics and by Jewish friends, that Job was no meant to be understood as a historical report, that I could even begin to digest it. It still troubles me, because as a Christian, I'm supposed to take Scripture as true... but a good chunk of the Bible is also another religion's holy book, and it was theirs before it was ours, and as they understand the story, Job never existed. God never made that bet. The book is an unanswered question -- because theodicy bothered people just as much 2-3000 years ago as it does today. How can God let bad things happen to good people?

I can't answer that. But it was a relief to me to hear that nobody intended the Book of Job to be an answer. It's just a question, shouted loudly at the heavens.

Smilodon said...

Lily, I keep trying to respond to your note, but I don't know what to say. The things you write about - or similar ones - are why I lost my faith. And when I try to compose a response about atheism, I feel like I'm out of line. Even as an atheist, I feel it's wrong to discourage another's faith. So if you're looking to hold on to your God, I can tell you the things I told myself when I was a believer. And if you'd prefer, I can tell you what losing my faith was like.

Aidan Bird said...

A statement can still be true if its a parable. Jesus is known for his parables - and those aren't true accounts, but actually a fictional story with a moral to it. If you view Job as a parable, which I think is the only way to view it, then it's moral can still be true even if the account is fictional. The Bible itself is a montage of accounts of historical events and parable/fictional narratives with moralistic themes, which I think is something people tend to forget if they approach the Bible with a strict literal and/or true interpretation.

Though even if I approach the Bible from the perspective of setting it in the context it was written, examining which parts are fictional narratives with themes and which are historical - the picture painted of God is bleak in the Old testament, and so I end up unsatisfied and disliking the depiction of God, giving me more reason to not view the Bible as anything more than a collection of writings by various people over the ages - and not a sacred book of any sort. I, however, can respect the fact other people do view it as sacred and so I try my best to treat the documents with respect when I discuss it.

Aidan Bird said...

That youth leader still makes no sense. So none of the good works depicted in the Old Testament have any value in God's eyes because Jesus just simply hadn't come down in human form yet? How on earth can she reconcile that? What about all the people who died before Jesus came in human form? There is absolutely no way they could ever know about Jesus if he hadn't come yet, so none of their good works or faith matter? I'm sorry she said that too you, it's just an excuse in my opinion to ridicule those who aren't of her faith; it also seems to me to just not be a well thought out theological position either.

The six points you listed are all valid to me. The first two points in particular I really resonate with, and the last one took me years to overcome. Not sure what else to say, other than maybe Christianity doesn't cut it for either of us?

Lily said...

Content note: hell, damnation, 9/11

What about all the people who died before Jesus came in human form?

This is essentially where my issue with what I was taught started. Say you're a good Muslim or a good Hindu or a good non-Christian and that other religion is all you know to follow; would that mean they were damned for all eternity just because the Gospel did not work for them? It's a stumbling block I keep running into; I was 12 when 9/11 happened and we were studying Islam soon after; I got REALLY confused when my textbook said they worshipped the same God as the Christians and the Christians in my family were saying that wasn't true. Also, what if you can't get into Christianity due to life experiences or bad experiences in church? (I have hyperacusis too, so attending services are out of the question, anyway.) That's what really gets me.

This is also a really interesting discussion. :)


Charles Matthew Smit said...

Lily, agreed. :-)

I also probably would not characterize myself as a spiritual advisor, really. I stayed a Christian by rejecting what everyone told me -- family, friends, ministers -- and starting fresh. Believing only those things which held true with the world as I saw it. Slowly, I brought scripture, particularly the Gospels, back into my worldview. But it isn't all I brought. So I'm a heretical, nondenominational agnostic Christian who cribs from Talmudic scholarship, Baha'i philosophy, and the odd Beatles song lyric (because, look, if "All You Need Is Love" isn't a hymn, then what is, really?).

And I still struggle with my beliefs. Sometimes I wish I could say that I didn't, and sometimes I think that struggle is the most valuable part. The doubt, the uncertainty, and even the fear... they leave me open to examining what I believe about the world, and looking for ways to be kinder. They keep me listening to other people where before I would have judged them. They make my faith stronger, even if they make my doubts stronger too, in a way that couldn't happen if I kept my faith isolated from the messiness of the real world. For me, the hardest but most necessary part has been making my peace with that discomfort, accepting that it's a part of my spiritual journey and probably always will be, because there's no way for me to know the answers to any of the big, frightening questions.

To me, having the questions is more important. But that's not very satisfying, and I'm not trying to say that what's right for me is right for you. I mean, heck. Hopefully I've just made clear that I'm not always sure it's right for me.

But I do like talking about it.

Smilodon said...

Slightly off topic, but there's one complaint I have that I think people in this thread might understand. I don't get "faith-based salvation". I mean, I understand the theory, but it doesn't make any sense to me. Maybe because I was raised purely in a works-based salvation philosphy, where I was told by an extremely devout relative "It's ok if you don't believe. Just follow all the laws, and belief will come in time. Following the laws is more important." But if you have a God who truly hungers for justice and righteousness in this world, how can it be more important that I believe than that I treat my fellow humans with respect? Sure, both would be best, but how can a belief in God be more important than giving to the poor, than welcoming the stranger? What would be the point? God doesn't need my faith - it's not like Neil Gaimen's novel "American Gods" where more faith makes God more powerful. The only purpose God could have for my faith would be for my benefit, and the benefit of those around me. And if I'm acting lovingly and justly, then the faith itself is kind of superfluous.

As for my faith, I went through the same struggles that Charles describes. But I just ended at a different place. I miss my belief in God, and I miss the sense of community. But nothing else has changed. I still live my life in the same way. I still struggle with how to balance my personal needs and the needs of others. I struggle with restrictions that seem arbitrary but have important underlying purposes. I struggle with temptations. And the struggles are all the same, and the choices I make are all the same, as when I believed.

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