Sunday, October 10, 2010

Religious Proselytizer

This post is a little raw, it is not happy or fun. Hell of a way to kick-start the blog again after a long hiatus.

I was working my usual shift yesterday and a customer who was a representative of a local church came in. This particular church buys a hundred goldfish every year to use in some sort of object lesson which relates to the Bible & Christianity from what I gathered, I didn't ask for details. The man was quite friendly and pleasant as we made small-talk while I bagged up his fish. Then, obviously with purpose, he railroaded the conversation onto things he has done in the way of missionary work with children and my blood started to cool rapidly. I listened quietly, maintaining a friendly but somewhat deferential composure yet still felt that old, familiar pang of discomfort which comes with dealing with folks who are always attempting to inject their religious sensibilities into conversations and I knew what question was coming and knew that I had to be truthful.

As predicted, he suddenly asked ,"Are you a Christian?" Without pause I answered him ,"Used to be." A slightly confused look came over his face and after a brief delay he asked me why I don't consider myself to be so any longer and I told him that a majority of the people I've known over the years who called themselves followers of Christ were some of the biggest hypocrites I've ever known and that Christianity was responsible for me having to leave my home upon coming out of the closet, as well as being alienated from most of my family for many years, this in addition to a lot of religion-based strife in my family and life. He did not address this point but went on to ask me what church I went to when I was younger. I told him that my family had attended a mix of Baptist & Evangelical churches. Then he launched into what seemed to be a well-rehearsed diatribe about how if I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart that none of that mattered, that I was still saved, blah blah blah... My blood went from freezing cold to boiling in a split second, I began to shake a little and realized that I needed to end this interaction before I said something which could get me in trouble so I cut across him a bit tersely and told him that I did not wish to continue this conversation and asked if he needed anything else today. He stopped, looking a little surprised, thanked me for my service and the extras I always throw in for customers and left my department.

Could I have been more polite? Probably, and I felt badly that I did not handle this interaction better. Could I have engaged him in a deeper conversation about all of the hows & whys of my story? Maybe, but he really didn't seem to notice (or was just choosing to ignore) the elephant in the room: Christian hypocrisy and the destruction it brings into people's lives as well as the religion as a whole. The modern, Evangelical Christian collective, no matter how bright and progressive some of them attempt to portray themselves as, have a dark side and lots of skeletons in it's closet. It bothers me deeply because I have personally suffered a lot because of people like this, who choose to abandon critical thinking and instead follow a set script without regard for the inconveniences & contradictions which exist within that script as well as the fact that if they want to understand weighty matters pertinent to our times, they need to first listen and fully understand these matters and adapt their message to modern times. This is why I choose not to wear the label of 'Christian' any more. I have no desire to be identified with this group.

Do I hate Christians? No, I don't. While I don't have an abundance of faith and I do not take the Bible literally, could probably be considered more of an agnostic; I love the example and story of Jesus put forth in the Bible and I agree with a fair amount of what the modern incarnation of Christianity claims to stand for. I just have issues with those who claim to follow him and his example but much of the time act nothing like him; those who are in love with the violence and vindictive anger in the Old Testament as well as the image of angry Jesus kicking the money-changers out of the temple and waging war on everyone whom he disagrees with while completely ignoring that most accounts of his life put him forth as primarily a man of peace and deep wisdom who fought off his opponents gently with words, truth and logic. Are there self-titled 'Christians' out there who really do act like this? Of course, but sadly they are an increasingly silent minority from what I've seen.

As collected and calm as I may pretend to be at times, this run-in with an outspoken evangelical shook my foundations and caused me to realize that I am still very angry. Angry with what has happened to me, angry that I will probably never be fully accepted as I am by my parents, angry that if I again find someone to share my life with that my parents will always regard him as an unwelcome interloper and outsider, angry that my Mom and Dad are sweet, loving, incredibly giving individuals who, in their need for significance and fulfillment, are being blinded and used by a political religious movement which is not held accountable and has very little regard for the damage it is doing to some of the families influenced by them. Most of all I am angry and sad that I had so much innocence and happiness before dogma corrupted my life. Did I make my own share of mistakes in the process? Damn straight, I take responsibility for that. Still, part of moving on from this means that I just need to stop wondering how it might have been had I not been brought up in a conservative, religious household. It had it's upsides too and the 'what ifs' and 'might have beens' are not pertinent except when using the image of them to direct one's self where to go and how to improve things so that others may benefit.

All of that said, I am one of the fortunate ones. My upbringing could have been worse. At least my siblings and I were loved and my parents truly cared about what happened in our lives. Despite mistakes (all parents make them), they at least cared and tried. My family has become closer again over the years and I can say in truth that none of us are the people whom we once were. We've learned where each others' boundaries are and for the most part we do not push them. At least in my case I was allowed to finish trade school before I had to leave my home. There are a lot of folks out there, many of them young or underage who are kicked out of their homes and their entire families' lives completely after it is discovered that they are homosexual. Even worse, some of them are packed up and sent off to 'Ex-gay' programs where they are subjected to all manner of confusion and pseudoscientific 'treatment' which ultimately causes more harm than good.

This experience simply brought to mind that as skilled as I've become at dancing around these issues, I can't any more. I have to roll up my sleeves and dive in. The only way I can progress further in this struggle is to engage myself in theological/religious matters again. I needed the vacation I was on, no doubt, but vacations need to end sooner or later. My head has been restless and needs to get back to doing The Work it was intended to do.


Paul Douglas said...

So glad you are back Non Sequitur! A very human story I might add. I woke up as a non believer 13 months ago and I am amazed when I hear the fundy evangelicals do their spiel. How could I have not seen completely through it sooner?
Keep doing the work you need to do to be healthy, and best wishes!

Tobal said...

So, I'm finally gonna comment -- your posts ring so true and close to my own experience.
I already posted something on your blog about a year ago or something. The story with my parents has been quite similar to yours (ex-gay therapy included!), and the outcome is the same. It's been 8 years since I told them I was gay, and it's still a taboo subject and unlikely to change. Although my mom is very loving, she does not want to know anything about this. She's filled with shame, she's made me feel worthless and undeserving (I'm still recovering from that...) and she just can't understand why I would have a problem relating to them shutting down 90% of my life, all the while making sure I know how much she loves me -- words I'm highly sensitive to (My dad doesn't even enter the picture. He's the one that gave her all these ideas about how religion could help...)
Hence my anger. It doesn't go away. It peppers my daily experience and when I go to bed at night I'm at least an hour ruminating all this stuff over and over again; it's exhausting, frustrating, infuriating, and although it doesn't help anything, I can't stop thinking about it at will.

So yeah. I'm stuck.

If you have any kind advice from your own personal experience, I'd love to hear it ;)

Nonsequitur said...

Dude, I'm really sorry to hear about your experience also. It happens to a lot of people unfortunately. My advice for you is not happy or easy. I will simply tell you to keep a seed of hope alive for them (and the possibility of them opening their eyes) in the back of your head, but don't plan on it happening and don't base any of your life plans on it. As for the anger and thoughts which won't go away: find your voice if you haven't already. Writing and sharing your experience helps, going into activism and actively speaking out against the attitudes and falsehoods which are the underpinnings of our parents' anti-gay stance can be very helpful both on an external and internal level. It might help you to find literature which deals with these sorts of subjects. I wish you the best of luck with that.

Nonsequitur said...

BTW... thank you Paul. Your comment somehow slipped through until now. My blogger notifications are a bit haywire lately.

extracrispy said...

Christianity would be a much better religion if they kept the part about love and dumped the rest in a ditch somewhere.