I was raised a Roman Catholic by devout parents, even attending Catholic schools for thirteen years. My husband was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist household. These disparate experiences produced two people who (all belief aside) share a powerful aversion to organized religion. Naturally, our decisions regarding religious education for our children were informed entirely by this attitude. With that in mind, here are some religious memories and maybe an opinion or two.
Once, when she was very young, Eldest Daughter asked me if I would accept Jesus into my heart. It was 6:30 in the morning, I had just crawled out of bed, I had to get to work, and I was really, really tired. "Maybe later," I mumbled.
"But, Mom! Don't you want to be saved?"
"I have to get ready for work right now," I answered, yawning. I was most of the way back to my bedroom before I realized what we'd said. I wheeled around and padded back down the hall.
"Uh, honey? Who have you been talking to?"
"Church people. They come around in a bus. They said we have to be saved."
"Ah. Well, not everybody believes that."
"No. Not really."
"Oh. Okay." I don't know if she looked relieved, or if I just remember it that way. I offered to talk later, but she lost interest and was spared my ramblings on the subject.
Some years later, in a burst of parental guilt brought on by Middle Kid asking me if I'd ever heard of Noah's Ark, I bought an illustrated children's Bible to read with him. We got through the creation without too much trouble, and Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden, and the birth of their sons Cain and Abel. The trouble came after Cain slew Abel, and then ran away to a far land where he met and married a woman-
"Where'd she come from?" my son asked. "I thought there weren't any other people yet."
"Uh," I said. "Erm. I'm not really sure." (I'm a Catholic girl. We're New Testament people.)
"It doesn't make any sense," he said.
"Well, maybe we aren't supposed to take it literally."
"Hm. Never mind. I think I'll make dinner now."
And that was the end of Bible stories for MK.
When she was in elementary school, Youngest Daughter used to attend church occasionally with a friend. One day, though, she seemed troubled when she got home. When I asked her about it, she said she didn't want to go anymore.
"You don't?" I said. "I thought you liked it."
"Not really," she said. "It makes me feel bad."
"They're always telling us we can't be saved unless we believe in the Lord, and well, I just don't."
Uh-oh. That 'saved' thing again. "You know, being saved is a personal thing, honey. There are lots of different ideas about what it means."
"But do you believe in Jesus?"
"I believe that Jesus wanted us to be nicer to each other. And I think that's a really good idea."
"Oh." She wandered off to play. A little later she came back and said, "I still don't want to go anymore."
And that was the end of YD's religious career.
Recently, I went to a funeral. It was a beautiful funeral, a truly lovely - and loving - celebration of a life cut short. After the eulogies and some wonderful music, the pastor stepped up to give us his pastoral message. "There are two kinds of people here today," he said. "The ones who've been saved and will some day sit at Jesus's right hand in heaven, and the ones who won't."
My eyebrows shot up. I turned to the friend I was sitting with and whispered, "Did he just tell us we're going to hell?"
"I think he did," she said in a bemused tone.
"That's kind of rude," I said.
"Yeah. I think so, too."
I listened through the rest of the sermon, and the pastor quoted quite a lot of scripture (all New Testament, which was at least something) to support his allegation. I kept waiting for him to get back to the subject at hand - the funeral, the grieving family, the good life the departed had lived. He never did. Apparently he thought the family would be comforted best by knowing that some of their friends were going to hell.
Which brings me to a list of theological pet peeves:
1. Old Testament 'Christians.' Does not compute. The story of Christianity lies in the New Testament. The Old Testament should be literature.
2. People who thank the Lord after every sentence. Please. God already knows how grateful you are, and the rest of us won't think less of you if you keep it to yourself. We promise.
3. People who insist on pronouncing judgment on everybody else. Crazy radio personalities, crazy politicians, crazy preachers, crazy people carrying signs displaying their opinions as to where various other people will reside after death. Right back at'cha, folks, because you know what? You're just guessing.
4. Relatives who pray for your soul every day, and then tell you about it. What are you supposed to say to that?
5. God as the Candyman. Be good, and God will give you everything your heart desires.
6. God as the Hairy Thunderer. Be good or God'll getcha.
7. Religious enforcers. You know who I mean: the Taliban, extremist Israeli settlers, the likes of Pat Robertson and James Dobson. And who can forget the Spanish Inquisition? Ugh.
8. The rapture, and all veiled threats leveled my way with regards to that event. Excuse me. I intend to inherit the earth, so feel free to rapture yourself right outa my way.
On the plus side, I've known some very nice - and very conscientious - people in my life, people who seem to take the spirit of their religion to heart. But that's a post for another day.