My high school pastor used to rub his nipples while he prayed.
No, really. He did.
We would sit and watch him with morbid fascination, week after week. Eyes closed, face raised to the heavens he would stand with his elbows rising and falling in a sort of slow-motion, sexual chicken dance. His fingertips made loose circles over the fabric of his shirt and 200 silent teens would make eye contact with their nearest friend, thinking “Is he really doing what it looks like he’s doing, or is it just my mind that’s dirty?”
Those years marked the expiration of my religion. Not because of Tim and his weekly fondle, god bless the man, but because of the endless string of Christian motivational speakers that trooped across the “worship” stage fortnightly.
These people came from all walks of life—or rather, all the walks of life that could be encompassed by a moderately sized rural town populated predominately by white people. There were butchers and travel agents and people who owned hardware stores. Often teachers and students would be the ones to take the stage and share their convictions, but mostly it was someone plucked seemingly at random from the local community.
No doubt this was all engineered with some admirable end in mind. To supply us with a wide range of Christian role models that were both geographically and intellectually accessible? Or maybe to promote a sense of community. And-slash-or other such things the like of which are found in private school brochures across the globe. For some students, it did indeed go down that way.
For me though, the succession of smiling Christians, passionate in their articulation (but not necessarily articulate in their ministration) was what sowed the seed of doubt. Each one, each worship meeting, wound down with something like “Now I’ve covered many things today, but the most important thing about Christianity you should remember is—”
And naturally, it was different each time.
Being told every week with, utter, utter certainty, that these contradictory ideas were each the heart, the core, the focus of Christianity, I began to wonder about that blind and beautiful beast, faith. Contradictory, inspirational, and always irrational, it put the fire in ordinary people but didn’t always bring out the best in them.
There were the occasional profound moments that caused me to question my foundling agnosticism. One soft-spoken classmate got up and shocked us all with the story of having been born blind. Her family took watch by her crib, taking turns in maintaining an unbroken vigil of prayer and after some months the “incurable” infection causing her blindness retreated. Reborn into a world of light and colour, she was baptised the day after, so born into the spiritual collective of those who look always to what is bigger than themselves.
The next speaker fervently orated the tale of becoming a Christian—when she asked God to find her car keys, and he did.
It was around this time it occurred to me that perhaps people just believe what they want in order to make sense of the things that happen to them. Not an original idea I’ll grant you, but it dropped into my 15-year-old mind like a meteoric pop-rock into a maelstrom of soda.
After a few regressions into my congenital Anglicism and the occasional bout of aggressive atheism, I concluded that ‘knowing’ there was nothing beyond the physical realm was as unprovable an assumption as any other that claimed to know nature of the afterlife and the human soul. Also many atheists I came across seemed all too willing to blame religion for wars and world problems, when I think it’s apparent that bastards will be bastardly whether they choose to trot out religion as an excuse or not.
So a slipped into agnosticism and spiritual uncertainty like a comfortable old bathrobe, and I’ve been there ever since.
Because really I believe I something with a passion tenacious as the next heaven-bent Christian, logic-totin’ atheist or tinfoil hat-attired street person.
You gotta have people like happy, harmless Tim. There was a man whose inner child wanted to be a black gospel choir when it grew up. If you could see him belting out “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”, a hand clamped firmly over each breast and face beaming joy nuclear in its intensity, I think you’d agree. Faith’s tendency towards absolutism may be problematic, but why take away something that so many ordinary people can use to wring some joy out of life.
My name is Cara Lennon, and I am an ex-Christian. I’ve been going cold turkey for 6 years now, but I have a confession.
I’m damn grateful for every religion that’s out there.
Keep it up. I’m rooting for you.
Wierd but true. I think he didn’t realise he was doing it… I can’t imagine why no-one ever pointed it out to the poor guy.
Any level of success acheived by this story I attribute to my lucky pencil, with which I wrote the drafts. It contains four different vitamins and is completely fat free.
No really. It is.