Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Fundamentalist: Part Four

Questioning my faith was not a matter I had taken lightly, especially considering the years of total and absolute devotion I spent convincing myself of its authenticity. But believing something to be true doesn’t necessarily make it true, and no amount of faith can overcome such a harsh reality; it simply is what it is! In all honesty, however, there is a certain amount of security in the concept of absolute truth, even if that so-called truth is stifling and oppressive.
I have a black and white print hanging in my studio entitled prison’s security, liberty’s risk. I purchased it at an art festival twenty-years ago, and it’s been on my wall ever since. It’s a depiction of lonely and shattered soul standing within the ramshackle remains of his prison cell. His eyes are hidden in the shadows, the prison door is wide open, and sunlight pierces the darkness of his meager dwelling, but he is unable to move. Why? Because true freedom is a very dangerous proposition; it requires that we listen to our own conscience and follow our own path, and when confronting such reality, it’s easy to lose your nerve
 I can’t count the number of times I begged God to forgive me for my unbelief, and yet something deep within my psyche kept pushing me forward. I had tried so hard to paint my life within the narrow confines of religion that the concept of true freedom and personal liberty seemed like a lie to me. I’m forty-seven years old now, and I’ve spent the majority of my adult life coming to grips with my upbringing, both religious and personal, and I can no longer deny the evidence that has been set before me.
I was always told not to question my beliefs, and by beliefs, I mean the doctrines and dogma of the church, because doing so would bring about doubt, and doubt when allowed to flourish would most certainly cause a loss of faith, and loss of faith could lead to an eternity outside of God’s presence. I now realize that it’s not a loss of faith but control that drove their fear tactics. A good friend of mine once told me that if you want to find the truth follow the money, and he’s right; all a person has to is watch “Christian” television for about five minutes and the truth becomes painfully clear.
I don’t know about you, but if I had the answers to all of life’s questions, I wouldn’t write a book and charge thirty-five dollars for the privileged few that can afford it, nor would I ask for love offerings and tithes. No, if I held such a truth, I would shout it from the mountaintop for all the world to hear, because in all honesty, I wouldn’t want to be an asshole, and charging exuberant prices for information that could bring personal salvation and happiness to mankind seems like an asshole move to me. But freedom isn’t about security, although we all want security, it’s about seeking the truth, living life on your own terms, and finding purpose in a world that seems indifferent and dangerous.
            To be honest, I sometimes miss my Bible-believing, faith healing, God loving, devil fearing, sin confessing, I’m right and you're wrong, hellfire and brimstone preaching life. I didn’t have to think or use critical reasoning in any way, all I had to do was believe. But those days are gone, and I’m stuck with the uncertainties and questions life will inevitably bring to us all.
There are those, close friends and family included, that will say my unbelief, or more accurately, my unbelief in their religion, will send me to hell. But what is astonishing to me is their lack of concern or empathy for a loved one beset with such a fate. Personally, I couldn’t serve a God that would send my family and friends to such a place. In fact, I would fight tooth and nail for their freedom. It seems simple to me now, but it’s taken years to get to where I am today, so in many ways, though I hate to admit it, I understand their staunch moralism.

The truth is I’ve called myself a Christian for such a long time that I don’t know where to go from here, but the cold hard reality is this: I don’t believe the Bible is an infallible document dictated from God’s mouth to man’s ears, nor do I believe God had to commit murder in order to forgive our sins. So, I think it’s pretty safe to say I’m not a Christian, at least in the traditional sense of the word. But on the other hand, I’m not a traditional kind of guy anyway, so I really don’t care how other people define Christianity. I’ll follow my own path and make my own definitions, anything else is a compromise.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Fundamentalist: Part Three

            I can’t remember the exact moment I lost my faith, or for that matter, why I even began searching. But I did, and once you start down that treacherous path, you can never return. Oh, you can try. Hell, you may even convince yourself it was all just a trick of the enemy, but deep down inside you’ll know the truth, and the truth is there are no answers just questions. And that’s the damnable thing about losing one’s religion, the loss of absolute truth, and the emptiness it brings. But out of that initial emptiness, there is a hope, at least in my experience, that transcends the feelings of loss and replaces it with wonder.
             You know the fear and anxiety that take over the moment the roller coaster reaches its peak and no amount of wishful thinking can postpone the inevitable. Well, it’s a lot like that, but if you’re a believer, and you get it wrong, in your subconscious at least, there’s hell to pay! But for some reason unknown to me, despite all the years of teaching and indoctrination, I was willing to take that risk and begin a journey of the soul that would change my life, and how I view the world, forever. And like all good journeys of the soul, this one began with a book. Well, sixty-six books to be exact. What sixty-six books you may ask? The Bible, of course.
            Yeah, you read that right; I said the Bible. If you’re going to question your faith or anything for that matter, you need to go the source, and for a born again, Fundamentalist, Christian, it’s the Bible. I was aware of the contradictions contained within its pages, but I repressed any real inquiry because that would be considered a lack of faith, and a lack of faith, like I stated earlier, is tantamount to eternal doom.
Now, you have to understand, I was taught the bible was the literal, ineffable word of God and if a story could be taken literally, then it must. So, Jonah and the whale, David and Goliath, Adam and Eve and Noah’s ark, along with countless other stories, were in the church’s teaching, actual historical events. So, what should have been read as a great metaphorical story was turned into a declaration of God’s character. And God’s character, it seems, is a little schizophrenic. Well, to be honest, it’s not God’s character I’m questioning.  When I speak of losing my faith, what I really mean is I’m losing my faith, or more precisely, I have lost my faith in religion, not God.
            And like I stated earlier, it was the Bible itself that began my journey from fear to hope. And though I’ve never claimed to be a biblical scholar, I’m not ignorant either. It doesn’t take a scholar to figure out the Bible is full of violent, misogynistic, homophobic stories, that if taken literally, not only glorifies humanities travesties but downright endorses them. But, and this is important, there are many, many verses that speak of God’s unconditional love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and it is in these verses that my soul found solace.
            However, many a well-meaning, legalistic, Christian, upon hearing my heretical thoughts, would inform me, with the wild abandon of a child left unattended in a candy store,
 that I couldn’t pick and choose which verses to follow. Yes, God is a loving God, they would say, but he is also a righteous judge, and you can’t just dismiss that. God needs to be feared! After all, if God went about forgiving everybody with impunity, where would the world be? Later on, I came to realize that what they were really saying was this: If God forgives and loves everyone unconditionally, where does that put me and my self-righteous indignation? It’s a good question, and the answer is fully in the arms of grace.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Fundamentalist: Part Two

By the time my seventh-grade year rolled around, my mother decided it would be advantageous to send me to a private Christian school. Apparently, I was becoming a little too rambunctious, if you get my drift. And to be honest, I didn’t argue the point. I hated middle school and all the bullshit that went along with it and a Christian school sounded pretty docile to me. Besides, navigating the treacherous waters known as public education was a bitch, and I was ill-equipped for the task. So, when offered a lifeline, I took it without hesitation.
It’s funny looking back on it now, but it was a very serious undertaking. The whole premise of private Christian education was to defend against what the church saw as an undermining of traditional Christian values. I’m not sure who gets to decide what traditional, Christian values are, but the powers that be felt it was an important undertaking, and so the Cushing Christian Academy was born.
But before we go any further, I think some clarification is in order. When I speak of the church, I’m not referring to the church as a whole, because we all know there are many denominations with differing opinions on what it means to be Christian. No, when I speak of the church, I’m speaking of a Pentecostal, no room for discussion, hellfire and brimstone, we’re right and you’re wrong, take no prisoners kind of church. It was in this environment; I began my Christian education.
 Now, I’m not saying I don’t have wonderful memories of my academy days because I do. I met my wife there, though she doesn’t remember our time together, and made several lifelong friends. The problem I have with combining religion and education is young and impressionable minds unquestionably believe those in positions of authority. And when that happens, it becomes something far more threatening than basic education. It becomes indoctrination.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Fundamentalists: Part One

It’s been said every life is a story and every story, though most of us refuse to accept it, deserves to be told, and I tend to subscribe to that theory because the alternative is unthinkable to me. There are those, however, that have no problem regarding our existence as simply a matter of chance nothing more or nothing less, a cosmic raindrop in an infinite ocean of possibility. And I’m not knocking that way of thinking. In many ways, it is liberating, or at least it appears so. But I’ve never been able to take that leap. God and his role in our life, or lack thereof, has always been intriguing to me.
There’s a school of thought that believes we choose our destiny prior to birth, but that seems a little screwed to me. I don’t know about you, but if given a choice, I’d choose a story filled with espionage, gunfights and copious amounts of gratuitous sex because let’s be honest here, all those things are extremely cool, especially the copious amounts of gratuitous sex. But if this theory is to be accepted, I chose something far more benign.  
            On the other hand, however, maybe life isn’t preordained at all. Maybe we write our own story in hopes of understanding the complexities and hardships of this thing we call living. Or maybe it’s a little of both and we play our roles within the confines of a cosmic screenplay. But the one thing I have learned is this: Hardships and trials, though not pleasant or desirable if processed properly, can create a beautiful and compassionate soul. 
            Of course, I have no idea why life can be so exhilarating one minute and exasperating the next. But it is, and we all struggle to find our own way to cope with life’s realities. And I think that is why religion is such a powerful force within humanity.
It offers absolute truth to those who are willing to follow its rules and regulations. The only problem is, which religion is correct and which rules do we follow?
            For me, that question was answered quickly. You see, I am a product of the Bible belt or flyover states as some are fond of calling them, but that’s complete bullshit! The people that reside here are some of the hardest working, hospitable and compassionate people you’ll ever meet. There’s just absolutely no room for discussion when it comes to religion, which is kind of strange when you think about it. Fundamentalism of any kind by its very nature is rigid and harsh. The fact that most fundamentalists are more compassionate than their theology allows speaks volumes to me. But I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t see into people’s souls, so I’ll leave it at that. 
Now that’s not to say that there isn’t any hippie-dippy, love thy neighbor, universal health care, marriage equality advocates that reside in our little vacuum, but they’re in the minority. Religion, however, and fundamental Christianity in particular, is by far the prevailing mindset. It all seems so innocuous, really, and for many people, it may very well be. But for a thirteen-year-old boy with a strict authoritarian father, a mother doing her best to survive in a volatile situation and siblings getting married at eighteen years old just to get away from it all; God and his wrath is a very serious and real danger.
            Religion, in my opinion, is supposed to be a sacrament pointing us toward something higher than ourselves. But when taken as a literal fact, and sprinkled with a healthy amount of shame and fear, religion becomes something far more sinister; it becomes a means of control and abuse. I know those words sound harsh, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re true. Anytime someone claims to know the mind and the will of God for your life, run! 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Thanks

I want to thank everyone that has purchashed my newest short story, The Expedition. It's currently 99 cents on Amazon. It's always a little frightening putting your work out into the world, but I think in the end it's worth it. We all have a story to tell, so get out there and tell yours. But in the mean time, feel free to check out mine.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Big Questions.

It’s not as if I haven’t tried. I’ve read the Bible, emulated Jesus, quoted Buddha and read every theological book I could get my hands on. But the results, sadly, are inconclusive at best. I’m no closer to knowing the truth than when I first started; and I’ve been at this a long time. As a kid I was taught everything I needed to fit into a society… no more, no less. Just the basics. And I suppose that’s alright. Most of us have become comfortable with the dynamics of a capitalistic society. We work our asses of at meaningless jobs in the hopes of someday obtaining a shiny new car, or whatever dangling carrot keeps us motivated and productive. But at the end of the day, it’s pretty damn depressing, don’t you think? Don’t get me wrong! I’m still no closer to finding the truth. But, I have learned a few things along the way. When given a choice, love is always the best answer. Religion, though good for many things, cannot magically change who you are. You have to put the hard work into it… there is no other way. We all need to eat, and having a job is essential in this world, but it cannot provide you with anything other than material possessions.  And the big questions may never get answered, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep asking.