Nosce te Ipsum: Part Two: It’s in the Water

All new updated selfie.

Let’s go back in time a little bit.

I was raised with a typically schizophrenic Protestant image of God:  one the one hand he was this all-loving daddy figure who wanted everyone to get along, but on the other, if you put a toe out of line he’d throw you into a fiery pit (because he loves you).  Honestly I never thought about it much; church was just something you endured until it was time to go home and have Sunday dinner.

During Revival season everything was turned up to 11.  If you aren’t Protestant or hip to the lingo, a Revival happens a couple of times a year to re-energize people’s commitment and uses charismatic speakers and guest musicians to try and bring new blood into the fold.  Sunday School had special lessons, got to watch movies, did cooler craft projects.  There were ice cream socials and all sorts of gatherings.  I always looked forward to Revival because people were a lot less dour – something about all the hallelujahs felt right, or at least more right than the muttered call-and-response of a typical service.

One year our teacher sat us all down and showed us a movie about something called the Crucifixion.  I’d heard of it in vague terms during hymns and sermons, but it never really registered that this was something that was actually supposed to have happened to a guy, and moreover, that God shoved his own kid off his cloud to be born, grow up, and then be tortured to death.  The nuances of the story and any sort of theological depth were of course lost on me – but the blood wasn’t.

Our teacher let us watch what amounted to a very mild version of Mel Gibson’s Jesus Chainsaw Massacre from a few years back.  It was definitely way more violent than children needed to see (this was back when people freaked out over children seeing violence, not just sex), but still fairly tame.  Still, I was cursed with a fantastic imagination, and the sounds of whips and taunting voices made me very uncomfortable.

(Looking back, the memory of that film reminds me very strongly of undercover footage I’ve seen of slaughterhouse kill floors.  Just think about that for a minute.)

What I wanted to know was why.  Not “why did people kill this good person,” because even at that age I didn’t need an answer to that one.  I wanted to know why any of it was necessary.

I was told that we were all sinners, and in order to save us, Jesus had to get the torture porn treatment.  Because God let stupid humans kill his son, we could get into heaven.  All we had to do was feel bad about it, then say we believed it was true.

Wait, what?

I didn’t really have the vocabulary or the mental acuity to work out why I found the whole thing just a little hard to swallow, but it didn’t matter: logical answers weren’t the currency of the Southern Baptist ministry.  The teacher began a long lecture, looking each of us in the eye repeatedly, telling us that it was OUR FAULT that Jesus had to suffer, and that ALL THAT BLOOD WAS FOR US, and LOOK HOW MUCH IT HURT, and YOU MADE JESUS DO THAT, AND DON’T YOU WANT TO MAKE IT UP TO HIM?

I’d never felt such soul-sucking guilt.  I felt awful.  Terrified, ashamed, small.  I thought that somehow I, a little girl in a ruffly dress with a heart full of secrets, had been so bad that my badness traveled back 2000 years and killed a nice man.

I cried.  A lot.  And whatever prayers or vows or penance the teacher gave, I hit my knees and did it.  I’m sorry Jesus.  I didn’t tell them to do that.  I would have told them not to.  I’m so sorry.

As I walked up the steps to the baptismal a few days later, in a heavy robe over my jeans and t-shirt, I had the weight of the world on my shoulders along with the scratchy fabric.

It had been a confusing few days.  Everyone was so happy for me, like I’d gotten an A+ in Savior-cide 101.  Didn’t they get it?  I personally was so bad, so fundamentally screwed up just by virtue of being born – let’s not even count actual bad things I’d done, or things that might have happened to me that I believed were my fault – that my badness forced God to kill his own kid.  I couldn’t even conceive of circumstances that would drive my parents to kill one of us for any reason. Sure, fine, we were all sinners and had fallen short and so forth…but I took it very, very personally.

There was no sense of joining a fellowship, no joy in finding a place at the Heavenly Father’s Table or even the Heavenly Kids’ Table.  I didn’t feel uplifted or blessed.  I wasn’t thankful for the great sacrifice that would lift me out of bondage.

I felt like a murderer.

I was nine years old.

I was so nervous when I waded out into the warm water (in case you don’t know, Southern Baptist churches that aren’t situated near a convenient dunking stream often have basically a wading pool up behind the choir loft, the walls around it painted to look like a riverbank.) that I forgot my teacher’s advice to hold my nose while my arms were in the dunking position; I sputtered and coughed, but everyone was yelling “Amen” and didn’t really notice.  The preacher, of course, righted me and made sure I was okay before patting my shoulder and sending me along so the next kid could have his turn.

Hopefully that lucky young man had no idea I’d just peed in the water.

Up next, Part Three: How to Lose Your Religion in Four Days

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5 thoughts on “Nosce te Ipsum: Part Two: It’s in the Water

  1. logical answers weren’t the currency of the Southern Baptist ministry

    Truer words were never spoken. This kind of Christianity made me question my faith for a long time; fortunately I got some answers I could live with, like one of the posters above, and some other answers I could really get excited about. My own church is non-creedal, and my personal theology runs less along the lines of “God sent His Son to die” and more “God loves us so much He sent part of Himself to teach us how we should live, and humans said ‘Fuck that loving community shit’ and killed Him for it.” But yeah, the damage done by the fire-and-brimstone crowd is frankly appalling, no matter how sincere their faith might be.

  2. Fortunately, not all Protestant sects are the same (wow, Southern Baptist sounds very Catholic all of a sudden) and I’m doubly glad I was raised Presbyterian.

    For some time, though, I haven’t bought any of the Christian mythos, either. Original sin was invented by the Catholics and my own personal belief is that Christianity was started as a get out of jail free card. There was a Jesus…but instead of Saviour, he should be called Scapegoat.

  3. It took me until my mid-20s to realize just how insane that all is. Is was raised methodist, so we didn’t have quite the graphic teachings. But I just one day realized, a few years ago, that the whole idea of being a sinner simply by being born was the most ludicrous thing possible. And that God needed to kill his son (and himself, since Jesus IS God… I was also never able to wrap my head around the trinity idea) was even more crazy.

    Then I read First Timothy and his ideas about women, and said “fuck that shit” and now I’m kinda into Buddhism…

  4. I felt similarly at church as a child. None of it made any sense to me. How could a “loving and merciful god” also be jealous? How could a loving parent sacrifice their child to murderers? And the symbolism of blood of my blood and bread of my body just grossed me out. And how could a god worth following damn people to hell who had never heard of him? That was a big one for me. I kept thinking of all the poor little starving African kids about whom my parents were always telling me I had it so much better when I didn’t want to eat my lima beans, but how could God just turn away from them? What could a 7 year old have done to piss off God? I never got any answers from the Baptist church. Funny enough, I did get answers from a Lutheran pastor I had as a teenager. He said he honestly didn’t know, that there were many ways to look at God, and the choice of how we see God is up to the individual. It was refreshing, and so began my spiritual search for what I personally believed in, rather than what someone told me to believe in.

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