The priest was good and God was great;
life was a holy mission.
They said my friends would burn in hell,
and then I had some questions.
I started drinking wine when I was seven years old.
My mom took me to a store in Portland to pick out a very specific dress for the occasion. That Sunday I stood side by side with my peers in our itchy new clothes lined up to marry Jesus.
Lots of things were said by the grownups and we repeated the words just as we were taught. We had a cracker and a sip of wine. And we were told we would be saved. For now- as long as we didn’t sin before next week.
And in the inevitable case that we did sin- well, we were given the opportunity to sit alone in a small dark box with a chubby old man that you could smell but not see. We tell him the naughty things we had done and ask for his forgiveness. We recite more words. As long as we did that, we were allowed to have wine again that Sunday. It always made me cringe and feel not good enough, but hey, I should feel lucky that I have a chance to confess.
I confessed in the dark, I drank my wine in the light, and hoped I was good enough to be saved.
As I got older and refused confession I would sit in the pew as people shuffled past my knees to get in line for communion. With each hushed “excuse me” all I heard was “shame, shame”.
I always noticed my aunties took gulps of their saving grace, not sips, with slightly shaky hands. I would try to take a bigger gulp each week to seem more grown-up like them. I would anxiously glance around the church for a nod of approval that never came.
Now I am an auntie and I gulp my wine in the shower on a week day afternoon, no longer as a child under the blessing of a sweaty man in a robe looming over me.
I don’t look for approval in my wine any more, but perhaps sometimes I do still look for it to save me.
And Lord knows it does.
i was never
never went to church
unless my grandma
i never had to
bite down on
the straw that fed me
filled with self hate and
but i felt it.
when my grandma visited,
i could feel something wrong
with the air
or maybe it's just that
the act of
dressing up nicely and
who couldn't accept me.
once i had a friend
tell me i was going to hell.
i had other friends tell me
that i could be whatever i wanted
talk about it.
i brushed them off,
religion was made
afraid of their own
death never scared me,
even before i started
flirting with it.
i never knew the brutality
of coming out to a christian family
because my family was never really
i never had to decide
between god and my life.
i never had to decide
between heaven and hell
because i had never been brainwashed
into believing in all-or-nothing.
i never had to reevaluate my life.
i never had to force myself onto a new path.
i never had to change
because i was raised to believe in evolution.
i never had to argue with the science teacher about
the age of the universe.
i never had to rethink
because i was taught to think.
Posts from a Post-Ex-Christian
This piece is going to end with the admission that I don’t – stronger, can’t – identify with any organized group of modern “christians” I’ve encountered, but I do consider myself a christian. Give it a minute though, because on the way to that conclusion I’m going to suggest it’s never a good idea to piss in the well from which you drink.
I went through a phase in my life where it was it emboldening to sing hymns with those who struggle against the flaws of the christian church(es). Later, I started studying literature, and I learned that with all literature it is never a good idea to dig into the criticism before reading the primary text. So, I read the primary text. Stunning. The christian bible begins (note: the vast majority of the christian bible is Hebrew literary tradition) with two very different creation stories. The first (Genesis chapter 1) presents a god who creates out of nothing – poof, and things are perfect. The second (starting at Genesis chapter 2 verse 4) presents a god who creates out of something. A potter god perhaps, who gets it wrong every time and keeps trying to make it better. Any tradition that starts its doctrine with a literary admission that, “we’re not really sure what god is like, but we think it’s an important question and we’ve got a couple of ideas…” well, I’m good with that. That’s some quality thinking. Story after story in this collection of stories, written over a period of time spanning thousands of years, build upon one another to give a greater sense of some big themes, of recurring conflicts, of the rise and fall of some major characters, motif and tableau, foils and archetypes and… a general picture of a complex life. That is, unless you approach it as the modern church’s lens mandates - expecting every sentence to be directly related to you, and how you should live your infinitesimally short singular life. I think that’s a silly approach to take when reading a limerick, or a tweet. I think it’s even sillier when reading literature written down by people who were trying to understand how all of life and love and pain and community work, especially when those writers and collectors admit at the outset that they haven’t really figured it out. Yep, I’ll take that kind of writing over mis-used quotes and one line ejaculations every chance I get, even when the pictures are cute and they do make me laugh, and briefly feel like I belong. We’ve all got our reading preferences.
Why the christian label for me? Because I’ve never found a better label. I’ve talked with feminists who deride the Jesus language of “turn the other cheek,” because the churches they reject have told them it’s a doctrine of submission. But that’s reading the criticism and interpretation without reading the primary text for yourself. Here’s what the oldest English translation says for that text in the book of Matthew, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” It starts with a rejection of the Hammurabi brand of justice, so don’t be deceived by the next words about not “resisting” evil. Consider that it’s a conversation about not engaging evil the way Hammurabi decided to engage evil, but is instead an entirely new way to engage evil. In a culture that only engaged socially with the right hand (as many cultures still do today) a strike on the right cheek meant a back-handed blow. An insult. A clear message that the receiver of the back-hand is an inferior. So, here’s how I prefer to read it (thanks to Walter Wink’s book Engaging the Powers for the read that lead me here) – and Jesus said, never let an evil person insult you with a back-handed blow, but in resisting their evil, make sure you do not become like that evil person by striking back as Hammurabi might have told you to. Instead, stand back up, and insist that you be struck on the left cheek, as an equal. It will be clear to all that witness this, you are more than an equal to the evil person that struck you; you are the wiser and stronger of the two. As is said in Proverbs 29 (an incredible collection of the thinking of its day…), when a wise person argues with a fool, nothing gets solved, and by implication - no one can tell which of them is which.
To be clear, I’m not trying to force an interpretation of these texts on anyone. I’m suggesting that you read it for yourself and make your own criticism before throwing out the source material for most of the great literature written in the English language. Read it with the same level of interest and integrity you might approach any poem, or piece of prose. There’s such a thing as ambiguity, and there’s certainly room for interpretation. If you think you’re correct to reject your church as a bunch of incompetents and assholes, why continue to accept their interpretation of its texts? Why continue to believe that any of christianity is what they say it is?
American culture today is the child of christian churches – for better or for worse those traditions are our parents. I often (humorously, but there’s a solid dose of truth in all good humor) introduce my biological parents by telling people that I’ve made it my life’s work to raise them well, and I’m very proud of what they’ve become. I do realize it is they who raised me, but I think they also realize that for decades the reverse has been true as well. Do I agree with my parents about everything? No, I don’t. But I also don’t claim that those who made me what I am are irredeemable and worthy of my chiding and exuberant scorn. That would be childish of me. I do believe that there are people both today, and in every generation of the many thousands of years of human life, who are worth listening to. I’m not willing to dismiss them any more. I’m ready to learn from their mistakes, and mine. I’m ready to try to clear the air instead of pissing in the well. Admittedly, there are worse parents than mine by far. Admittedly, I don’t – stronger, can’t – identify with any organized group of modern “christians” I’ve encountered, but I do consider myself christian. A post-ex-christian.
What follows is three gems from the father of Deconstructionist Theory himself, Jacques Derrida. I will hazard a guess that he might have started with the idea that before you deconstruct any piece of literature, you have to read the words...
“A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible.”
“That is what deconstruction is made of: not the mixture but the tension between memory, fidelity, the preservation of something that has been given to us, and, at the same time, heterogeneity, something absolutely new, and a break.”
“These critics organize and practice in my case a sort of obsessive personality cult which philosophers should know how to question and above all, to moderate.” – Jacques Derrida
It Was Fun While It Lasted
I grew up Catholic because that’s what Irish-Americans near Boston do. I hated going to Church. It sucked!! The only respite I had was reading Tom Sawyer for the first time and seeing I was not the old child struggling. Unlike other children bored out of their minds in Church, however, I saw early on that this religion, and religion in general, was peddling something I, and most people, sorely needed.
The lives adults led, I saw, was worse than Church, and not only because it was permanent! I pictured a spy movie where the hero is captured by flying vampire Nazis (!) and is given the choice to either die like a man or rat out his fellow spies, who were fighting for truth, justice, football and probably boobs.
Naturally the hero caves and rats out his friends and spends the rest of his life turning in every person he has ever loved to evil, bloodsucking Nazis. On special days, for extra-good behavior, maybe a cookie.
Aaaanyway, that’s what adult life looked like to me at the precocious age of my first wet dream. I guessed that if adults did not have something to aid them getting through such stupid and unrewarding days at the office, they would surely shrivel up and die a horrid death.
My parents sent me to a private Catholic High School, where I learned nothing that made me dislike the Catholic Church less. The teachers, whether brothers, priests, or the other one that means not-Church-affiliated (levity? maybe?), never shied away from any of the more depressing events in Church history, they forged in me a mind that could think for itself–even if that mind would one day turn away forever from the Church, and they showed only support and understanding for all of the other students.
I excitedly toyed with the idea of becoming a brother, if not a priest! It made a hell of a lot more sense than working as a fucking accountant or as a wall street broker (lack of caps intentional). I would be doing something for people! I would be helping to make the planet a better, more moral place! And I would certainly not be wasting my time with any material goods that meant nothing and which I couldn’t take with me when I died.
I was so gung-ho I raced home one day to tell my father how special I thought being a Christian could be. But not, you know, the Christian politician kind who thanks God before bombing El Salvador to kingdom come. Not the Christian corporation executive that thanks God before closing his factory and opening one in Singapore. Not the Christian who goes to Church on Sundays, on Christmas and Easter and says “Well, my work is done here!”
I wanted to live like one one of Jesus’ followers. I wanted to gather at night in caves and risk death just to break bread and worship with the people I loved and for whom I had the most respect for. I wanted to have a purpose, a worthwhile purpose-and nothing esle made any sense.
I spouted all of this at my father after another of his miserable and unrewarding days at the prison, where he worked as a guard.
He may have argued. He may have made a few points to the contrary. But the Church had always been his idea-why wouldn’t he be glad to see me go in that direction? I was so excited I neither heard his answers nor noticed that his temperature was rising.
Finally, I told him how the early Christians lived a Communist lifestyle, and that it seemed, to me, like it made a lot more sense than ours.
Which is when he blew up.
Communists had killed his brother in Vietnam, he said.
That was the last time I ever spoke about religion with him. That was the last time I ever took any religion seriously. If I had to choose between any religion, I would probably go with either Catholicism or Buddhism, but I needn’t.
I have since learned that the early Christians stole most of their rituals from competitors at the time (Mithraism), and that all organized religions exist like businesses, for their own petty, materialistic, worldly ends.
Who needs that, especially when God is around us wherever we go...outside? Going inside, even into Churches, is hiding from he/she/it.
by Aaron Willis
Eve woke to a sunny morning in the garden. Yesterday it rained and the plants, lush and quenched, swayed in the morning breeze carrying the scent of wet soil. Adam snored and turned over, kicking as he did and clipped Eve in the belly, knocking her breath out for a second. She looked him over. A hairy-faced, hairy backed lummox. He hadn’t bathed in the pool by the waterfall for sixteen moons and his stench was deafening. Eve went to gather breakfast and to breathe fresh air.In a broad leaf, Eve collected some of the purple berries she loved and a few figs and nuts. She enjoyed them in silence on the hillock overlooking the waterfall. But her peace didn’t last long. Adam stirred. “Eve! Where are you woman?” She chewed silently, didn’t answer, wanted to pretend she hadn’t heard so she could extend the serenity for a few more seconds. “Eve!” He bellowed and stomped through the ferns.She shrank into herself as she sat, dreading. Now he would be angry. He searched and his eyes fell on her, his brow furrowed. “Why didn’t you answer? Did you forget how to listen you stupid bitch?”Eve stammered, “ Saw a humming...”He stood over her with hands on hips. “You what? I can’t hear you. Now I’ve forgotten how to listen.”Eve swallowed, “I saw a hummingbird, I didn’t want to frighten it away. It was so lovely.” Adam sat next to her, took the leaf out of her hands and funneled the berries and nuts into his gullet with one motion. “Why don’t you get some more,” Adam suggested, and with a stern look in his eyes made it clear it was not just a suggestion. Eve flinched, rubbed a bruise on her left arm and stood. He threw the leaf at her chest with a slap. “Be quick about it. Don’t get distracted by hummingbirds. If I have to find you again, you won’t like it.”Eve strode away, eager to be away from his stare and stink. She tried to remember happier times with him. He did save her from that wild animal, and in his arms she felt safe. And it was frightening to think of being alone. Eve wished a wild sabre-toothed anything would stroll through on a daily basis so his anger would be aimed at it instead of her.“You belong to me,” he told her when they first met. “You were made for me. My cloud friend told me. He made everything. He took one of my bones and made you.”Eve replied, “Where is your friend? I’ve never seen him.”Adam stood over her thrusting his chest into her. “You think you could see him? You think you’re worthy? Did you hear what I said? You’re from my bone! You’re a piece of me. Why would he appear to you? You’re less than me, a chunk of bone! You don’t get to ask questions about my cloud friend. You don’t get to question me about anything. I don’t take questions from bits of skeleton.”Eve snapped back into the present. A tree stood in front of her, its branches far above her reach, or even Adam’s reach. Among the leaves, red ripe fruit hung tantalizingly, dewdrops gathered on the underside. Neither of them had ever had it, and she wondered about its flavor, the texture. He came stomping through, found her staring up.Adam placed his hands on his hips. “Those. Yeah, I saw those a few days ago. Can’t get to ’em.”Eve pointed at one on the lowermost branch. “Could you get that one? If you jumped? I think it might be bigger today, heavier. It should be lower and...”Adam readied himself. He ran a few paces, jumped and scraped wildly at the air below the fruit, landed on his knees. He circled back, leaped again, stretched his arms out, but missed. On his third try, he started at a sprint, leapt and crashed sideways into the trunk. He cried out and tumbled into the grass, a deep gash in his forehead. Adam put his hand up to the wound, stared at the blood. Eve hid a smile behind her hand but when he looked over, changed her eyes to that of shock.“Oh no! Are you ok?”Adam sulked and furrowed his brow into a scowl. “It’s nothing. I just remembered my cloud friend said we shouldn’t eat those anyway. Said they were forbidden and bad things will happen if we get them, so that’s why I got hurt for trying.”He shuffled off to wash his wound by the waterfall pool. Seemed he always brought up his invisible friend every time he had a shortcoming. Eve plotted. She loved to make crowns by weaving the grasses on the hillock. She figured if she weaved enough of them together they could make a long rope and she would be able to pull down the branch.For the next few days Eve wove several small wreaths, and linked them together. The chain got longer and longer. Adam still sulked about his wound all week and kept to himself on the rock face, striking sparks with some flint. She only saw him when he came to the flattened nook where they slept. Most nights he would crush her underneath and thrust away as if she were nothing more than a...piece of his own skeleton. That week, he didn’t try to insert himself. He came back smelling of the fermented grapes, turned away from her, elbowed her in the ribs, then fell to snoring. Eve counted his ribs while he slept. None appeared to be missing. She doubted the cloud friend existed.When the chain was long enough, she went to the tree and threw the loop up four times and missed. On the fifth try, she caught the branch and the chain held. Eve wrapped the slack around her wrist, pulled and reeled in a little at a time. The branch got lower and lower. She felt the chain loosening and ripping in places. Before it broke altogether, Eve managed to grab two of the red fruit off the branch, and tumbled onto her back in victory.She sat on the hillock and bit into the firm juicy flesh. It was delicious and tart. She thought of eating both apples, but she decided to give the other one to Adam with a twofold agenda: to do something nice so he wouldn’t be mad, and to show she did something he couldn’t; which would make him mad. Eve wanted to be daring. She was more clever. She gathered the food. She solved problems. She kept them going. All he did was kill an animal once. He made things ugly and fearful. He was mean and forceful. What if all other food was gone and the last thing left was the apples? They’d starve. If not for Eve.She strode up as he lay back throwing from a pile of stones into the pool below the waterfall. Eve gently placed the apple in his lap. Adam absently picked it up and took a bite, threw another stone. Eve waited for a reaction slow in coming. After another bite, he finally looked at it. “Where’d you find this? Have we had this before?”Eve sat and smiled proudly. “No, we haven’t had this before. It’s from that tree.”Adam bit again and mumbled, “What tree?”Eve leaned forward, staring insistently. “That tree.”A few chews and then his jaw stopped. “No you didn’t. It fell off and you picked it up off the ground.” His eyes searched her for deception. “You can’t jump higher than me.”Eve said, “I made a rope to pull the branch down.”Adam studied her gaze and she returned it, defiantly. He broke the stare and stood up grasping a large stone from the pile. Eve brushed off some dirt from her thighs, began a list of things to say she’d been rehearsing. “There are going to be changes. First, you don’t touch me unless I want it. And I never want to be hit, pinched, slapped, called names, or yelled at. Second...”Adam said, “Look, a hummingbird.”Eve spun her head and he brought the stone down on the back of her skull. Before she lost consciousness, she smelled copper and felt a an itchy stickiness slide into her eyebrow.Eve woke to smoke everywhere. She stood and coughed, braced her arm over her mouth. Staggering here and there, she wove past burning grass, trees and bushes. The apple tree was blazing brighter than all else and looked to have a pile of blackened logs and brush at its base.Out of the garden area and into a clearing she found Adam, arms crossed and scowling. Smoke stained and sweat streaked, he resembled an animal.“What happened?” She asked.Adam hissed, “You ruined it. You ruined everything. You weren’t supposed to eat from that tree, I told you. I burn....it burned down. My cloud friend was angry.”Eve blinked and surveyed the torrent of flames that used to be home. “You burned it?”“No, my cloud friend did it. Told me to. He did it. Because you couldn’t do as you’re told. Now we have to find a new home. Come on, you bitch.”Adam grabbed her by the arm, but Eve wrenched it away. Her beautiful spot on the hill above the waterfall: destroyed. The lovely plants, the figs and nuts. Gone. Gone because of this brute. Her eyes seethed with rage and her lip quivered ready to scream. She stood with fists balled. They stared, neither blinking while ashes floated by.Adam held out his arm, gestured away from the blaze. “You coming?”
I am standing at the back of a church. The floor is a smooth expanse of red carpet, and there is a hallowed, protective feel within—the rest of the world might be destined for damnation, but within these walls, we are safe.
Gilded and gothic, its high ceilings and stained glass windows betray its affectation for tradition, but the church looks down on Pentecostal and charismatic practices. We live by faith—and extensive bible studies.
It is a Thursday, bible study day. I have been sick most of the afternoon, a phenomenon I am still unsure as to the nature of, but in a few years' time, a therapist will tell me it is 'an acute anxiety response' and I will think: yes, that is what it feels like.
I joined the church whilst on a year abroad, when I thought my grandmother might be dying and the ache in my chest matched mostly what my idea of desolate isolation must feel like. The pastor talked about belonging and I broke down and cried—but they were happy tears. I was sold a few months later when I sat in a room and a woman came in an hour late and Mona—one of the church volunteers— said only:
'Are you okay? Can I get you some coffee?'
I was looking for a sense of belonging, I was sold on the love, and, later, on the idea that God might heal me.
A trait my friends have laughed at me for is that I throw myself head first into everything I do. I am glass overfilled from the start. At the time, I had no awareness of this, and my initial bursts of energy soon had me roped into activities I didn't want to do.
I didn't want to always have to give food out to the upper middle class who visited on Sunday evenings, didn't want to give up my Friday mornings to church rearrangement, the occasional weekend to cook in a Welsh basement kitchen for a church gathering. I didn't want to be an unpaid nursery manager every Thursday and Sunday morning. I didn't want to be noticed as absent whenever i didn't show up on Thursdays, didn't want to be unforgiven for being busy with work and socialising and having a life.
There were not enough hours in a day for me to cohabit every world I belonged to, and church, I felt, judged me the most harshly for the hours I couldn't give. The enoughs I gave were never enough, and thank yous ran dry very quickly.
'Are you back for good now?' someone asked me drily. I said nothing.
'You've been away a while,' joked someone else.
'Sit down and tell me what happened to you.' a woman intervened—to save my soul, a kindness, I realised.
I felt guilty, scrutinised, like someone in a bad relationship. Guilty—always, perpetually, for everything. Guilty for being stupid enough to be a Christian—idiot, my siblings sneered— guilty for not being strong enough to always defend my beliefs and always be the weird Christian girl who didn't swear—God will help you get there, and accept it, my dearest friends said.
It has to be said, that Christians, the majority, are good people. Great people. I love them dearly. Even the ones who broke up with boyfriends because said boyfriends weren't against gay marriage. Even the ones who looked patient and pained when I said I wasn't straight. And I think I might have stayed, were it not for the Resurrection.
There was something very gross to me about the idea that I should sing hymns and be saved, while the people I loved the most in the world would burn up in flames—and for what? Could God really demand this? It seemed strange, to be absolved of all sin but one.
I believe there is a distinction between what God, or Grace, or the Universe, or Pre-determinism, might want, and what people who believe in God tell you to do. What is written in texts thousands of years old. Because people want power, and money, and more power. People cannot write the sacred down without corrupting it.
And I realised: it is wrong, for me, to stand within these walls, and be saved by a God who would choose me but not the many, many worthier souls I have had the privilege of meeting, some of whom were gay, some of whom made mistakes, but all of whom did not deserve the punishment the Bible promised. And so I walked away, from that gilded, Gothic church.
picture perfect people
It... well, it wasn't about me necessarily.
It was about everyone like me, everyone who didn't fit their picturesque description of what a person was allowed to be.
It was the late-night, mental-claustrophobia-panic-attacks of "I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this..."
It was the fake smiles and the forced laughter when someone said a harmful joke.
It was the hypocrisy of worshipping loudly in public to stave off the breakdown that was going to happen a few minutes later.
It was the "God is tempting you, don't look at girls. It's disgusting and it's wrong and if anyone found out they would hate you."
It was seeing your friends make fun of the boy who liked to paint his nails and the girl who wore short skirts because they were sinful and immoral, and laughing alongside them even though all you wanted to do was go up to them and ask, "How do you do it? Where do you find the bravery?"
It was coming to the realization at a young age that God loves everyone except girls who like girls and boys who like boys, everyone except people like you.
They wanted a picture perfect person, but they got me instead. They wanted to change me and "fix" me and cut off all the pieces they didn't like, but I am not dough for them to take a cookie cutter to and create what they want. I'm not done hiding, but one day I will be, and that's when I will shine.
i loved church until i was 17.
i was a freshman in college, and i was young, and i wanted to have a taste of the real world.
i met a boy. and i discovered the wonderful pleasures of what happens when all the clothes come off, and the lights are turned down, and no one else is around.
however, because i went to a Christian college my parents found out, and i was ostracized by my church, humiliated in front of all.
and i began to question how could you punish one person for something so beautiful and lovely that felt so good?
I used to pray to god because I was lonely; and afraid, perdition and fear were all that filled my head, rattling like a coin in a tin can--echoing. Questions that were rebuked and dismissed; dissatisfied I left to find answers and came to the conclusion that you weren't real, none of it ever was, only stories.