Saturday, January 8, 2011

Finding 'god' on an Airplane (Part deux)

The story continues

Her story was heartbreaking in many respects. As I really listened, focusing closely on the rest of her face, I noticed the signs of someone who has felt disappointment; someone who has lived unhealthily.

To make the telling of this story easier, I will refer to the woman on the plane as "Jane." *

Born Catholic, Jane never really felt connected to her religion. It simply did not impact her in any substantive way. Her parents were both alcoholics. Jane's mother was also a victim of incest, an experience that was horrifying and deeply scarring and which led to her subsequent alcoholism. However, Jane's mother tried to be a good mother once she had her own children, and Jane recalled some positive and loving moments during her childhood.

Jane did not say all that much, in retrospect, about her own adolescence. But by the time she was a young adult she was drinking alcohol and had became a drug user also. As I recall she hinted that she sold her body also during those dark times. At some point, her own mother "found god" and "straightened her life out," something that for years had no appreciable effect on Jane at all. She was deeply distracted by her own self-centered, destructive life, and thought her mother was "weird."

One day, as Jane relates it, she woke up deeply distraught, depressed, and ready to end her own life. She felt as though there was nothing left to live for, and did not believe that there was anything that she could do to improve her life. "In that moment," she told me, "I decided to call out to God** as a last resort--not really believing He even existed. So I got down on my knees and prayed, 'God, I don't know if you're real or not or if you can even hear me, but if you're there please, please help me.' And seconds later I felt filled with what I can only describe as love; and I felt hope and I realized that God was real and that He did answer my prayers and that He loved me. With His help, I knew I could change my life." She said from that moment on she never touched another drop of alcohol or drugs; that she "cleaned herself up." She began going to a "Bible Church" and learned all about how Jesus loved her and all people, especially sinners. About how He gave his life for all of us. About how we are nothing without Him.

I must tell you that Jane's face was infused with joy and perhaps gratitude as she told me all this. I have absolutely no doubt that she believes she found (her) Truth.

Eventually I asked her a few questions. I offered that I was "not Christian" but did elaborate further; nor did she ask. I asked her what she believes happens to people like me who do not believe as she does. "Jesus loves those of you especially." she replied. She then quoted a Bible passage (which unfortunately I don't remember) but was something to the effect of 'it's never too late--as long as a person accepts Jesus on their deathbed.' She mentioned the End Times. I asked her what would happen to people who did not "believe," or those who are of other religions and may not ever have been exposed to Christianity. She explained that according to the Book of Revelation, truly only those people who are "believers" will live forever in the glory of Christ. All others will spend eternity in misery with Satan, undergoing unspeakable tortures.

At roughly this point in our conversation, I could tell she was worried about me--about my soul. I could practically hear her thinking, she seems like a nice woman with a husband and children... and that she truly did not want me to go to Hell and suffer unbelievable torture for eternity. But she did not say this aloud.

Within her retelling of Revelation, she mentioned that (and I am paraphrasing here, because I can't remember exactly how she said it) that several signs of the Apocalypse were upon us, and that " eighteen months when Obamacare forces us to get implants under our skin, True Believers will reject it, otherwise we will not be allowed into God's Heavenly Kingdom."


I honestly don't know how I held it together at this point, but I did. I asked for clarification: Yes--I heard her correctly.

And that's where my tolerance hit the wall.

Up until this point, it was an interesting conversation. If someone believes that God--or god, or an ancestor, or Goddess, or a tree, or James Dean's ghost--saved them from whatever earthly hell they'd been residing in, it is not my place to assume they are right or wrong. I wholeheartedly believe that as a species we are programmed to make sense of the world--or not make sense of it--in a whole slew of creative and differing ways. I don't care what the heck anyone else believes is "God;" nor do I care if someone is an atheist or agnostic. As long as you are not raining on my parade, go and believe anything you wish.

But, this person actually believed that our President and his "obamacare" was 1) a sign of the apocalyspe and 2) that Americans were going to be forced to get an implant under their skin--and that this implant equated to Satan's sign. And therefore, any true Christian would be unable to get this "implant."

(As an aside, the closest reference I could find to anything that may resemble her argument in Revelation is this: If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. (Revelation 14:9,10.) Being the Researcher I am, I found that the Internet is indeed full of doomsayers making this same arument in various ways. See for example here and here. Is Verichip a sign of the End Times? No more so than Elvis was in the 50's. Or the Teletubbies were.)

And My Point Is?...

I could go on, about how stories warning of the ill effects of verichips make great science fiction. Which they do. Humans + Forced electronic implants + Mind control = Dystopian gold. But this same story is being told in churches. As though it is Truth, and not thinly veiled racism, fear of terrorism, and good old-fashioned fear mongering. In churches--in places where people should be teaching about love and tolerance.

But I said these posts would be more about what I learned from this experience, and how it gets to the heart of why I write. So here you go...

1) I believe people "find" certain religions to "save them" because they have been badly damaged. Due to poor self-esteem, they think they need "saving;" and because they are damaged they don't believe they have the inner strength to better themselves in other (non-religious) ways.

2) To the point above--clearly, humans are easily damaged. The preponderance of religions that force shame, seclusion, fear, abstinence, etc. is, I think, a product of damaged humans' longings for "betterment."

3) These religions and the social systems that support them then become the "damagers," warping peoples' views of things such as nature, male-female relationships, etc.

I don't think all religion is bad--I consider myself a religious person and also do not count myself among the atheists. But bad religion is bad. If a religion:

* tells you you are innately sinful/unclean/unworthy,
* teaches that humans have dominion over all of creation,
* demands that giving up your very life is the ultimate gift to your deity,
* demands that you must wear uncomfortable or punishing clothing,
* demands that you must suspend reason, do not have the freedom to make sense of the world as you wish, or treat the "other" as lesser than yourself,

...then question whether this Deity/religion truly has your best interests at heart.

I don't pretend to know into the hearts and minds of all people. I don't know the intricacies of what people have experienced in their lives, or what they need to go on from day to day. But I fear for all of us when so many of us are making decisions on how to live, what to believe, and how to treat others based on a faulty perception of what "god" wants of us.

So I write in hopes that I can offer alternative viewpoints to people who have not been exposed to them. I strive to create understanding of human diversity. I do this in a science fiction context, because it is often much easier to tell a contemporary story by dressing it in fantastical clothing.

Jane and I parted on good terms. I believe that she hoped that she had found a convert in me--that she had given me a glimpse of the one "True God" and that I would find my way to him and thus save my immortal soul.

But what I could not tell Jane was that I could never serve a god who demands that we believe Obamacare=the devil. Or that teaches the world was created in six days. Or that tells his followers that they are the chosen ones, and that all others are doomed for their disbelief.

I won't serve a god who tells me to fly airplanes into buildings. I won't listen to a god who says being gay is abhorrent, or that my very body is sinful and must be covered at all times.

I implore the religious among you to be tolerant. I do not presume to tell you not to believe--that is your right. But I ask that you consider the fact that spirituality and religion can coexist with tolerance, love, and reason.

* I never did get Jane's real name.
** I use God with a capital here in deference to Jane's experience.

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