The first story this week, comes from author Carolyn Hyppolite:
There was never a time when the question of God was not important in my life. As a child, I was disinclined to believe. I was appalled by the story of the testing of Abraham—God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son. I was eleven years old when I read that story and I decided that this was the kind of deity that I should stay away from. Despite my natural skepticism, there is another part of me that has found something appealing in the Christian story. At its best, it is a story about sacrificial love and the restoration of a broken world into something whole, just and beautiful. Perhaps, all of us can find some attractiveness in such ideals. In 2005, I had what I believed to be an encounter with the divine—a calling from God. I fell in love with Jesus. It transformed me radically. I became a zealous and conservative Christian. From that day, everything in my life had religious significance. I became obsessed with what God’s plans were for my professional life; I was only open to dating the most devout of men; I prayed constantly; I looked for His hand in everything. Yet, all was not well in Christian paradise. For despite my love affair with God, there were always questions and problems that nagged me—matters about the world, the Bible and my personal experiences that seemed contrary with the existence of an omnipotent, loving and intervening deity. God as preached was often far different than God as experienced.
Our next story comes from James:
Blame it on my parents. They always told me to “think for yourself”. I doubt they ever considered what would happen if I really did that. Now, I suspect what they meant was, “Think what we tell you but do it in your own words.” Too late. When I was 13, I began to question everything and soon the total absurdity of religion became apparent. Because I have been “encouraged” (forced) to read the bible several times, it was easy for me to see the contradictions in the book, what christians professed to believe, and how they really lived. When I refused to go with them to their church, they said they would “Make me go.” I asked them, “How are you going to make me? How will forcing me to attend church change my mind?” Already, their attitude was starting to harden me against everything else about religion they would tell me. Their next idea was to have their minister talk to me. I told them it was a waste of everyone’s time. They persisted and had him come to the house to “Talk some sense into me.” (as if that ever works for anyone) After about 15 minutes of him quoting the bible to me and me pointing out that he was either wrong in his quotes or showing him how it said something else in another place, he became very angry and told me I was going to hell. I suspect it was because I knew the bible better than he did and was, at age 13, able to prove how ridiculous his arguments were. I told him, “If there is a Hell I’ll see you there. Save me a nice place, OK?” He said I was an impertinent, disrespectful child. By then, I was angry myself and for the first time, I told a christian that he was a hypocrite, a liar, and a fool. My parents insisted that I apologize. I refused and left the room to a lot of yelling and threats. For the next four years, I heard about this at least once a week. So the night I graduated high school, I left my parent’s home and didn’t see them again for well over a year. By then, with the credits I had accumulated in high school and summer school, I had completed a couple of years of college. Fortunately, I was able to pay for this myself. I was entering the army and wanted to try to make peace with them, but had to listen to the same old recriminations and arguments again. The next time I saw them was two years later when I was getting married. After several years of an on-again, off-again relationship they finally agreed to just not discuss it any more. I’d like to say that worked, but subtle hints slowly became outright condemnation. Then I took a job transfer from Ohio to Arizona, so family meetings were rare enough to become occasions for something other than contention. I do have to say that I appreciate the other things they did for me, like encouraging my education and equipping me with the work ethic and attitudes I needed to survive and thrive at that early age. In those areas, they were excellent parents and I am grateful for those things. What did I learn? Even your family can turn against you if you refuse to share in their illusions. There are times, if you are to become your own person, you must stand firm in what you know to be true.
Finally, a story from Mark:
My story begins like so many others. Born and raised in a conservative Christian home. The usual “Jesus loves you and there is a hell repent or burn” stuff. I was always on the rebellious side. My parents were always good to us, but I was told repeatedly growing up how sinful I was. And I bought it. Never felt.good about myself. Always feeling like I was going to roast eternally in hell.
Mark, I am so sorry that you experienced this. It’s absolutely unthinkable to lose a child and I commend your strength. Thank you so much for sharing.