There was no religion in my family. Not on either side. We weren’t atheists that I know of but we definitely weren’t affiliated with any church or belief system. That made us the absolute minority in the middle of the Great Bible Belt where the belief in a Christian god defined all communities and most every person. I would be pressed to remember anyone I knew that didn’t go to church regularly or at least on the major religious holidays. But we didn’t. Ever. Not parents. Not grandparents. I have never asked why. I don’t know if god is present in my family. That’s an entirely different question from whether religion was present. It seems that god was there in some way but it was manifested in nature. Maybe that was just my god. My god as a kid was the one who created worms and fish and trees and fireflies. My god didn’t create people.
There was a Baptist church practically across the street from where I grew up. Wait. There was a Baptist church practically across the street from where anyone in Oklahoma grew up. Or Church of Christ. Or Adventists. Or Methodists. Or some other holy temple. Occasionally gravity would roll me toward the church. There was a real steeple with a real bell in it. Every Sunday morning, ding dong, ding dong, ding dong, ding dong. It really was a covert advertising campaign. Just like the Slap Chop. They lure you in with bells and whistles and pretty lights and fancy windows and as soon as you enter the cage the door slams shut and you are there. A captive. A prisoner forced to listen and possibly even learn something. It’s not like church is going to hurt you but I don’t understand why it can’t be comfortable. I had real trouble trying to listen sitting on wooden pews. God had clouds to sit on. Why can’t I have a cloud too. But I was enamored by the bell. I wanted so bad to pull the rope and make it go bing bong. And I tried. But the rope was conveniently placed well above my curious little hands. Bastards. Eventually I got the opportunity to pull the rope as one of the church folks lifted me up so I could pull on it when the time came. I don’t know if I ever went back. Mission accomplished. Over and out. Sayonara. Elvis has left the building.
There were some religious zealots on our little road. I don’t know which came first, the chicken (people) or the egg (the church) but many in our loosely bound neighborhood were hard wired to the church. But not my family of course. Being young and impressionable I was considered fair game for the savers of lost souls. And apparently my soul was roaming too free even at 8 yrs old for some of them to bear. So I was often “given the wonderful opportunity” to attend special events or Sunday school or revivals or vacation bible school. I remember getting excited about getting to attend some church event and then when I got there it was always the exact same stuff packaged differently. Very Hansel and Gretel. Bold new wrapping on the same old toy. I would bolt and run home. You can keep feeding a kid the same thing over and over again and expect them to learn. The only kids they were converting were the ones who were forced by their parents to be there in the first place. Like shooting fish in a barrel. That’s just not even fair or fun. Religion left a bad taste in my mouth at an early age. If god can’t keep me entertained then how great could he be?
I was baptized several times. I didn’t know what it was for. I was just a kid. I would go to a different church with different people and the same thing would always happen. They would eventually round up all the youngsters and herd them into a little room and the interrogation would begin. In my mind I was tied to a metal folding chair, blinding halogen lights shined in my face, a steady constant drip drip drip of water beating my forehead, toothpicks would be inserted under my fingernails and broken off, candles on the ground lapped at the exposed flesh of my feet. Then a man, always wearing a poor fitting suit with a white shirt and a hideous polyester print tie, would begin brow beating me in to submission. Do you love the lord? Do you believe Christ died for your sins? Are you ready to join the lord and be cleansed of all your sins? My reply was always the same. YES! YES! YES! Anything to stop the torture and make the bad men go away. YES! YES! PLEASSSSEEE! Then, next thing I knew, I would get dunked in a tank of water. Again. And If I came back to that same church three months from now, the process would be repeated. Again.
It’s amazing how, if you’re going to an event like a church service, that people like my parents automatically assume that everything is going to be safe and good and normal even if they don’t know the people involved.
I got “invited” to a church camp outing camping thingy once. The same process as before. Excited to go then I find out it’s the same old thing. Let me tell you a story about sons of preachers where I grew up. They are mean. They are forced to listen to their dad’s preach at them nonstop. Their lives are tied to the church. They are powerless. There is no sparing of the rod. Heaven forbid you spoil the kids…and by spoil I mean educate them. They have no self esteem because god sees them as imperfect and unclean each and every Sunday of their lives. And when they are set free they lash out and anyone and anything in their path. Puppies, kittens, pretty song birds, cuddly squirrels and me. So I got beat up. No matter what I did, or what questions I asked, or how I conducted myself I always ended up with a black eye or a bloody nose. Often right under the noses of the preachers themselves. “boys will be boys”. No dumbass. Your boys will be bullies. And so are you. Eventually I got old enough to say no to the benign invitations from my saviors and the abuse ended. But not because anyone stood up for me. Because I walked away on my own two feet.
In my mid to late teens I went on a religious journey. I had many friends whose families attended churches regularly and their behaviors just never reflected the teachings in the churches they so lovingly attended. It didn’t make sense to me in any way. So I made it my quest to attend as many different church denominations as I could so I could make a real comparison for myself. It was a research project on my local human population and their relationships with religion. I attended revivals. And church camps. And churches of every sort available. I knelt on benches. I took communion. I spoke in tongues. I did not handle snakes but I watched it being done. I was prayed for and had hands laid upon me. I avoided the back rooms and declined invitations to be counseled about god. I didn’t get beat up. I sang sad depressing hymns and joyous uplifting tunes. I raised my hands to the sky and I spun around and around in place. I got healed of fake ailments a couple of times. I just tried to do whatever everyone else was doing.
My results? Religion never spoke to me. I never felt part of any group. I enjoyed giant made-for-tv churches. I enjoyed services that only lasted a half hour. After all that searching I still felt alone in the bible belt.
Today I am a highly educated engineer. I have an unstoppable quest for knowledge of my universe both within me and beyond me. And I have reached a conclusion. I believe in a higher power of some indeterminate type. There are too many random events that have to come together for a world such as our own. There are questions that cannot be answered. For those things I need there to be someone in charge and making the rules. I also believe in the conservation of energy. So I believe my soul, as a quantum packet of energy, will be returned to the universe when I die and will be recycled into some other form of energy. Maybe my soul will just be background radiation or maybe it becomes dark matter or maybe it will be used to jumpstart another life form. Dunno. But it will go somewhere and the laws of physics of the universe will dictate what happens to it. And some higher power makes up those laws.
My god isn’t interested in me as some school project. My god isn’t trying to build some megatron robot with leftover pieces of human soul. My god doesn’t have some magic kingdom with gates that require you to have the correct password or wear a funny hat or grow a beard some specific length. My god doesn’t need a book of instructions. My god will just do what is necessary when the time comes. Whatever that may be. My quantum packet may just vanish forever mixed with other forms of quantum energy. Maybe my packet will be moved to some other plane of existence and reused and maybe I will be aware of what’s going on and maybe I won’t. I don’t see a lot of use in worrying about it or arguing about it or fighting you over it or convincing you that my way is the only way. I’ll use my personal quantum packet assigned to me to love my wife and love my kids and to learn all I can learn and help others if they ask.