Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Doctrine. Religion. Faith.

Somewhere between all of those we develop a belief system for ourselves. (Even disbelief is a belief as justifiable as any other commercial doctrine.) This system of belief that we develop and nurture guides us as our inner voices through life - at least until we deviate or evolve into a new belief system.
As a child I can remember visiting a different church than my family usually attended, one more conservative in nature. In Sunday School we read part of the lesson and were instructed to close our booklets. The teacher then asked us what we had just read. I raised my hand and told the Bible story in my own words. I remember thinking that it was a silly question because we had just read it. After I finished the teacher looked at me and said, "No, that is incorrect. Would someone else like to try?" He might as well have slapped me with a wet fish. A girl next to me smiled and told the same story I did, a more detailed version with numbers included. When she finished he smiled and said, "Yes. That's what we read."

I raised my hand. I didn't understand. It was the same story. I asked for clarification.

He told me that instead of saying "a group of people" she said "47 people" (or whatever it was), which made her story correct. The class looked at me like I was an idiot. He tried to move on with the lesson.

I raised my hand again. Sister elbowed me. I wasn't a brilliant kid, but I was smart enough to do okay on the reading comprehension Basic Skills tests. "But what does that matter? It's the same story." My inner heretic was born, and I didn't have a clue.

He closed his book and the class turned into a lesson about how if you could not quote the Bible by chapter and verse, you would not get into Heaven.

I was in middle school. I hadn't read the whole Bible yet, but I was pretty sure that Jesus didn't say that. I raised my hand. I asked where it said such things. The teacher became angrier and went into more hellfire and brimstone and damnation and such.

So now I'm damned to hell because I didn't know that instead of a "group" of people, there were really "47" people. There goes my golden ticket to Heaven. (This all happened before the time in my life where I had really learned the art of slight sarcasm. I wasn't trying to be a heretic. I wasn't trying to be an ass. I was naive; and I just didn't understand.)

I raised my hand. Sister elbowed me. "If we're supposed to know everything the Bible says (by chapter and verse), are we also supposed to know what each version says? What's so special about the King James Version?" I might as well have spit on the book itself. At this point the teacher's face was beet red and he was sweating bullets. He was angry.

My Sister had broken two of my ribs by now, cuing me to shut my mouth. I took her lead and nodded my head the rest of the class. I was ashamed that I had failed my pop-test on reading comprehension and memorization. Sister and I didn't tell Mom and Dad that we were both destined for Hell, her by genetic association.

Incidentally, we didn't go there for Sunday School again.
The saddest part of this story is that mine isn't special. Most adults I know have different versions of someone damning them to hell. Thank goodness for the New Testament, eh?

But the purpose of this post isn't to point fingers and say whose version is more accurate, or if knowing that 47 people did whatever will actually win the Final Jeopardy question to get you into Heaven. It's simply not the point.

What I want to talk about today is only slightly related to that story. I want to complain about people who are in respected leadership positions within religious institutions who say and do things that are the polar opposite to the things they preach. It's wrong.

For example, it is wrong for religious leaders to preach peace, love and understanding while in the pulpit, and then turn around and say ugly things about groups of people who don't interpret scriptures the same way.



Angela said...

Great post. I'd extend your challenge to all who claim to be followers of a specific religion, not just the religious leaders. I believe we have convinced ourselves that intolerance is ok as long as we "know" that our version of the "truth" is correct -- I think this will ultimately lead to our downfall if attitudes do not evolve.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

genderist said...

Exactly, Angela... and nothing good has ever come from "the church" making racist comments and insulting groups of people.

It doesn't bother me so much when religious sects build and destroy castles in their own sand boxes, but I get tense when they try to plan king of the castle in someone else's sandbox.