The Road Upward (and to the Left)

The Road Upward to the left

Leftward Journey

I was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic High School, where, in my senior year, I decided I was an atheist. The nuns had taught me logic, and I reasoned that the world sucked so bad that either God was not good, (or he’d do something about it) or he was good, but he was not powerful enough to do anything (so he wasn’t much of a God) or he simply was NOT.

Losing My Religion

I went with “NOT” after being told it was no longer a sin to eat meat on Friday. Only a Catholic can understand why this was an existential issue. You see, we had been told all our lives that it was a sin to eat meat on Friday, so we always had fish. Even the public schools served fish on Friday to help us stay sinless. Now the Church said, “Psyche! It’s O.K., go grab a burger next Friday.” My conclusion was that they didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

What Bible?

It probably wasn’t a sin to have sex with your boyfriend either! Budding community organizer that I was, I gathered a bunch of friends and made an appointment with the priest who taught Marriage and Family. ‘So, fish on Friday is O.K.” “Yes.” You used to say it was a sin.” “Yes, but it’s not in the Bible.” “You say sex outside of marriage is a sin, is that going to be O.K. next week?” “No, of course not.” “Show us where it says that in the Bible.” God help him-he did not know-and he was teaching Marriage and Family.

Marvelous Hinduism

Even as an atheist, I felt there was something more to life than met the eye. I was what is now called “spiritual but not religious” a whole new category for poll takers. I eventually admitted that there was no way I could logically prove there was no God, so I had to admit that there could be a God, even if I didn’t like the idea. Therefore I called myself agnostic and practiced Hinduism, which is marvelous because you can be Hindu and agnostic at the same time.

Boring Churches

To be fair, I thought I should try Protestant Churches, mostly because the Catholic Church had said I should not and they were wrong about the fish. I was bored at the Protestant churches and the people were not friendly. I didn’t know much about Christianity, but I thought at the very least, Christians should be friendly.

Radical Jesus

While attending art school, I kept running into Jesus freaks. Feeling I had thoroughly tried Christianity and found it wanting, I rejected them with profanity. One day a Jesus freak asked me if I would read something with an open mind. “Sure,” I said, “I have a lot more open mind than you do.” It was just a booklet with Jesus quotes, but the Jesus quotes hit me hard. They had, as Gandalf said in Lord of the Rings, the ring of truth. I finished the book and said, “Why, I’d be a damned fool not to try this.” Suddenly aware of the numinous, I felt bad for cussing, then laughed when I realized that “damned fool” was perfectly accurate. So I prayed a pitiful prayer and waited. Nothing. I went into the kitchen and said, actually expecting an answer, “I’m supposed to be different. Am I different?”

The Holy Sledgehammer

That’s when I got hit upside the head by a Holy Sledgehammer, (not to be confused with Monty Python’s Holy Hand Grenade) which is what it takes, I guess, for hardheads. I have no idea how long I stood there and no real explanation for what happened, except that I was instantly and profoundly changed. I knew. I knew God was there and I was his. I’ve never stooped knowing, though there have been times that I’ve thought this is the only thing I do know.

Jesus Freak

I, too, became a Jesus freak. I went to church three times a week and became a Bible-thumping, “God said it-I believe it” fundamentalist. I also got involved in helping the poor, runaways, and the disadvantaged. Catholics are actually pretty good at this sort of thing and the fundamentalists generally approved. I spent the next 25 years doing social services and trying to drag my Protestant friends along-with some success.

Obama the Muslim

Fast forward past about 4,000 church services to a home Bible study in 2008: My friends were praying and fasting for Obama to be defeated in the upcoming election. Politically innocent, I asked why. “He’s a socialist.” “Why do you think he’s a socialist?” “If he’s elected, he’s going to nationalize the banks.” I pointed out that George Bush had done that a week previously. “He’s going to take our guns.” “Do you have a gun?”  “No, but I have the right to one.” “O.K.,” I acknowledged, “Anything else?”  “He’s a Muslim and not a U.S. citizen.”

Losing My Friends

“So you’re praying, but if he’s elected, you’ll accept that he’s supposed to be President?” They looked at one another fearfully. “Look guys, you seem so scared. Jesus never says you should be scared. Don’t you trust God to carry you through the trials of a democratic presidency?” I was fairly apolitical; I was just concerned about my friends. But I lost my friends that night, and I miss them.

Hard Right

I heard from them on Facebook, making cruel remarks about poor people, unemployed people, Hispanic people. Horrible, hateful things. When I got the courage to reply, they defriended me. Without friends and with time on my hands, I set out to debunk conspiracy theories, to prove that the U.S. was the best, most altruistic, most democratic, special nation ever. I’m a pretty good researcher. I found out that some conspiracy theories are painfully true, that Israel is being bad, and our everlasting wars have little to do with spreading democracy.

Dreams vs. Nightmares

I got so lonely I tried liberal denominations, but liberal theology is not the same thing as Christian/left. I believe Jesus taught radical fairness, kindness, and the absolute value of every human being, but I do not buy that he was a gay Hindu magician, for example.

The power of the extreme right is the power of nightmares, the power of fear, and I admit that is very powerful. But love is still the most powerful force in the universe and love never fails.

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3 responses to “The Road Upward (and to the Left)

  1. I see we’ve been on (roughly) parallel roads. I sense that there are way more like us who haven’t spoken up. God Bless You!

  2. Great thoughtful piece. Having been raised Catholic and not returning to faith for many decades, I relate well to the damage of religion. However, a caution, not all conservative evangelicals are hateful toward the poor, the unemployed, minorities, gays or even democrats :-). There are many who love the Lord, offer that love and hope to all, demonstrate their faith in the world though acts of unbelieable kindness and compassion, and I believe are making Jesus pleased. Just as I caution my conservative brethren to be loving, forgiving, and looking beyond the surface of fallen mankind, please be careful to not allow your experiences with some to taint all… Keep provoking thoughts, you do it well.

  3. Thanks for the comments and I agree-I know plenty of unsung evangelicals doing good. I shall try to remember to add that to future posts. I am not interested in any particular political party, I think they will only do what the people make them do-both parties. I watched a conservative debate on Iraq war this morning with a rabbi, a Protestant pastor and a Catholic priest that was shocking though. The Rabbi said western culture was superior, torture was fine, chemical and biological weapons are fine, morality is only for individuals, not governments, and there are no innocent civilians! The pastor disagreed but the priest semi-agreed. Prominent spiritual leaders-scary.

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