One day, as I sat in Church, I heard the man behind the pulpit tell a lie. Whether he was intentionally trying to deceive the congregation or was himself deceived is beside the point. He was a man of God, under divine anointing and speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. How could he say something that was not true? So while the rest of the congregation shouted, “Praise the Lord, Glory to God, Thank you, Jesus.” I sat there waiting for lightening to strike him dead or for some voice from Heaven to boom down “HE’S LYING.” No such thing occurred. It dawned on me that God expected me to use my brain to discern what is true and not just accept everything that comes from the pulpit as divine revelation.
Still, I did not leave the Church in a fit of disgust. One incident could not have done it. Ten incidents, of and by themselves, could not have done it, but it was a confluence of incidents that created in me a slowly increasing sense of dissatisfaction and cognitive dissonance.
From the time I was a wee child, going to Church was one painful experience after the other. You see, I am disabled. From the time I was a child I’ve had a slowly progressive visual and hearing impairment. Because there was so much I could hear, no one was aware there were things I was not hearing. As a result, behavior which should have been attributed to my disabilities was seen as disobedience and lack of common sense. I cannot blame people for acting on what they did not know. But in a place that promises solace to the rejected and weary, I found only more rejection. As I said, it was painful. But it wasn’t the behavior of other Christians that drove me from the Church. If anything, that only made me cling all the harder to Jesus Christ. After all, my faith was in him, not in man. I had a “personal relationship with Jesus.”
In my teens, I fell under the influence of a well known televangelist of the Word of Faith persuasion. Everyone was so excited. They were going to see God perform a great healing miracle. As time progressed and my disabilities continued, they cast jaundiced eyes my way. Even my mother jumped on me. “Why are you not healed yet? You must be doing something wrong.” To this day, almost 35 years later, she still holds me responsible for not letting God heal me. This was around the time of the fall of televangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker. I became the local stand-in for the disappointment and disillusionment the Church felt towards the Bakker’s.
After high school, I went to Biola University, a school that leans heavily towards Calvinism trying to reconcile Word of Faith teachings with Calvinism nearly drove me insane I developed a fear of death—not my death, but the death of those around me. I did not trust God to be able to keep them alive if I wasn’t constantly praying for them. I’d pray for one uncle and another uncle would die. I cannot say if what I experienced could clinically be defined as panic attacks, but they might as well have been. Finally, the absurdity of taking responsibility for things that were totally outside my control and knowledge began to erode my fear. Still, I did not leave the Church.
One day a famous televangelist, who touted himself as a prophet, came to our Church. I knew that surely the power of God would come through this man so, like the woman with the issue of blood, I thought that if only he would touch me. He held a healing session and I went up with a crowd of others for the laying on of hands. I believed so hard. If I wasn’t believing, then I don’t know what belief is. But when he touched me, nothing happened. You’d think Jesus had said, “If you have faith as a mountain, you will say unto this grain of mustard seed…” I didn’t bother talking to someone at the Church about my experience, for I knew they would just add insult to injury. So I tucked my disappointment into a drawer.
Sometimes I’d read things in the Bible that seemed odd to me. For instance, when God rejected Cain’s offering saying, “If you do well, will you not be accepted.” Or in the book of the Revelation where God pours down plagues on people and between each plague he looks down and is surprised to see that the people have not repented and aren’t ready to love him. For a brief moment, I’d wonder, what is wrong with this God? He hasn’t the slightest clue of the psychology of the creatures he created. But I was well indoctrinated to squelch such dangerous questions, so they quickly vanished in a surge of faith.
Then one day I went to New York where my uncle Richard, who is an evangelist of sorts for Islam, tried to talk to me about why Christianity is wrong and Islam in right. The house was full of people and it was too noisy for me to hear him, so he took me down into the laundry area, jacked me up against the washing machine and talked directly into my ear for what must have been two or three hours, though it felt like four. When he finished, I literally could not walk straight. I was dazed. What made it so disconcerting was I did not know enough about the bible and Christian history to know if what he had told me was true or not. There I was, supposed to be the light of the world and the people I called myself enlightening knew more than I did. As a graduate of Biola and member of Bible based Churches, I knew a lot more about the Bible than a lot of Christians. But you see, in Sunday school they gave us so many memory verses that we could go our whole lives thinking we know what’s in the Bible yet, have no clue of the really questionable passages therein.
Upon returning to Texas, I looked up the passages my uncle had shown me. I was shocked. I was unnerved. I closed the book in disgust. “I cannot read this. God, I can‘t read this. I don‘t need an answer. God, just help me understand. And for several more years, I thought I could hold on to my Christian faith despite a Bible that couldn‘t possibly be from any god I‘d want to serve. After all, God is greater than the Bible. He isn‘t subject to the approval of the Nicean council.
Once again, a man came to our Church who called himself a prophet. I went down front with the others to let him pray for me. I wasn‘t there for physical healing but to get healing for the anger that I felt toward the pastor and certain other members of the Church whose reprehensible behavior towards me he had covered up. The prophet began to lay his hands on my ears but I told him that was not why I was there. He said, “I know.” After all, he was a prophet. He was supposed to know. Then he leaned over and whispered . “Why are you here?” I told him it was my mind and my heart. Then he said (DISCLAIMER: before reading this, you should be sitting down. Make sure your bladder is empty and there are no sharp objects within your immediate vicinity.) “You know the Bible says faith comes by hearing. Since you can‘t hear, faith can‘t come to you.” The next day, he reminded us that without faith it is impossible to please God. I was in tears for days, thinking God had played a terrible catch 22 trick on me. I needed faith to hear but I needed to hear to have faith. Then I remembered my life. I remembered how I had walked around Los Angeles for 6 years while my vision progressed to legal blindness. Without a cane or a cochlear implant, which I now have, every time I stepped off a curb, it was a step of faith. So I saw this “prophet” in my minds eye and I said. ’Fuck you.’
Yet, it did not come to a head until I found myself in a discussion community online one day, defending the Bible against a man who had listed over 100 biblical contradictions. I zeroed in on the ones that were easy to refute and was having a good time of it, when someone asked, “what about all the terrible things the Bible says God did to people?” That was checkmate for me. I could no longer continue to lie to myself. I could no longer pretend that I still had a personal relationship with Jesus outside the Bible when it was from the Bible that I knew about Jesus to begin with.
You see, it was a slow process. I now know how frustrating it can be trying to get Christians to use reason and logic. I understand that it’s like trying to get an AM radio to pick up FM radio waves. Religion meets people’s emotional needs more readily than logic and reason. Religion tells people that a god will take care of their lives. Logic and reason makes people responsible for their own lives. Religion doesn’t delude people. It only sanctifies the delusions they already had. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the seeming futility of talking to Christians. Then I remember what I went through and redouble my determination not to let Christians have the microphone of public discourse all to themselves.