Thursday, August 31, 2017

Jesus was an Alien & my Minister was an Atheist

by Giselle Renarde


My girlfriend believes that Jesus was an alien.

If you say to her, "Hey, Sweet, do you believe that Jesus was an alien?" she'll say no, no, no, not really. But you'll notice a glint in her eye, and if you know her as well as I do, you'll realize she's not being entirely honest with you.

She'll go on to say "for argument's sake" that it's entirely possible Jesus was an alien. "I mean, if someone from 200 years in the past were to see you using modern technology, they would think it was some kind of magic, right? Jesus is reputed to have performed all these miracles. Isn't it possible he just came from a more advanced civilization--whether that be from Earth's future, from another planet, or, more likely, from another dimension? From a race of beings that could adapt their physical forms to look human?"

Clearly, she's contemplated this topic quite a lot.

I haven't spent a great deal of my adult life thinking about Jesus, or religion in general. But when I was thirteen, religion was my bag, man! I loved reading about religion. Religions. I never read the Bible, but the Ramayana? Yup. The Bhagavad Gita? Check. I would peruse the shelf of sacred texts at the public library and read everything I could possibly understand.

And what did I understand as a thirteen-year-old? Excellent question. Probably more than I'd understand now. I feel like I've spent my entire adult life in an ever-quickening process of stupidification. I swear I used to be smarter than this.

But I digress.

There was a rule in my family, which came from a rule in my mom's family: kids go to the local United Church until they turn 14, at which point they can decide whether or not they want to continue attending.

That's why 13 was such a big year for me, religion-wise. This was a huge decision, something I took very seriously. Did I want to continue attending a Christian church? There were so many other religions in the world. Should I choose a different one?

My family wasn't churchy in the least. My father was too hung over to do much of anything on Sunday mornings. My mom "has always been a follower" (direct quote from my grandmother, there) so you could tell her pretty much anything and she'd buy into it. She only started taking me and my siblings to church in the first place because, when I was 6, I asked, "What is God?" and neither of my parents knew how to answer that question.

I don't remember my father's parents ever going to church, but I spent lots of time having deep philosophical conversations with my maternal grandparents: an atheist and an agnostic.

The only people in my family who really talked about God either questioned the existence of a divine entity, or staunchly disbelieved. (It was my grandfather's participation in WWII that convinced him God could not possibly exist, because a divine being would never allow the atrocities he witnessed to occur.)

As a kid, I was magnetically drawn to mysticism, and I really appreciate all the time my grandparents spent talking with me about this topic that seemed of vital and immediate importance. I didn't understand how all the other adults in my life could be so disinterested. If I asked my mom questions about God and spirituality and world religions, her eyes would glaze over and she'd tell me she never thought about those things. She wasn't interested in thinking about those things.

Now that I'm the age my mom would have been when I was asking all those questions, I get it. I experience spiritual joys, mostly interacting with the natural world, but spirituality is not something I actively think about or even attempt to process.

As a 13-year-old researching which religion was right for me, I ultimately decided... none. I felt that I was a spiritual entity, but I was just so put off by the massive corruption that seemed to accompany every organized religion I researched.

When I attended my childhood church later in my teens (I guess to keep an eye on the little ones or as a favour to my mother? I don't remember) there was a new minister, someone who has since become infamous as an author and atheist.

I remember her saying that Christianity wasn't the "right" religion. The United Church wasn't the "right" church. Different religions were right for different people, and any religion could be the right religion. It was up to the individual to use their religious beliefs to do good in the world, and not to use dogma as a tool of oppression.

Now I'm thinking: Right on! Sing it, sister!

But at the time, I thought... if my own minister doesn't believe this is the "right" religion, why should I?

When I turned fourteen, I decided to go it alone. One day I came across a word, "freethinker", and that sounded good to me. I wanted to be free to think and analyze and process the world against an internal sounding board, not a book or a building.

These days, if I'm asked to fill out demographic information, I check the box that says "No religious affiliations."

And that's fine. Authors are supposed to be all introspective and stuff, but I guess I've grown away from 13-year-old me. I just don't think about these things anymore.


------
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The first in the series is available now. It's free, but not forever, so if you've got friends who are committed to failure, tell them to grab a copy of How to Fail Miserably at Writing!

4 comments:

  1. I think you were fortunate not to have religion crammed down your throat. Lucky too that you had grandparents willing to take your questions seriously.

    Greta Vosper sounds like quite a character.

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  2. Religious teaching should be presented as a comparison of belief systems, not dogma. But of course, religions outside of universities are usually taught by zealots stuck to one idea. And they'll die trying to prove the unprovable. One thing that rings true about zealots is that somebody willing to give their life for a cause wouldn't think twice about offering yours.

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  3. As a United Church member myself, I like the fact that we're free to have our own views or opinions on things -- which I know is not true of all churches. (My husband and I used to have some friends who were told by their minister to stop being our friends because we're gay ... so they did. They asked my husband to read a Bible verse (one that can be interpreted to be anti-gay) and then we never saw them again.) With the fluidity of the United Church, I can go to church (or not) and it's okay if I agree (or disagree) with the message of the week. None of this impacts my involvement or lack of involvement with the congregation I attend.

    And Greta Vosper is/was quite the shit disturber. It's perfectly normal for any person, including ministers, to question their belief in God / higher being, but when a minister answers a call in the United Church of Canada, they do agree to uphold some basic tenets, one of which is the existence of God. If I remember right, it's the very first line in the statement of belief that all ministers agree to and all congregations abide by. From that point on, it's fairly open -- acknowledging the existence of God doesn't imply *how* a minister is supposed to interpret their understanding of God, hence there are fairly conservative and fairly liberal congregations within the United Church of Canada. I was quite involved in national church policy right around the time that Vosper started proclaiming quite loudly that she is atheist, though my work was not at all connected to those addressing Vosper. It is her right to hold those beliefs and I have no right to judge her for them -- but I was quite confused by her insistence that she remain a United Church minister. Why would you continue to work for an organization whose very nature contradicts one of your fundamental beliefs? I look at it this way -- I am a gay man, so why would I ever want to hold onto a job with an employer that is overtly anti-gay? That fundamental part of myself would be at odds with a fundamental part of my employer.

    However, the United Church is a "grounds up" organization, where it is the congregation members who make all the real decisions, not the upper management in the Toronto offices. Presumably, and I haven't followed the Vosper issue much since I stepped back from the national policy work I was involved in, she had gathered a congregation with beliefs similar to hers -- and if I recall correctly, that was part of the issue. The congregation was on the side of the minister, which limited how much the national church could intervene.

    As you mention, though -- if the minister doesn't believe in God, then why should someone who attends the church believe in God? And if that's the case, what's the point of attending the church to begin with?

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  4. I think the highest value of religion is to nurture people who will "use their religious beliefs to do good in the world." The question of belief in God is a tricky one, but I can see how acting according to such a belief can be be a good thing even if you don't seriously believe in a deity.

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