I’ve known many fundamentalist Christians over the past fifty years or so. They really weren’t that visible prior to the mid-1970s. I even sort of became one myself for a brief period. I remember writing a catchy song, “They Took my Bible Away,” which reflected my mindset at the time.
I have strong faith. But I do question God. Why He doesn’t intervene, in a world that appears to be run by his enemy. Why does Satan seem to have dominion here? All the tragic stories, especially of sick and dying children. Those born with horrible birth defects. Natural disasters that aren’t geoengineered. I don’t know how you can’t question those kinds of things. But I’ve never thought that God doesn’t exist. I believe that the self-evident creation of this world, from breathtaking waterfalls and majestic mountain peaks, to the gorgeous autumn foliage, to caterpillars transitioning into beautiful butterflies, is strong evidence of a supernatural hand, and one who values beauty. I refuse to accept that all of this just came about randomly.
When my mother died in 1987, I was looking for answers. I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover. Now, I tried to get through the Old Testament. I failed. The Old Testament is a pretty scary book, and the God depicted there is often frightening. Like Bob Dylan, I had difficulty understanding why God would ask Abraham to kill his son. Creating a bunch of imperfect creatures, and then flooding them for being imperfect? I’m trying to picture how much worse they could have been than the “Woke” lunatics running this world are now. But the New Testament is an entirely different story. In fact, Jesus seems so different from the God of the Old Testament that the Christian Identity movement was started, which I think postulates they are different Gods.
At any rate, it was easy to read the whole New Testament. More Christians really ought to try it. Much of it was comforting to me, at a time when I needed that. The Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, ring clearly of eternal truth. I wrote a previous article here about the meek, and it just seems appropriate that they should one day inherit the earth. The Golden Rule is the essential foundation of the New Testament. It was a revolutionary concept to love thy neighbor as thyself, and even more revolutionary to love your enemies. Turn the other cheek? Has any other religion, or philosophy, advocated that? Do onto others. Walk a mile in my moccasins. There but for the grace of God go I. Christianity is at the heart of human empathy.
Oftentimes, Jesus sounded like the hippies would nearly 2,000 years later. He urged his apostles to give up all their possessions. He advised his disciples to pray in private, and not a make a public show of their faith. All those today who do make a show of their faith really ought to read that passage again. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers. Was this why, until the midpoint of the twentieth century, the Catholic church considered usury- the lending of money at interest- to be a mortal sin? Wouldn’t that make our entire banking system, and many individuals who loan money, mortal sinners by that standard?
I was raised a Catholic. I vaguely remember the Latin phrases, which were discarded after Vatican II. I think something was lost there. The Latin sounded beautiful, even to a very young child. I recognized early on that there was a lot of hypocrisy around me at every Mass. The women used to keep their heads covered in those days, and seemed to be checking out each other’s hats and dresses a bit too competitively. But then as I hit puberty, I started checking out the pretty girls in the pews a bit too inappropriately as well. I felt guilty about it, but I was a teenager. Like most boys my age, that was the main thing on my mind. All the time.
Confession was scary. I always dreaded getting a penance that included the Act of Contrition, which I had trouble remembering. Just give me a few Our Fathers and Hail Marys, please. To be honest, I really wasn’t confessing to any great sins. Talking back to and not always respecting my parents. Lusting after girls. I did steal a few candy bars when I was a kid, but I think I was too scared to confess to it. There would probably have been multiple Acts of Contrition meted out for something like that. And my first communion started a lifelong trend. Whenever I have received holy communion, the wafer invariably gets stuck to the top of my mouth, and I have to try and inconspicuously dislodge it. I was often scared it would be permanently stuck.
The Catholic church has many issues. Most Catholics are like me, fallen Catholics. Or even more that have no connection at all to the religion they were raised in. This really hit home when my daughter was about to be confirmed. I have a really big, supposedly Catholic family. And yet, I couldn’t find a single practicing Catholic among all those relatives, to serve as the adult standing up for her. I know most Catholics roll their eyes at the Church’s stance on birth control, for instance. Sure, it’s unrealistic, but I admire them for sticking to their guns. If you’re going to be be pro-life on abortion, it stands to reason that a consistent stance would be that sex is for procreation only. Unrealistic? Unpopular? Hopelessly out of step?
But the hypocrisy I saw in the Catholic church was nothing compared to what I’ve seen in the evangelical Christians. The “Born-Againers,” as I sometimes refer to them. The whole “born again” concept, along with the Rapture, and the inordinate attention to the Book of Revelation, are relatively new, and uniquely American. The Born-Againers take a single snippet from the New Testament, where Jesus says you can’t enter the kingdom of God without being “born again.” Of course, he also says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. The Born-Againers don’t take that one literally. To be fair, it’s the most ignored and least favorite Biblical passage for almost all Christians. Except me. It’s my favorite. I bet Huey Long loved it, too.
That’s the thing about the Born Againers. They believe every word of the Bible is true, and must be taken literally. Except that eye in a needle thing. That one they’ll interpret for you, and leave you breathing a sigh of relief that, no, Jesus is not saying you shouldn’t pursue wealth and riches. It just sounds like that to the less pious. It’s a nondenominational thing, you wouldn’t understand. Their favorite verse seems to be the one about no one being able to enter heaven except through Jesus. They extrapolate this to mean no heaven without being “born again.” So devout Catholics, and protestants, if you haven’t formally accepted Jesus as your savior, in the manner they’ve devised, then you’ll be spending eternity with the atheists, Jews, and Hindus.
But the primary problem I have with most religious people is that they simply don’t walk the walk. They really know how to talk the talk, but they are often revealed to have fallen far short of their own lofty expectations for human behavior. Jimmy Swaggart immediately comes to mind. Jim and Tammy Baker fit into this category as well. If you’re advising your financial contributors to lead a holy life, you probably shouldn’t be sleeping with prostitutes or using donated funds to build an elaborate doghouse for your pet. Joel Osteen didn’t exhibit the slightest bit of public remorse when he refused to shelter the victims of hurricane Katrina in his gaudy mansion.
This applies to most of the Born Againers I’ve personally known. There is one guy I used to work with, who does walk the walk in his personal life. Moral and upstanding, one of the few men I’ve ever known that doesn’t turn his head when some hot woman strolls by. Doesn’t drink or smoke or swear. And he doesn’t really preach. The others I’ve known, however, do preach. A lot. And they judge incessantly, even though the Bible advises us to judge not lest ye be judged. I guess that’s another part that’s not to be taken literally. Like that whole thing where Jesus lashed out at the Jews as the children of the devil, and told them they were like their father, the first and greatest liar of them all. If only Jesus had been referring to White Supremacists.
Meanwhile, their personal lives are often a mess. Many have been divorced and remarried. Sometimes more than once. One Born Againer couple I know just abandoned their adult son, because he wasn’t on board with their beliefs. He tried to commit suicide, and they wouldn’t even visit him in the hospital. He was living in a tent in the woods for a while. They literally don’t know whether he’s dead or alive. But they won’t miss Sunday services at their upscale nondenominational church. Maybe they pray for him. They just don’t contact him. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Another Born Again mother stopped contacting her son when he had the audacity to resent her using another Realtor to sell his childhood home. As a Realtor myself, I could really relate to that. They haven’t spoken in years.
There have been highly publicized cases of “holy” pastors having affairs. In one tragic case, the “holy” pastor impregnated a young girl. And then murdered her. Well, what else was a “holy” pastor to do in such a situation? Now, clearly that guy could not have feared being judged. Just like the priests that can’t resist the charms of the alter boys. You’ve taken a vow of chastity, and are supposed to symbolically be married to Jesus. So how do you cheat on Jesus? With an alter boy? Those priests could not possibly have been believers. Maybe they seek out the priesthood as a safe haven for their homosexuality? Especially if they like their males very young, I suppose. And the Church hierarchy ignores it like police superiors ignore all those cops gone wild.