I need to figure out religion. I’ve gone to Protestant churches and studied for a year to be a Catholic, only to come up $800 short when they told me I couldn’t take communion unless I paid a fee to have my marriage annulled. I also had to fill out a long questionnaire that asked embarrassingly blunt questions about my sex life, which was going to be reviewed by a celibate junior priest. I rethought that and went back and retrieved it after turning it in. That ended my life as a Catholic, as much as I enjoyed the holy water and rosaries and crossing myself. And the priestly frocks and big hats and pots of smoke they would waft around. And the kneeling benches. And the candle lighting. And the statues.
The Baptists had none of that, only hymns that sounded like dirges, long, drowsy sermons, and a never-ending need to build yet another annex, so here comes the collection plate again. My most memorable moment in church was hearing the minister fuss about how hard it was to raise money for the new annex, yet if a storm came along and blew away every car in the parking lot, next Sunday it would be full of cars again. We’d find the money for that.
I was raised to believe every word in the Bible was true, that this was the true and accurate story of religion, that Revelations was what was really going to happen and my role at this point in time was to wait for it. Like a good Christian, I questioned none of it. That would be blasphemy.
Then I met a man I greatly admired who thought my acceptance of all this was tantamount to believing the cartoon animals and inanimate objects in Disney movies were sentient beings. Religion, he said, was just another story, made up. We often spent our time together debating it, and I have to say he made sense. My whole defense was built on a foundation of faith. That’s what I was told and I have to believe it.
It’s been 20 years now since I last talked to him. He died a decade ago, still a relatively young man. But he made a lasting impression and I still struggle with the fanciful stories of my youth sitting on hard pews and wonder what the truth really is. I mean, why did God pick 0 B.C. for Jesus to be born when we’ve gone more than another 2,000 years since then? And there's years of human history before 0 B.C. Thousands of years. Millions of years if you believe the evolutionists. What’s with the timing? Why give the savior of mankind a mere 33 years to make an impression during a time when there was no Internet or TV? There wasn’t even a printing press. That’s putting a lot of trust in word of mouth and scribes that might have their own agendas and are scratching it all out on parchments they hide in caves.
Today I finally figured out there is no hell or eternal damnation. A casual mention on Twitter about a verse in Matthew referencing the resurrection of the saints after the crucifixation…and how none of that makes sense…took me on an Internet search where I finally found the first plausible explanation of why a merciful God would condemn anyone to hell, especially people in isolated areas who have never heard about Jesus. This website said when we die, we are asleep. We are asleep, the good and evil both. We sleep until the day of judgment, and then those who believed are granted everlasting life, and those who did not are condemned to the (perhaps metaphorical) lake of fire, not to burn through eternity – because that would still be an everlasting life – but just to be burned into the nothingness of ashes. Gone. Oblivious. That seems a far more kinder eternity, and one most non-Christians believe they are going to anyway. Nothing. Fire, after all, destroys and goes out, it doesn’t burn endlessly. When your house burns down to ashes, you will not find your sofa still sitting there.
Of course, now I have to think about Jesus’ words to the thief on the neighboring cross that “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Paradise is not sleep. (Unless you're the parent of a newborn.) And today as in literally today? So much to figure out.