Born again naturally.
I spent two months being a born again holy roller christian. Right smack in the middle of my early 20’s when what was first and foremost on my mind was getting laid and getting high. I was such a devoted member of the assembly of god church that in addition to attending services on Sunday morning and reading all the church provided literature I could get my hands on including the holiest of all books that there bible, I went out most every night and pursued all the sin I could get my hands on. Two faced me. The halo at my feet.
What was I thinking? Why had I answered “the call”? Why did I go through the motions of something I didn’t believe, not in my heart not anywhere? Why did I sit through sermons that were equal parts conservative political philosophy and what Jesus had to say? Why did I still there when the pastor lambasted Roots, the then recently aired mini series about slavery, for supposedly being racist as it depicted all white people in such a negative light? Why did I go to their barbeques and listen to conversations about how all films were evil accepting perhaps some Disney movies? What was I doing among these bible thumpers and gospel humpers?
Damned if I know. And I suppose they all thought I’d be damned for sure once I skipped my baptism and never showed my hide around their parts ever again. (A few months later one congregationalist bicycled past me as I strolled down the street and exclaimed cheerily, "jesus loves you!" I told her to thank him for me. Wonder if she ever did.)
I was staying with a young married couple, Bill and Robin who had been reborn years earlier and were regulars at the church. They were so devout that a few years later Robin left Bill for another man who she’d had an affair with and a year after that Bill was living with a woman outside the bounds of holy matrimony. Don’t guess he was still going to the church at the time. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
They let me crash on their sofa that summer as I was a college student without a place to live for two months. They were fun and funny people who enjoyed my fun and funniness though I didn’t understand about this whole god business they brought up from time to time. It didn’t seem to fit with who they really were and as I’ve already given away, wasn’t. Maybe we’re all hypocrites of one kind or another, especially when we add a religion with all its dos and don’ts and strict beliefs about why and how to the mad mix that is our brain and the original sin of the way we think with it and view the world. You’ve got to give up so much of who you really are and what you really believe to swallow whole someone else’s rules. People who are true believers and give themselves wholly to a belief system have abdicated so much of their nature that they are forever pixilated and confused but don’t have the ability to realize it. They subjugate their own ideas and fears and questions in such a way that its as if they are suppressing a gigantic dump. The fumes pour out of their system and foul the earth. So much.
Bill and Robin were always broke, often desperately so which was real bad considering they had a three year old son. Their usual response to dire financial circumstances was to pray. At one point I asked my brother to bail them out with a loan which he did and I suppose they convinced themselves that god had just answered their prayers. Yeah, right.
Bill took me to a couple of revival meetings. I went out of a combined lack of anything better to do and curiosity. When the call came for converts I could hear him pray in a whisper that I be “saved.” Well one day I just strolled on up there and accepted jesus as my lord and savior. I hadn’t felt anything at the time it just seemed like the thing to do. This was the next chapter in what was rapidly becoming one helluva crazy mixed-up life that was going all directions at once and getting me nowhere in particular and taking me everywhere.
Here’s what it was: it was something new. Brand new. Let’s try this new thing it’s gotta be better than that old thing which was really nothing at all. I’d come to jesus and things would get better. Better than what I didn’t know but I was disinclined to over do my thinking.
I accepted my new faith whole hog except for the prohibitions on things I liked to do and anything that infringed on my political beliefs. (And what it is with evangelicals and conservative republican orthodoxy? What is there about jesus, a hippie if there ever was one, that appeals to war mongering gun lovers who think its just tough luck if you're poor?)
I thought a lot about all this nonsense as I sat through church services replete with individuals giving their testimonies usually about how god had acted in their lives and how grateful they were and how god had given meaning to their life and blah blah blah. I sat there and thought what a lot of bushwa it was. How I lasted two months I do not know. I suppose it was because I was supplementing the holy spirit with alcoholic spirits and the tender affections of heathen women.
I grew up Lutheran. This is the white bread of religions. There’s no radical orthodoxy involved no out of the ordinary rituals or weird rites or goofy practices. A simple sermon, some standard hymns some rote prayers and you’re on your way and you likely wont be asked to do much between Sundays unless you want to donate a sweater to the poor.
I went to Sunday school and loved it for the stories. Gotta give the bible credit, its chock full of really good tales, maybe especially for kids. I went through confirmation when I was 14. Towards the end of the process the pastor predicted that most of us would stop showing up at church once we were confirmed, I thought that I’d be different just to spite him and in fact I showed up one Sunday after my confirmation and never again in a church until my savior summer that I’m detailing here. Before all the Sunday school and stuff started I was baptized. Of course I was baby at the time and had no say in the matter nor any memories of said event. I imagine that as an infant the whole business was rather annoying and probably even made me bawl. Point is I’d been baptized but that didn’t count in the assembly of god which believed you had to be older and aware of what was going on for it to have meaning and for god to accept it and punch your ticket to heaven.
So I was scheduled one Sunday afternoon to be baptized. I was going to ride into church with Bill and Robin as was the custom. Seemed to me overkill as I’d already endured a service that morning. I had some time to kill and as was my wont when time was available I traipsed down to a local watering hole to imbibe some spirits. Again not the holy kind. I went to a place called Madison Bear Gardens which was three floors of bars that in the evening had one floor for dancing. Another floor served food and the other was just for plain old drinking. I sat down and had a beer. As was generally the case, one beer led to another, then another and another and I was off. Besides the US Open tennis final was on TV and this was during a short spell in my life when I enjoyed playing and watching the game. Tennis lasted longer for me then the church. Less rules.
It wasn’t long before I thought something alone these lines: “screw the baptism, I’m bailing on this whole christian business and concentrating on fun.” And so I did. I stayed in the bar and got good and zonked. By this time my stay at Bill and Robin’s sofa was over and I’d moved in with roomies in one of those dens of sin us college kids lived in. I returned to that home late in the evening to find a note from Bill. I forget all the details of it but do remember one line: "you’ve been lifted to the lap of the lord in prayer.” So there I’d been right at god’s lap and I’d passed on the idea of plunking myself down and having a seat. Imagine. And what about the almighty? There I was within easy reach and he passed on me. Gee thanks. The note assured me that I’d be welcomed back into the fold any time and that prayers were being proffered for my safe return to the church. I then realized just how silly I’d been. It wasn’t just that I’d wasted my time with this whole born again business, I’d wasted other people’s time too. Hell god himself was probably annoyed with me for giving a bunch of lip service to him then chucking it all to drink beer and watch tennis. In any case I felt free. Liberated from the bonds of religion, never to bother with it again, or to bother it again.
It's a very strange chapter in my life. One that defies easy explanation. In the intervening years I've thought a lot about god and how in all likelihood no such being exists and that christianity is done well more harm than good. Yes I know that there have been many charitable works performed by christians for hundreds of years. I also know that much war violence torture and suffering has come out of the church. But in some ways the worse -- you should excuse the expression -- sin by the church has been shutting down peoples' minds and imaginations. By providing false and easy answers and hopes that are not based on any rational thought or -- dare I say it -- science, religions have slowed human progress, stifled the arts and limited the capacity for hundreds of millions of people to reach their true intellectual and spiritual potentials.