The Christian ethos and vocabulary have always troubled me. Each word seems to echo an unmerciful God always waiting to pounce upon us terrible sinners with the worst retribution possible. The fact that God merely reflects the moralistic and narrow ideals of the messengers in His name has been lost upon humanity. Instead, God is portrayed as an all powerful being with nothing better to do each day than to be picking us off in turn to note our numerous sins! The Bible said so, the male priests preach it and we have to live it. So, as a teenager, I had a miserable anxious, guilt-ridden childhood. I was painfully aware that we could not really enjoy ourselves because everything that made us happy appeared to be an abomination to God and He was always ever present watching us. Sex was dirty and definitely out, so were rude jokes, raving parties and boys! No chance of escape as even our very thoughts constituted sin.
Yet it was all a natural part of growing up, this preoccupation with things sexual, because the changes within our body were phenomenal and not really understood. The Church’s obsession with sex was a revelation in itself. Only attending mass and confessing our sins regularly would save us. But save us from what? Innocent thoughts? Our bodily functions which were a natural part of our growth and evolution? Gradual self-discovery and truth about our faith? What I did not understand then was that the love of God which was so regularly trumpeted by the priests was in chronically short supply because it had been replaced by fear of God, and nothing ruled by fear can ever be positive and uplifting.
If we missed church just once that was a mortal sin. So each Sunday I competed with the lark for the 5 o’clock call, eager to be first in line for confession, compassion and communion, but they were as straw against the merciless wind of sin and shame. I would enter the convent, that would do it, I thought. I could serve God wholeheartedly and be free from all these ‘wicked’ thoughts. But in between the daily masses, novenas and spiritual rituals all I heard about was sin – huge massive mortal sins; medium sized original sins; tiny fluttery venial sins. Where did it all end, this world full of sin? Did we ever get good on earth? Not on your life. We had to wait until Judgement Day.
Then one day I visited a handicapped neighbour who was a devout Catholic but was never able to attend mass. A saintly cheerful woman who would give her last penny to others, she worried and fretted constantly about committing various sins through missing mass. She had no means to travel to church and her pastor never once visited her either. I often wondered if her soul was riddled with massive black spots for all the services she missed? So many huge mortal sins. How did she cope? She must be damned in hell for good. The realisation of how such cruel brainwashing affected her peace of mind, the way it preyed on her conscience and stopped her from enjoying her life and faith fully, propelled me from the convent faster than a bullet.
Unchallenged Male Power
For years afterwards I pondered on what kind of religion thrives on perpetual, personal unhappiness for its gratification. What kind of godliness seeks merely to cause pain and anguish when one’s time on earth is so short? What kind of worship concentrates only on the negative and nasty things of life so that confessions of sins take precedence over confessions of goodness? What kind of god prefers someone living in a hell of a marriage, or in ‘sin’, and depriving themselves of love and affection in preference to starting all over again with a new partner in mutual blessing and spiritual joy? What god indeed prevents females from developing themselves to the fullest, condemning them to a life of inequality? Could it be the same one found in the holy books which were written by men, for a male dominated society, to fuel the power of men, while deliberately repressing the development of women to avoid any competition, and deny them their rights to ensure the continuity of unchallenged male power and control?
The Bible is God’s word, I am frequently told. But who guaranteed it to be so? How do we really know? It was truly inspired writing, that is certain, by people who felt a deep need to shout their feelings to the world – and we are told they had the benefit of God actually walking among them! But as it has mainly been based on word of mouth, no one in our age can ever say for sure. And if we live by what the Bible says to the letter, to the exclusion of all else, not only would we still be doing some pretty violent things to our fellowmen, but could we also not be missing the inspiration of our own prophets in our own age? Which age has a monopoly on a direct link to God? How do we know that new prophets and disciples are not being nurtured now? In fact, could we have stopped listening to God because we have become so enmeshed in our own arrogant web of self-sufficiency and the straitjacket of self-righteousness and outdated beliefs, we are far removed from what God might want of us?
The Bible is etched on my memory to such an extent, having been immersed in it at an impressionable stage in my life, that whole passages – beautiful ones about charity and love, and nasty ones about brimstone fire float about regularly. I also remember every book in the Bible since my rote learning over 40 years ago! Yet I cannot identify with it in any way. As I do love God, I am constantly plagued by what sort of god not only looks like one race of people, carefully matching each ethnic group, but only mentions those of one colour in His special book, making me, and millions like me, non-existent, especially if he is responsible for all of us, we are made in his image and likeness and he loves us all equally! What sort of god punishes the faithful while those who couldn’t care less hardly seems to be punished at all?