When I finally shook off the shackles of my religion, a process that took years, I freed my suffering psyche from a bondage I felt was never fair or right. After all, if God has made us “in his own image,” then He has made us as flawed as He must be. Instead of humanity being obligated to pray for forgiveness and mercy, should not He ask forgiveness of us?
Would a father or mother today truly condemn their child to eternal damnation for any degree of offense or disobedience? I suppose there must be consequences, right?
But eternal damnation? If my child were born with the genetic makeup to perpetrate a heinous crime, then I ought to weep for passing down that predisposition. I ought not to wish upon that child eternal damnation. Both nature and nurture influence mental health, though as we learn more about the brain and its chemistry, it would appear that nature pulls more sway. Is it a child’s fault that s/he is chemically unbalanced? I think not.
So, how are we still okay with believing that God made us in His image if we are so tragically imperfect? When He gave our original progenitor and his rib-gifted woman free will and presented them with the classic, “Don’t touch the stove!” warning, did He (The Omniscient One) not know how badly they would burn themselves?
On a trip to visit family several years ago, I sat next to a lily-white, dewy-eyed young mother of three small boys. I’ll ironically name her “Joy” because despite her tremulous smile, her eyes struggled to portray resolve. When I closed my book, she seized the opportunity to start a conversation.
“Do you believe in God?” she asked. No, “Hi!” No, “So, where are you heading?” She went right for the jugular.
I hesitated for a moment. Perhaps Joy was searching for an answer to her own questions. “I believe in something greater than myself,” I said. “Why do you ask?”
She launched into what sounded like a canned explanation for why she and her husband were moving with their three children to do missionary work in southern Sudan. She tried to sound excited.
For all the good that foreign missionaries have accomplished over the years—and I honestly don’t know that they have—I’ve always questioned their motives. Why not help our own poor, our own uneducated? I’ve forever felt that no one organized religion holds the whole bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow, so I didn’t want this youngster wasting her self-righteous indignation on me.
I’d never see this woman again, so instead of telling her how wonderful I thought her mission was, which I believe she expected, I told her how I really felt. The plane was on its final descent, so if a fight broke out, it would be short-lived.
“So, you’re telling me that you’re willing to risk the health and possibly the lives of your young children to proselytize in a place plagued by civil unrest?” I was proud of my alliteration. “Why not work here?”
She set her face, looked beyond me, and pulled out every verse she had so far memorized.
“The boys are God’s children, and He has given them to me for as long as He thinks I should have them. If He decides to take them from me, it is His will.”
Oh. Your. God.
I couldn’t hide the horror on my face. I was angry. If adults choose to endanger their own lives, so be it. Let Darwin’s Law apply. But I’ve always held this silly belief that a parent’s job description includes protection of their children.
“I’ll pray for you,” she told me when the wheels touched down, her face a mask of forged enthusiasm.
“And I’ll pray for you and your boys too,”—yes, I pray—“that you’ll all live to return home someday.”
But her home was beyond this world. She had already convinced herself of that.
~ ~ ~
With this Easter weekend upon us, I reflect upon my childhood experiences surrounding this holy day. My memories are of scary visits to the confessional booth to cleanse my soul of sins that could condemn me to eternal damnation, of beautiful new Easter outfits with frilly ankle socks and proper little hats for a church service that would leave me light-headed and eager for the sugary treats in my Easter basket, of big dinners with lots of family, of finally being able to enjoy all the things I had “given up” for the season of Lent.
I’m a big girl now, and for that I will sing “Hallelujah!” I will be the best person I can be while cloaked in the imperfection of my mortal flesh, knowing that this being called Laurel is a fleeting thing! The very notion of eternal damnation be damned!
Now, will somebody give me an Amen?