Are You There, God? It’s Me, Fizzy

Hello my loves!

When I was a kid, my mom told me there are three things you never discuss with people who aren’t the closest of family members or the dearest of friends; Politics, Abortion, and Religion.

Eh, well. I’m a rebel. Or an idiot. It could go either way.

A bit ironically, the invention of the internet seems to have sent that rule to shit. Facebook in particular seems to be the place your former high school classmates and distant relatives go to be really horrible, intolerant people.

My relationship with religion has always been tenuous at best. I grew up going to church every weekend with my grandfather. He’d come pick me up in his wonderfully cliche old dude car, and we’d walk to church with my grandma from their house. After the service he’d always give me a new book, and she’d give me either one of those rock hard oatmeal cookies with the plastic white frosting, or a Werther’s Original with at least four years of dust on the wrapper.

I still love those oatmeal cookies. That plastic frosting is friggin’ delicious.

I liked church. I would go to the youth group classes in the morning, but then got to sit in with the adults for the main sermon. I’ve never done well just sitting and listening to people talk, so I would read the Bible in my corner of the pew while my grandma gave exasperated sighs at my inability to sit like a lady whilst contorting to read.

I remember the exact day I hit a bit of a wall with religion. It was my third or fourth pass through the Bible, so I’d read this part before, but I guess until this moment, I was too young to understand what I was reading.

Judges 19:24 has this bit where a guy is seeking refuge at a man’s house, a gang of psychopaths come to rape the man, but that is tooo distasteful,  so the man sends out his VIRGIN DAUGHTER along with the guy’s concubine for the psychopaths to rape instead.

Now, I was like 11, but I remember distinctly thinking hold the fuck up, folks.

This was all the while the weekly sermons were pointing out that people who masturbate were super going to Hell.

I started asking more questions about religion after that. My minister assured me things were metaphorical, and other calming notions as he saw my tiny faith was shaken. He was a great guy, but had very conservative beliefs that I had a hard time reconciling my own beliefs with. He just wasn’t like, a fire and brimstone scream at you kind of dude. His wife kind of was, though. She banned dancing at our church until I lobbied with our youth group showing the actual passages in the Bible that were all YAY DANCING!

Basically, it’s like was growing up in a sexually deviant version of Footloose. But with less Bacon.

I was also getting into those rough teen years where I was questioning just, everything. I needed church not to suck.

Then, quite suddenly, we had a new minister appear. He had a harsh wife, harsher than the one who abolished dancing, and four daughters who dressed in haughty Little House on the Prairie motif, if you can picture that. They’d been brought in to rejuvenate our tiny parish, and they did that in a very particular way.

My last day in which I was a member of our church, I spent the youth Sunday School class being condemned to damnation because I wouldn’t accept and say out loud that everyone who wasn’t our version of Christianity was doomed to Hell. Like, that was our lesson for the day. To damn anyone who wasn’t us.

I refused because I always felt ours was one of many religions in the world, and everyone was free to do their own thing and be good people. The four daughters descended upon me, their mother applauding their bizarre mob, and their quest to save my foolish soul. I was laughed at for my stupidity. I was shamed over and over, and the demand of my denouncing all other religions was my only hope. They were praised for attempting to talk sense into a heathen. Catholics were damned, duh. Buddhists? Like, super damned.

And then, during the main sermon, the minister quoted Rush Limbaugh from the pulpit. Like, his sermon was based on Rush Limbaugh’s show from that week.

The next week, in an act of rebellion that maybe wasn’t the classiest, but was all I had as a voice at 16, I showed up in a neon purple leopard print skirt and mesh shirt with only a single pair of printed eyes covering my jumblies, and I was promptly asked to not return to the church I’d attended for 16 years.

I kept my religion as a personal thing after that. I’d attend random churches with friends, watch sermons on TV, read the Bible on my own, etc. But I always had too many questions.

When I was 19, I very truly considered going to school to become a minister. I wanted to be the minister that could answer the questions kids like me had. Religion shouldn’t be scary. It should make you feel comforted and driven with purpose, and I wanted to help people find that while I reaffirmed my own.

And then my future in-laws found God.

Let me preface this by saying I am in no way intending to shame them, here. To this day, they don’t see what went horribly wrong in this scenario. I’m sharing this story to explain why I’ve reached this particular place with religion.

The timing was eerie, really. Right as I was looking up schools, my not yet in-laws went full-tilt newly saved hyper-Christians. I have seen people do this and always have a lot of respect for that gush of enthusiasm people have of wanting everyone to find God and be as happy and at peace as they are. I’m not sure people realize how strongly they tend to come on during this time, so I always kicked back and showed support however I could.

I don’t anymore. And let me tell you why.

My future in-laws were very, very insistent that my someday husband also find God. They wanted all their children, who had never been particularly religious, to become one with the church. Understanable.

For a few months they tried to get us to join them at this or that, but future hubs wasn’t into it. I know they blamed me for his lack of belief because at one point, “That’s why you’re going to Hell and I’m not.” was actually said to me.

I deep breathed my way through it. The high of a newly saved soul can make people say rudeish things, I rationalized.

They invited us to their church one night for a Christian rock concert thing, assuring my future hubs that he’d love it.

I actually encouraged this. Hubs at the time was maybe on the outside edge of agnostic. I told him how his support would mean so much to them. And I’d been trying to encourage him to find a new church with me to give a shot to. Okay, and maybe I was hoping they’d see I wasn’t dragging their baby boy into Satanism or whatever it was they thought I did with my Temptress skills if he showed up at their concert thing.

It was so not a fucking concert.

It was a series of little plays, each one showing a person who had the opportunity to go to church, but didn’t, then they sinned, and died in some horrible way. Then a gang of black-clad demons would come up and drag them to Hell while Jesus stood off to the side, sad that they’d forsaken him.

Like, one guy died from a heart attack watching porn, and he was drug, screaming and flailing, begging Jesus for help, into Hell. On stage. Like, in real life this was happening.

The worst was a scene of a little girl asking her mother to come to church with her, the mother enthusiastically agreed, and then BAM. They were hit by a truck and killed. The demons came and tore the mother away from her screaming daughter, saying that she should have gone to church SOONER. Jesus came and stood by the little girl as she shrieked, “Mommy! Why didn’t you give your heart to Jesus when you had the chance!” as the mother thrashed and begged the demons to not take her from her daughter, her baby.

The woman could be heard off stage, burning in the pits of Hell, Satan cackling away, and Jesus put his hand on the little girl’s shoulder and suddenly, she was smiling and happy and at peace. She’d forgotten all about her mother. The pain of her Hell-cast mother was gone. That was the gift of being saved; Jesus has erased all those pesky mental traces of her sinner mother so she could be happy in the afterlife with him. They walked off into Heaven, the screams of the mother getting softer and softer as they ascended to the Pearly Gates.

It was right then I knew we were absolutely going to die in that church.

The minister came on stage and said the show would be going on all week, and we in the audience needed to do whatever it took to get others to come. “Buy them a cup of coffee, take them for a steak dinner, give them money, lie to them if you have to. Jesus will forgive this for the reward of saving their souls.”

I swear to all things folks, that’s an actual quote.

And here’s where the real terror started: we realized we were literally locked in this auditorium. All the doors had been sealed, and there were two people standing by each door, not letting anyone out. And I know this, because people damn well did try to leave. It was also this moment we noticed the group putting on this little festival of WTF was called Heaven’s Gate. (Google that name if you’re not familiar. Purple shrouds and Kool-Aid, folks.)

They sent people up and down the rows to “find Jesus in the hearts” of the attendees. Everyone was supposed to look at the people sitting next to them, deep into their eyes, and if theses strangers looked uncertain in their dedication to Christ, they were to point that non-believer out to the staff, and they’d be taken backstage. (Which, in case you forgot, is also where the damned people in the scenes went.)

People were actually being pulled out of the audience backstage. Like, against their will.

Now Hubs and I straight up panicked. When the staff came down our row, we took each others’ hands and gave each other the best goo-goo for God eyes we could hoping we’d not get pulled out. We didn’t make eye contact with anyone. We just faked our way through religious bliss, smiling like Stepford robots until we were in the clear.

A few minutes later, with all the bad seeds cast into the dungeon or wherever the fuck they were taken, the “believers” were allowed to split off into private prayer groups with the staff, each in small groups of 5-8 people in rooms throughout the church. As soon as the guard people opened the doors, future hubs grabbed my arm and fucking ran. RAN. I’ve never ran so fast in my life.

We scrambled into his car, tore the unholy hell out of there, and only looked back to be sure demons weren’t following us.

That was the night I officially stepped away from religion. That was the night my husband became a resolute atheist.

To this day, the in-laws still don’t understand why we didn’t love the “concert” and how we managed to get out without accepting Jesus.

They also don’t understand why we don’t let them become particularly close with our little family, but hey.

His family says they “won’t rest until all the children have given their hearts to Jesus.” Which, I think is meant to sound thoughtful, but actually sounds kind of like a threat.

SO. Now that you’ve strolled through my own little demon dragging relationship with religion, I’ll get to my point.

I’ve always, always believed there are a million religions for a reason. That essentially, we are all looking up to the same deity, or maybe there really are a million different ones, and either way, that’s totally fine. The idea is that everyone do what they do, and we all end up in whatever afterlife is destined for us, should afterlife be dictated by your religion of choice.

The fact that people can actually convert to other religions taught me this. And that some religions actually encourage people to seek out knowledge about other religions before pledging themselves to their religion.

Like, this all makes so much sense to me. 7 billion people? Obviously we aren’t all going to think and believe the same stuff.

It honestly never occurred to me this isn’t the way a lot of people believe.

It actually wasn’t until Facebook that I realized: Some people genuinely believe their way of life, their religion, their beliefs are the only possible option. There is one God, and it is theirs. Everyone else is wrong, and bad, and they should feel bad and wrong while the Right people do their best to not only condemn the wrong badness, but convert us all to their religion at the same time.

I honestly never understood this was a thing.

Why is this a thing?

It took me years to understand my reactions to religious people now. As soon as the topic arises, my entire body tenses. My heart races. I either feel terrified or suddenly angry.

I finally realized the mere mention of Christianity has become a trigger. Isn’t that bizarre? The thing that’s supposed to be one of the greatest sources of comfort to a person has become a legitimate trigger. I’m scared to death of Christianity as an inherent reaction because all these bizarrely traumatic experiences happened at the hands of Christians. Religion in general makes me nervous now.

I can of course take a breath and realize that some people are FANTASTIC religious folk. And that gives me so much hope, truly. I love finding people who genuinely live by example because I need to see those people. So desperately, I need to see they exist.

It never stops breaking my mom’s heart that I’ve stopped going to church. It’s a frequent topic of discussion, and there is much guilt hoisted my way. And I feel terrible about it, I do. But between my past experiences and currently living down the street from a church that has signs out front that say classy things like, “Aren’t you glad your mom didn’t have an abortion?” I am just not in a place to be saved.

And I truly, genuinely appreciate everyone who sees my struggle with higher powers and offers their own insight into what worked for them. I love those stories. I am actually thrilled when I find someone who is happy with their religion, and leads by example, not by bullying. Maybe something will click with me one day. Maybe I’m doomed to Hell. Maybe I’m just done at the end of this life. I dunno. Still working on it.

But I’ve become a bristly, cranky old woman when I see the YOU WILL TAKE MY RELIGION AND FUCKING LOVE IT actions going down.

Because, no. No, I won’t. And no one else should have to either.

I mean, I’ve been unfriended on Facebook by more in-laws and distant relatives than I care to admit. Always from something I posted on my own page and was targeted for damnation. Every. Single. Time.

This culture of seeking to shame and destroy anyone who believes differently has got to stop. It just has to. It’s doing no one a lick of good. It’s hurtful. Talking at someone accomplishes dick. Shouting an opinion or belief is not going to win someone over and see your side.

I mean, think of all those arguments you see on Facebook. Has anyone ever walked away from being beaten over the head with the word of God or rhetoric and said, “SWEET BABY MOSES I SEE YOUR POINT SO CLEARLY AND AM BAPTIZING MYSELF RIGHT NOW!”

No. It pushes people further and further away from things they might actually want and need.

It pushes fanatics deeper and deeper into fanaticism until they are willing to hurt others, even kill others, to make their point resonate.

And quite frankly, I’m super tired of being told to my face that I’m going to Hell. I mean, damn. Again, I’ve read the Bible. It’s pretty specific that people don’t get to make that call.

I appreciate every single person who worries about my soul. Every single one. I love them for it. Bless every person who has ever worried about my eternal salvation. (That is not an invitation to lock me in a church with a cult, though. Seriously.)

So, to everyone I know and love, whether you are deeply religious, sorta religious, on the fence religious, agnostic, atheist, Wiccan, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, literally ANYTHING, I support you 100%. I always will. I will be there for you in every way I can to support your faith or your science or whatever it is that you believe.

All I ask in return is that my belief, the belief that every one of you is right, no more right that anyone else on this planet, that belief earns the same respect.

Because in my soul, my probably damned for eternity soul, that’s what I know to be my truth.

And if we could all use the love and peace acquired from our beliefs to maybe be less ass-holy to each other, that would be top-drawer.

I hope you all are happy, loved, and at peace. I truly, truly do.

Until next time,

Peace, Love, and Neon Purple Leopard Print Skirts

14 Comments

  1. I agree with you so much on this. I went to a lot of different churches growing up because we moved a lot, and I always ran into this. It was the whole there can be only one mentality that finally completely turned me off organized religion.

  2. once again, so well said! I love how you word and explain things 🙂 I have yet to find a church I feel comfortable at, so we just stopped trying a long time ago sadly…even thou I went to church all of my childhood and into teen years

  3. First, I love you. You are brave to share so much about yourself on such a sensitive topic. I’m so sorry you had such awful experiences. And Heaven’s Gate? OMG terrifying!!! I don’t blame you for stepping away. At all.

    I wrote recently on my blog about my own journey with religion, how I’ve been up and down about it. It’s always been Christians that have made me question, and not in a good way, I hate what Christianity in general has become. To me, it’s a heart issue. My faith in God is very strong, but if I’m using that faith as a weapon, it’s not pure. It’s not loving. It’s not helpful.

    I do my best to just love others, despite differences, and sometimes because of them. I learn so much by talking to people who think differently, and therefore I’m always thinking about my own beliefs in different and deeper ways. In the end, it’s not up to me, so I choose love and acceptance.

  4. Dude. WHY haven’t you written a memoir yet?! That is some crazy ish.

    I just wanted to say that I believe what you do, essentially, and my (Christian) church is coolio with that, so, we’re out here. You’re so not going to Hell. And, maybe I’m wrong, but then I’ll be there too, so we can just have a party. Lol. Hugs!

  5. I am Catholic. I know. I listen to the priest tell us to accept people and then in the same breath explain why certain people are wrong… But I have a marvelous mother who told us that God gave us a mind, so we should use it and not follow anything blindly.
    Faith is fabulous and shall unite the world. Religion, however, will tear us apart…has torn us apart.
    Once when I was a kid, I went to church with a friend… I went home in tears because I was told I was going to hell.
    People took faith-beautiful, marvelous faith-and messed in up with religion, with rules. Religion should help us be stronger, but not out of fear. Religion should bring us closer to God… or whatever greater force you believe in… and not make us angry.
    It’s a puzzle. One we’ll never figure out. Do the best you can. And know that there will be one heck of a party in hell when we all get there.
    I’m sure God enjoyed your purple neon leopard print skirt because that’s who you are and that’s how he made you.

  6. Holy WOW! I didn’t even know shit (translation: religions) like that existed! I’m not particularly religious (I always say, “I don’t have a religion, I have a faith), but I was raised Catholic, and my parish is pretty laid back. We’re in a neighborhood that is a fun mix of Irish Catholics and Jews, and everyone gets along and we do a lot of interfaith stuff together as a community. It’s pretty rad. (Maybe that has to do with us being in NYC, where there is a bigger blend of cultures to be exposed to, and it’s less homogeneous here?? I don’t know…just my own two cents.) I think I would lose my marbles if I met a person who felt the need to save my soul. I’m glad you and your husband can run fast. 😉

  7. I totally get this…

    I was raised Catholic. Endured 12 years of Catholic school complete with ugly uniforms and wicked mean nuns who pulled my hair and slapped my hand because my penmanship was awful. Yes, we were raised believing anyone who didn’t share our faith was going to hell. It’s no wonder I stopped going to church the minute I left school.

    By the time my sons were born, I baptized them Lutheran because I didn’t want them growing up with the same hubris, hypocrisy, and guilt I’d been force-fed. But then they asked to go to to the same church all their friends attended, which was Catholic.

    Wow! Was that eye-opening. This church was amazing –so amazing, I ended up teaching RCIA (conversion rites) for several years. It was real-world and welcoming and non judgmental.

    But then my mom died. I haven’t been to church since. I have zero faith right now. Maybe at some point, I’ll find it again but for now, I can’t be there reciting words I just don’t feel.

    Organized religions are a frightening thing… as this post proves. Get enough people together who not only believe their own rhetoric, they’re willing to do all sorts of crazy stuff to ensure everyone around them swallows it, too, and I am sure this will be the reason humanity goes the way of the dinousaur.

  8. First off, wherever you live has some really weird churches! This was a very thought-provoking post. When I moved about ten years ago, it took me eight years to find a church where I felt comfortable. Not because of any craziness like you endured, but I just wanted a good fit. I have my own personal relationship with God and I didn’t think he would condemn me just because I wasn’t in a pew every Sunday.

    I agree with you about the whole “only my particular belief will be saved” nonsense. I’m Lutheran, but plenty of my cousins are Catholic. I do not think they are going to hell because of it. A friend of mine also once said when we were discussing religion and the Jewish faith, “How can people say Jews will go to hell just because they’re not baptized when they are considered God’s chosen people?” I found this a very perceptive statement. I have Jewish friends and I don’t think they’re damned just because they’re not Christians. A lot of the Bible is interpreted by men and they’ve put their spin on things over the years, twisting God’s message. Why do you think so many women have been written out of any important parts and their role in society gradually eroded for centuries?

    Also, in the vein you were talking about concerning other beliefs. The Native Americans were very spiritual people and even if they did not call their deity by the same name as the Christians who came to America, I truly believe they worshiped the same God. I kind of touch on that theme a little in my story “The Land of Many Waters” which did well in your Hook, Line and Sinker contest. Anyway, I really enjoyed your post.

  9. Wow. I’m so sorry to hear about these experiences you’ve had with Christians and how it’s affected you, particularly as you were seeking. Salvation should never be tied to what you’re wearing or condemning other people. As a Christian, it saddens me to know that what puts people off Christians the most are other Christians. Personally, I always go back to the main question of “What would Jesus do?” He showed love to everyone, not judgment. So that’s my philosophy, regardless of how others think or act differently from me. I hope that you will encounter some Christians in person who aren’t so crazy. They’re out there, I promise!

  10. Summer, I also had a crazy church experience. I was raised catholic, did time in a born again church, and now am a new Catholic, but always a Christain. Don’t any body get your panties in a bunch. I’m not saying all Born Agains are crazy but the money grabbing “everyone else is going to hell” group I spent time with are crazy like you can’t even imagine! I recognize and fully own that I am no better than any other person and it is NEVER right to stand in judgement. It cracks me up the condemnation that goes on in the name of God. Being a Christain means to follow Jesus’ example. Jesus was an awesome dude! Heal the sick. Feed the hungry. Clothe the poor. LOVE each other! And not just the cool kids but the addicts, the lost, those we deem less than ourselves. SIGN ME UP! But I’m also the kind of Christain that knows in my heart that just because you don’t call your God Jesus dosen’t mean I’m right and yr wrong. Summer, I think the fact that you are still searching speaks volumes about your heart and soul. If a person’s God or Earth or what ever they believe in teaches them to love and spread peace then I think we’re probably talking to the same entity. I think it’s important to talk about religion, encourage each other to seek what’s beyond ourselves but I totally agree with you… I don’t want someone else’s beliefs shoved down my throat or in my koolaide. Peace my friend!

  11. I love this (and you) so much.

    I honestly don’t see the point of a religion if it’s not about loving people. It just makes no damn sense to devote that much time to thinking I’m better just because I believe something. Humans are REALLY good at thinking they’re better than other humans. We’ve totally got the hang of that already. WE DON’T NEED EXTRA CREDIT ASSIGNMENTS FOR THAT. What’s the point of a religion that doesn’t teach us to actually BE better? Better at loving. Better at serving. Better at striving.

    Ahem. Sorry. Getting a bit ranty so I’ll stop. But thank you for this. <3

  12. Not sure if tears were the desired response, but there you go. You forgot the feeling of guilt when Christianity is brought up in conversation. Terror, anger, and GUILT. Or maybe that’s just me. I’ve carried a lot of guilt with me in my life, and I’ve taken to calling it my “Christian Guilt” (much to the chagrin of the Christians in my life). But I truly don’t know what else to call it. I’ve grown so far from the belief system that was taught to me, growing and questioning and analyzing things as an adult, but anytime these questions are raised, they are met with one common theme: FAITH. I just have to have faith. But that doesn’t answer the question, or quiet the logic in my mind that sees so much at fault in Christianity, the bible, man’s translation of said book, etc. so I’m forever searching, forever wishing–and praying–for a sign, or some sort of peaceful, personal understanding, but nothing happens. And you know what? Logic’s best friend is guilt. At least in my case. Because questioning Christ means the devil is in your head, your heart. Faltering faith means he’s winning. I think about and fear the “end days” on a DAILY basis. Which means I’ve been taught a religion of fear, more than anything else. But I don’t want fear to be my religion. I can’t live like this.
    Gah. I’m rambling. You’ve just struck such a chord with me. I’m looking up to you in awe that you were even strong enough to speak out so eloquently and, frankly, BOLDLY on something that so many of us struggle with. I wish I could do the same, but my trigger response is less anger, much more fear/guilt. Because how dare I question? How dare I allow the devil to sneak doubt into my heart?
    Sigh. I could go on and on.
    Love you, Fizz. Thanks for sharing this post and your story.

  13. I just want to hug you so hard right now. I’m sorry you had to go through that, Summer. I’m al for having faith and sharing my beliefs, but not like that. You probably know already that you and I have extremely different beliefs on a lot of things.

    My religion is actually one that believe we are the only church which exercises the full power and authority of what we believe to be the one true God (sorry that sounds a bit LOTR). But I would NEVER force anyone to accept what I say or they’re condemned to Hell. No one is condemned to Hell or raised to Heaven until they meet their Maker. I have zero room to judge anybody for anything.

    I really do hope you find peace with religion eventually, in whatever way works for you. I hate to think that just the mention of it causes you so much pain. You are an incredible person, with passion, love, and intelligence shining from you. I’ve never even met you irl and I know that. I hope you won’t mind if I keep you and Drew in my prayers 🙂 Love you, Fizzy <3

  14. Praise be to you, FizzyGrrl, for the wise words.

    My main take-away after 20 years of being a capital B Believer was, “girls who get themselves into trouble deserve the consequences.” Somehow, losing my virginity in a rape knocked that belief clear from my head. And religion from my heart.

    When the church can embrace and preach unconditional love for all people all of the time, I may look at it again. But probably not.

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  1. ICYMI: Where I’ve Been Laughing While I Was Away | Jess Witkins' Happiness Project - […] Summer Heacock of Fizzygrrl shares a humorous, gif-filled retelling of her encounters with hyper-religion. This recovering Catholic girl laughed…

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