My parents sent me to Catholic school after I got in trouble for talking too much in class. I suppose I should be grateful; my father wanted to send me to military school instead.
Jamaican parents, amirite?
The other perk of having some old school Jamaican parents was being sent to Baptist Sunday school.
Oddly enough, they never actually baptized me. Maybe I didn’t bear the mark of original sin.
Water conservation FTW.
I remember those Sunday school classes being downright torture. I sat and listened to a woman read the BIBLE. Silence isn’t as boring as that. This isn’t knocking the holy book or anything. All I’m saying is outside of the major stories everyone knows, the Bible is a total snoozefest.
Or bats**t crazy like Deuteronomy.
Back then, I remembered being scared as hell of… er… hell. Fire and brimstone forever? Screw that. I accidentally touched a hot iron back then. I couldn’t imagine that feeling FOREVER. I’d sooner endure an eternity of Sunday school.
But make no mistake about it; I’d have to think long and hard about that one.
I drifted off in my mind, imagining what hell was like and knowing that I wanted to do everything I could to avoid it. No murder. No adultery (not that I knew what it meant back then). No stealing. No lying. It didn’t seem like it should be too tough.
Except it totally was.
Not that I wantonly sinned or anything, but these rules were black and white with little room for error. For example, let’s say I hypothetically stole a cookie from my sister.
And I hypothetically found it delicious.
Because hypothetically stolen cookies are the best.
Is that the same as robbing a bank? Can I go to hell for that? No? Not that bad? What if I was a serial cookie thief, and I had a dark, throbbing desire for ill-gotten cookies?
If I stole a million cookies during the course of my life, is that as bad as murder? Hell, what about adultery? I actually asked these questions as a kid. Some people humored me and did their best to quell my thirst for religious understanding, but most people couldn’t deal with my interrogation tactics. I often heard the answer, “God will judge you.”
Oh. Well, that’s convenient.
I suppose I don’t need to steal cookies. I’ll just be a good boy.
I distinctly remember when I started questioning god after that. One night, I snuck into the living room to watch television. My father caught me and was more pissed about the fact that I was in the living room than the whole watching television past my bedtime thing. My parents both had a thing about that room, actually. They were always worried about getting dirt in there.
So here’s where my kid logic came into play again. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be in the living room. I wasn’t hurting anyone. No sins are being broken. But I can’t act up because I need to honor my mother and father despite their illogical rules. Yup, that means I have to just tolerate these circumstances unless I want to go to hell. FOREVER. That part was always in the back of my mind. Still, I questioned.
That was just the beginning. As I grew older, I saw contradictions everywhere in life, with authority figures playing their “because I said so” card every chance they got. I remember in my high school freshman religion class, I asked Mrs. Simon why it matters if we believe in god or not. Isn’t whether or not we lead a good life most important?
“You need to acknowledge God and Jesus Christ, Andre. Praise them for what they’ve done for you.”
“Because it’s God’s law.”
The ego on this guy. You want me to be all humble, but look at you fishing for compliments all day, threatening me with damnation of my eternal soul if I don’t oblige. This is quite the one-sided relationship, God.
Everyone’s saying how grateful I should be for this gift of life, but who said I wanted to be here in the first place? Why am I dealing with this original sin nonsense? Can’t you forgive it? Also, you’re God. Can’t you just change humans to be the way you want? What game are we playing here? How long are you going to hold a grudge? What would Jesus do?
Probably guilt trip us FOREVER about that whole crucifixion thing.
If Jesus can’t get over that, no one should be expected to move past anything. Ever. Also, you decided to do that for us, Jesus. Hear me out before you smite me. Let’s say I, out of the goodness of my heart, decided to donate all my belongings to charity, meager as they may be. Sounds like a bonus on that recommendation for heaven, right? Well, along the way, anytime I saw someone who benefitted from my charity, I’d make them feel bad for not thanking me for the rest of their lives. Well then I’d be kind of a jerk.
I’m just saying.
Maybe around 15 years old or so, I asked myself a pivotal question: How do I know any of this stuff is what god wants? People are the ones telling me this.
I couldn’t wrap my head around why I should believe any of this. Because if religion never existed, the Bible would mostly sound like some crazy bulls**t.
You’re with me on this one, right?
So I decided to have a talk with God.
“God, Jesus, or whoever’s listening up there. It’s Andre. I hope you can hear me. I know I had my doubts over the years, but you know me. I just like asking questions. This story isn’t quite adding up. I feel like I’m mostly a good person. If you’re God, you know this about me. You should also know you’re losing me here. I want to believe. Everyone tells me I should believe. Why can’t I believe? I feel like I’m lying to myself, which… is a sin. So I’m being honest with you here. Give me something, anything, as a sign that you’re out there. Anything. I never pray for anything, but I need this one as a favor. Please.”
And I waited.
And… whatever… I didn’t get anything. Surprise, surprise.
From then on, I never really believed, a feeling that only strengthened over time. I took care not to admit it though. “Atheist” was a taboo word back then. Besides, saying that sounded like such a commitment. It didn’t help that many of my friends were (and still are) Christians.
Social pressure ain’t no joke.
I think it wasn’t until I was maybe 20 or 21 years old when I finally admitted to people I didn’t believe in God. Not Judeo-Christian God, anyway. Saying it felt like a relief, make no mistake about it. It was a weight off my shoulders. Still, some of that programming lingered. But this time, instead of focusing on hell, I couldn’t get past the thought that I’m going to die someday.
Seriously, I thought about it a lot.
There was a thought I had in my mind: I’m alive right now and one day I won’t be. Truth be told, I had this thought when I was a kid too…
I’m starting to realize I was a weird ass kid.
…but the difference this time there was no certainty. When I was a kid, I had heaven and hell. When I was in my twenties, I had nothing. I couldn’t even conceptualize “nothing.” There would be no me. That’s effing terrifying. At least to me it was back then.
Spoiler: It no longer terrifies me.
I couldn’t get this thought out of my head. It worsened at night when it was quiet and dark. My inner monologue/dialogue latched onto thinking about death until the wee hours of the morning.
Holy s**t, I was becoming a certified insomniac.
The only way I could sleep was by doing so with a television or radio on. That worked out pretty well until my late twenties. For some reason, the prospect of turning 30 made me very aware of death again. Sleeping with sound on wasn’t even cutting it anymore.
Even worse, a new realization embedded itself in my brain: I was starting to forget details of my childhood. Some things were vivid, while others began to fade into the background. I was also unable to relate to who I was back then. For some reason, the loss of these things bugged me as well. Heavy stuff for someone to be pondering his whole life.
It was at this point when I just started questioning everything about life. I set out to find my own answers. I read. I experimented. I studied. I meditated. I went on a journey all hobbit-style. And you know what? I found my answer.
The point of this piece isn’t my answer. Truthfully, I wouldn’t be able to put it into words anyway. Hell, my answer even isn’t that important. Here’s what’s a bigger deal: none of us know anything so we all just have to go with our gut. There are just three simple rules to belief systems:
- Don’t hurt or judge anyone else.
- None of us know anything for a fact beyond our own experiences so everyone is entitled to their opinion.
- Don’t force your beliefs on others.
It’s as simple like that for me. Some people think religion is a problem, but as with many things that affect humanity, much of this is self-inflicted. Religion isn’t some occurrence of nature that is out of our control. We created it. We’re also following it. Blindly at times. Seems like the problem is people.
Or maybe we’re all doing what we’re supposed to do and humanity just doesn’t have the collective open mindedness to move beyond this as a whole. Maybe humanity isn’t as far along as we think and we’re still in the process of figuring out what it means to be a part of this world instead of a single human being. Maybe all that matters is we treat each other as we would like to be treated.
Golden rule FTW.
In any case, I just want to say one last thing to Judeo-Christian God:
“What’s going on, buddy? It’s been a while. I don’t know if you’ve been keeping tabs on me, but I think I did pretty well without you. That isn’t to say some things you taught me didn’t shape my life. You got a few core things right. Maybe people are just getting the rest of it wrong. In any case, I see you have some good intentions in there somewhere. Maybe you should just let people have the freedom to figure out what they believe in rather than putting their souls on the line if they don’t. You never know; humanity may just surprise you. I certainly surprised myself. Same thing, I suppose. As God, I’m sure you know what I mean by that. Catch you on the flip side.”
Oh, and as for my fear of death, I don’t care either way now. It’s a thing that happens. But while I’m here, I’m going to live the life I want to live. I found my own path once. I can do it again. As long as I live by that (and I have my lady with me), I can die a happy man.