}

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Ask Arthur 2018, Part 3: About religious stuff

Today’s questions in this year’s “Ask Arthur” series are all about religious topics. Some people might want to steer away from that, but politics and religion are two of my favourite topics, and areas where I have some personal experience.

So today, Roger Green, one of my favourite Christians, asked a couple questions, beginning with this one:

When you were a PK, how well versed were you in terms of Scripture? How are you now?

For the uninitiated, a “PK” is a preacher’s kid, which I am. I’m also a the grandson of a preacher. One thing I am not, however, is any sort of expert on anything to do with the Bible. Sure, I have a passage here and there that I’ve memorised, but I never memorised anything “chapter and verse”, as those who have done so sometimes put it.

This may be a little surprising because I often quote from the bible in blog posts. I know how to look things up, of course, and Bible Gateway is a particularly good and useful site, not the least because one can choose between and among many different versions.

However, my search for passages is made easier by better-than-average familiarity with the bible. I taught the New Testament in Sunday School for a term (about which, more in a bit). One of the presents my parents gave me when I was a kid was a King James Version of the bible, with my name embossed in gold on the cover. I can clearly remember carrying that with me for Sunday School lessons. I also used to just leaf through it, reading bits and pieces here and there. I still have that bible, though I rarely refer to it anymore.

So, I was more familiar with the bible than non-Christians, but I still never memorised “chapter and verse”. The reason was that that just wasn’t something that we Lutherans did: If we needed to refer something, we looked it up. So, I come by that naturally.

When I was a teen I saw TV preachers for the first time, and I thought them quoting “chapter and verse” was phoney, all theatrics and no substance—a feeling reinforced, in part, by the fact I often knew they were citing stuff WAY out of context; though I didn’t know the “chapter and verse”, I knew what they were reciting, and I could tell when they got it wrong, as they very often did.

So, I was reasonably well-versed in the bible, along with other religious writings, but I never memorised “chapter and verse”, so from my perspective I wasn’t well-versed. Nothing has changed with any of that in all these decades.

Roger next asked:

What were the first two or three things about the church (besides its position on being gay) that you found problematic?

Interestingly, my own church wasn’t especially anti-gay when I was growing up or, if it was, I never knew about it. I didn’t find out about its problematic positions until I was well into my 20s, and the context was that, in true Lutheran fashion, they were kicking the issue down the road.

What actually first made me question the goodness I’d always assumed about the church was when I realised that not everyone in a church is a real Christian—or even a nice person. Maybe I was shielded from that when I was a kid and only became aware of it as teen.

I mentioned in my answer to the previous question that I taught Sunday School for one term. I started because I really did want to help spread “the Good News”, so I trained to teach and how to teach, and I took a class of older kids—around nine or ten—because they were old enough to grasp what we were talking about, and because I found little kids difficult to communicate with.

Part way through that term, one of the church members took my mother aside to say something to the effect of, “I know that Arthur is lovely, and I’m sure he knows the material, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to be teaching that class.” My mother was livid, both disgusted and annoyed with that woman. I have no idea if she was being ageist or sexist or both, but the compromise was that my mother and I “team taught” the class for the rest of the term. My enthusiasm, however, was gone, and I never taught it again.

Not long after, my dad was being harassed by other members of the church. He’d always had to deal with such nonsense, often about extremely petty and trivial, or even childish, things. He’d been dealing with diabetes for a couple years by then and he’d just had enough. So, one Sunday he just up and quit—without telling us beforehand. If that church member hadn’t harassed him that day, things might have been better planned.

Neither my mom or dad had much to do with churches in the years going forward. Neither ever said anything to me, but I always thought the wounds and hurt were too deep.

When I was at university, I took a course in comparative religion and for the first time I was exposed not just to new ideas, but also to the huge variety of religious belief. I talked about a lot of that with my dad, who knew a lot about other religions.

It was also when I was at university, and after my parents had died, that I experienced anti-gay discrimination for the first time, and it was at the hands of the religious using their religion (Methodism, in that case) to excuse their bigotry. By then I knew how hostile mainstream Christianity (and, obviously, fundamentalist Christianity) was to gay people.

Even so, when I moved to the safety of Chicago, I still gave religion a go. After the poor treatment we’d received from church members when I was a teen, and the bigotry I experienced in university, I was probably more on guard and watchful for hypocrisy than I would have been otherwise. But, in the end, it wasn’t anything like that made me leave religion—it was simple indifference.

In the years since, I’ve learned more about the historical facts surrounding the stuff I was taught, including that much of what I was taught was myth.

So, originally, the thing I found most problematic was the pettiness, hyposcrisy and unchristian behaviour of people in the same church as me. Later, it was the use of religion to promote a political agenda (whether implicitly or explicitly political is beside the point). Finally, it was finding out I’d been lied to about much of what I was taught was fact.

Now, having said all that, there were things about church that I really liked. What we called “fellowship”, but which can also be called more simply community, is probably biggest one. I knew some absolutely awesome people in my religious days—though I probably know more now than I did then. The point is, this question was essentially about what I found to be negatives about religion, not what I found positive.

Some earlier posts are related to all this. First, “The road from Damascus”, a post from 2011 in which I talked about my journey away from religion, and also “Religion isn’t the enemy”, a 2013 post in which I talk about why I’m not anti-religion. I also ran across an Ask Arthur post from the 2013 series, “Arthur Answers Again, Part Two – Religion questions", in which Roger asked a couple religion-related questions (a post I ran across while looking for something else…).

Thanks to Roger for these questions!

It’s not too late to ask a question: Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can also email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though some people may want to keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog. If you’re on Facebook, you can send me a private message through the AmeriNZ Page.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-18”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, "Ask Arthur”.

Previously:

Let the 2017 asking begin – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 1: Perfect place
Ask Arthur 2018, Part 2: Living where?

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