My parents, in desperate effort to raise their perfect, clean, virgin, American daughter to become a Christian, insisted that I go to any church they deemed fit when I was a little girl. I was hesitantly baptized, scared, as an incredibly young child, thinking this was the only way to please my parents and God. I was now promised a gorgeous place in heaven, as long as I went every week to church, and lived with only religious overtones. I would sit through the long services and struggle to stay awake while the priest chanted and read Bible passages in a language that meant almost nothing to me. Occasionally my mother would tug me down onto my knees, or urge me to stand up with the entire congregation. I hated the confusing services. I much preferred the lessons at home, the discussions about sin, and the coloring books with pictures of Jesus and Adam and Eve in them.
I was taught a lot about sin and love. Sin was heavy. Sin marked you and tainted you. I was certain that it was visible on my skin to the priest and the rest of the congregation. Every time I told a white lie, I would frantically pray in my bed, begging god, making promises to donate the money my parents gave me for candy or toys to the church. When I gave the coins to the church the next Sunday, I was sure everyone knew that it was because I had been bad, but I just wanted God to forgive me.
God’s love was kind of like tough love that parents give kids sometimes, only a lot scarier. God would do bad things to you to test you. That’s what the grownups said when someone got sick or a baby died, that it was a test from god. You were supposed to love god no matter what, because even when god did bad things to you to test you, even when he could see the rust-colored stains of sin on your fingertips and around the corners of your mouth and punished you for it, he loved you no matter what.
In my room, when I wasn’t learning how to say “How do you do?” in whatever language I was sincerely interested at the time, I learned about all the things that god did to bad people, like turning them into salt. That’s why we begged for mercy during the services (Domine miserere? Domine, miserere). People were frail, dirty, disgusting, and sinful, and it was our job to be as pure as we could, which was hard because there were so many rules to follow and it was easy to forget or not care. Prayer, confessions to a white man in the sky, or drinking some purple liquid made me feel like I was brimming with white light and love, but invariably I would do something childish like call another kid in my class a name, or tell a lie, and I would be smudged and tarnished visibly again. It was a physical weight, crushing my chest, hurting me.
It’s been many years since I denounced religion entirely–eleven, approximately. In that time, I have discarded the rigorous moral code I was raised with and assumed a far more forgiving one, where there are no Good People or Bad People, but just People Who Do Good Things and Bad Things and In-Between Things. When something bad happens, I don’t rage at an invisible omnipotent entity, but lament my bad luck and try to find a way past it.
However, it hasn’t entirely left me. I said something hurtful to someone I care about very much quite a long time ago, and I have since not let it go, have been watching that stain spreading across my fingertips, spreading out from my abdomen, dripping down my face. Its rust colored and yellow like a new bruise, dry, and it tastes sour and bitter. I have been finding it hard to breathe–the demons and sin from my childhood have returned- they’re always in the back of my mind, and are weighing me down, crushing my ribcage, hanging off my back and making walking, breathing to be a painful ordeal. But without the opportunity to apologize, and without the simple formula of God’s forgiveness, I am completely at a loss.
For all the darkness of the church of my youth, I envy all of those I know that weren’t raised with that horrid weight of religion. It seems to make their lives simple to live, without the thought of demons attacking them at night, or possibly having that thought cross your mind of being banished at those pearly gates to live in purgatory for the rest of your existence in eternity.
Even though I’ve let the faked nakedness of my child-hood behind me, forgotten in that someplace in the back of my brain- I suppose that no matter what I, you, or anyone chooses for their religion, spirituality, or nothing whatsoever to be, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t because I know what I believe now, and that’s what I find to be the importance in my life. I live by my own rules, not what someone tells me is the ultimate “moral code”. Ultimately, I honestly do respect your views, so please respect mine.