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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ quote by Lois Smith as Iris Hineman from Minority Report.
So often I have been asked so many questions in recent years and the answers are long and detailed. One of them deals with my rants against some Christians, yet accepting others, even giving them some respect, especially those of the Episcopal/Anglican Church when I have left it. I will agree that I am “not ready to make nice” with those who are extreme in their views, but at the same time, I did pay a price for the knowledge I did gain over the years with the help of those I greatly appreciate. Well here is the short version of what happened between when I left home at 19 and when I left Christianity completely six or seven years ago.
Firstly, thanks to a few good people, I learned that not all Christians are alike. I also learned that not all Episcopal/Anglican congregations are alike, as evidence by the break up within the Episcopal U.S.A. recently. We have Liberal/Progressive branches and we have inhumane Conservative branches within the Anglican Communion. My beef is not with those like Bishop Spong, now retired, Don Cupitt, a(n) (former) Anglican priest and Humanist, Fr. Tom Harpur, author of “The Pagan Christ”, Anthony Freeman, excommunicated Anglican priest and author of “God In Us: A Case for Christian Humanism”, Robert Price, a professed atheist, humanist, and attends the Episcopal Church, Victor H. Matthews, professor, adult Sunday School teacher in the Episcopal Church and author of “Old Testament Parallels”, and many more people I could list. Some I know personally or had personal contact with them. You can easily look up Don Cupitt, Anthony Freeman, and Tom Harpur on Amazon and check out what they write, so I will acknowledge some I know personally or had personal contact with and then go into my beef about others.
Secondly, let us get something clear: People are individuals. While congregations sometimes do things as a group, it is individuals who carry out actions and behave in certain ways. I have learned to separate the two especially when I know the person and thus I have no beefs with those who are more humane. Those individuals I appreciate and/or mention on occasion allowed me to rant, rave, vent, ask questions, and do the research I chose to do without obstacles. In a sense, they were therapeutic for me and I will express and share what I think is good about them, before I go into my rant of others that lead to me leaving entirely, because if it were not for these individuals, I would have thought all religious people were alike. Of course, I will admit, some people, especially Evangelicals, Conservatives, and other literalists do not consider this group that I list Christians, but they do call themselves Christians and because they do, I consider them Christians. They are scholars, in comparison to Evangelists and Conservatives who spout hatred, lies, and discrimination.
Is it worth still being upset with those who are religious extremists? Tita, a professor of English at the local university, also attended the same Episcopal Church as I once did and was also very active within it. We knew each other as friends through that church and she knew my abilities concerning the comparisons of mythology and religion. So when she assigned a semi-research paper she suggested I do it on the mythology in Shakespeare. Because of that suggestion, I asked if I could look into the relationship of angels and fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. This research was not to be intensive or formal on student’s part, so she accepted online research, instead of large books and the paper can be found here: http://mrianasoriginalfiction.houseofbetazed.com/MythologyInShakespeare.html The thing is I was concerned about stepping on her toes and asked her how she felt about Christianity being called myth. She insisted she would not be offended and did not want me to hold back in my paper. I still soft-shoed it a bit in the paper, but what I found is basically what I surmised; fairies became angels, just as many pagan gods became saints, but mind you, that paper only skims the surface. That was a start to more exploration that is not found in that paper, but I met no hatred or criticism from her for what I said. In fact, she loved it.
Victor H. Matthews, another professor at the same university in Religious studies, allowed me to go deeper into the origins of the Old Testament myths. Our textbooks, besides the Bible, were his “Old Testament Parallels” and “The Old Testament” books. I cannot begin to list all the cultures the stories in the Old Testament were derived from, but some of them were from Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Mesopotamia, and other surrounding areas. They were rewritten for the Hebrew culture and the Hebrew religion started as a polytheistic religion that “evolved” into a monotheistic religion. In the stories, previous deities (Eloheim), such as Marduk and Tiamat, were “frameworks” for many of the Old Testament stories. Samson symbolizes the sun and has a Herculean flavour to it, and Moses had a volcano deity, just to name a couple. In Psalms El Shaddai was demonized, like so many other previous deities. The list continues as to what I learned, so when Sunday arrived and he taught the adults in church, the gig was up in Revelations with Amen [Ra], and they all became just more Aesop’s Fables. Thus, when Acharya S. came along with her books, what she said was no surprise to me, because I already knew quite a bit of it, and when I saw Victor again a few years back, I told him all the hatred I encounter when I reveal the things I have learned. He replied with, “You won’t ever be able to convince them.” He is right too, but the learning of the esoteric and origins did not end there. It went far more in-depth with other scholars that I became involved with later.
Outside of the Episcopal Church was a Psychology professor and an advisor who was a Unitarian. I practically absorbed my Psychology classes so much so, that she allowed me to take a 500-level swing course in neuro-psychology, which is a course open to both grads and exceptional undergrads. I was also privileged to research the brain chemistry of various emotions, such as transcendence.
Thus, when I ranted in Mother Kathy’s office, an Episcopal priest, about the paganism and mythology in Christianity, she did not bat an eye. She did not deny any of it either nor did she take offense when I spoke venomously of the barbarity of theophagy and the crucifixion. Instead, after all that ranting and raving in front of my young sons to her about all that I had learned, she assisted me in becoming a licensed lay minister. However, it was short lived when I got involved with a Conservative Episcopal Church, which I will discuss later. This same woman even admitted to me that performing the religious rites is very much like acting out a play and we are just actors up on a stage before an audience, because even she knew the wafers and the wine were just symbolism and unlike some lay people, did not believe in transubstantiation.
I do believe these relationships also affected my sons, because as I said, one professes to be a Buddhist and the other one ascribes to nothing. My older son has always had a tendency to read almost everything I get my hands on too, including my Psychology text books. So he pretty much knows almost as much as I do, but I would never say I know as much as any of these people, especially these last two scholars. I am far from having as much knowledge as anyone of these people about the subject and doubt I will ever acquire as much knowledge as they have.
Bishop Spong was a wonderful correspondence and his books are great. There are two things I learned from him that I will never forget. One was his saying in one of his books that the New Testament was written to the Hebrew Liturgical Calendar, putting the stories in the realm of myth even more so for me. He is a vast wealth of knowledge, but we do have our disagreements. However, he regrets that a few people lost any belief they may have had left before reading his books, but what he writes is valuable to people and so are his letters to me. In one, I wrote him, not admitting that I had become a Humanist, even though he knew I left the Church, that what he wrote in many of his books sounded very humanistic. His reply to me was, “Mriana, Humanism is not anti-Christian or anti-God. It is through the human that we experience the Holy the Other. The Divine is the ultimate depth of the human.” Which he went on to say is his thesis in “Jesus for the Non-Religious”. My only problem is, not only can I not believe in a historical Jesus, I cannot view Jesus as he does. To me, Jesus is a rewrite of Horus, much like Fr. Harpur states in his book “The Pagan Christ”. The other issue I have is his god concept is all lobe- in other words neurology in the brain that causes numinous feelings, but I will not argue that with him because his view does not cause anyone harm. So, even though Bishop Spong and I have our disagreements, I do have great respect for him, especially since he brought out the cruelties and fallacies of Evangelicalism in his book “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism”.
Robert Price showed me by example, after I left the church, that what Bishop Spong said about Humanism was fairly accurate. Bob is involved with CSER, a branch of Center for Inquiry and also in the Jesus Seminar, just as Spong is. We have corresponded many times in recent years. Once I told him about my relatives and his response was that they did not make Christianity very appealing to me. Of course they did not, but he brought me back to continuing the research I had started before I left the Episcopal Church and soon I realized he was right, “There never was a historical Jesus or if there was, he is too buried in myth to find him.” What I like about Bob most is that I think we share a lot of the same thoughts concerning religion and belief of it. We can study it, yet we do not believe a word of it and find it all just more folk tales and fables.
So why did I leave the Episcopal Church if I was learning more than most people about religion and from people who were involved in the church? Why did I leave when I had so many opportunities and advantages? What was so bad that I could not return? Why didn’t I return after corresponding with Robert Price? Why didn’t I go back and fight for my license as a lay minister?
Sigh. Several reasons, the first being that I never got over my disgust with theophagy, Maundy Thursday, the Crucifixion, and bizarre twisted theology. I also could not force myself to believe what I knew was a myth and had to revert back to what I adored so much about nature - feelings of transcendence, which are very much a part of the human condition, but I no longer called these feelings God. I do however greatly enjoy these feeling and I do sometimes miss those feelings which are also triggered by the sights, sounds, smells, and even ritual motions found in a high church service. Even though I can get those same feelings from nature, it is not quite the same.
However, learning that it was all myth and neurological experiences was not the whole of it though. It was how I lost my license as a lay minister at this other Episcopal Church, which I believe was Conservative. I did nothing wrong, except be a single divorce mother of a child with PDD-NOS. Incidentally, this also fell around the time of the ordeal about Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals, and Bisexuals was in its very early stages and long before Bishop Schori became presiding Bishop. She supposedly was voted in by the conservative Episcopalians so they could cause an uproar, which did get more attention after she became presiding bishop. Unfortunately, I do believe this church that I got involved with was not so keen on women in the ministry either, which was another thing that caused issues within the Episcopal Church too. This particular group also preferred Rite I over Rite II liturgical services, according to the Druid priest who was also an assistant priest, but the fact he was a Druid priest was to be kept a secret from the masses. It is funny how a Druid priest could be an Episcopal priest’s assistant in a more or less conservative branch of the Episcopal Church, while a divorced single mother gets ousted, but given what I know of the “evolution” of Christianity, he too knew as much as I did, if not more. His being involved in the Episcopal ministry was not an issue for me and for a while I did see him as a father-like figure, but I also found it curious that a Druid priest could minister in a Christian setting.
The priest at this church wanted me to send my younger son to an Episcopal ran children’s home that was out of state. Now I will admit I asked for his input, but I was not sending my son away as he suggested, and that was one excuse that was used for not renewing my license. However, it was phrased liked, “you can’t as long as you have your younger son” and the other excuse was that I moved and changed churches. Regardless of whether or not one or both excuses were real, which I doubt, I found a therapeutic place that could help him right here in town and I could still see him. However, before and after my younger son went to that group home, he was denied the activities that his brother was in at this church because of his autism. He was not allowed to be an acolyte, like his brother, due his mental health “problems”. He was denied going to camp, unlike his brother, and so many other things all because he had “a behaviour problem”. Rightly or wrongly, it boiled down to refusing to give up my son with “emotional problems”; preferably, it seemed, to the Episcopal Church’s institution.
The final straw was when the ice storm hit here in Missouri and I stayed with the Druid because he had electricity and heat. I could take being denied renewal of a lay minister’s license, because I could not believe in or even accept the statements of the Apostle’s Creed/Nicene Creed, accept communion, or other rituals. I refused to be a hypocrite, if I could help it. I also could not accept the Druid and the priest, who did not have electricity either, talking in front me and saying, “If Joe was here, we would not be able to help.” The way they talked, they could not have even helped us get into an emergency shelter if I had my younger son with me. I was livid! I also thought, “What? We could have just frozen to death? That’s mighty Christian of you!” Strange how one, like a priest, could have a fireplace and no electricity, yet refuse to help someone find shelter because their child has mental health issue.
If we do not speak out against the wrongs that are done in the name of religion and/or various god concepts, religious texts will never be put in their proper place - which is mythology and literature.Not only that, this Druid was in his 70s and made a pass at me while I was there, which made me wish even more that my other son had not found friends his age to stay with during that time. My older son was welcome to stay at the Druid’s home, but he chose to stay with his friends. Add to that, the Druid was having sexual relations with a young woman around 20 with mild MR. I was so sickened. I hardly slept, but even so, I would crawl into bed fully dressed and locked the bathroom door when I used it, because I was not about to let that man near me, no matter how grateful I was to stay in a place with heat. Unfortunately, my choices were to go home where there was no heat and lights, only to explain to the priest why I did not stay, and risk being accused of lying or staying where it was warm. I got through the week after I pushed him away when he made the pass at me, telling him I was not interested and calling him a dirty old man, in which he laughed, without further issues. Still I was not comfortable, yet I learned more about Paganism/Wiccan and the relationship to Christianity. I would assume this is presumably how he got to be an assistant priest, besides being male. It is the only logical answer in my mind.
After our electricity came on again I returned home and I was so happy to be home again, but when the Druid called to find out if I was going to church, I finally told him that I would not be attending again because of how they talked about my younger son in front of me. I also admitted to him that I was a Humanist, which I am sure he went straight to the priest and told him, probably repeating me in an arrogant manner like he often did when he repeated others. I really do not care if word went around that I became a Humanist. So I guess I did “out” myself as a non-theist six or more years ago. I just do not voice it very often.
However, I did not tell him that I did not want to be around him anymore because of the pass he made at me. I did not mention how I thought it was curious that he, a Druid priest, could be involved in the ministry of this church, but I, a woman with children, could not. Mother Kathy was a mother and priest in another Episcopal Church. She was also married to another Episcopal priest. However, she did not have a child with a psychological disorder. Oh and did I mention Bishop Robinson, who is gay and married to a man in New Jersey, could even be a bishop, but I could not have my lay minister’s license renewed because I had a child with “behavioural problems”? Oh but they refused to discuss Bishop Robinson, even in the height of the ordeal within the Church. When I did question if it was because I was female, that church’s hierarchy mentioned Deacon Suzie. Thing was, she was never a priest and no longer part of that church, but priesthood was not exactly what I wanted either. Regardless of their reasons, I do think that a Druid priest assisting an Episcopal Priest in various Anglican services and alike is very interesting and something to ponder, especially in light of what I know about religion. I think the secret of him being a Druid priest reveals even more behind the Church’s deception too, which is also very enlightening in itself.
Shortly after all of this frustration at the last Episcopal Church, I had taken courses concerning Humanism on COHE website, a free service of the Institute for Humanist Studies, and read the referenced book “Humanism: Beliefs and Practices”, by Jeaneane Fowler. I learned about Humanist Celebrants and ceremonies, through that site and book, the American Humanist Association, and Greg Epstein. The idea of social celebrations without religion appeals to me greatly and I have seriously considered becoming a Humanist Celebrant through the AHA many times.
There is no talk of God, a morbid killing by humans, no dying and rising [sun] gods, theophagy, or any other pagan rituals. There is no crazy twisted theology like “the Path of Salvation”. In fact, there are no religious myths involved. Funerals are about celebrating the life of the person who died. Weddings are about the two people getting married, not about some deity and Naming Ceremonies are about welcoming a newborn into the world. However, as a humanist, I can accept those people who are humane to others, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. I might not always agree with them, but I can always learn something from them. It is the people who are hateful, prejudice, cruel, bigoted, dehumanizing, dishonest, and other negative qualities that I take issues with, regardless of what their religious preference is or not. That is why I show appreciation and respect for those like Bishop Spong. Those people have taught me a lot, including not all Christians are alike, even if I cannot believe as they do.
Because of the good experiences I did have, I can have compassion for those who are still under the delusion or choose to look at Christianity in a metaphysical manner, yet at the same time I sometimes feel a strange alienation from them too, especially because we do not owe subservience to some metaphysical being that is yet another human concept. It is also in this respect, that I risked the dark in order to see the light and if it were not for these people, who wrote the books they did and allowed me to do the research I have done, I would not have seen the light. I would not have learned where Christianity originated nor would I have developed some tolerance and an appreciation for some people who call themselves Christians. I also would not have been able to separate the liberal, progressive, and humanistic Christians from the Evangelicals, Conservatives, and literalists either.
So on one level, I am very grateful for the time I did spend in the Episcopal Church, because I would not have met these people who not only taught me a lot, but also allowed me to research what I wanted. I am just sorry I met the few who were not only intolerant and dehumanizing, but also cruel, lying, and secretive to the masses, yet if it were not for them too, I might have stayed longer than I did, probably never following my sons’ lead when they were in their early teens and left. I might have allowed myself to be pressured into giving up my younger son, kept the lay minister’s license, keeping esoteric secrets from the masses, allowing them to believe in their fairytales, while I did not. I should also thank them because I might not have discovered that there are Humanist Celebrants and decided to switch gears in a manner that did not perpetuate a myth as being fact and therefore not be a hypocrite. I can discuss the human condition, support others who are leaving or have left religion, and believe in that without being hypocritical.
Maybe I can never tell some people that what they worship is a modern tale of the sun being “crucified” on the Southern Cross, then solstice, in which the “sun stood still”, occurred for three days, only to rise again as new sun, because most would not believe me. I cannot say that the sun was once an animistic deity that “evolved” into an anthropomorphic deity without an adverse reaction from some people. I cannot tell people that Jesus is yet another version of Horus, Krishna, Amen Ra, and other past gods without angry denial. I cannot tell others just how much astro-theology is in the Bible without an inquisition of some sort. There are so many things about Paganism that predated Christianity and became a modern day religion, but if I were to tell others they probably would never believe me, and revealing other things I know about modern religion would only get me anger in return for doing so. Lastly, some of what I revealed here today might get me into trouble too, but at least I know what is behind it all, what goes on behind the scenes, as well as what perpetuates the myth, which is enough reason for me to never go back again, even if I can appreciate and/or accept those who are not extreme or literal in their beliefs.
However, I do not despise any of the people I mentioned because they are religious, even if I did pay a price for getting what I asked. While I appreciate some religious people, I loathe other religious people’s behaviours and attitudes. However, if you think the break up within the Episcopal Church is just a big uproar over gays, I can tell you it is a multi-faceted dispute and the only part of it that is hitting the news is only the most attention getting part of it all. Thus, I do have much anger, but it is towards individuals within various churches, but not everyone as a whole. I also have much sorrow in that I view all this, including feelings of transcendence, much differently than I did when I was young. However, I can separate the actions and attitudes of individuals from the Church as a whole and vent my anger in appropriate directions. A church is not human nor is it alive, but the humans within it are very much alive and have a choice to give human dignity to others or not, including women and those with disabilities.
Was it worth learning that there are good and bad Christians? Yes, I think it was because I gleaned a lot from my various mentors. Was the price I paid for getting what I asked for, which was knowledge, worth it? Yes, it was and even though I sometimes grieve that I have no god concept, I am grateful that I learned what asked to learn and that there are alternatives to religion and ministry that are more beneficial to society and individuals. Is it worth still being upset with those who are religious extremists? Yes, because if we do not speak out against the wrongs that are done in the name of religion and/or various god concepts, religious texts will never be put in their proper place - which is mythology and literature.