I looked up at my mother from the corner of my eye. She was in her Sunday best, utterly absorbed in the gospel like the rest of the churchgoers. Brow furrowed, I looked down at my book and read over the story the priest had just shared. Now he had broken off to talk off-the-cuff about something related to the passage, which was part of the pattern I had identified after a few years of being dragged to St. Francis Cabrini’s every week: Procession, Reading 1, Song, Reading 2, Song, Gospel, Discussion, Communion with Song, Reading 3, Exit Prayer. It helped me keep track of where we were when my eight-year-old brain wanted to go home and didn’t know how much time had been spent.
Before opening my mouth to speak, I read the line over again. It’s been twenty years so I can’t recall the details, but essentially, someone did something God did not like and was punished by having snakes sent after him. That didn’t make sense to me, however. The Devil used the form of a snake in the Garden of Eden. God was, as taught by my Christian elementary school every day, and all-forgiving father figure who loved His children. It felt contradictory, so I turned to my mother and tugged on her sleeve for clarification.
When she turned, I whispered and asked as the priest droned on, “Mommy. I thought God forgives people. Why did he send snakes?”
She waited for a beat before frowning, mildly annoyed as she whispered back, “Just be quiet and listen.”
And that was the day I started to question organized religion.
Note that I said organized religion and not God. I’m still pretty sure there’s a Higher Power somewhere in the ether, although It is probably nothing we can comprehend nor anything like we’ve imagined. That’s just it, though: I don’t trust humanity. To me, mortals have always been too easily corrupted to trust with such important stories meant to dictate how a group of people should behave. If some jerkass who was one of the few who could read back then and said “oh, I read that God says we should smite redheads” because he had a problem with his red-haired neighbor, his community would be likely to rally around what they were told was the Lord’s Word.
It’s not very different from what we’re facing today and what we’ve always faced. Whether it’s a false prophet or Facebook ads floating around, the majority of humanity is still very much like Eve in the Garden: easily swayed by what seems to be a figure of authority telling them something they want to do is OK. It’s confirmation bias.
Humans are imperfect. We screw everything up in our attempts to learn more. We hurt each other and hate each other because we’re afraid and thus angered by concepts we don’t understand. That is why I don’t believe in organized religion. Because I don’t believe in humanity. Because the Bible has been passed down through generations of scribes and monks and translators and editors and publishing companies. Angels don’t descend from on high and hand us the newest edition of the Bible every year! It sounds ridiculous, but that’s what I believe in: humans are kind of selfish and irresponsible as a whole. You have to learn and ask questions. You can listen to opinions and others’ beliefs without succumbing to what the majority may think. You are in charge of your own personal faith!
Now I don’t normally write about religion, but a trending topic on Facebook inspired me. The headlines read Pope Francis Wants To Change The Lord’s Prayer. People were reposting and freaking out because they always do, so I curiously clicked on one of the many articles shared under the category. All it said was that in a discussion, Pope Francis said that a particular line was poorly translated and it should be changed.
The line is Lead Us Not Into Temptation. He says that implication here is that God leads his followers into temptation, which is not what a father would do. That is what the Devil does. He wants to change it to Do not let us fall into temptation. It makes sense, right?
If you were to just read the comments in the topic, however, you would think he was doing something sacrilegious. How heinous! How dare he change something that Jesus Himself had a hand in! Etcetera, etcetera…
But that is why I really love Pope Francis. He’s the only Pope I really care for enough to know the name of. He is what I envision when I think of what my faith – Roman Catholic, any other general Christianity – should be because he is using his position in the Church to make efforts towards positive, modern-day changes. Is he perfect? Of course not. He’s human. But damn it, he’s trying.
Most of all, however, he’s making it clear that the Church isn’t perfect. Mistakes have been made, translation errors exist, and nobody is Always Right (except God, probably). That is what makes people so upset with him! When you invest so much into an establishment and it starts to reveal its mistakes, you feel understandably uncomfortable. But if your faith is so easily swayed and begins to unravel at the tiniest hint of such things, is your faith really as strong as you say it is?
When I was in high school I found myself absorbed in a book series called the Black Jewels Trilogy. Three of its characters were named Saetan, Daemon, and Lucivar (a father and two sons). I saw the parallels and was amused but didn’t care enough to think too much about it.
I had a friend at the time who was also reading the books, but she stopped shortly after the first one because she was uncomfortable not with the graphic content (and it was really graphic), but because of the character names and ‘non-Christian’ imagery used in it. I asked her what she meant and she said to me, quite plainly, “I don’t want it putting thoughts in my head.” Yes, she was also one of the kids whose parents initially forbid her from reading Harry Potter.
I never said this to her out loud, but years later in a discussion with my best friend I shared my thoughts on the matter: If you can be influenced by a silly fantasy book that can be put down at any time, what kind of Christian are you?
I don’t think these so-called faithful are as full of their faith as they think they are. I think, like a lot of people who are religious or non-religious, they’re just looking for something to ground them. That’s fine! But in my humble opinion (I write on my own personal blog), your beliefs should be stronger than outside influences. After all, it’s your soul on the line. Fight for it.