By: Selina Boquet
I recently deactivated my Facebook account from my days as a leader in a Spanish speaking church. I had forgotten all about it! I was so eager to get away that this was one of the loose strings left untied. It was strange seeing my old profile again. All of the church people were there with their fake lives and Cheshire grins. It’s funny how I had spent so much time with these people and now as I look back, I don’t miss it at all. Not one bit.
I looked through the few pictures that were there. There were photos of me with different church leaders looking poised and enthusiastically conservative in a salmon colored button up shirt. Boy was I fat! What is it with religion that makes you eat? I think it’s all of the gathering. In those days we had meeting after meeting, and especially in the Latin Ministry, there was always really good food. While enchiladas and tostadas might be good for the soul, they certainly are not good for the waistline.
As I looked at the pictures, I saw only a vague resemblance of myself in the girl I had once been; a faint echo of who I am now. In retrospect, I can see the confusion hidden behind my smile. I loved their passion, dedication, and their faith, yet something bothered me deep down inside.
Religion has always been a central part of my life. When I was five, I remember going “door knocking” with my father. We would knock on doors and hand out tracks. These tracks had little cartoons and scriptures that would catch your eye and make you want to become a Christian. I had two favorites. One was the one with the devil on the cover and the flames of hell burning all over him! I remember thinking, “That looks scary! Why would anyone WANT to read that?” The other one is a tricky and very real looking one hundred dollar bill. I could just imagine the poor fool, so excited to reach down and grab his newly found one hundred dollar bill only to see that it’s an invitation to invite Jesus into your heart.
In Portland, Oregon, where I grew up, they made praying Jesus into your heart easier than ever! Just down the street from my house, right across from Cruisers, the local burger joint, there was a Pray Jesus Into Your Heart Drive-Thru! Now that is what I call convenient! The large black and white sign read, “Free Prayer!” Which is a very good price for prayer these days with inflation and everything; at some churches it’ll cost you your first born son!
We always teased my little brother because nearly every Sunday at the end of church when they did the alter call, he would walk down to the front, along with the few brave visitors, and pray Jesus into his heart. I remember clear as day when I asked that little seven-year-old why he kept going to get saved every single Sunday.
He replied, “Because it doesn’t feel like it’s sticking!”
I was very disappointed when I started to read the Bible in college and realized that praying Jesus into your heart was more of a cultural phenomenon than a scriptural truth. As I studied the Bible and religion further, I uncovered more and more shocking revelations.
In my World Religions class, we studied Religions of the World by Lewis M. Hopfe and Mark R. Woodward. Right away, my professor at the Christian college warned us that the things we would learn in the class might test our faith. As I studied, I learned that several of the founding teachings of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism were merely adopted ideas from neighboring religions. The concept of hell, heaven, Satan, demons, and angels was not even introduced to the Bible until the Jewish culture adapted the concept from another roaming group of atheistic people, called the Zoarastrians, five hundred years after the first book of the bible had been written (which is not Genesis, by the way).
I had always pictured the Bible being handed down on a golden tablet, directly from God, straight to Moses, written perfectly. It blew my mind. If heaven and hell were ideas that the Jewish people copied from a group of roaming nomads who didn’t even believe in God, then how could that be such a cornerstone of Christianity? I didn’t answer these questions, or dwell on my doubts too much at that time. They remained an ever present nagging mosquito that I would swat away every chance I had. There was no way that my family could be wrong.
You cannot change a person’s faith by filling her head with mere facts. It’s the heart that decides what it wants to believe. I often wonder what my beliefs would be if I had been born in a different culture. I could just as easily have been raised a devout Bhuddist, Wikkin, or even Zoroastrian. As human beings, we are innately loyal to the culture in which we are born. Who knows, either you or I could have been one of the young Muslims preparing for Jihad.
When I came out of the closet, I tried different gay churches. Although I enjoyed seeing a place of worship where everyone was included in a loving and welcoming environment, I didn’t feel like I needed to be there. I had spent my whole life believing that without someone telling me what to do, I would be a horrible person. There’s a freedom in knowing that you’re doing the right thing, not because someone is telling you what to do, but because it is the right thing to do. The concept of someone being a good person and leading a good life independent of religion is a strange thought to many.
It wasn’t until I was 29 years old that I realized that it’s ok not to know all of the secrets to our existence. There is beauty in the mystery. I appreciate the best of all religions and understand that religion can bring peace and meaning to the lives of many. As for me, I’ve done my time in church and am happy that I do not have all the answers.