The Methodists

I was reared in the Methodist Church and joined the church at fourteen. At fifteen, during a lesson on the Last Supper, I asked why Jesus and the Apostles were drinking wine when this was against church doctrine. My teacher said, “It was just grape juice.” This should have made sense to me since this was what we were offered at communion, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied and asked another teacher, who told me that the water was bad in those days and they had to drink wine instead. This led to more thinking. About that time I also discovered hypocrisy in the adult world, and, not being sufficiently sophisticated to separate the church from its parishioners, lost my faith.

However, I continued to attend church services with my mother until I left home, as my loss of faith, like sex, was clearly a matter far too important to be discussed with my parents. (And I learned this lack of openness from masters, as fifty years later I started sitting around with my cousins trying to piece together less presentable parts of the family history that our parents had done their best to conceal from us.)

As an undergraduate, I tried to regain my faith and attended church services of most of the available Christian denominations as well as non-sectarian study and prayer groups. Nothing worked.

I read voraciously, and what I got out of that was a clear understanding that while a good deal of good had been accomplished in the name of religion, so had an enormous amount of evil. For example, the millions of people all over the world slaughtered in the name of various gods, not to mention the countless more merely tortured until they saw the light. A fascinating irony here is that many of these atrocities seem to have occurred in conflicts between members of different sects of the same religion. For example, Christians have killed more other Christians than they have members of other religions. And the Sunni and Shia Moslems sure are fond of warring against each other, just as Hindu sects squabble. Granted, political issues are also sometimes involved, but still, it wasn’t a Moslem who killed Ghandi…or Indira Ghandi.

I also just looked around me, and what I saw was Christians grabbing every opportunity to pass legislation forcing the rules of their particular sect on all members of society, most particularly me. I was also broadminded enough to see that this behavior was by no means confined to Christians. Like that Israeli Orthodox rabbi who said, “This legislation does not prohibit the goyim  from eating pork, it merely prohibits the sale of pork.” Or more recently the Taliban’s destruction of those splendid Buddhist cliff carvings.

Consequently, it would be fair to describe me as rather negative on organized religion.

And yet, when I lost my faith, I did not, alas, lose my 800 pound gorilla of a superego. So I still believe very strongly in sin and guilt. One of my favorite pastimes is reviewing my sins instead of sleeping, typically focusing on a decade, the sixties being an especially rich source, but there’s plenty in every decade.

So do pray for me, you prayerful ones. I am very happy for you that you can. I have enough guilt to supply an entire congregation and yet I cannot pray in good conscience to a God I cannot honestly say I know exists.

But I do try to act rightly. Until November before last my mother could still walk and on my monthly visits I’d check her out of the nursing home and take her back to her house. During my visit, we’d run around seeing her friends and eating at her favorite places. And of course I’d harry her to get herself ready to go to church on Sundays. She was sufficiently deaf and senile that most of the service went right past her, but she still enjoyed going, and it was the least I could do. At least until that Sunday July before last when the minister spoke at length on a recent church conference he’d attended, a conference focusing on what the church might do to reverse the dwindling of its numbers, how the church might broaden its appeal. He ended this discussion by mentioning that, oh yes, there had been a vote on the ordination of homosexual ministry and he had given it the stout No it deserved, as he would on anything involving homos.

I thought, of course, of doing stuff like walking out or at least asking him afterwards whether he really thought Jesus discriminated against particular classes of sinners. But Mother chose to live in that town, and I needed all of them as parts of my support system for her. So I said nothing.
After that, though, I stopped harrying her to get ready for church, and she was sufficiently gaga that she never mentioned church again to me for the rest of her life.

She had been giving that church at first hundreds and later thousands of dollars per annum for thirty years, and I had continued her contributions at the same level when I started handling her finances. But after that day, I diverted those contributions to two churches willing to help everyone without regard to sexual persuasion: The Metropolitan Community Church and Glide Memorial Church, the latter, ironically enough, a Methodist church, unless the Methodists have kicked them out for being nice to the wrong people.

I keep thinking I’ll go to services at one of these churches. I don’t think that God would hold against me my abandonment of the First Methodist Church of Garrison, Texas; but on the other hand, since I know that the MCC and Glide would welcome me, I am beginning to feel that should He exist, He would expect me to give them a try.

Then again, considering the example His Christians, Confucians, Hindus, Moslems, Jews, and all the others have set, I may just try harder to do more good individually without participating in a religion.

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