My story - well I will try not to ramble. I'm 67, and that means a lot of time to cover and 67-year-old people tend to ramble.
My mother was Catholic and believed although she seldom went to church. Her life as very hard; and, at the end, she was so desperate for a sense of hope that she feel under the spell of the 700 Club. However, she backed me in the path I wanted.
Fourth and fifth grade were spent in a Catholic school as I sought God. I went bowling with the Y-Teens. The nuns did not like that, associating with Protestants. In fifth grade the nuns asked for money for missions to Darkest Africa. This was urgent. If these Africans died without knowing the true faith, they were doomed to hell. That just didn't seem fair to my young mind. I was still at the age where fairness was a given. I protested. The nuns sent a note home to my mother about the heresy I uttered. My mother backed me and sent me back to public school.
Public school was another spiritual crisis. The nuns did get to me quite a bit. If a person dies with an not-confessed mortal sin on his or her soul, straight to hell. Participating in Protestant prayer or reading the Protestant King James Bible was a mortal sin. We had assembly everyday. The Protestant form of the Our Father was prayed, and the reading was from the King James Bible. I literally would sing songs in my head to block these "sins" out.
Then things happened, and this is way too long to cover. Suffice it to say I was in spiritual crisis. I was desperately seeking God or Jesus - was God Jesus or Jesus God or what was going on. Why didn't God respond to me. I must be awful. So if I am so awful, then I just need to quit. Life went on, but the old stuff nagged me all the time. During desperate times, I prayed and prayed and nothing. I tried different churches, nothing.
About 25 or so years ago I happened to watch Bill Moyers interview Joseph Campbell on PBS. The interview was about "The Power of Myth." I felt free! I ordered that book and several others by Campbell. I taped several of his programs. I ordered similar books by other authors. One book (sorry I cannot remember the name of the author, just that he was a renowned British historian) was "In Search of Historical Jesus." His point was to pay attention to what Jesus said, not what the apostles wrote as comments. He felt that what Jesus said was probably close to what is recorded. I also ordered "Christianity Betrayed" published by an atheist group. I don't know if that book is still available, but I consider it excellent. So I decided to read the Bible.
Now my mind's questions are: are "Christians" reading the Bible; are there really Christians; would Jesus be a Christian today." So much of Christianity is based on Paul, not on Jesus. So little is known about Jesus. After the Sermon on the Mount, I don't understand the rush to base a religion on Paul. That's just me. I don't think Jesus would be a Christian were he alive today. The religious right and evangelicals and perhaps mainstream Christians would reject him. I listen to their rhetoric and cannot associate so much of it with what is actually in the Bible.
So where am I today? My children are in their 30s, and they do not go to Church or belong to any religion. I got two terrific, compassionate, moral, intelligent children.
I am comfortable spiritually. I pray. To whom, I am not sure. Is an entity listening? I do not know, and I don't think it matters. Perhaps I am just talking to my inner self. Maybe I am meditating. The pray is a comfort when things are rough, when world problems are so horrific and I have no way to help. Pray is a way to say thanks for good things. I just accept all that.
As for life after death and salvation: I cannot accept the idea that a moral person could be damned forever for not believing. Is church attendance and professing deep believe just a way to get points with God? Does it come from a sense of morality or self-preservation? I guess my favorite passage is in Matthew where the sheep and goats are divided.
But back to life after death. Once during a crisis, I felt the presence of my father-in-law who died several years before. The feeling was strong. I was in emotional turmoil. So was he there? Did my mind conjure up that feeling to give me relief? I don't know and don't know that it matters. It worked. During several bad times I have suddenly felt overwhelming relief. I just accept it. Where did that come from? I have no idea and do not know that it matters.
I was born and raised in Pennsylvania. I came to west central Arkansas in 1977. The intense "Christianity" of the South has totally shocked me. I find it to be on a par with the nuns of the 1950s, perhaps worse. It suffocates me. I keep my mouth shut when I am bombarded because I fear the shunning or even retaliation. We once had to call the Sheriff because a minister kept bothering us. My husband told a co-worker he was Catholic to shut that person up. He is not Catholic; he is of a similar mind to me. The co-worker said - then you don't believe in Jesus. So my husband's soul was up for saving. So we just shut up and nod. That is probably the wrong thing to do. The religious right (of any religion) terrifies me. Their grab for political power needs to be stopped, but I do not know how; and it is certainly not Christian.
Thanks for listening.