I was 10 years old, laying in bed that night, crying. Like really crying – a pain deep in my chest, sobbing. The conclusion was inescapable: I was going to hell. No matter what I did for the rest of my life, I was doomed. I was damned. At 10 years old, my fate had been sealed, and no matter how good I was from here out, I was going straight to hell to be tortured in the lake of fire for eternity.
And I was MAD. So mad at my mom. Why hadn’t she gotten me baptized? All Catholic moms did that for their kids – got them baptized right after they were born. It was so easy. That one act assured that they wouldn’t suffer the horrible fate that I surely would now. Oh, sure, I could try to get baptized now and make it right. But it wasn’t so easy for “non-babies.” No, if I wanted to do it now, I would have to go through catechism, spend lots of time learning all kinds of information, prayers, rituals, etc. I would have to spend a lot of time and effort to get that sprinkling of water, and would have to commit myself to the Catholic belief system – fully. It would have been SO much easier if she had just done it when I was a baby. Why hadn’t she?! It was so unfair.
I started thinking about what I would be missing out on; about Heaven. I started imagining what it must be like – floating around up there, sitting on puffy clouds, playing harps and praising God all day. Every day. For eternity. Just sitting. And playing. Or not. And praising. For the rest of ETERNITY. I even tried to envision infinity – I tried to picture a line of angels that stretched out into space, never ending. You kept going down the line, but it never ended – it just kept going and going and going. And then, it hit me – fear. A fear of Heaven. Sitting on a cloud for eternity? At 10 years old, I figured it would only be about 15 minutes before I was bored, and then I would have an INFINITY to figure out how to deal with that boredom. Oh no – no, no, no. This heaven was not for me, I was sure of it. I didn’t want to go to hell, but I certainly didn’t want to be bored for an infinite amount of time – that was a special kind of hell. In fact, getting tortured and burned in the lake of fire sounded no worse, and would actually be less boring.
So I thought a little more deeply about this whole process – about how God decides who goes to heaven and hell, and how unfair it seemed, especially to those poor babies who never got the chance to be baptized. Surely, there must be millions of kids, all over the world, in all ages, who had never been baptized into Christianity (at least the Catholic flavor, which believes in original sin). ALL of those poor babies, through absolutely no fault of their own, were going straight to HELL? What kind of sick god would create such a terrible system? No, something was wrong with this, I was sure of it. If there was a god, which I was pretty sure of, he (or she) – at least the one I believed in – would never have or support or even allow such a system. This was some sick stuff. (see Footnotes 1)
I thought about my own life, my own dad. I had definitely done some “non-saintly” stuff in my 10 years. But would he banish me to be tortured and burned for eternity because of it? No, not at all. He expressed unconditional love, and always allowed me to redeem myself. And I believed in my heart that no matter how bad I was, my dad would never consign me to be burned in a lake of fire for all eternity in any case – not even if I did something REALLY bad. That just wasn’t who he was – what a dad was. And so if my dad, who wasn’t even religious, had this kind of love, forgiveness and acceptance, how could god not? What kind of god would be so vicious, spiteful and cruel to his own children – children that HE supposedly created?
Yeah, I was pretty convinced by this point that this whole system was messed up, and I decided that night that I would have my own God – not the one they prayed to. My God was like my dad – kind, loving, forgiving, understanding, supportive. Sure, he’d spank my butt if I did stuff wrong and would definitely dole out discipline where it was due. He wasn’t a pushover, and I would never have gotten away with one tenth of the stuff the kids today get away with! Lol. But he wanted the best for me, and understood that making mistakes is part of life, it’s how we learn, and we shouldn’t be condemned for it. He offered redemption – something that my God did too; even to all those babies, kids and even adults who never got that water sprinkled on them. And what was so big about that whole process anyway? Some guy in a weird outfit says some prayers, being “ordained” by god, and by sprinkling some water on a baby’s head, boom – all that sin is gone, and he or she is good to go? Nah, I just couldn’t buy it.
So that night, I got my own God, and my very own “religion,” or more accurately spirituality. I talked to my mom shortly after about my desire to check out some other religions to see if perhaps there was one out there that didn’t have the whole “original sin” concept and fit me better. So for the next few months, I went to a different church each weekend, taking them for “test drives” to see how they fit. (one in particular was especially “fun”: they made us cry for our sins – like literally cry. I mean, I just didn’t feel like I had been THAT bad, but they told me we all were, and I HAD to cry, “Cry for your sins!” they admonished me Lol) And while there were many others that didn’t have original sin, they all had one belief in common: people who didn’t accept Jesus as their lord and savior were all going to hell, there was just no way around it. . Again, this struck me as off – what about all the people who lived in ages past before Christ was even born – they were all going to hell simply because of their poor luck in being born too early? What about all the people in other countries, on different continents, who never even heard of Jesus? What about all the Native Americans? What about the millions of people in other locales who simply didn’t have anyone bring the “good word” to them yet – all of them, going to hell? This was truly some messed up stuff, this Christianity.
And the topper was watching “Jesus of Nazareth” when I was a kid. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_of_Nazareth_(miniseries)) . This was a wonderfully done, beautifully acted movie/mini series about Jesus, and the guy who played him was absolutely sublime! I was certain this is what Jesus was really like, and I loved him – loved his teachings, the way he was so kind, loving, and forgiving to people; the way he spoke of God as a loving Father; the humility he displayed, always saying it wasn’t him doing the works people were worshipping him for – which he did NOT like by the way – but the Father within him. Yes, THIS was Jesus, this was the guy.
But how could THIS be the guy that all these churches and religious groups claimed to be representing? How could they all be worshipping him when he specifically said – no, IMPLORED them – not to do that? How could they say that everyone who didn’t do certain things was going to hell, when that is not at all what Christ said? How could they gather in churches and have some priest lead them in prayer in some big spectacle when Christ said, “When ye pray, gather ye not in the synagoues…” I mean, it honestly seemed like they were doing everything he said not to, and NOT doing the things he DID say to do, like loving your neighbor as yourself, praying for your enemies, not calling out the faults in others when you have your own. Something was VERY off with all of this. Either that Christ I saw portrayed was completely wrong, or the churches, and most of Christianity was. And, being of the scientific mind that I was, I determined, based on evidence, observation, analysis and personal experience, that the only conclusion was the seemingly crazy, almost inescapable one: that the Christ I saw portrayed was 100% accurate, and that somehow – somehow – ALL of these churches, religions, groups, people – all of them had gotten it wrong somehow. No, this was NOT the Christianity that Christ taught. It was something else, and I didn’t want to be a part of it.
So I accepted that I would have to find “the others.” Certainly, there had to be other people out there who saw this was all just wrong? I mean, I – a 10 year old boy with limited knowledge and experience – couldn’t be the only one who saw how messed up this was, right? I had to find some other people who saw this. They had to be out there – I just knew it.