I did some time in Sunday school when I was seven or eight years old, in a flaky, New Age Christian church of some kind. I’m told I connected Jesus Christ to black widow spiders by some no doubt tenuous thread, but I don’t recall that. I do, however, remember the “teacher” asking us to draw a picture of the most powerful weapon. Bam! Mushroom cloud. Atomic bomb. Nailed it (don’t bring up nails around Jesus…) Right? Wrong. Trick question. The dude said the most powerful weapon was love.
Depending on how he or possibly she worded it, I think that is a terrible analogy. The question was probably what weapon eliminates all enemies (or at least I hope it was), but that and my mother getting remarried are the only childhood memories I have of church. I steadfastly rejected religion through my teen years and into my twenties, when I began attending services here and there at different churches.
My girlfriend took me to a predominantly black Baptist service, and I enjoyed that because they played their music live and loud. The drummer was just getting down. Once it came time to hug strangers and tell them how much they are loved, my social anxiety sky-rocketed well past heaven. Another time I found myself sitting alone in back of a service listening to the guest speaker, who also painted beautiful pictures of angels as light and color. She seemed to be speaking directly to me—every statement applied directly to my struggles and resonated deeply with me. I’ve always been embarrassed by public displays of grief, yet I cried uncontrollably through the entire service. I went to a handful of funerals, one of which disgusted me completely, steering me back toward my anti-religious path.
I consumed myriad kinds of hallucinogens, in sometimes dangerous amounts. These experiences definitely broadened my mind, but they never answered the God questions for me: Is there one or more? If so, does it or they give a fuck about us?
In 2016 I joined the Satanic Temple—a non-theistic “religion” that combats the oppression of people by Christians using the very tools employed by the church. The Satanic Temple views Satan, as I understand it anyway, as a literary figure symbolizing the eternal rebel. Well, all that was right up my alley, but I don’t think that stuff has anything to do with my beliefs concerning actual deities. Taoism and Buddhism were/are also attractive to me because of their lack of Gods.
Strung out, heart-broken, and damn near ready to give up, I had the good fortune to be invited to a traditional church that was totally foreign to me as well as illegal for me to attend. During the first service I experienced a presence FAR greater than myself that I can only describe as divine. Every element of that service was complexly sacred, resonating with my spirit and my life on innumerable levels. It was beyond comprehension. Afterward I felt reborn. I knew no fear. My heart had been healed. I had communed with divinity and been blessed by its touch. I’ve been allowed to attend three such services, and every one connected me to that divinity and left me feeling rejuvenated in spirit, mind, and body. The only church in which I’ve ever seen God is illegal for me to attend in a country that prides itself on its religious tolerance and freedom. Really though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.