The One Where Rheeb Talks About Religion
I got saved at school when I was four years old, right after a Bible story that our teacher was illustrating to us. As the years went on, I felt pretty content in my religion. I didn’t have a sense of unease until fifth grade when our teacher, “Porkchop” decided to tell us about the rapture and the subsequent tribulation. It was the first time in my life that I had ever heard such a horrible story, and to say that I didn’t start leaking from my ass is an understatement. I distinctly remember her telling us that if we had a “spot or wrinkle” of sin on us, we would be “left behind.” No matter what I did from that point forward, I would continuously ask God for forgiveness. I had no time to waste. The rapture could come at any moment, and I definitely didn’t want my ass left behind. This was also around the same time that there was some red calf found in the Middle East, and I just knew that meant Jesus was coming back sooner. The day I heard about the calf, I sat on the couch, staring forward, having an unshakable sense that my days were numbered.
The next year things just got worse. Our 6th grade teacher, “Smoke” (who also was my biggest crush in high school, which I will save for a future post) was, by far, the most religious woman I had ever met. It was in that grade that she had us watch Apocalypse: Caught in the Eye of the Storm, a D-list movie about two news broadcasters were left behind, and all that would remain from those raptured were neatly folded clothes. Scared the shit out of me. Folded clothes? Do you know how creepy that is? It was then that my fear of being left behind deepened. In that time, my mindset (stroked by the insanity of Smoke) was that you couldn’t sin at all without being in danger of hell. I also read, at my mother’s urging, the kid-style Left Behind series. At the time, there were only two books out, but believe me, if I didn’t see my cat somewhere nearby (because there was no way that God would leave Dontae behind) I would be in a legitimate panic about having been left behind. During those months, I would read my Bible every night while having the TV tuned to Touched by an Angel reruns. After a while, I was so concerned that having the TV on during Bible study was sinful, that I started playing Kirk Franklin and the Family: Live up to track six. I never went past track six.
As you can imagine, this fear was also enhanced by the fact that I was gay. I knew I liked girls since the fourth grade, and just knowing that I was “flawed” in that way made me feel even more stern about behaving perfectly. It was a struggle, being a super-religious gay child. I would have these moments of complete sadness where I would cry out to God saying, “I did not choose to be this way. Why did you make me like this?” For a while, I was even convinced that I used to be a man in a former life (perhaps a very mean one) who was cursed to come back in a new life as a girl. Since I went to a Pentecostal, fundamentalist school, I believed pretty heavily in the whole “name it, claim it” doctrine, so I would declare every so often that I was not gay and that God had forgiven me for ever being such. To take this penance even further, there was a moment when I even considered coming out to AntiM. Thankfully, I chickened out. If only I had a crystal ball to see how badly that bitch was gonna screw me over. I dodged a huge bullet at eleven.
Throughout high school, I feel as though I calmed down slightly. We still had chapel every week, as usual, but instead of being afraid of being left behind, I became more consumed with overwhelming guilt for just existing. All sermons were about how sinful we were and how sex was of the devil. Upon graduation, I was so brainwashed by all of the doctrines forced down my throat, that any chance of having a normal, paranoia-free college life was out of the question. I was obsessed with being perfect, and the mere thought of being around anyone who wasn’t a Christian was actually scary to me. I’d heard so much in high school about how evil life was and how no one would ever love me “in the real world,” that I simply walked through my life on perpetual eggshells, trying to rush through my time around “the unsaved” that I missed the whole forest for the damn trees.
Six years after high school graduation (two years after college), I finally began to question Christianity as a whole, mainly because I was dying inside. As I’ve mentioned before, I found that I was still very much attracted to women even though I had spent about five years declaring myself “ex-gay” (future post, dear readers). And when this realization hit me, I knew something drastic had to happen in my life. It was then that, through prayer, crying, reading, and Googling that I went on a journey to find answers to all the things about my life and Christianity that I had never questioned. It would take fifty posts to write in detail about everything, but the main book that changed my life was Fall to Grace by Jay Bakker. Upon reading his book, I realized that even though I had been in a “Christian environment” for most of my life, I was clueless about the purpose of Christ–LOVE–unmerited, unconditional, unadulterated love. When I realized that God loves and accepts me as I am, my heart became full again. I do not consider myself a Christian. I guess it’s the difference between knowing Christ in a personal way verses being a member of an unofficial and highly controversial fan club that uses His name without authorization. I am not a member of the fan club.
This, of course, became a true issue while I worked at PFCM’s Bible college. In that job, I came face to face with the right-wing, anti-gay, evangelical populous that, had they known I was gay, would have attempted to exorcise me during process of firing me. During the 2012 Presidential Election, PFCM was extremely vocal about voting against Maryland’s marriage equality act–even going as far as spearheading the petition to get it put on the ballot. As might be expected, they did this while acting like victims of “the gay agenda” and declaring that passage of the law would mean they would lose their tax-exempt status and be forced to marry LGBT couples. Naturally, I was furious. Everyday was a struggle for me, because everyone I had always known was talking about me (unbeknownst to them) as though I was evil. It was a very trying time, but one that I am, oddly, happy to have experienced. It has only added to the wealth of knowledge that I have about the toxic faith many fundamentalists have that is so deeply devastating to so many people.
I am now like one of those COEXIST bumper stickers. I believe that all faiths have something beautiful to offer to humanity at large, and I find beauty in that. I know people who come from different spiritual and religious backgrounds, and I find that I love these people tenderly. It reminds me of a quote that, of course, I can’t remember exactly or find while writing this post. It goes something like, God scattered pieces of truth to all peoples, and each religion holds on dearly to their piece, not realizing that putting them all together makes something beautiful. Leaving religion behind has opened my eyes to beauty.
Song of the Day: Believe by Lenny Kravitz
Ending Question: Do I believe in hell? No, I do not believe that hell exists other than as a mental torment in the minds of people who believe it does.