Religious People, Part I

My dad left home at 17 to join the Air Force. To the best my knowledge, he never set foot in church again, save for rare ceremonial events. He’s not said much about his religion in his home, other than he was never allowed to go to movies on Sundays. His mother was a blue-haired Southern Baptist lady, the kind who talked about Jesus and used the N-word, often in the same conversation.

I don’t remember much about my grandmother:  she made banana pudding for me, didn’t trim the fat off her pot roast before she ate it (which completely grossed out my brother and me),  was equally passionate about her church and her soap operas, and never invited her daughter-in-law, my mother, to address her as anything other than “Mrs. Baker.” One of the few things I remember her saying to me was “I guess you probably like your other grandmother better.”  I’m not sure how an 8-year-old is supposed to respond to that.

Looking back, I think I can best describe her as sour.  Mentally, I put her face on the persona of my ex-husband Mark’s grandmother, Nana, who I actually knew for a much longer time than I knew my dad’s mother. Nana was about the same age and background, albeit with slightly less blue in her hair. Nana was a sour, bitter old woman who was extremely proud of believing in the One Truth Religion, and who used the N-word a lot.  John the Baptist founded Christianity, don’t you know, and God handed down the King James Bible.

Nana, the fine lady that she was, could hold grudges for decades.  One story is that she had been mad at her sister for so long that she couldn’t remember the reason, and the sister died without ever being reconciled.  She later got mad at her son, my ex’s uncle, because she wanted to visit for several weeks and Curtis couldn’t take that much time off work to entertain his mother.  Nana pouted, and didn’t speak for Curtis for several weeks, who in the meantime had a heart attack and died.  At Christmas times, she would sit in the corner, refusing to participate in the festivities, thereby causing everyone to pet her, offer her special goodies, ply her with gifts, and try to make her the center of attention, so that she could sniff and proclaim that Christmas wasn’t any good anymore, since everyone had died.  Thankfully, her only grandson (my ex) and her only great-grandchildren, my sons, didn’t take as much offense to that as I did.  I was as polite to her as I could be, out of respect for my husband, as well as to keep the peace.  Also, I had a secret power over her in that I didn’t really give a shit if she were mad at me:  she would start longing to talk to my children, and eventually have to break down and be the first to call.

She liked to drop loving comments to me such as  “Mark was really close to us until you came along. If it weren’t for you, Mark would visit us more often.”  She didn’t know that Mark told me that, upon walking out for the last time to head for college,  he would never EVER set foot in the house again. Being close to my parents and having wonderful grandparents, I was aghast, and spent years of our marriage accepting dinner invitations to his family’s home and then dragging him over to spend time with them. He would fall asleep or read the paper, leaving me with the duties of conversation. Growing up with Nana a constant presence in his life, he refused to set foot in a Baptist church. Nana was the type that, when she inherited a tidy sum of money from her brother (someone she still spoke to, apparently), she wrote her daughter Betty a $10,000 check and her son-in-law, $20.  Point made. She was viciously cruel to Betty.  If my MIL could be believed, Nana told her that if Curtis died while serving as a Marine in WWII, it would be Betty’s fault since she sometimes went dancing. Which God hates. There wasn’t a wet eye at her funeral.

What does this have to do with religious people?  These two women are typical of the type. Smug in the superiority of their belief, while taking delight in speculating on the eternal hellfire that their enemies will suffer.  Not all believers are like this – I know that. My maternal grandmother was the sweetest, kindest, most gentle woman that I have ever known, her grandchildren worshiped her, and I still wish I could crawl into her lap. I really miss her. I have very dear friends who are religious. But the dogma and documents and institutions that nurture someone like my beloved grandmother, also turn out Nanas.  For those who want to excuse the excesses of foaming fundamentalists, saying ‘they aren’t real Christians’, I say:  They get their hate from the same book you say preaches love.  There are ten thousand different sects, and they can’t all be right. My loving believer friends would be equally loving and good without their religion.

From the introduction to Letter to A Christian Nation by Sam Harris:

Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generaly imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible.  How do I know this?  The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.

I just noticed, as I dug through my copy to write out the quote above, that someone had stuck a tract into the middle of the book, titled “Why You Can Trust the Bible.”  I don’t know if it was stuck in there by someone trolling the bookstore (I’ve owned and given away several copies of this book), or if it was inserted by someone I had loaned this copy to.  The amusing bit is that the tract is from The Watchtower, by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that the King James Bible was translated incorrectly.  The irony is not lost on me.

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