Epiphany in a Baptist church

A child of twelve in a wonderful Black Baptist church can be captured by the activity, no matter the boy’s personal color. The preacher perched up high, talking about heaven or hell, saying we’ll all be saved by jeee-sus. All those people shouting and singing, happy and good people. Box lunches full of homemade fried chicken. It was a dream come true for an adolescent boy.

But childhood lasts only so long. Soon enough, the singing and good times are not enough to make up for being harangued from the pulpit to honor their imaginary god in the sky. The fried chicken was not enough to make up for a god that was not only content to let his own people suffer, but was more than happy to kill and maim anyone who had the temerity to believe in any other magical god.

That is to say, the boy grew up a bit and realized that none of the god-and-his-son mumbo-jumbo made any sense. It was all just smoke and mirrors, power-mongers playing on the childish desire of people to fool themselves into believing that they never had to die. It was pretty clear, even to a boy of twelve, that everything eventually died, except for magic and fantasy, which were hardly real anyway.

One night, soon after the Baptist preacher told him not to come back until he believed in god and jeee-sus, the boy snuck out on the roof on a summer night and lay looking at the stars. He had already read a great deal by then. He had read the bible, and found quite a few good ideas and a huge pack of lies. He had read science, and science fiction, and biographies, and histories, and even philosophy, pretty much a whole branch library full. That boy was a reader.

Looking up at a night full of stars seemed like it connected the boy to the universe. He thought of all the real things that he could see and touch, and all of the real things that people from history and science had seen and touched, then explained to him through books. Then he thought about all those stars and all the real things that that they represented, copy upon copy of the sun at the center of our solar system.

He knew, then, that the idea of a god was a man-made idea, at its center a way for a small group of people to control a large group of people. But there was still a niggling feeling at the back of his brain that god theories could be a little comforting. Clearly, he was still just a boy. There seemed to be nothing amiss about the people who needed to believe in a god; the problem was organized religion, which mandated that they believe a certain way.

Just to be fair, the boy spent the next four years of his life in search of a religion that was not based on magic and invented by man for the benefit of a few men. He tried all the protestant religions; different names, same lies. He had a brief fling with the Catholics; same result but maybe even worse. Going further afield, he explored the religions of different lands and peoples: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Greek Orthodoxy, Bahá’í, Sunni, Taoism, Native American beliefs, and everything else he could find.

It seemed clear to the boy that the idea of the individual church was a good one; singing, fried chicken, and friends. It was a place for people to come together, and perhaps to help each other. The members themselves were good people, just doing what they were told, because they did not know that telling them what to do was what organized religion does best, as a method of control. Take away the organized religion, and the church is just a place for people to get together and perhaps do each a good turn, and to reach out to their communities to help others. Still, while the organized religions all have good ideas tucked in here and there, they were mainly fantasy and lies.

Then, good fortune struck and a friend of the boy’s sister introduced him to a Unitarian church. The boy signed the book at 16, taking immediately to the clarity of thought and lack of magic that prevailed there. What a mix of people! Lapsed Protestants, Jews, Catholics, and a host of others. Not to mention Atheists, Agnostics, members of the budding Humanist movement and other people searching for the truth, just like he was.

The boy grew into a man and was happy in his church. Just walking in the door at coffee hour made the IQ of the immediate environment go up 40 points. The people in the pulpit, sometimes including the boy-man himself, spoke mainly of social issues, ethics, and helping others. Discussions were free and lively. Comparative religion classes took the place of bible school. Those classes for children were matched by similar classes at night for adults. Every member was invited to think hard to invent our own philosophies.

Life went smoothly on until the leadership of the UUA decided that it was not about philosophy or belief; instead they decided it all about money. They saw that there were not as many unbelievers as believers, so they decided to throw away years of tradition (and many thousands of members) in favor of just becoming one more run-of-the-mill church, with favor shown to the money of the people who believe in a magic god. That way, the UUA could become bigger, and richer, and more important. The hell with the people who had been with them for so very long.

The boy, and the man he became, are both me, and I want my philosophically Freethinking, intellectually free-wheeling Unitarian church back.

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