Monday, March 22, 2010

Scared to Salvation

Brent and I went to church with his dad yesterday, a little country Baptist church counting a congregation of about 40 souls. Since we don't attend regularly, I really enjoy it when we do. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church and I know the hymns, the sermons and the feel. Only now I don't have to feel guilty about whether or not I am "truly" saved and I won't have nightmares about what happens if I'm not.

The pastor, Pastor Chase (not his real name of course), told a great story of his own conversion. He was a boy of 9. His parents and grandparents lived on the same property and farmed it along with other local church members. One day Pastor Chase came home from football practice to find no one home. Since they weren't in the house, he figured they were in the barn, but it too was bereft of his brethren. He could see the church two fields away and he focused hard on it, wishing and praying to see any of his kin or church brothers in the vicinity. Alas, the church was quiet. Pastor Chase was in shock. Surely the rapture had come and Jesus had taken every one of his family members and most of his friends and neighbors as well. But young Chase had obviously been left behind. It seemed especially ironic to his child's mind since he had been planning to be saved in church next week and now he would be spending his eternity in hell with a long stint of earth-bound hell before. As he sat there crying and trembling he became so caught up in his grief that he never heard the family coming up the hill from the garden until his grandmother touched him on the shoulder with a look of concern growing in her eyes. Chase went right to his knees and offered his heart to the Lord and I reckon that's about when he became Pastor Chase as well. The moral of the story? Having the bejesus scared out of you at age 9 will get you saved and to heaven for sure.

I was gifted a "get out of hell free" card before leaving and I'm feeling pretty secure with my little card in my pocket.

I experienced the same feelings, the same thought/guilt processes in my efforts to understand the religious experience of my youth, with which I no longer feel anything but the most quaint affinity, as I did attempting to understand my experience with AA. I've known for a long time that it felt the same and yesterday I understood more about why. The similarities were striking to me as they were revealed.

Attend church forever/go to meetings forever
Follow Bible literally/follow Big Book literally
Witness/12-step calls

Another striking commonality: they both use fear to great advantage to get their point across. Fear of hellfire and damnation or a lifetime of drinking. In my life, they amount to the same thing.


Bobby said...

Thank you for your thoughts. Fear is a great motivational tool. They often use the model of a hand being burned on the stove to illustrate the point of negative reinforcement. Learning that we will get burned for certain behaviors is a survival skill that we are all born with. It may not be the almighty that gets you but you can count on the fact that something will.

kikipotamus said...

I also really enjoy the odd visit back inside church walls, and a good sermon. Fortunately I am able to see the metaphorical truth behind the words even while those around me are latching onto a literal or more fundamentalist interpretation.

AngelP said...

I just can't agree with your comparison. I don't know as much about AA as I know about my religion, but I'm not frightened into its beliefs. My God is a God of love and compassion. Do I attend church? Sometimes. I like it. Am I compelled to attend? No.

Interesting though.

Glad to be caught up on your blog. I'm delighted to see you in a good place.


miss*R said...

no thanks.
I had that hell fire and brimstone upbringing in the Anglican church here and it screwed my head.

however, that said.. I find comfort and peace in the Catholic church, surrounded by the saints and Mary, that I so love.

think of you every day and I wore my rosary beads yesterday to my grandsons many commented on how beautiful they are :) xoxo

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

I have no idea what version of AA you are talking about but it's certainly NOT the one I participate in.

Truth is, I've never been so free from fear.

I don't attend AA because I have to, I attend AA because I care about those who, like me, came to find AA because they couldn't stop drinking (and drugging), just couldn't stop and were on the road to death (be it through medical issues or suicide) or permanent incarceration (jail or looney bin).

The only thing one has to judge by is their own experience, but I'd prefer not to judge 'a whole' by my personal expeirence (I do it without thinking and I'm attempting daily to rectify and stop that judgement in me). I cannot judge truth or right for myself save through reflection on my experience and whether I'm feeling content and generally happy.

It's all the church ever asked of me too really. But my head did gymnastics with fear and perceived judgement and I felt unworthy because I was unworthy (I had expereiences that showed it) well and I forgot to listen to the other part, the part where I was given and in Grace because God KNEW I couldn't get it right.

If I had your idea of church and AA I wouldn't be happy with them either.

I believe I see a different dimenson of Pastor Chase's conversion, I know what it feels like to have the fear taken in the moment God and I see eye to eye, and ... truth is, I found that the fears continue to dissipate as I continue to seek to be eye to eye with God.

It's a personal relationship thing, not an "I'm doing this cause I have to" thing. Where did the bible say you have to go to church every week? People interpret things every day. I believe the bible said the greatest commandment is to Love God with all your mind, heart and soul and love others as yourself or something very close to that (i'm not a biblical expert in fact ive only recently begun to read it with a clear head and relatively clean conscience about who I am and what I am capable of.

Going to church and meetings every week because if I don't people won't believe I'm saved is a problem for me, I would still be dominated by the world and what people think. That would be a true bummer. Thank God I don't have to think or feel like that ever again.

I go to church all the time too, not cause I "have to" or cause it looks good to others and they're ok with me (I think the rector of the church would agree my flaws show all the time precisely because I am an active participant in church). I go because I want to learn more of this freedom from judgement and the grace afforded to me through a one-on-one relationship with God.

This post you made was truly amazing, definately made me examine why I'm here and who I am

(I was raised in southern baptist church too) I'm glad the view from this age and experience i'm at now is different and that I don't have to be scared anymore.