My eyes were closed, the somber music washed over me, “Just as I am without one plea, that thou my God would die for me.” The combination of piano, organ, and dedicated choir in the church auditorium designed for optimal acoustics set the stage for a very convincing divine experience. As I closed my young eight year old eyes, I remember thinking “what if?” What if I was not genuine enough a few years ago when I first said the magical prayer and asked Jesus into my life? What if my doubt that god was real would condemn me to hell? What if my parents were reading the bible wrong and there was more to it? What if the bible was the wrong book and one of the other ones was really from God?
Pretty heavy thoughts for an eight year old, but I shoved them aside in my mind and figured the best course of action to ensure my redemption from my apparent birth into sin was to plead for forgiveness from God and hope he understood that I was a flawed human that was doing my best to understand. “Dear Jesus,” I prayed, “please forgive me for my doubt and sin. I do not want to go to hell, I want to be a good person. My family always talks about a relationship with you, but no matter how much I pray and ask, I never hear anything back from you. Sure, I felt your presence when I was at camp, but it was never really just me. You said in the bible that if I confess with my mouth that you are Lord and believe in my heart that you were raised from the dead than I would be saved. Please save me, I believe! Please use me, please let me be someone that is a true servant, please let me further your will on earth.”
This was a regular occurrence during my childhood. Countless one-sided conversations with God. I remember hearing the story about Jesus sweating blood while praying in the garden of Gethsemane and thinking, if only I pray that hard perhaps I will experience something. Tell me, how do you pray hard? Do we squish our eyes together tighter, do we raise our hands up in the air (I found these attention hungry jackasses ridiculous even as a religious kid) do you flex your mussels, or do we just beg more vehemently. It might sound silly, but it was a problem that plagued me for years and was partially responsible for who I am as an adult.
I think if I had to describe my childhood in a word having retrospect as a tool, I would use the word alienated. I never had trouble making friends, and my family was very affectionate and loving, but I always thought I was different on the inside. Everyone else saw miracles in everything and had this personal relationship with the god of the universe, and I never connected with him in any real way. I spent my adolescence pretending I felt the Holy Spirit and convincing those that didn’t that they should be more open to god. (If you were wondering, yes, I was a pious little shit) My duality between who I was in front of everyone and my inner monologue made feel alone. The realization of this hypocrisy in my existence just made me renew my efforts to be genuine in my faith.
It didn’t work for me. As I have aged, and hopefully matured a bit, I have a different view of things. I do not think I was alone as a child. I am pretty sure that no matter what your current faith is, if you were raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home you had similar experiences. Any theologian will tell you that in order to have genuine faith you have to embrace the suspension of very simple laws of nature, ignoring the known and creating a parallel universe in which a being that represents everything you can imagine as good creates, controls, and manipulates everything in existence.
Millions of years of evolution have been teaching us the laws of physics and nature through instinct, yet as our brains evolved and we developed cognitive reasoning we started creating gods. Gods, like men, are always impatient creatures that cause huge changes to the paths of humanity via supernatural feats while nature makes its changes gradually. We can watch as we have taken over our own evolution via technology and tools, we have increased the speed of evolution dramatically. In order to be genuine in ones beliefs, than you must reject the very instincts that are responsible for your existence. Every human being knows that animals don’t speak, biologist know that they do not even have the organs necessary for speech, and yet the divine and perfect word of god has several instances of them carrying on conversations.
A child that is taught that magic (I use this term to describe anything that is supernatural or impossible in the natural world) is real by parents that actually believe it, is forced to reconcile what he is taught with what he knows instinctually. Unfortunately, as much as we would like to see our lives as simply a series of events, this battle between logic and faith is a lifelong malady that actually becomes part of the psychological matter that makes up the child’s very identity into adulthood.