How I Used to Feel During Church

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey
Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When asked why I blog, I usually answer that I do it because I find that it helps me sort things out and clarify my thinking. I have written previously about how I sometimes find blogging to be almost therapeutic and that I do it primarily for myself. Having said that, I occasionally write something here that I don't want to post, something that makes me hesitate for a few days before I muster up the courage to hit the "send to blog" button. This is that sort of post.

A recent post opened up some clearly unresolved emotional crap for me, catching me by surprise. I'd like to stuff it back down wherever it came from and move on. I'm usually good at doing that. Instead, I am going to force myself to come back for more and see if I can finally put into words something that I've never been able to express.

Is it possible that there are some of us who not only realized that we do not believe in gods fairly early in life but who also had negative visceral reactions to religion that we find difficult to verbalize? Maybe our brains are wired a bit differently. Maybe we have just the right combination of personality traits and early life experiences. Maybe we're just fucked up. And maybe (gulp) I am all alone in feeling like what I am trying to describe and nobody reading these words is going to have a clue what I'm talking about.

When my family dragged me to church with them over my objections during my early to middle teenage years, what I felt inside was not just that I didn't want to be there because I'd rather be doing something else. I certainly did feel that, but there was more to it than that. And what I felt inside was not just about teenage rebellion and the distaste for being forced to do anything against my will. This was certainly part of what I was feeling too, but there was something else that is so hard to describe.

If I clear my mind and focus on the first word or image that pops into it while imagining myself sitting in church at this time, "betrayal" is what keeps coming up. I vividly remember feeling a combination of nausea, rage, and guilt as I sat in church after I realized I did not believe in any supernatural entities. It wasn't that someone else was betraying me; being here was a betrayal of everything I believed. Every part of me was screaming, "Get out!" This is wrong. I did not belong here. I was a fraud, and someone was going to see through me. Sitting here silently and going through the motions enabled others to persist in their delusion. I was somehow complicit in this evil.

I tried to turn off the storm raging inside. I told myself that I could function as an observer, almost like I was an anthropologist studying some primitive culture. I struggled to focus on what the minister was saying. There had to be something of value in here somewhere. This helped briefly, but the feelings would soon come rushing back. There was something wrong with me.

I remember looking around at the others filling the pews. Why did it seem like they were here primarily to be seen? Why were they dressed so nicely? What makes the men think that their god wants them to wear a coat and tie every Sunday? How much did that necklace cost? Wouldn't this Jesus fellow we keep hearing about want them to spend the money on helping the poor instead? Why does it seem like every time that man puts a large denomination bill in the collection plate that he has to look over his shoulder to make sure others see him doing so? Why is everybody in here white? This whole thing was so damn hypocritical! And here I was right in the middle of it.

How can people really believe this stuff? And if they do really believe it, why aren't they living their lives as if they believed it? Why does that stuck-up kid I know from school pretend to be nice to me here and only here. He treats me like shit at school, but once a week, I can count on him acting like we're friends for a few minutes at church. More hypocrisy. Lets fake it for Jesus!

Great, now the minister has more to say about angels and Jesus. What would happen if I just yelled, "Bullshit!" right now as loud as I could? I don't have the balls, and I could never do that to my family. They'd be mortified. No, I'll just sit here in silence and lose more of my dignity. Coward!

Looking over what I just wrote, I don't feel very successful in putting this experience into words or even figuring out what any of it means. These are feelings I haven't had in years, and I take some small consolation in knowing that this is closer than I've come before in facing them. Maybe I'll have to revisit it at some point and see if I can get any closer. At the moment, I feel a lot like I used to feel after church was finally over - emotionally drained.