Ever since I was a young boy sitting in a rural Congregational church, I have felt that Christianity was a sham.
I loved the Sunday school stories about Jesus. He was my first super hero. He was stronger than all those Romans and Philistines combined. He was a courageous idealist who died for his beliefs.
I liked singing the hymns. Even though I thought the words were silly and redundant, it made me feel grownup to sing with the adults of the church.
And I liked the sermons. Our minister was a good speaker who was able to relate his lessons to life in a small 1950s New England town.
But it was clear to me then as it is now that most people only practice Christianity when they’re at church. Even at that age, I understood that society doesn’t really adhere to “Christian” values.
In that small town, everyone knew everyone else’s business. I knew who was kind, generous and tolerant, and who wasn’t. All I had to do was to look around in church to see that many of the people that acted like Jesus never came to church and many who didn’t came every week.
I heard hate speech on the radio from the McCarthy Hearings where Christians vilified non-Christian Communists. I saw in the newspapers the way Christians treated Blacks. I learned in school how Christians exterminated thousands of native Americans and how Christians dropped two bombs that incinerated 100,000 Japanese civilians when the war with Japan was pretty much over.
As I stared up at the church chandeliers, I realized that Christianity was a private social club where members forgave each other for their bad behavior. I can’t say precisely when it happened, but I gave up on Christianity.
At first, I thought of myself as an agnostic. That seemed socially acceptable. I saw how Christians treated non-believers, and I wasn’t ready to be socially ostracized before I was even a teenager.
So I kept quiet about my beliefs. I’m not as brave as my boyhood hero.
Fifty years later, I still don’t discuss my beliefs with anyone. I know that I need to be accepted by fellow townspeople to be elected to Town offices. I know that business relationships are based on common interests and beliefs. And above all, I don’t want my children and grandchildren to be discriminated against by Christians.
So I never use the A word. Maybe because Jesus still is my hero.
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