When I was about twelve or thirteen I got into a skirmish with the lady elders of my mother’s church, and was requested not too politely to remove myself from the congregation. I left and never returned except for funerals of relatives or friends whose orthodox thought and unquestioned acceptance of their dogma kept them within the fold.
What was my transgression, or heresy, if you will? Even though I was extremely shy at that age, I was also a voracious reader and a devout skeptic who questioned everything and subjected it to rigorous examination before accepting it. My first sin was figuring out the ‘water into wine’ passage in the Bible. As I recall, I figured out that it had something to do with the porosity of the wine casks and the fact that pouring water into a previously used cask and letting it set in the hot sun for a while would leach enough wine from the walls to make a reasonably alcoholic drink. As bad as that was, my questioning of the ‘Virgin birth,’ though, was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s hump. The details are irrelevant, but it had to do with my questioning pathogenesis as a human capability. That little conversation in Sunday school one morning was what got me expelled.
For many years, I considered my ejection as a loss. I toyed with a number of non-Protestant religions over the years; attending services at Catholic chapels and Synagogues, and even considering Islam; and even briefly joined a sect called The Brotherhood of Christophers; a group that perhaps never consisted of more than a hundred members. Finally, in 1968, during my first tour in Vietnam, I discovered Buddhism. Now, Buddhism is less a religion than a way of life, and this seemed to accord better with my skeptical, questioning nature than any of the other faiths. I was most impressed by the unorganized; some would even say, disorganized; nature of Buddhism. No requirement to memorize certain passages in Holy books or attend regular services, and no intermediary between the individual and his or her fate. What happens to you is entirely dependent upon the actions you take. It also went along with my peaceful nature. Even as a kid, although I hunted for food for the family table, and participated in the slaughter of farm animals for food, I never understood killing for sport or trophies, and to this day, I don’t even stomp on a cockroach unless it happens to wander under my foot unnoticed.
I also finally learned that my ejection from my mother’s church was not a loss, but a victory of sorts. I’d presented a problem that they were unprepared to deal with, so they simply ordered it away. Forgive my hubris, but I believe that they were actually afraid of me and my questions, because they had the potential to undermine their cherished beliefs and put them in a position where they were unable to explain or defend them.
When someone rejects you because of your beliefs, it is not a reflection on you. It is a sure sign that your beliefs threaten theirs, and they’re not sufficiently educated on the basis of those beliefs to be able to counter your words or challenges. Their rejection is, in fact, a retreat, and when an enemy retreats and refuses to come back into the fray, you win. If your beliefs are valid, they should stand up to any challenge. If you’re at all intelligent, you should also be able to modify your beliefs when presented with rational counter arguments, or defend them with equally rational arguments. Many people who live on faith alone can do neither; and, that is why I believe they are afraid of people like me. That’s too bad, really. I would much rather they were prepared to engage me, if for no other reason than to further examine my own views.