Sunday, November 28, 2010

Salvation NOW!

I was eleven years old, brand new in the youth group program of my father's Assembly of God church. Our pastor, different from the previous one I've described, took us to the local Catholic cemetery, easily the oldest cemetery in our small town, if not in the vicinity. Full of history. I always wondered, if I was still enough, if I could feel the ghosts of those who had been lain to rest.

But there would be no such reverence this afternoon.

I stood there with my peers on the grass, listening to our pastor's strong and passionate admonishments that went something like this:

"I can't guarantee you that you'll wake up tomorrow. You can't guarantee me that the sun will rise in the morning, that the Earth will still be here. There is no guarantee. You don't know when you will die. If you don't accept Christ now, you will end up in hellfire--period. You cannot wait until the last minute because you may not know when the last minute is. You may not wake up tomorrow. You must accept Christ. Now."

Fear, as you may have noticed by now, is the primary tool in the Assembly of God arsenal. The use of fear is hardly exclusive to Mormonism, but it is certainly a different brand. This is a more violent, in-your-face fear mongering. It is without apology. It is hardly denied even by those who commit it. It is born of fear and perpetuated out of fear. It is a snake that you will pick up to let it bite you because you are unworthy and deserve ever more pain for Christ. You will ask to be bitten and stomped and crucified for and out of your own righteous guilt that, if sincere, will never be satiated.

This particular graveside example is relatively mild, but it remains in my memory.

Eleven-years-old and being told to accept Christ or be consigned to Satan's terrifying grasp to endure an eternity of fire, torture, and misery.

Because I was a sinner.

No matter how hard I tried, how good I was in my heart and in action, I was a sinner.

An eleven. year. old. sinner.

Who needed to be saved.

Have I ever explained to anyone just how hard I tried throughout my lifetime to be good? I haven't because I can't put it into satisfactory words. And it wouldn't matter, because it wasn't ever enough. It just didn't fucking matter because in the end someone would come up to me, for reals, to tell me nothing I ever did would ever be enough. It didn't matter what church I belonged to--Protestant, LDS, didn't matter. The Mormons straight up tell you to aim for perfection even though you'll never get there. To even suggest such a thing in my father's church could be considered blasphemy. Only Christ was and is ever perfect.

Assembly of God is bloody. But it's supposed to be. Therein is humility.

I would never be enough.

Praise Jesus.

I wasn't sure at this moment of my first real call to salvation if I'd been saved. I hadn't said "the prayer" yet--the one where you verbally "accept" Christ as your savior and call yourself an unworthy insect under his feet. But I believed in him. I accepted the story. I wasn't fighting it.

Apparently that wasn't enough.

Some people would tell me that's the point. 

I don't know. It's all bullshit. A part of me knew it, I'm certain, beginning that very day.


  1. From the outside looking in it is easy to think that such scare tactics should be obvious but when you are in the middle of them it is not. Kind of sad that so many religions do these sorts of things to young minds. Though like you, I think many kids can see through it.

  2. Taking 11 year olds to a cemetery for an "inspirational" experience is pretty darned sick. (But then so is baptizing them for the dead.)

  3. Kiley: I asked my dad some years later following my last straw (which I'll describe next, more than likely) what he thought about using fear. He was totally for it and owned it. It's the only thing he and the others think will work, and if that's what it takes to save a soul from hellfire and damnation, then that is what they will do.

    Some kids see through it, are pushed away by it. But the church grows and survives because many others are brought to the conclusion by some means that they are nothing and need to be reminded of it on a regular basis--also to remind others that they, too, need to be saved despite their unworthiness.

    Donna: This kind of sickness is far too prevalent in whichever form it comes. It's every reason I can't see anywhere to go. Every reason I ultimately don't want/refuse to go anywhere else.

  4. I was just reading today about how most of all fears are sub-fears of death. Spiritual death or physical or whatever. I don't follow any particular faith currently but I find it interesting that all religions I've learned anything about hold the death factor over our heads. "do this or die" in one way or another. No wonder so many people are or have jumped ship. Just know that as an Agnostic, God loves you, hee, hee.

  5. @Smoking Joe: that is interesting. My mother, a good LDS lady, was really horrified to learn that I do not hold with ideas of life after death. She seemed very scared of the possibility of nothingness. It seems that often religious people I speak with are particularly disturbed by my attitude toward death. However what I am confused by is usually their attitude toward life; the AoG folks Lisa talks about here, as well as Mormons and other sects, focus so much on the afterlife, to the point of denying that anything good can happen in the world while we are living. Yet they are simultaneously frightened of death. What a terrible way to exist.

  6. People say the real success is Christ's triumph over death.


    If so, perhaps we should follow suit and come to terms with it ourselves--not in a sense of resurrection, but in the sense of acceptance and in living our lives in happiness not just for ourselves but for each other, dogma be damned. Not us.

  7. When I was younger (early 20's) I met my first atheist - at least that I was aware of. I asked him "If you don't believe in god, or life after death, what is there to live for?"

    His answer was "Life. Live life for the joy of living."

    I didn't get it back then. Fifteen years later, I agree. Fear is a horrible teaching tactic. Living a life you're proud of (not because someone else said to), seems to be the best way to not fear death.