As a child, Carl Pettit didn’t believe in God, and was sure he’d go to Hell for his disbelief.
When I was a child, I often wondered about the nature of God. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, I was provided with a ton of answers. Some of my relatives told me God didn’t exist, and religion was a bunch of malarkey, while others told me that there was indeed a heaven, and Jesus loved me. My curiosity generally peaked around Christmastime and Easter. Like any inquisitive kid, I wanted to know what all of this rejoicing was about.
The net result of the conflicting accounts I received from teachers, relations and friends was that I didn’t believe in God, yet still, I knew I was going to go to hell for my disbelief. To the mind of a grownup, this kind of paradoxical thinking defies logic, but in the heart of an eight-year-old boy, it made perfect sense. God wasn’t real, and he had it out for me.
I first ran into real trouble at Sunday school. When I spent the night at my best friend’s house on a Saturday night, we’d inevitably be dragged off to church Sunday morning. Halfway through the sermon, the kids would quietly be ushered away into a small classroom for Bible study.
As a nonbelieving believer, I caused the teacher all manner of headaches. When I asked her about the poop problem on Noah’s Ark, she told me that Noah and his family would push the animal dung out into the water, maybe with brooms or something. When I pointed out that there weren’t enough people on board to tackle that much poop, she told me I should stop asking silly questions. After I learned what monotheistic meant, I informed her that I could count to three (I’ve always had trouble with authority), and this whole God, the Son and the Holy Spirit thing didn’t make any sense. She gave me some kind of wishy-washy answer, which I no longer recall, although I do remember challenging her on it. I spent the rest of the class by myself, waiting out in the hall.
When I went to church with my friend’s family some weeks later, come time for the kiddies to depart, my friend’s parents suggested we skip Sunday school and sit through the entire sermon. I’m not sure, but I strongly suspect that the teacher requested I not be included in Bible lessons.
A full sermon was hard for me to handle. I quickly lost interest. It was around that time that I had a lot of questions about human sexuality. I understood the basics of sex, but I was still fuzzy on the details. While listening to the minster drone on, I glanced up at a large painting of Jesus on the wall. His mother was a virgin, but was he? He wasn’t called the virgin savior. I realized I shouldn’t be entertaining such thoughts, for the Devil was surely stoking the fires of Hell especially for me—a little boy who let his mind wander when he should be listening to the word of God. The more I tried to banish the unholy images from my head, the more they grew in intensity.
I could feel the minister, up on his pulpit, and the congregation, restless in the pews, staring me down with their knowing eyes. Surely they were reading my mind. I had to get rid of these terrible thoughts. In my desperation, I took one of my first plunges into abstract thinking. I pictured Jesus and his potential sexuality as a salami log, sitting on a wooden cutting board. In order to destroy my impure thoughts, I mentally sliced up the salami and pushed the pieces with the edge of my cutting knife into a wicker basket (why wicker, I have no idea). It worked—the heretical thoughts fled my mind.
Of course, I then felt guilty for turning Jesus into a salami log. I knew he was a pretty decent guy, and deserved a better fate than that. I tried to console myself in the fact that churchgoers often drink the savior’s blood in the form of wine and cannibalize his flesh crackers. That didn’t help much. I was doomed. I could either keep thinking about his sex life, or turn the entire concept into lunchmeat and dice it up. Either way, I knew I was going to burn in hell for eternity.
Years later, when I was all grown up (or at least pretending to be), I was astounded that I wasn’t more messed up by all of the contradictory information imparted to me. It seems that when an adult tells you he or she has all of the answers (exclusively so), and asks you to accept his of her words on the basis of faith, there’s a good chance the person in question doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about. Yes, some of you might think I’m wrong about this. That’s your prerogative. No need to tell me where I’m going if I am.
Image credit: Sensual Shadows Photography/Flickr