A man once threatened to kill me if I didn’t marry him, so I did.
Throughout the Bible, God refers to his people as his “life partner.” Depending on how well-behaved and loyal they are, they are either a lovely bride, or a harlot, a prostitute, a cheating lover. The several-thousand-year engagement is projected to culminate in a beautiful wedding in Revelation, right after God curses Babylon for being filled with demons, dirty birds, and detestable beasts.
I attended a Pentecostal church once that performed an elaborate “reenactment” of this wedding. We were assaulted with the visual of an overcaffeinated pastor in full bridal garb, flashing his engagement bling to the congregation with giddy joy and dancing a waltz with Invisible Jesus, while wiping imaginary tears from his eyes and speaking loudly in tongues.
I was still married (in real life) at this time. During the climax of this barbaric catastrophe of a sermon, I glanced at my husband, who looked even more uncomfortable and perplexed than I was. Between us, we managed to choke down laughter and vomit for the rest of the “ceremony.” To wrap up, the pastor called everyone to the pulpit to receive anointing as an “engagement gift.” His job was to touch their foreheads. Their job was to fall to the ground. Since all of this was being filmed for live TV, camera crews took their places near the stage, and ushers prepared for the catch. I waited in line nervously, not sure what to do as I watched the recipients of “the anointing touch” fall into the ushers’ arms, to be placed on the floor for an indeterminant amount of time. It was my turn. The dolled-up pastor babbled in tongues and reached for my forehead. The wide, black eyes of cameras gaped at me.
So…when he touched my head, I fell to the ground. Why would I want to stand there, on camera, looking like the demon-plagued bride of the devil, when all the other faithful Christ-brides were lying on the floor in a brilliant display of faux syncope, full of faithfulness and a desire to obey and follow? I carefully opened one eye and caught a glimpse of my otherwise sensible husband, sprawled on the carpet there beside me. It is difficult to exercise and defend reason, even in the face of such folly, when you are the only one who might.
Tools like this public display of a “miracle” have been used to coerce entire populations into following (or at least not speaking against) religion. Even if we can get people to pretend they believe, it will make it more difficult for those who don’t. “You must have seen the image of the Virgin. All of the rest of us did.” “Everybody’s hands are up during the worship song. I guess I should be feeling something too.” I have read posts from individuals who were terrified they were going to hell because they couldn’t “speak in tongues.” Concerns that, upon the slightest intellectual examination, look silly or downright mad are validated and intensified by what those around you claim to experience.
If a grown man darted towards you, declaring that the Flying Spaghetti Monster was planning to zap all of its believers into the clouds and leave the rest behind to fight a war on Earth with a bunch of zombies, you would likely inch away cautiously and call 911. But when a Christian tells the story of the rapture, society recognizes it as a legitimate and respectable belief. Likewise, the rational world should consider it emotionally abusive for a mother to teach her children fictional horror stories and instill them as truths never to be questioned, stories like people living inside of animals, God sending bugs to punish unbelievers, blindness or muteness being caused by demons, dead people coming back to life to walk the Earth, messages written by a ghost-hand on a wall. This same mother is liable to simultaneously deny things that we know are true and forbid her children access to science and reason. “There were no dinosaurs. The Earth has not been in existence for more than 6,000 years. The Big Bang never happened. Evolution is the devil’s lie. You are not allowed to go to a school where they will expose you to these evil beliefs.”
Even worse, she might teach her tender, innocent children that if they don’t accept her warped version of the truth, they will be punished horrendously, forever more. They won’t get to live with her or be part of her eternal family. They will go to a place of burning, and torment. They are not allowed to engage the incredible muscle science and evolution endowed them with, their brain. They are not to use their logic or reasoning. They are not to question. They are to conform, at all costs, or face the unspeakable consequences. Horrible parenting, and yet completely accepted and even lauded by society. We don’t even question whether we should question or what possible damage this might inflict on children’s mental health.
If the stories the mother taught were any other than those in the Bible, society would condemn her and rescue the poor creatures that had been subject to such inexcusable emotional abuse. If she had taught them that a man lived inside the belly of an elephant, instead of inside a fish, or that a monkey led to the damnation of mankind, instead of a snake, or that the appearance of the Flying Spaghetti Monster would soon bring about the end of the world, it would be easy to stand up for truth and reason. It would be easy to assess her emotional preparedness for childrearing, and easy to prescribe her the needed medication or therapy to guide her towards more realistic beliefs. But the fact that others believe these stories makes them more acceptable. The Bible somehow legitimizes all of her craziness, just like it legitimized the crazy Pentecostal sermon I attended.
Grown-ups are allowed to do insane, emotionally disturbing things to those around them, as long as those things have root in the Bible. We have decided it is okay for our government officials to base their decisions on these ridiculous stories. It’s alright to knock on your neighbor’s door and tell them they are going to hell. It’s permissible to print cruel and discriminatory religious propaganda on couple’s wedding programs, if their marriage doesn’t meet your definition of “Biblical.” It’s acceptable to invade privacy and incite anger and divide families in the name of evangelizing because society has come to the collective agreement that these beliefs are to be at least respected, if not followed. So we choke down our laughter or our vomit. We watch those fainting around us, and we pretend to faint with them, afraid to be the ones that stand for truth.
There is more to this story about the Bride of Christ, and I can’t wait to share it with you next week. Meanwhile, please use my fail to remind yourself to stand up for reason, even in ways that may seem insignificant. Each time you do, you make our world a safer place for others to stand with you.