“I never, even for a moment, doubted what they’d told me. This is why it is that adults and even parents can, unwittingly, be cruel: they cannot imagine doubt’s complete absence. They have forgotten.” (David Foster Wallace, American novelist)
Children are not supposed to have worries. We just assume their innocence is uncorrupted until later in their life. Unfortunately, there are far too many influences in this modern world, influences that denigrate a healthy childhood. Whether technology, lack of structure (family) or even horrific events at the hands of others, children, in many cases, are no longer free to be children. We take something as simple as the idea of a God and turn it into confusion and legislation, brainwashing them, forcing them into thinking that our religious norms are the set of rules they should follow. Kids don’t get to discover the truth, it is handed down to them. From early on they are conditioned, trained until they no longer are free just to be.
“When we are children we seldom think of the future.
This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can.The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.”
(The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss 2007)
Growing up while cultivated by Christianity, I often found myself at odds with the teachings placed before me. Many of the dogmas and doctrines that I was exposed to seemed inconsistent with the God I already believed in. I questioned almost everything, regardless of what I had been taught to have faith in. I drove my ministers and instructors crazy with constant inquiries. As a child, my attention span was so erratic that by the time I got home from Sunday School, I had little or no interest in pursuing those questions. By the time I became a teenager, it was clear to me that we aren’t supposed to ask those questions. I am not aware whether other kids have the same experiences. Do they question too? This internal discord corrupted my judgment and often sent me into sadness. I was playful, I had fun, but I was not free.We are told that only those who are like children can enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:3), then in the same breath children are told to act their age, to grow up and to be a man (or a lady). The burden of adult ideas and required behaviour steals away any glimmer of childhood that a very young person may still have. Expectations become patterns and patterns become gospel. I don’t know why or how I formed my earliest conceptions of the Holy. From the beginning of any awareness, I presume, I took whatever good I saw in each lesson, leaving all the commentary to the older people. God had always been more of an ethereal being to me than a Father or Judge. Although I had conceived notions of God as a deity, any dialogue regarding such things was of little concern to me. Somewhere out in space was someone who loved me. I believed this until I learned that it was not so.
“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” (Agamemnon, Aeschylus 459 BCE)
Compromising childlike faith and innocence has great penalty. We are warned by the Christ that for anyone doing so “it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:2) Well meaning religious people baptize, confirm and institutionalize children like sheep led to slaughter. We control them with our own ideas as if they were the one and only truth. When an adult has childlike qualities, and a winsome nature, we chastise them, tell them to act their age or we just assume that they are simply a retard.
“Innocence is a kind of insanity.”(The Quiet American, Graham Greene 1955)
My first partner had a winsome nature when I met him. His childlike way was charming yet quite foreign to me. I had never encountered someone so normal yet so naive in their interpretation of what it means to be alive. It was not that he was immature or stupid. He was the most intelligent and capable man I had the privilege to experience up to that point. He viewed life differently than any other person I had known. He was an innocent, unaffected by the claims of a reality outside his upbringing. His internal version of life and God was unencumbered. He was free. All that seemed to come with him was unstained. It had not been tainted or tarnished regardless of his family, friends or the small town in which he grew up. When I first met Doug, it seemed to me that he had been living in a bubble. I quickly learned that he was, in fact, the bubble itself.Once he was exposed to the harsh reality of this world, he began to change. This change was not for the better. Instead of continuing to see without judgment, he took all that judgment upon himself. His concept of the Divine shifted from a God who loved him, no matter what, to a God who condemned him just for being the person that he was. The life he had led since his childhood turned out to be a lie. The environment that he was so swiftly exposed to stood in complete contradiction to what he had formulated in his own mind and spirit. With no formal religious training, no sense of Divine condemnation, he quickly was caught up in it, like a fish out of water. He floundered, he struggled to catch his breath. Eventually, all that pressure from within did just what they told us it would do in high school. Given enough time, the bubble burst.
It is strange to me how we interfere. We take someone so pure, so unaffected and we make demands that they listen to us, learn from us and do what we tell them to do. We instruct each other to be like children, then attack when adults do that very thing. We endlessly lecture about God’s Grace and Unconditional Love, than steal it from each other until we submit to His Will. I find it interesting that the will of god usually lines up well with the needs and wishes of those evangelising to us. For some, the very purpose of their religion is to win souls. We become so concerned with salvation, and immortality, that we channel this concern to every person who we believe does not live up the standards expressed in our holy books and religion. We negate each other’s happiness here on earth believing the eternal soul matters more. Well meaning religious people take the innocence that childhood once offered without even asking. They demand we form a bubble, but the bubble is someone else’s creation, not our own. We all view the world through different lenses, but only this way or that way is the right prescription. Without their Rx, we are considered rather blind and in need of saving.
“Of course, you will ask what proof do we have that retards today are the descendants of those filthy half-Demon hybrids that caused the destruction of mankind? That they have the same blood running through their twisted limbs as the Demons cast out of Heaven? Well let me remind you of your original question. If God is so perfect then why would he create a retard? I think the answer is in the question. He wouldn't. These creatures are the spawn of Hell, and anyone who suggests otherwise is not only insulting me, he is insulting God.”
(God Hates Retards, www.godhatesgoths.com)
(God Hates Retards, www.godhatesgoths.com)
For the first year, I thought Matthew and Beth were brother and sister. Eventually, I discovered that the only thing common to both of them was Downs Syndrome. Matt was around 40 years old and Beth around 30 when they joined the congregation of theI never really felt sorry for either of these two. They appeared happier, and freer, than anyone I had yet to encounter. For all the restrictions, and all the assumptions people made regarding their disabilities, these physical restraints did little to hinder their joy. Both were charming in a childlike way. Unencumbered by their condition, their winsome qualities were rather pleasing to me. They were friendly, sweet and in many ways far more Christian than the hundreds of people who attended services every Sunday with them. Despite their actual age, they came across like overgrown children rather than mentally challenged. In fact, when discussing Jesus and God with either one, they expressed a base understanding of the deity they had been brought into the fold to worship. Quite often you could hear one or the other, often both, singing louder than the rest of the sheep. God was always Love for them, not words or actions required by the doctrines and principles set down for the rest of us. Without fail, you could always find someone attempting to capture that innocence and turn it into a prescription for salvation. In an attempt to “save” them, well meaning religious people only succeeded in confusing them. When approached for evangelization, you could tell by their expressions and demeanour that such compound and complicated concepts as sin and hell were lost on them. Going to heaven was a promise made, not a formula that required this step or that step. Although I am unaware of what eventually happened to Beth, Matthew passed away in the 1990s in his early 50s.
Every Sunday morning, someone would pick them up from their group home and take
them for Sunday service at my Church. Matthew was a stunted man, with streaks
of grey in his dark hair. He possessed the emotional and intellectual maturity
of a 10-year-old, or so we were told. He may have walked with two canes,
balancing his feeble limbs on heavy sticks of wood, but he never seemed impeded. Beth stood under 5 foot tall and her hair was
cut close, for easy grooming I supposed. She was a small girl, but she was not
tiny. Her limitations were not always visible from my vantage point. For
someone with such a diminished IQ, she was truly capable, or so it seemed.
Throughout the 1980s, they were both a mainstay in the congregation. Strathroy United Church
I have never understood the Christian need to save souls. I always assumed that this was God’s responsibility, not man’s. Scripture may tell us differently, but I don’t believe for one second that God needs our help. I am still unsure why so many religious people find it necessary to convert or engage salvation on those afflicted when it is quite clear they don’t need assistance. The entire process of converting or saving someone so innocent always seemed redundant to me. Generally speaking, these engaging and quite pleasing creatures don’t need our ignorance either. Their childlike charm and innocence speak to the very essence of Jesus’ teachings regarding those who will enter the Kingdom. In most cases, we try to fill their glass, assuming it is empty, when in reality it was already overflowing. We forget, you cannot save that which is already safe and sound. Religious people just have to interfere. Most worry more about other people’s salvation when they should worry about their own. In an attempt to better the life of an innocent, we steal their innocence away. We stand in the way. We take these special men and women and we try to cage them and take away their innate freedom, as if we are responsible for them knowing the Way. We forget that the weight we hang around the neck of something so winsome is the very milestone that will take us to the bottom of the sea. We think we are saving them but we are only dooming ourselves.
“Love is a hurricane in a blue sky,
I didn't see it coming, never knew why.
All the laughter and the dreams,
All the memories in between,
Washed away in a steady stream...
We could shake a fist in times like this
When we don't understand
Or we could just hold hands.”
(I’m With You, Nichole Nordeman 2001)
I am not sure if my uncle Doug is a religious man or not. I know that I have no personal experience to rely on when making a concrete conclusion on the matter. It matters little in the long run anyway. Married to my Dad’s sister Mae for over 50 years, he now battles Alzheimer’s disease. Regardless of the limited contact I have with him, I have been witness to his declining health. It is easy to see despite glimpses of his old self that peek through the clouds in his mind on occasion. At times, you can still sense him inside of himself. It is both sad and inspiring to see him in this state. To watch him decay has done little to his survival instinct. He may not thrive, but you can tell he still fights, still wishes it wasn’t this way for him. Giving up might be the easy way, but going on indicates how truly strong and courageous he remains. His energy can still be so vibrant. There have been times when I was communicating with him that he seemed almost childlike. There is an innocence to this type of suffering. Repentance for anything they might have done in their life is lost, tossed out in the storm. For the most part, the mind and therefore the conscious have faded. They never function long enough for any victim of this disease to formulate clear thought. My uncle is no longer free.
I had no idea that the In Touch program I frequently listen to at 11:30 AM was the audio version of the same show my Father and brother Alan watch on weekends. They have always spoke highly of these lectures and sermons. Earlier in the week, on my way to get groceries, I turned on Faith FM like I always do en route to spend more money. Dr. Charles F. Stanley was discussing people afflicted with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and the state of their salvation. “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley" is broadcast around the world on radio and television. Based in the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, the founder
I listened angrily as the good doctor announced the will of god. Those who are struck down by illness, whether Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, or anything that inhibits clear thinking, already had their chance to repent. It is not God’s fault when we don’t take advantage of His Grace and Forgiveness. It matters little to the Lord the reason you failed to claim your salvation. The one and only way to God is by accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and saviour. If you haven’t done that then you blew your chance. Strangely enough, he ended his diatribe with the claim that God loves everyone, no matter your situation or circumstance. The gift of salvation is free for all who call on the Lord and His great Mercy.
“It is better to risk saving a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.”(Zadig ou la Destinée, Voltaire 1747)
Throughout the very human history of religion, malignant ideas have always risen from a very deep puddle of crap. The notion that unbaptised babies are sent to Limbo, or Abraham’s Bosom, has persisted all the way back to the beginnings of Christianity. The Church has been notorious in their condemnation and treatment of the mentally ill, those who successfully commit suicide and even the billions of people who exist outside the Christian faith. Homosexuals, the afflicted and countless sheep who have strayed from His flock are cast into damnation at the very hands of those charged with not judging, loving each other and representing God’s Grace here on earth.We are instructed, for most of our lives, to put childish ways behind us and commit to the only true way to find happiness. Whether we are Christian, or Muslim, or a New Age guru, we believe we know the only legitimate course for everyone. If it works for us then it must be the only way. It becomes our mission to bring others the same righteousness and sense of salvation we ourselves have achieved. We rebuke a person’s circumstances and demand they follow our truth. We take those who once were free and we cage them in our own ignorance, thinking we will save them. Jesus himself tells us we should do so, that we must share our good news.
I am never surprised when I encounter such limited and selective thinking. My entire life I have been informed that unless I repent I am most certainly going to hell. It doesn’t matter your strength of mind. I still look in the mirror at times and wonder if their thinking is correct. When I feel this way, I have conditioned myself to remember a sermon I was once exposed to as a young man. The Pentecostal preacher, emoting hellfire and brimstone, commented on a girl from another Church in the area. At 15 years of age, she cut herself so deeply that she bled out on her bedroom floor. “It’s easy to admit defeat when things like this happen,” he explained to the maddened crowd. “God wins some and He loses some.”
“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:41b-45, NIV)