Losing my Religion (Apologies to R.E.M.) Part 2
I Don’t Need the Promise of Heaven to be Good.
Many years ago, in completely painful frustration, my dear friend said to me “But Dawn! I want you to accept Jesus in your heart as your personal Saviour so that you and I can go to the same heaven!”
I think there were actual tears in her eyes. I had some sympathy for her pain but I wasn’t about to be manipulated. “I’m sorry,” I said. “But I don’t want to go to a heaven that is exclusive. That wouldn’t be heaven to me. I’d want everyone to be included.”
That’s the problem with the Christian versions of heaven; they are a place of exclusion. You can only get in if you have the key and even then your entry could be in doubt (see Calvinism).
Heaven is both the carrot and the stick.
I’ve written before about the Sunday School teacher who threw me out at age seven when I objected to her belief that little children would be rejected at heaven’s door just because they didn’t know Jesus. That’s the stick part. If you don’t know Jesus and I mean really KNOW him, you will be thrown onto the rubbish pile. My theology was a little sparse at age seven but I knew the phrase ‘suffer the little children to come to me’. I even knew that ‘suffer’ meant allow them or let them instead of pain them. But I was still a little hazy on the carrot part of heaven. Did it mean that every toy you ever wanted would be there for you to play with? Even at seven I had a sneaking suspicion that I’d soon bore of that! Boring? How is that heaven?
When I got older I became fascinated with the study of religions. I did a book report and presentation in 5th grade on Mother Lee, Shakers and the short-sighted, self-limiting nature of Shakerism. (Men and women lived separately. No one was ever born into Shakerism!)
In High School my favourite part of Social Studies was the module about World Religions. From the lack of information in our book (there was nothing about Shakers) I knew there must be a myriad of differing belief systems. It is interesting now to reflect that my first thought at age fourteen was ‘then, were they all wrong?’
At fifteen I was going to church and enjoying ‘fellowship’. I left that church under a bit of a cloud when I ‘semi-seduced’ my friend’s boyfriend. In my defence, I didn’t want to keep him. I only wanted to play for a while. From this story it might appear that I was lively and a little cavalier. I wasn’t, not really. I spent most of my time thinking about serious stuff and points at which I strayed from that were few.
It was then though, that I began to reflect (a bit, I was fifteen) about what it meant to be human. I came to several conclusions, one of which was that I didn’t need church to behave myself. I just needed to understand what the human consequences of my behaviour could be. A natural corollary to that was to think about others and their behaviours and what the consequences both to me and themselves would be because of their behaviours. Most of the time I reflected myself right out of whatever ‘dangerous’ thing it was that I might have a notion about.
Being human got in the way of some of this thought process. I met my first husband at sixteen. I got pregnant at eighteen. I had a child at nineteen and was divorced at twenty. Big consequences. I didn’t have another child until the first was twelve.
The point is I experienced the full spectrum of being myself without the hope of heaven. All the while I was living I rarely thought about heaven at all. I still don’t unless it’s ‘string theory’.
My husband and I (he’s my forever guy, the reward for having survived) each wear a purple ribbon tied around our left wrists. I’ve had mine replaced once. So has he, I think. Purple was his choice after he’d heard the ‘theory’. He surprised me with it in one of the most romantic gestures I think I’ve ever experienced. Our ribbons flow out and over land and seas to connect with the end of the other’s ribbon. We are always attached no matter how far away we might be from one another. That way if something happens to one of us the other will be able to tug on that ribbon and follow it right to where the other ended up. Finding each other at the end of the world, having Sunday Breakfast of blueberry pancakes and real maple syrup, listening to music and reading in bed in our little house on Liverpool Road has always been our idea of heaven.