Though I no longer give my allegiance to Christianity or any organized religion, the holiday season continues to be one of my favorite times of the year. Being able to take time out to relax and break bread with my loved ones fills me with warmth and reminds me of the better times that I had when my Mom and Grandma were still alive. Last year was no different, and a few days after Christmas found me sitting at my dining room table, laughing and talking with my favorite cousin. Though I am older than him, we’ve always been very close. He now lives in a different part of the country and visits rarely, so I really cherish being able to see him.
I always feel so comfortable with him. I do think part of it stems from the fact that as children we both spent more time with our Grandma than our other cousins. Our mothers were both single moms at the time. When my Mom received orders to go to duty on a naval carrier she’d send me to stay with her mother for those months. At the same time my Aunt was busting her behind in school in hopes of becoming an RN, so my Grandma effectively took over raising her son during those years. So in the eighties my cousin and I were like peas in a pod, running and knocking things over all throughout our Grandma’s one bedroom apartment. We remain close to this day. When I converted to Islam he didn’t greet my decision with dismay and melodramatic emails. Nor did he accuse me of abandoning my cultural heritage and insulting the memory of my deceased mother, as others did. And when I walked away from organized religion completely he didn’t bother me about it or tell me I was going to hell. He’s showed true love to me and been there the way that family should.
Though I identify as an atheist and he is still within the realm of Theism and spirituality-he practices African Traditional religion- we’ve both emphatically rejected the dogma of our family. I cherish all of our conversations, because he is the one relative of mine who truly ‘gets’ me and my feelings on religion. I know now that he had the same doubts and questions that I did as a teen. But like me, his fears and the pressure to conform led him to suppress what he was thinking. Now I’m able to chuckle at it. I reminisce on all the times that I heard or witnessed things in church that caused me to raise an eyebrow, and how often my cousin’s eyes found mine at the same time(we were raised in the same church). I felt I was alone then, that I couldn’t be completely honest with those around me. Little did I know that my cousin was enduring the same struggle!
Nearly twenty years later, my cousin and I sat at my dining room table, catching up. As always the subject of religion came up. We laughed as we reminded each other of the craziness that we’d witnessed and been party to. Everything was lovely. But then my cousin said something that shocked me and temporarily left me speechless:
I hate it, D. I hate the church. I hate Christianity. I won’t front, I really hate it all.
I couldn’t believe my ears for a moment. Sure, I was an atheist. Sure, I’d gladly get on my soapbox and criticize the two younger Abrahamic faiths when asked my thoughts on them. But hate is a very strong word, and I couldn’t necessarily say that I hated Christianity in its totality. I felt that to say one actually hated Christianity was to be too harsh and to go to an extreme.
Since that day I have pondered my cousin’s statement. And though I still feel that to say that one hates a faith in its entirety and without qualification is problematic, I do believe I have a better understanding of where my cousin was coming from. In 2012 I have sat aghast as I’ve witnessed self-proclaimed Christians gleefully engage in slut-shaming and address GLBT individuals in incredibly cruel and derogatory ways. I’ve continued to deal with self-proclaimed Christians who feel the best way to convince me of Jesus’ boundless love for me is to smugly tell me that I am going to burn in hell forever for not adhering to their dogma.
And when I think of this-the hurt, the tears, the emotional and psychological trauma and the destruction that so many continue to wreak on their fellow human beings-hate does seem to be an appropriate word. You see what my cousin hates is just one particularly toxic expression of Christianity and all of its’ negative fruits. (Now to be fair I will say that one cannot and should not paint all believers with the same brush, and I believe that subject deserves to be addressed in a post of its own). But the branch of the faith that my cousin and I were exposed to,the fellowship that we grew up in-I hate it too. I hate the prosperity pimps in our community who take over 10% of the income of middle class and working poor individuals. I hate the preachers who call themselves men of God, yet live lives of luxury and excess that fall short of the example of Jesus himself. I hate the way that GLBT individuals are hounded for their ‘sin’ while heterosexuals ‘sins’ are treated very differently. I hate the way that clergy members are treated as demi-gods, allowed to prey sexually upon the single and vulnerable women in their congregations without receiving so much as a slap on the wrist for it. I hate the fact that the sexual abuse of children by clergy has not been treated with the appropriate level of gravity and concern. Most of all, I hate that humans continue to cause so much pain to others, all in the name of being righteous.