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"What did you do to piss god off so much he killed your child?"

My mother-in-law carried those words to her grave. Her second child died a few days after birth from a heart defect. That was how her church consoled her. They were as kind as the delivery doctor, a man known throughout the state as a top-notch pediatric heart expert but who could not bring himself to help the child he delivered because the parents were too poor to pay for services.

Because that's how doctors in god-fearing Nebraska treated poor kids.

Because it's easy to use guilt and pain as a hammer to smash someone you don't see as religious enough.

More below the squiggle.

I grew up poor as well, a member of a family who refused government assistance. Scrimping and saving did not make ends meet. We were poor enough my parents could not afford food, let alone the gas to get to the Baptist church 22 miles away. When we finally managed to make it, during Thanksgiving in '81, we met with disdain. We were told that my brother and I were unwelcome interlopers in attempting to join the Christmas pageant group that was being set up that day. We never made services, we were not fit to be in the Christmas play. We obviously didn't care about God enough to make it to church every Sunday, so why should we be allowed to participate? Had any of these well-meaning Christians ever offer to drive us to church? To pick us up and take us to service to see that our spiritual needs were met?

Hell no. That would take away the smug sense of superiority they felt in denying a 7 year old and an 8 year old the chance to play shepherds in a Christmas play. I was devastated. Cried all the way home. Our family never went back.

Not that there were many church options where I grew up. Most living in Star Valley were Mormon (I do not exaggerate.  Only 4 out of the 125 in my high school graduating class were not). I learned this first-hand during my first day in Kindergarten. I was asked what ward I belonged to. I asked what a ward was.

The next day the kids I had played with refused to talk to me. One snooty boy told me his parents told him not to be friends with me because I wasn't Mormon. The bullying came next. Getting pushed down a flight of stairs did not hurt as badly as the tacit approval of the Mormon teachers who chastised me for getting hurt and dirty, but who never spoke to the bullies about their behavior.  And, years later, when I brought it up to the few friends I had managed to make, inevitably they would tell me Mormons don't act that way so I was lying. My painful experience never happened.

Of course it didn't.

Some of my high school friends, and particularly their parents, saw my lack of a church as the perfect opportunity to thrust me into Mormonism. I had to sit through Mormon religious videos during sleepovers (even at that age, I was offended). I got talked to about converting. I was told girls could never really make it to the best heaven unless they married a return Mormon missionary--God just didn't care enough for the weaker sex to allow them near him without a man present. When it became obvious that I was steadfast in my own beliefs, the abuse began. I was a terrible influence. I smoked and drank because I had no sanctified church official that told me not to do those things. I would seduce their sons. I needed to be kept far, far away from the faithful and the righteous. I needed to be segregated and marked off-limits because I didn't believe what they believed.

Of course I did.

And, years later, while manning the reference desk at the public library where I work, I got to hear a self-righteous woman tell a newly-divorced, desperately poor mother that she would have to join their church to be eligible for Christmas presents through their organization, and to join, it required a fee the desperately poor mother couldn't afford. And I got to hear that self-righteous woman sniff in derision and make comments about the faith of the mother because if she truly believed in the Lord, her family would not be poor. He rewards accordingly.

I gave the mother information for the local Toys for Tots because I'm not an asshole. I would have given her toys or cash if I had had any on me. I haven't seen the mother again, but I sure have seen the self-righteous woman, who is a prominent and well-respected member of the community. I still try to fathom why. I guess if you like the right people, and despise the right people, others deem you worthy of respect.

When I was a child (under 10), I often wondered why God let people speak for Him who represented Him so poorly (why were the assholes rewarded by him when those who truly believed and struggled were not? What happened to blessed are the meek)? Finally, after many years, I decided it was because He just didn't care (crystalized after my mother passed). We were the poor saps He dumped on this world and had to make do. As I got older, I realized that he just wasn't ignoring us, he wasn't there in the first place. For me, that made much more sense than an all-knowing god allowing a congregation without any compassion to wallow in his name and pretend their callousness would lead them to heaven when they ignored everything he supposedly taught in his holy book.

I have other stories, too many, about the abusive zealot, about the sanctimonious, about the fearmongers. I have far, far fewer where religion has played a positive roll in my life. I'm sure there's some out there, though at the moment, I can recall none. I am proud I am not religious. I am proud I don't have to pretend to follow a 4000 year old plan of morality that thinks murder in the name of the Lord is OK, forcing women to marry their rapist is expected, and stoning kids for back-talking is normal.

Yep. That's right. I don't have to segregate those I know into good people and bad people based on some ancient book and then hate accordingly. I get to believe everyone is human and deserving of respect. When they prove they no longer deserve respect through their own actions, I grant them none. I'll end with a quote a Facebook friend of mine posted recently from the show True Detective, one I think is very apt for this discussion.

If the only thing out there keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then, brother, that person is a piece of shit, and I'd like to get as many of them out in the open as possible.
--Rust Cohle
  True Detective Season 1, Episode 3

2:51 PM PT: Thanks for the recs and, especially, thanks for reading.

Originally posted to shiobe on Wed Sep 03, 2014 at 09:29 AM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Atheists.

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