I have a feeling I've found a core issue in how I "believe" now in relation to how I was brought up to believe in the Kansas version of American Fundamentalism. The adults in my world throughout childhood, even unto adulthood, then peers, believe going to church and believing in Jesus you'll go to heaven when you die. I never found in my child's investigative mind any confidence that anything was worth a "reward" after I die. Only after dying is important to my mother's way of thinking, taught repeatedly, relentlessly, that it's all going to be gold and angels when we die. No more sorrows, no more pain. Going up to heaven to be with Jesus when I die. Well, maybe so. What about from now until I die? I have a life to live. I abandoned scriptures as soon as I escaped parents' church that taught the words of Jesus as commandments: you better not or you'll go to hell, Jesus sez. I asked preacher about love your neighbor. Love, he said, has a spiritual meaning. It's about life in heaven, not here on earth. My questions I didn't bother to ask after a certain point when I learned the answer to all my questions was it has a spiritual meaning that we're not meant to understand. Everything to do with love had a spiritual meaning that we're not to understand til we get to heaven where we'll live in idle luxury at #1 Gold Brick Rd, evidently an apartment complex. There, I can love my neighbor, because my neighbor is with Jesus too. Fear is all I ever heard about God and Jesus. God is meant to be worshipped in fear, fear the Lord thy God, forever on alert to be afraid of God. He'll come like a thief in the night, so you better look out. He's gonna getcha and you won't even see it coming. He'll catch you in a sin and condemn you to hell, eternal damnation, so dramatic, burning up in fire for eternity, Eeeek. And it's not even certain I'd go to heaven though I did get saved under duress at age 7. Say no and you go to hell when you die. Ok. Just say yes that you believe that Jesus is the son of God. Ok. Yes. You're saved. At the time, I felt it awfully hollow. Just say I believe something I don't know anything about and I go to heaven. Logic wasn't really accessible to the 7 year old. It didn't seem to inhibit the preacher, either.
And there was God the judge who kept track of every sin I ever thought, let alone did. There was no living without ongoing guilt. God sez NO. Mommy sez You better NOT. Preacher sez You'll go to HELL. All of them saying, You'll be SORRY. Through the time in that belief system, I believed it because adults told me to. It really didn't add up at school. The kids from my church always carried their bible on top of their books they carried between classes. Ever to be alert to win a soul to the Lord. I refused. At school was where I had my life as myself. I was a shy, inward kid, living in total uncertainty about everything. I always had to figure everything out for myself. I'd catch on by watching the other kids. About my senior year I started catching on a little bit. I took up reading novels. Actually read Dr Zhivago senior year on my own; it was new in paperback. I don't think I retained any of it, but got through it. Read Ben Hur senior year on my own after seeing the Charlton Heston movie. Oh I thought it such a great movie. Big Hollywood spectacle with cool chariot race. In the late 1980s I met a granddaughter of Lew Wallace, who had lived her life in the family wealth provided by Ben Hur royalties. She was a wonderful human being. She had a severely retarded son she raised herself, never institutionalized him. He came along very well with a sense of self as valid. In school I saw that most of the other kids were not as repressed by churches. I had a cousin who went to a Congregationalist church and wondered what was wrong with my parents for going to that nutcase cinderblock box church with folding chairs and honky tonk piano and a dramatic preacher. I never figured it out either. I was envious of cousin for getting to go to a sane church. The luck of the draw. When I started reading, my horizon grew until in 1988 I saw the curve of the earth from a plane at sunrise over Germany. It's no big deal visually, the same as a photograph in a book, but mentally it's a gigantic deal. Reading opened up history to me. School history was dates of wars and names of generals. I wanted to find out what happened, how the people lived in those times. I cared nothing for the military mind as history.
The deal about winning souls for the Lord is it will go better for you in heaven, something like the Mary K Cadillac. That's for if you're really zealous and win souls one after the other and never slack. It really broke for me when I discovered the beatniks and Alan Watts. The beatniks were a thumb to the nose at religion and politics. Henry Miller planted seeds and set saplings asprout. It wasn't the sex part about Miller that appealed to me---there is plenty of sex writing to go around---but his attitude toward life. He taught me that the people of my everyday life are every bit as important as celebrities and the famous, even more important. He taught me to pay attention to the people around me and to value them as themselves. This was wholly new to me. The only thing that mattered about somebody else from the church perspective was what kinds of sins they're committing, how best they can be judged. Punishment was the thing. Couldn't let anybody get away with anything without being punished. The French Existentialists gave me a philosophy I resonated with as my own. By the time I started college, five years after high school, I was well educated in Existentialism. There was a time I'd longed to go someplace like Chapel Hill where I could take courses in Existentialism. The existentialist writers got me through my life under martial law by duress, took my mind to another world where it seemed like sane people lived. I learned a great deal about the French Underground during German occupation. I learned about several European writers I read then and later. Those two years I have come to think of as pre-school where I taught myself how to read and thereby how to start thinking for myself. Reading opened me to a world of sanity, knowledge, intelligence, living without fear of God's damnation. I'd been fed so much nonsense about God, especially the guilt, it took fifteen years, two seven-year cycles, attempting to find out what's really the case where God was concerned. I already knew that what I came from was not it. That was the starting point of my search for what really is the case. Something new happened when I discovered writings from the East, Buddhism the most attractive for its clear explanations of matters of the inner self.
Learning to conform to a Japanese, for example, school of Buddhism, it seemed like the religion and the culture were so interwoven that the religion outside the culture would be pretentious. It's the same with Western culture and Christendom, interwoven unto inseparable. I don't mean disciple of Christ Christendom, but religion. It still bothered me that Buddhism was a religion. I thought meditation might be an interesting path, but didn't know how. Thought it had to be taught. There wasn't even a yoga class in Charleston in the 1960s. It was in the Charleston years that I pondered away the nonsense I'd been taught in the earlier years. It was in those years I chopped off all that went before. It was my own inner Dada period, where I chopped off the past and began at a new starting place that had never been attempted before. Looking back from now I can see the Divine hand was with me in that time, putting self in touch with several people who became major influences, not as teachers. The influence of their integrity as intelligent, compassionate human beings without religion freed me even further from religion I knew by then to be a shell found on the beach, the life long gone from it. I came to see that living in this world is what the scriptures are about. The scriptures all around the world, all down through time. They're about living with inner peace in this world. It's done by regarding everyone we come in contact with in the course of a day with an open compassionate heart, a child the same as one's own, a man the same as a brother, a woman the same as a sister. Respect for the self in others. I overlook things I do that aren't quite right and things I don't do that I say I will. I feel like allowing others by overlooking expectation, just allowing the other to be self, is all it's about. Allowing. When I found the self in others, it became automatic for me to feel compassion and understanding. The day I finally broke through to love that had been high hurdle for me came from reading in Meher Baba's discourses that understanding is the same as love. I said, Lo! I can do that. I did have a spirit of understanding. Then love was easy. The simplest thing Jesus said, no parables to mull over, but a straight-forward simple sentence, God is love.
sophie taeuber-arp herself, 1889-1943