Cedric's Pagan Thoughts

The spiritual meanderings of a NeoPagan shaman, an eclectic Wiccan, a Celtic musician, a world traveler, a bard, and an uncompromising cat-loving Bast-worshipper

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

How I Misspent my Youth by Going to Church

Well, I'm about to hit the road to go to Gig Harbor, Washington, where my band, the Bedlam Bards, will be playing at the Washington Renaissance Fantasy Faire. It's been a little less than a week since my first "weekly" posting, but I thought I'd post for this week now, as I'm going to be traveling and busy for a few days. So here's a little more information about my spiritual background:

My teen rebellion involved becoming a fundamentalist Christian and joining the Assembly of God church. (That’s how you rebel when your parents are agnostics.) Even during that period, I had a keen interest in mythology, which I often hid from my fellow Christians or explained away as an “examination of the enemy.”

My parents did their best to remain tolerant of my religious choices, as good Unitarian-Universalists should, but they finally lost their objectivity in the matter. Going against even their own principles, they forbade me to attend the AoG church.

Saying that they had neglected my spiritual education, they embarked on a program of making up for it. Every Sunday morning, we attended a different church, so that I could see the variety of worship that people engaged in. (We even went to a synagogue on High Holy Days. I guess that happened on a Saturday.) On Sunday nights, we read from books about other religious traditions, including one called This Believing World.

I hated the experience. I struggled and fought and resisted in my heart. My faith was strong and pure, and my parents could not destroy it. But something else did.


Specifically, hypocrisy at the church my parents had forbidden me to attend. It took two forms, both of which I found profoundly disturbing.

First, a traveling preacher came to my home town under the auspices of my old church. His “ministry” involved preaching against “Satanic music.”

Now, I had heard all about Satanic music when I attended the church. I’d heard the stories—urban myths essentially—about how rock music was literally the Devil’s tool, about how Satanic priests actually chanted evil spells while the records were pressed. (Back then, we called compact discs “records,” and we played them on these things called “turntables.”) I’d even heard about how if you listened to the records backwards, you could hear the Devil’s compelling marketing slogans, like “Decide to smoke marijuana.” If you ask me, the Devil needs better slogan writers.

Anyway, even as a fundamentalist Christian, I had regarded such stories with considerable skepticism. After all, the backwards messages were scratchy and incomprehensible unless someone told you what to listen for. More importantly, they were backwards, for God’s sake. Who the heck listens to records backwards?

Finally, the most compelling issue for me was that if you just listened to, say, “Shout at the Devil” forwards, you’d hear plenty of much more explicit (and catchy) Satanic slogans. I mean, the Devil must be sneaky enough to know that hiding subliminal messages under a Black Sabbath or Motley Crue song is a less-than-clever ploy.

So my attitude toward the whole matter was that you listen to a song and decide on its own merits whether it supported your faith. Even back then, I believed that common sense had to temper faith.

Now, back to that wandering preacher. He attracted a lot of attention in the local media by hosting record-burnings. I found even the concept of that disturbing; I just had a gut-revulsion to anything similar to a book-burning.

But the final straw was a quotation I read in the newspaper: When asked if only rock music is Satanic, the preacher said, “Any music that does not expressly glorify God is Satanic. I burn rock music because there aren’t many kids out there endangering their souls by listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”

This may seem silly, but I knew then and there that the preacher was no man of God. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the closest thing to Divine music we will ever have on Earth, in my humble opinion.

The other matter of hypocrisy that hit the news from that church was even more troubling.

See, the people of that church thought of themselves as one big family of the virtuous, and we helped each other out. We all had the illusion (common in many subcultures) that fellow members of the church were utterly trustworthy and above reproach. For that reason, one of the couples at the church trusted me to babysit their young sons.

I took the responsibility seriously and did my best to safeguard them from all harm; and I’m proud to say that nothing bad befell them on my watch.

Then, during that period when my parents were keeping me from that church, I read in the papers the truth about that family: The dad had been raping his sons, and his teen-aged neice, for years—all while attending the church several times a week and professing his love of God.

These two events opened my eyes—and I was able to actually see the wide variety of religious experiences my parents were showing me. Though I resented them at the time, I am now deeply grateful that I had such an excellent education in comparative religion, to complement my first-hand understanding of the people that now form the Religious Right.

That experience left me faithless, and for a longtime I was a die-hard rationalist. How I overcame that is a subject for a different post.


At 10:47 PM, Blogger Kate said...

It's wonderful that you have shared this, Cedric...

I often wonder about raising my children (if/when I have them) with religion. I don't want to force them to believe what I do, but I want to educate them. I wonder a lot about that rebellion time - and if children raised in a house full of open minded religious education might rebel by falling in with the narrow-minded judgemental Christian crowd...

It's good to hear how your parents handled the situation. You clearly turned out just fine. :)


At 4:07 PM, Blogger bea said...

Yes, it is me again, Bea from Washington:-)

Cedric, thank you so much for sharing. What is really funny is that I see my own history repeating itself in yours, at least in some points.

I, too rebelled in my teens against my bigot churchgoing parents by joining an evangelical "church". The more I was together with that kind of people the more the whole card house they build with their bigotery became transparent the farther I departed from the "traditional" christian belief system.

Looking back I don't think that at least my youth was misspent by going to church, I sure could have done other things to get better grades and such but I learned a valuable lesson: Nothing is more dangerous to your mental health than people who claim to be "good christians", I don't want to imagine what the bad ones might be like!


At 12:02 AM, Blogger Cedric said...

Bea commented: "Nothing is more dangerous to your mental health than people who claim to be "good christians", I don't want to imagine what the bad ones might be like!"

Well, I want to be clear that there are some Christians that I think are on a deep and meaningful spiritual path, and these people are some of the most beautiful, kind, loving people I've ever known. My college roommate was one such person--though even he often found himself at war with the dictates of his church. Another wonderful Christian I've met was the nun at Incarnate Word College who sponsored a shamanism workshop I attended. That was a lesson in tolerance for this Wiccan.

At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Rachel said...

Read this post and I just can't fathom it. Burning Music? Because it's 'satanic'? Thats terrible....

And I have some fairly 'satanic' music playing in the backround. I bet whateer-his-name-is is rolling in his grave hearing what people play today.

Ehe.. I've never been to curch before...

At 4:02 PM, Blogger bea said...

Hi Cedric,

I did not want to offend you or anybody else with my sentence you quoted above and I want to apologize for it. Sometimes I am rather direct with my sayings and when I read your blog I was too much reminded of my mother (the woman who was with me at the faire was a distant relative, not her).

Anyway, I also know Christians that are kind and don't burn you at the stake for not sharing their believes, but I had some really bad experiences especially in my family. May I rephrase my sentence?

"Nothing has been more dangerous to my mental health than people who claim to be "good christians" "

Three years back my mother decided to relieve her worst twinges of remorse upon me, revealing shocking details I really did not want to know and I still have not recovered from that...

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Cedric said...

No offense taken, Bea. As you can see from my history, I've had a lot of bad experiences with people who claim be good Christians. I have to work to remind myself that not all of them are like that, but sometimes it's an effort.

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Amber said...

It breaks my heart that you've had such rough experiences with people who claimed to know God's will and word.
I really can't stand when some "christians" want to tar and feather anyone who listens to "non-Christian" music. I had a youth minister who was that way, but when I asked him if he only watched Christain, G-rated movies, he was stumped. I then asked him why he chose to single out one art form as a vehicle for Satan. Did he only look at pictures of God, or only read books about God? He had to admit that he watched movies, read books, and looked at art that was not specifically God centered. I asked him if that was hypocritical, and he had to admit that it was. He never again maligned non-Christian music in front of me. Sadly, I doubt he truly learned anything. *sigh*
I think I may have a unique view on some of this though, having converted from Wicca to Christianity in my adulthood. Most Christians can be terribly intolerant, but I truly believe that by preaching at someone, you lose your chance to talk with them.
(Wow, that got long!)


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