Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Religion of Writing: Part One -- Religion

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be offensive in any way. It's about an actual experience which will serve as an example to my actual point in this series. Having said that, though, and knowing that religion is a touchy subject, as is writing, I know that this post is opening to door to people being offended. Just know that when I write this, I'm not really condemning anyone else's beliefs or belief system. I am condemning people that are condemning of others' beliefs, though, because that's just wrong. People ought to be allowed to believe whatever crazy thing they want to believe no matter how wrong it is without the fear of other people coming along and damning them for it. You know, as long as those beliefs aren't hurting someone else.

I started working at my church at a pretty young age. I don't mean just helping out in VBS and stuff like that, although I did do those things, too; I mean I was actually on staff and getting paid. I was 15 when I started being in charge of things like the gym and being left to supervise various recreation programs we ran. By the time I was in college, I was actually in charge of the youth and recreation programs.

One of the things we did was rent out our gym building (which had the chapel in it (as opposed to the sanctuary, which was the bigger building where we had "big" church)) to other church groups that didn't have a gym at their church. The most common reason other churches wanted to rent our facilities was to hold lock-ins. That meant I had to be there for the duration of any given lock-in. [Sometimes, during the summer, we would have a lock-in every weekend.]

There are a few things here you need to know:
1. My church was Southern Baptist. I have always liked to refer to the Baptists as the Pharisees of the Protestants. They are as tied to tradition and "how things are done" as the Catholics.
2. That being said, there are "worse" denominations (by worse, I mean even more strict and legalistic). One of those is the Pentecostals (and the Pentecostals really liked to rent out our gym).
3. Sometimes, to have something to do during a lock-in, I would invite some of my friends to hang out in the office with me. Seriously, it was important, because it was hard to stay awake otherwise. Just sitting and watching people skate and play basketball isn't all that entertaining.

4. You also need to know the basic fact of Pentecostalism: you only get to go to Heaven if you speak in tongues. [Yes, I'm boiling it down to its very core essence, but there's really not room, here, to elaborate.]

[The issue with the speaking in tongues thing is that it doesn't say that in the Bible. Not explicitly. There are some passages they base this belief on, but they create a logic trail you have to weave all through the Bible to come to that conclusion, and there are just as many passages that knock the foundation out from under that belief.
And, now, the plot is set for you.]

So... there was this lock-in, and I had invited a couple of my friends from college, both ministerial students, to come hang out for the night. I mean, it's free food which is pretty close to the Holy Grail for college students. All the pizza you can eat is a pretty big draw, and, in all actuality, getting invited to come to one of these things with me was pretty highly sought after. These were my two best friends, and it wasn't the first time they'd done this.

At one point, I was in the office working on something; I don't remember what but something to do with the lock-in. The guys had wandered off to the lounge where the TV was; one of them to work on a class assignment, which happened to be a sermon. He had his Bible out and open. The two of them were alone in the lounge. For a while.

But a group of the women (moms and such (chaperons)) who had been setting something up in the chapel for later in the evening came out into the lounge and found my friends there, one of them with his Bible out (maybe both of them, I'm not sure). One of the women asked them what they were doing, and the one working on the sermon responded that that's what he was doing...

And the group of women began telling my friends about how they were going to Hell.

It was the noise of the arguing that drew me down the hall. My two friends were surrounded by about half a dozen Pentecostal moms, one of the scariest things on the planet, I'm pretty sure. One of my friends was holding an open Bible with which he was refuting statements by the women. Now, here's the interesting part of that:

One of the women would say something like, "Well, the Bible says blah blah blah."
And my friend, with the Bible in his hand, would look up that passage of scripture and say, "That's not actually what it says. It says," and he would read it, "blah blippity blip blah."
To which the woman would reply, "Well, that's wrong, because my pastor says it says blah blah blah."
Did I say that my friend had his open Bible in his hand?
But the Bible was wrong because of what some woman thought her pastor had said about what was in the Bible. And none of the women had ever read the Bible. Many of them had never actually physically read any part of it because they had been indoctrinated to believe that they shouldn't read it because, you know, they couldn't figure it out for themselves, so it was better to just let the pastor tell them what was inside.
Even if it wasn't.
[I'm not making that part up. Several of them made statements to that effect.]
It didn't matter that my friends had the book in question in their hands, the proof, so to speak. The proof, the actual data, was "wrong."

That's what I walked in on. I was no less offended than my friends, but I was offended because they were in my church telling us we were going to Hell. My only question was why they wanted to rent our building if they believed we were a church on the way to Hell. With or without the hand-basket.

Since I was in charge, though, I had to break the whole thing up, so I sent my buddies down to the office to cool off for a while.

I'll be explicit here:
Many writers are just like those women in the way that they treat writing. In all sorts of ways. Things like traditional publishing being god. Agents being priests carrying the Holy word that can't be questioned. And all sorts of other things that I'm not ready to get into, yet, because we'll get to them in good time. Just be thinking about the ways you might be like that group of women. Believing without questioning what's being handed down to you.


  1. I didn't find that offensive at all...and I grew up in a Pentecostal church (so I know that of which you speak).

    Yes, you will always have the 'blind followers'...whether it be in church or in writing.

    Until they're willing to open their eyes, there's really no help for them, unfortunately.

  2. Yeah, I use to worry about sentence fragments. They are bad, right? Not proper grammar. I don't worry about that anymore. I worry about readability.

    I suspect you feel the same because - look!
    "With or without the hand-basket."

    Thanks for another good post!

  3. There are those who believe blindly anything they hear without seeking the truth for themselves. That happens with faith, writing - just about anything.
    That those women didn't believe what your friend was reading straight from the Bible is really sad. I'm glad our church is non-denominational and doesn't focus on religion - we focus only on the Bible.
    "Seek ye the truth."

  4. I like this post, Andrew. It is actually quite encouraging. I write for what? entertainment? Certainly not for an income. No, sirree, that's what the day job is all about. But, I so get the connection here. I grew up in that Catholic culture which emphatically did not allow for any thinking on one's own. The directions were delivered from the pulpit and don't even think about it. I can say now (though I wouldn't have known it then) that it took a fair amount of courage as a young adult to set the whole culture aside. After all, that is all I ever knew up to that point and there was security in that world. You knew exactly what you were supposed to do.
    Even though I don't even consider the writing world, I like the parallels you draw here. They make me wonder if there is a bigger world than I ever knew (much like going away to college and escaping the parish changed me life).
    I look forward to the next installment in your series.

  5. Thou shalt not use three adverbs in a row!! You will go to hell for that, I'm pretty sure. :P

  6. I once met a girl like those ladies. We believed almost all of the exact same things, but we were slightly different denominations, so she said, "Sorry, that means you're going to hell." And she was dead serious. Because apparently God is a huge fan of specific denominations and mine was wrong.

    I'm not anti-Pentecostal, but one time in high school I got dragged to a Pentecostal service and it was miserable. It was THREE HOURS LONG. The first two hours of that was just singing. After that, they brought everyone up to slay them in the spirit (grab forehead, scream "in the name of JEEEEZUS", release to the ground). Everyone else was dramatically dropping to the floor, flailing around like a fish on dry land, and screaming in tongues. Me... well, I didn't feel anything. So the lady just took my hand and had me lay down on the ground next to all of these seizing people. I guess I didn't feel like channeling my inner Steve Carell that day, and my fate was sealed as a future resident of hell.

  7. I always like the live by what the philosopher John Stuart Mill said:

    "The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it."

    Which is pretty much what you said at the beginning of the post.

    So yeh, I don't like the idea of telling other people that they're going to hell. Personally, I think religion should be a very private affair, and not be used in a public or political way.

  8. Mark: It's too bad more people aren't willing to open their eyes and think for themselves.

    David: Sentence fragments are still a no-no in formal writing, but, in fiction, you have more freedom to play around and break the rules, especially since you're trying to evoke a mood.
    Not that my blog is fiction, but it's certainly not formal.

    Alex: It was one of those mind boggling moments, actually. My friend read something from the Bible in his hand, showed it to her, and she told him it was wrong, because her pastor said it said something different. I mean, what the heck?

    Graciewilde: The Baptists aren't any better. I was always in trouble for standing up to the authority of the church all the time. But that's for another time.

    L.G.: If I go to writing hell, what will I be forced to read? I'm scared to even consider that, based on some of the stuff I've read.

    ABftS: Oh, yeah, I've known those people. And I'll have more about speaking in tongues (part 3, I think?).

    Flippy: Unfortunately, people don't actually like freedom, just the illusion of it.

  9. A very interesting story. It's hard for people to be tolerant of beliefs that contradict their own. The very nature of belief makes it difficult to compromise. Then again, most people won't compromise their beliefs even when there is factual proof to contradict them, so winning a RELIGIOUS argument is almost impossible.

    I'll be waiting to see how you build on this. I like these multi-post essays.

  10. I've come across similar things when people have assured me, or others, they are wrong when the proof is right in front of them. Happens in all walks of life I guess.

  11. Going to hell. That’s nice. And sure to get people on your side. I like how the women never bothered to read the source material. It’s like writing a school assignment based on a blog post you read once.

    You’re always good at using stories to illustrate points. And it’s true. People get so touchy about the publishing process and I have no idea why. Every writer should be allowed to go on his/her own path.

  12. Briane: Yeah, I know that. I know it much better now than I did then, that's for sure.

    Jo: Yeah, it does. Unfortunately.

    Jeanne: Yeah, that's true. Although I'm pretty sure you could write a report based on -my- posts. :P

  13. Well, you certainly didn't offend me, since I'm not religious at all and have never been to church ;) But I do find it rather terrifying that there are people out there (a lot of them, too) who don't want to find out for themselves - they're happy to just take another's word for it.

    Or, in this case, they're encouraged to.

  14. Oh... nicely done!

    I'm a non-believer. So, if there is a Hell, my passport's probably already stamped.

    People who vehemently defend their beliefs without even completely understanding them - sadly, that seems to be life in the 21st century, both sacred and secular.

  15. Trisha: Yeah, I find that terrifying, too. Although I know that the vast majority of people just want to be told what to do and not think about it, I don't understand it.

    TAS: Oh, man, I had friends in school studying to be pastors that had never read the Bible. Um, actually, that was almost all of them. And there I was, an English major, and I'd read it twice. It did serve to shame at least one of my friends into reading it, though.

  16. Nothing is scarier than a lock in with Pentecostal moms! You made me belly laugh there Andrew. (I attended a Baptist church too)

    You make a very valid point here about writing and life in general.

  17. jaybird: They were pretty scary. The moms, that is. And, oh my gosh, some of those kids needed permission to breathe.