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.