Losing my religion

Last month Mr ‘praying for a wife’ finally showed up on my doorstep, and then proceeded to pray for me.  That’s right, he said, and I must quote, “I pray that God touches you, manifests Himself in your life because you’d make a mighty fine warrior(ess).  First up, stop laughing at me, he was not mocking me, and neither shall you.  Second, do you know just how deviant you must appear to someone for them to pray for your ass?  Pretty deviant, I’ll tell you, pretty bloody deviant.  The man took a quick peek at this blog and immediately went into ‘Riswa!’ mode, calling upon the Most High and what not, and all because I have a troubling obsession with sex and sexuality, and perhaps I swear too much.  Don’t worry, I’m not about to start bashing the believers, I actually agree with the man.  I am, as a matter of fact, a deviant.  With deviant tendencies.  And a deviant blog.  And I know more of the bible than half the thumpers out here.  Fear not, I won’t bang my non-believer drum, mine is simply to show you how I got to where I am today, in an attempt to prove that my (occasionally flippant) dismissal of religion is not borne of ignorance.  Well, it might be, but at least its not wilful ignorance, for who can truly claim to know these things, no?  Put down your hand Mr Praying

Let’s talk about religion for a minute, because I was challenged to explain my lack of faith, and you know I’m not one to back down from a challenge, even one that might get me lynched.  I must warn you, this is a long, and possibly boring, one.  The disclaimer: the views expressed here are mine and mine alone, they do not reflect those of my mother, she who is, and always has been, the staunchest of Christians.  The views expressed may be offensive to some of you, and for that I apologise, but when it comes to matters religion, seems there’s no way not to offend someone, somewhere, somehow.  If, at the end of this conversation, you feel the need to ‘Riswa!’ my heathen behind, please feel free to do so, disagreement on this issue is most welcome.  If, however, you get the urge to slander someone else’s faith, or lack thereof, know that I will find you and I will beat you, because petty abuse and ignorance are not welcome in my house, go troll elsewhere.  It’s just occurred to me that the disclaimer for religion is as long as the one for the sewer, what does that say about the society we live in?

I grew up in a Christian home, raised by good God-fearing parents who talked the talk and walked the walk.  There was church on Sunday, prayer before meals and Quiet Time in the morning (for my mother at least), all that was missing was the obligatory picture of Jesus and the lambs above the fireplace, but that was only because my mother was never overly fond of domestic decorations. 

Useless detour, since her retirement my mother has since discovered a penchant for wall hangings and what not.  Some years ago, I got home to find a picture of a smiling Jesus beaming down at me, slap bang at the front door.  And be knowing this wasn’t just any old picture…nooooo…this was one of them bandia 3D type thingis, depending on how you look at it, Jesus is either standing patiently outside a closed door, or urgently knocking on said door.  Pretty spectacular, no?  No.  The first time I laid eyes on it I’d had a couple couple and was therefore not of the clearest mind, hell, I thought I was having a bloody vision.  Don’t laugh, I was convinced that my sins had finally caught up with me, judgement day and what not.  Just goes to show what cheap whisky (no ‘e’ back then) can do to a troubled mind, no?  To this day, I give that picture wide berth, just in case He comes knocking, for real.  Detour over, I was telling you about my suitably Christian upbringing.

My mother was the complete believer; she went to church several times a week, for choir practice and later for meetings of the elders, for as long as I can remember she sat up there with the rest of the seniors, being the serious Christian she was, is.  My father’s religion, however, was limited to taking us to another church on Sunday mornings.  Why another church?  My mother, like all good Kikuyu mothers, is P.C.E.A. (Presbyterian), a church that up until the last decade limited itself to proselytising in nothing but the deepest Kikuyu.  The father was having none of that.  Seeing as how he felt his children needed to be the most fluent English speakers in the history of English speakers, he chose to take us to a big shiny Baptist Church in the city, where we would be taught Sunday School by the mzungu missionaries, singing the hymns of the Lord in (seemingly) flawless English, yes?  Not that I’m criticising the man, I understand where he was coming from; he viewed church as another learning opportunity and therefore went out of his way to afford his children the best, even in matters salvation.  Unfortunately for me, however, that meant a childhood spent with the evangelical types.  I shall explain.     

Back in primary school, I’d spend a couple of days at bible camp during the holidays.  I know, it sounds very bougie, but I don’t know what else to call it.  It was a camp for kids, teenagers mostly, about 4 days I think, with the sole purpose of spreading the gospel to their young impressionable souls.  Remember those Word of Life camps in Mombasa?  Same concept, different missionaries.  A close family friend was, still is I guess, an evangelist cum missionary of sorts, fond of organising said camps, and because the families were close I was always eager to tag along, seemed the thing to do, no?  No.  I tell you, I got saved kendo four times before I got to high school, every August, like clockwork.  The fact that I needed to get saved on an annual basis should give you an idea of the depth of my faith, but in my defence, I was a bloody child.  And why did I keep getting saved?  Fear, pure and simple.  Take a 10 year old girl and tell her that disobeying her father(s), mortal and immortal, will have her spending the rest of her days in a burning pit, pictures provided of said burning pit, and you know the poor child will be rushing to salvation.  Then she goes back home and watches A-Team and This is it! and promptly forgets everything she heard, thankfully. 

It probably didn’t help that at these camps, the older kids would get up to all manner of mischief; in the daytime engaging in praise and worship, and then at night sneaking into each others’ rooms for a whole other sort of, well, praise and worship, one that involved...I actually don’t know what it involved, but I guessed it wasn’t ‘good’ judging by the whispering the following morning, that and the fact that said kids invariably grew into rowdy young adults with substance abuse, and other, problems a few years down the road.  Talk about preaching water and drinking wine.  The most deviant kids were the ones whose parents were up there ‘testifying’, the kids who were constantly held up to the rest of us as God’s little angels.  I may have been a young one, but I was not stupid, by the time I was getting to Standard 8 I was a confirmed sceptic, and a duplicitous little shit to boot.  I could make all the right noises, but scratch the surface and you’d find a girl more interested in James Hadley Chase than the King James Bible.  Even worse, I don’t think anyone objected to the hypocrisy, sometimes I felt it was expected of me, to be completely honest.

Fast forward to high school and I ended up at a training institution for nuns.  No really, they claimed to be giving me education, but what they were really trying to do was convince me that daily mass was a good thing, and that my inquisitive brain was somehow a bad thing.  I sat through catechism classes, all the while wondering why my bible, the one they made me buy in Form One, because my trusted Illustrated Good News Bible wasn’t good enough, my brand spanking new Jerusalem Bible had a couple of books I hadn’t seen before, and I had seen them all, no?  “What’s this?” I asked, perturbed by the sudden inclusion of Maccabees.  The pseudo nuns gave me no answer, so I went to Bible Study at church and asked again, still no answer.  Wait, I did get an answer, one guy said my bible was not a real bible, and that he would...wait for it...pray for me.  Genius, no?  I lost said bible when I was in Form Two, but I didn’t notice until about a year later, because, at that point, going to mass had become routine.  See the thing about Catholic mass is, it’s very much a scripted rite; you do the same things, say the same things, sing the same hymns, kneel the same way, every single time.  For someone who had grown up with the evangelical singing and clapping and overly vigorous dancing, the Catholic rites were (no pun intended) a Godsend.  I liked the predictability, I found it oddly soothing, hypnotic almost.  For all my issues with the Catholics, and they are very many, those buggers got the ceremony bit right.  To this day, the only services I am happy to attend are the ones that have mass in them, but I digress...

Now because I’m considerably younger than my siblings, I was pretty much alone as a teenager, with my parents no longer interested in the over-parenting characteristic of the first kids and content to let me figure shit out for myself.  I guess they figured they’d done enough when I was younger to set me on the path to righteousness, and, in truth, they probably had.  What they hadn’t counted on, unfortunately, was a child who asked more questions than she was supposed to.  By the time I was getting out of high school, I was fed up with getting (what I considered) nonsense answers to what I thought were very simple questions, like why those buggers kept threatening me with hell if I didn’t ‘believe’, when a large percentage of the world’s population didn’t ‘believe’, and didn’t seem much worse off for it.  See, I had long since realised that ‘good’ and ‘Christian’ were not synonymous, and therefore the reward of heaven and life ever after, versus the threat of hell and eternal damnation, no longer held any sway with me.  I figured, all of Asia and the Middle East cannot be doomed to hell, simply because they believe something different, that just didn’t add up.

With that mindset, I went off to university in the big bad city.  Sweet Jesus!  In between the Sodom and Gomorrah that was the campus lifestyle, to the Afro centrist cum pagan thinkers that were my lecturers, through to the seemingly subversive literature of Khalil Gibran I’d started reading, on instigation from a Muslim classmate, it was simply a matter of time before I turned away from religion for good.  Note, I said religion, not faith.  Problem is, once you start to look at religion as a function of the human psyche, a solution to our need to ascribe a purpose to everything, as well as looking at the origins of what we consider the major world religions and the similarities between them, once you cross that bridge, it’s hard not to look at religion as a show.  A show with purpose, but still a show.  I know, this is where the fight will be had, and fight we shall, a good clean fight I hope.

Mr Praying, I do not believe, my rational mind refuses to suspend its disbelief long enough for me to get on my knees and call out hallelujah.  To be honest, for many years I thought those that clung to religion weak, desperate to cling on to a myth rather than face the harsh reality of life.  That was when I was younger and (more) arrogant.  These days, I see those of us who embrace religion as pragmatic, they’re simply hedging their bets.  I figure, believing is an anchor, something to make sense of the madness, something to give meaning to this thing we call life, in some cases something to keep you going when all seems lost.  If believing that there is an all knowing God up there works for you, then, by all means, go right ahead. That said, I shall not be returning to that, or any other fold, not in the foreseeable future, not because I don’t need a reason for my existence, but because I choose to look for said reasons elsewhere.  Where exactly?  Everywhere, anywhere.  That’s the best part of not believing, I like the unknown, I find it liberating, and I’m no longer bound by the fear of…hell, I guess.  There’s also the added bonus of no longer having someone threatening me with dire consequences if I fail to comply with (possibly dubious?) instructions, or guilting me into submission for their own selfish ends. 

I know this is a long and winding post, and for that I apologise, but the only way for me to tell this story was to sketch the entire outline, hoping you’ll fill in the blanks for yourself.  You may now proceed to ask me hard questions I probably can’t answer…