"But there are so many bibles and religious beliefs, how do I know which one is correct?"
This was the question I asked in Junior High, when I first began to explore different religions. Although I began questioning religion right around the same time I questioned the existence of Santa and the Easter Bunny, curiosity stayed with me, and I felt the need to know. The area where I was living at the time was Southern Baptists, so of course that was the very first church I had attended. After that, I spent many years attending services of every denomination, researching and gathering as much information as possible so I could be sure that I was making the "right" decision. I didn't find the answers and enlightenment I was searching for, instead I was left more confused than ever. So I went back to where I started, the Southern Baptist church, and asked them which religion was the TRUE religion? Which texts, beliefs and thoughts were RIGHT? "Ours, of course!" was the response, with a look of complete disbelief. "But how do you KNOW?" I pressed on. "You just do, you just have faith and believe." Of course that is what they said. Turns out it was what they all said. I found contradictions everywhere, it seemed that no matter which religion I choose, no matter which belief system I followed, someone, somewhere would think I had it completely wrong, and that I may very well end up in hell for it.
It didn’t help that I had many family members that were strict Christians, who thought it was their purpose in life to save me from the grasp of the devil. I tried to explain, I don’t BELIEVE in the devil, I don’t BELIEVE in hell! I do, however, believe in God, without a doubt in my heart or mind. I just could not fathom God as this vengeful being that would punish me to an eternity of damnation for making a wrong decision or not agreeing with a certain belief system. Believing in God, to them, was not enough. I had to take Jesus as my savior, I must be baptized. I must attend church every Sunday and read the Holy Bible. I was young, I was scared, I believed I had to make it my life’s mission to become one of the 144,000 people allowed into heaven. That was a number my grandmother had burned into my mind, another thing I was not allowed to question, I was just supposed to believe. I was not comfortable with the thought that out of all the people in the world to have ever lived, only 144,000 would be allowed into heaven no matter what. That is such a small number compared to the world’s population. Would securing my place among that select few mean taking someone else’s place? Would my admission to heaven mean sending Johnny DoGoodAlways or Mary PraysEveryday to hell? “Not to hell, necessarily, but to roam the earth as a lost soul.” I was told. Well, I was not okay with this either, and did not think that anyone should be!
Despite my questions and disbeliefs, I came to the conclusion that I better get it together and become the good Christian girl that I was supposed to be. Even if I did not make it into the elite 144,000, at least I wouldn’t be cast to hell. I was okay with the idea of roaming the earth, burning for eternity, not so much.
I went to church every Sunday. I joined a youth group and only spent time with other Christians. I got down on my knees and claimed Jesus as my holy savior. I was baptized into a bath of holy water. Did I honestly feel different? No. Did I feel better for trying? Yes.
Flash forward just a few months later. It was after the regular Sunday service, and I was standing around with the other church members chatting with the preacher. This woman started talking about her baby girl, just three months old that was deathly ill. She was requesting prayers for her innocent baby that may not survive much longer. “Is she baptized” someone asked? “No.” the lady replied, looking confused and even more distraught. “Well you must have her baptized immediately, or her soul will not be allowed into heaven! All unbaptized souls go to hell.” this poor mother was told.
That was the day I walked away from the church. I refused to believe that the God I knew would turn his back on an innocent child and cast her away. It just wasn’t possible. I felt sorry for them that they did and wondered if God was angry at them for saying such horrible things.
For years I found myself having to defend my lack of religion. The assumption was, where I lived, if you were not Christian, if you had not found Jesus, you must be an atheist. You were going to hell. I argued that I was NOT an atheist, that I fully believed in God, I just didn’t believe in religion. I was told you cannot have God without religion.
Well, maybe that is true. So I spent the next few years searching for a religion I could live with, a religion I agreed with, a religion that I felt was true in my heart. Then I found Deism, and I knew I had found my truth. A religion that was based on free thought, not a text from an unknown source. A religion that showed God as a creator of all life, who was not out to punish, but to allow his creations to make decisions based on what they felt was right. A religion that wants us to focus on the beauty of nature, not the evils of the world.
I had found my religion, I had found my beliefs. I have found my peace, and I know in my heart, that God is giving me the thumbs up for making my own decisions and living my life the best way I know how.