For many, many years, I have always found an unending fount of devilish giggles whenever I read sappy church signs. You know, the ones that are thought up by the honorary witty member of the church congregation that plays on puns, abuses homophones, and loves to dabble in sappy poetry attempts. What better way to market a deity than with comedy?
I very rarely I come across one that doesn’t make me laugh. Dare I say, maybe these little billboards of religious recruitment are a little guilty pleasure of mine. There really aren’t any real conversations to be inspired. In fact, if my children are with me when I see one, I often repeat it out loud as we drive by, and then proceed into a fun literary exercise of mad libs where we substitute other puns or homophones to match the intent. It’s sickly educational.
I’ve always learned to never say never when it comes to proclaiming there isn’t a sign that hasn’t made me snicker a little bit as I read it, but tonight, due to whatever emotional circumstance my mind was in, I saw a sign on a local evangelical church display that actually bothered me. As the further down the road from it I went, I realized I was getting angrier and angrier. What horrible affront to my sense of humor could have possibly been on that sign? Something about being a sinner? A little rhyming ditty about not being a “whole” person until God fills you up?
No. Just a nine word little sentence. Do your best and God will do the rest.
My oldest son was with me, and as we initially approached, I read the little slogan aloud, giving an eye roll and chortle. After we got right by the sign, I said it again, and I could feel inside of me the churning waters of the past beginning to boil up from all directions. Now, for the Christians reading this, I realize you would diagnose this as the part of me possessed by Satan rebelling. I assure you, this is not the case as I have already been elevated to the status of Lucifer himself a few short months ago by a right wing Christian conspiracy theorist on a local chat board.
The onset of my sudden angst as I had passed the sign piled on more as I again said this seemingly harmless little sentence again. This sentence wasn’t harmless, it was straight out victim shaming. Shaming the twelve year old losing her battle with cancer. Shaming the widow who was losing everything she and her husband had built together, but now was buried in bills as he was buried in the ground. Shaming me for not doing my best enough to earn reprieve from the abuse I endured as a child. Shaming me for not doing my best enough to earn healing so I wouldn’t struggle for another 18 years after finally getting free of that home life and having no basis to make choices on.
Such an insidious, backhanded judgement, neatly wrapped up in a playfully toned rhyme. Naturally, or unfortunately, I was reasoning all of this verbally, and my thirteen year old really can’t fathom this level of pain. I seriously hope he never does, but it made the normally fun ritual of playing with dopey messages into a personal melodrama. Looking back, I realize I could have easily managed this sudden rush of scorn with a more accepting nature. Just looking at my current line of thought and dealings in life should reassure me tons.
I’m an atheist now, and with my lack of belief comes a lifting of divine testing. A lifting of desire for judgement, which eliminates the draining shadow of needful vengeance against those who have harmed me in such a way that I will never know what it is to be normal. My atheism allows me to step back from a situation, and decide for myself what is best for me. No mandatory forgiveness. No mandatory turning the other cheek. No mandatory anything. I’m free to do what I want and handle it all as such.
Compared to a decade ago, my life is much improved. Peer pressure is really only a problem on my job. Religious pressure? Zilch. While coworkers and family sit in a pew every Wednesday and Sunday, listening to sermons about how imperfect they are, singing songs about self martyrdom for God’s glory, and being programmed to believe that faith is rewarded and prayers are answered if your litmus test pees the right color, I get to find more meaningful things to do with my day. I get to enjoy myself for who I am. I get to enjoy the satisfaction in realizing that I’ve improved many aspects of myself once I got off my knees at Calvary and carried my own damn cross.
The day I realized that saying yes to God did not mean healing and wholeness were included, set me free to improve myself with reckless abandon. I could feed strangers on the street without giving thanks to God while I did so because I was there out of my own compassion. I could donate money to a few homeless vets in the area and not worry about making the tithe payment the next week because I realized God doesn’t truly care about something as material as money. I could now turn to those I had wounded over the course of my life so far, and tell them how wrong I was without being worried if God would accept my actions as genuine enough because the only true apology given is one from yourself, not a higher motivation. I could tell people to quit advising me with ridiculous biblical standardized relationship advice because the idea that God is the foundation of a marriage simply doesn’t work. I could parent my children with respect for my presence in their lives, not out of fear of an ancient guilt tripping commandment that was so vague, I don’t think anyone could agree on what “honor” really stood for.
And most of all? I could admit what a lie a church sign like “Do Your Best And God Will Do The Rest” really was, because a five year old’s best should not be required to save her from abusive family members.
Obviously, after all my introspection within the span of ten minutes of seeing that insidiously tainted message of encouragement, I am just fine, but I have taken away an important message out of it that I need to remind myself of on the daily:
The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. –Gloria Steinem