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Stumbling to Bethlehem

By Lee --

Patti Scialfa sings a song that sums up my entire childhood. It’s called, “Stumbling to Bethlehem.” These are the lyrics:

I was doing time in Salvation Park
up on the high rope, me your ace of hearts
just when I thought I was so special
I thought I had it all
You take one wrong step
before you fall and you’re

Stumbling to Bethlehem
in this absence of light
stumbling to Bethlehem
don’t worry darling
yeah don’t think twice

Now there’s this man on the corner
in a long black sweater saying
“sinners they will burn forever”
Well I must be guilty of something
some price I forgot to pay
I must have done somebody wrong
somewhere along the way, that keeps me

Stumbling to Bethlehem
in this absence of light
stumbling to Bethlehem
don’t worry darling
yeah don’t think twice

Now you can count up all your blessings
you can count up every curse
but never really know which is better
or which is worse
so you try to do right
but it gets so rough
there’s always someone to remind you
that you’re just not good enough and you’re

Stumbling to Bethlehem
in this absence of light
stumbling to Bethlehem
don’t worry darling
yeah don’t think twice.

The key words in this song would be, “In this absence of light.” I sometimes think there is no greater darkness than Christian fundamentalism.

"That's what I'm afraid of. Not being eno...Image by KelseyyBarbara via Flickr
I was never voted, “Most likely to succeed,” when I was in high school. I was never voted, “Most friendly,” “Most beautiful,” “Most likely to become a millionaire,” or even, “Most likely to be sent to prison.” If there had been a category for me, it would have been, “Most likely to think for herself and abandon every belief she was taught as a child.”

I was a child of the South. I was born & raised in the Deep South, surrounded by conservative, Christian fundamentalists. Today I look back and believe it was the next thing to child abuse. There is almost nothing more difficult than a free-thinking child struggling to survive and understand the world in an atmosphere of repression and superstitious belief.

I spent all of my childhood and far too much of my adulthood immersed in the Christian belief system. Today, I believe wholeheartedly that Christianity is not only false, I believe it is unhealthy. The first thing I ever remember being taught under this system was that there was something wrong with me. How healthy can it be for a child to be born into a world where she is taught right off the bat that she isn’t good enough and is headed for a fiery pit? But that was common practice in the South. I was born bad because of some elusive figures named Adam and Eve, and I was displeasing to God because he seemed to be a cranky son of bitch who wasn’t too keen about any of his creation. And oh yeah—he slaughtered his own son—punched nails into him, caused him to hang on a cross and bleed to death, beat him half to death with whips first---all so I wouldn’t be thrown into this pit of fiery brimstone to sizzle for all eternity (this pit that God himself had also created). What I heard was, “God is a God of torture, and if you cannot understand that torture can ever be love, then you just don’t get it. Fortunately for me, I never did get it. As hard as I tried, and as much as I wanted to know God and please him, my free-thinking little mind was plagued with life-long doubts. I’m afraid I always seemed to be consumed by “THE SIN OF REBELLION!” (Although there was a large host of people who would have been happy to lay their hands all over me, push on my head, jump up and down and scream at the air to free me from my rebellion, I never did seek their help). My childhood was basically one long journey towards disbelief.

Although there were many things between then and now, which would take a book to write, what I finally concluded is that to be a Christian is to be a “victim.” It is to spend your entire life feeling lost and waiting for someone to ride in on a white horse and save you. It’s a feeling of helplessness, a feeling that you are not in control of your own life and cannot take your destiny into your own hands. Most of the people in this world live their entire lives as victims. You can either be a victim or know that you yourself are the “Creator.” You create your own life and your own reality. Yes, there are bad and horrible things in this life. But contrary to the Christian belief that we “caused” the darkness when we fell from grace, I believe that each and every one of us voluntarily “chose” the darkness when we came into this life. In fact, I believe the darkness is what it’s all about. I think that between our lives here, we are composed of energy (or what the Christians would call “spirit,”) and I believe things are basically perfect in that state. It probably is like a kind of heaven. But I also believe there are limitations in that state. You can know you are “forgiveness” in that state, but you cannot experience it. There is nothing there to forgive. So, I believe that we voluntarily created this planet the way it is so that we could “evolve” and “experience” things that are not possible in our natural state. We “chose” to enter the darkness so that we could know ourselves as love and light. The only way you can know yourself as “light” is if you choose to stand in the darkness. But people get very lost in that darkness, and the journey home is long. (And it’s supposed to be. I think we go through many cycles of lives on this planet, and we learn many things and we experience many things, but eventually we go back and merge with “Source” or “Creator” (whatever that is). I think it’s kind of like a video game. I believe we each program our own level of “difficulty.” You play a video game for awhile at level one, and after a few times you’ve mastered it. You’re bored. So, you go to level two and make it harder. I think that’s how our lives are here, and we are our own creators and programmers. I don’t think anybody can say, “Life isn’t fair.” I think we get exactly what we planned when we came. And I also believe that people we see who are having very difficult times are people who probably are a little further along in their evolution and were willing to take on the added difficulty.

I started to study other religions and philosophies and found myself much more attracted to eastern philosophies. I started practicing Yoga. I began to abandon the “fear” Christianity had taught me and to feel better about myself. I started to have more fun. When I left the church and embraced eastern philosophy, I was promptly rejected by every Christian I had ever known. I was told I would burn in hell, I was immoral, I was a pagan. Most Christians simply ignored and refused to speak to me. It has always been puzzling to me that fundamentalists can feel no love or kinship for anyone who is not either exactly like them or at least a “potential” convert. Once they know that you are secure in your own beliefs, and there is no chance of your ever coming back into the fold, it’s over. It doesn’t matter how close you were to these people. You are forever cast out. I have thought about this many times. Why is it so threatening to a Christian if somebody does not believe what he believes? Why is it impossible to love someone who is not exactly like you? I feel no threat from people today who do not believe what I believe or even from people who ridicule what I believe. The difference I think is that Christians are not really secure in what they believe. Deep down, they know that “faith” is not a basis for anything. Ninety-nine percent of them cannot argue their faith or present an intelligent argument for why they believe what they believe. And they know it. When you’re standing on shaky ground, you always have a fear of someone coming along and knocking you over. Today, I know what I believe, and I know why I believe it. My beliefs are not dependent on anybody else believing, too. It only has to work for me. And yet, I still struggle at times with anger at the Christian religion. I believe Christianity is a harmful and unhealthy belief system to saddle a child with, and I know from personal experience the long, hard road to overcome it. But I also know that it can be overcome. I’m actually thankful today for what I experienced. My beliefs today tell me that there are no accidents. Things happen for a reason. For the most part, I cannot judge fundamentalists because I have walked where they walked, believed what they believed, and done the evil that they did. To judge them would be to judge myself. "To everything there is a season." (That much I believe). I believe we’re all on the same spiritual path, headed for the same place—just at different points on that path. You can’t judge someone because he is not yet ready to make a turn on that path, or because he cannot comprehend others who have made that turn. Eventually, we all get there. You can only reach out and help those who are trying to make that turn, hold their hand, and let them know they are not alone.


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