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August 21st, 2018

Responsibility

This came across my Facebook news stream just now…

Let me say first, straight up, I am not setting the religion of my childhood over anyone else’s. For one thing, I’m an atheist now, and for another, even the religion of my childhood would have frowned on that. My bitter Baptist grandmother would say we’re all good for nothing sinners who had better spend every minute of the day repenting and asking for forgiveness…

I was baptized at a pretty young age and I remember mom getting static about it from the other church members. It wasn’t until I got older and learned that one thing setting Baptists apart was we didn’t do that because children aren’t old enough to make those kinds of decisions independently. A kid wants to please parents, family, and teachers. A kid will recite the words without really knowing what they mean, because they’re told to, and they want to please. Yeah we had to go to Sunday School and yeah we took part in communion. But Baptists probably seem weird about all that stuff too. Baptists don’t believe in sacraments. Communion is a remembrance, Baptism a rite of passage, an embrace of the faith. But it has to be wholehearted. Roger Williams, who founded the first Baptist church on American soil once declared that “forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils.”

As I said, I’m an atheist now, not because I have any particular grudge against religion, Capital ‘R”, but simply because belief just doesn’t make any sense to me now. Your mileage may vary and that’s fine with me. And given the wave of “Me Too” spreading through evangelical pews these days I’m not even going to try to make Baptists sound any intrinsically better on sexual predators. But I still deeply appreciate how it was a thing, or used to be a thing, how strongly Baptists or at least northern Baptists felt that you can’t compel belief, and you can’t push responsibility onto a child who by nature cannot understand what that responsibility is.

How hard is that for an adult to understand? It just boggles my mind. Perhaps it’s true that predators tend to gravitate to authoritarian religions. Maybe this is something the pews in those faiths need to be especially watchful for. Or perhaps more likely that what Mary Renault once said, that politics and sex are merely reflections of the person within, and that if you’re mean and selfish and cruel it will come out in your sex life and it will come out in your politics, when what really matters is you aren’t the sort of person who behaves like that, is the bigger truth here. The Baptist boy still inside of me can easily understand shrugging off and walking away from a creep like this man, because that boy was taught in the pews that the only authority that matters is the Creator and this man isn’t that. And also, that how others of other faiths can sit still for all this, or not, is up to whatever spirit moves within them.

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