Religious Differences Within My Marriage and Other Matters

Rev. Jonathan Daniels, Episcopal martyr
I might compare my relationship to the Episcopal Church to that of people who practice Yoga but deny Hinduism. I might also liken it to a Japanese tea ceremony that offers tranquility and belonging in the absence of dogma. Admittedly, Christians--including Episcopalians--are less accepting of my nonbelief than are communities that revolve around Yoga or tea, although non-belief is on the rise. According to a British government survey, 2% of priests in the Church of England (the Episcopal Church's British counterpart) are atheists, and in America, the percentage of people who claim church affiliation has dropped 1% a year for 20-years, making the number of people who are un-churched greater than the number of Protestants or Catholics.

Peggy and I grew up in fundamentalist households--Southern Baptist in her case, Church of Christ in mine. My parents attended church sporadically and never pressured me into going, but I so loved church that when my family moved into town when I was ten, and I could walk to church, I went four times a week. Peggy's parents took her (took being the operative word) to church thrice weekly, but she spent the time daydreaming. With age came disillusionment, so that when I left for college, I left my boyhood church for the Episcopal Church. When Peggy left for college, she left church so completely that she flunked her school's mandatory chapel by failing to show-up. I became an atheist before she only because she was too bored by religion to think about it. Even today, religion is never far from my thoughts.

Peggy's Southern Baptist upbringing combined with her lack of interest in comparative religion, causes her to view the Christian world through a Baptist lens, and this leads her to say surprising things. For instance, she was shocked when I came home from a church men's group and told her that beer was served; even more shocked to discover that my evening prayer service includes hymns of adoration to Jesus' mother; and speculated that my parish priest assumes that if I attend church long enough, I'll be saved. For those who share her ignorance, the fact that Episcopalians sometimes serve liquor at church social events has inspired the church's detractors to refer to them as Whiskeypalians; some Episcopalians are devoted to Mary; and Episcopalians don't think in terms of being saved, lost, or born again. But what does distinguish the Episcopal Church, which I love, from the usual beliefs and practices of Christianity, which I loathe? 

(1) The Episcopal Church doesn't seek to rationalize the barbarism of the Biblical deity; it embraces the parts of the Bible that are honorable and rejects the rest as primitive tribalism. America's religious masses call this "cafeteria Christianity," and insist that the Bible is theologically and historically perfect.

2) Although the Bible endorses the oppression of women, America's Episcopal Church elected a woman to its highest office and has installed other women as bishops. Some of the church's women leaders are openly lesbian. 

3) Although the Biblical God demands that gay people be executed, America's Episcopal Church views them as equals, although doing so has cost it tens of thousands of members. Its acceptance of LGBT people has even inspired the wrath of the Anglican Communion, with some member denominations demanding that the American church be expelled. When the American diocese of New Hampshire sent its gay bishop to represent it at the worldwide Anglican convention in London, he was blocked from participating and even excluded from social events.

3) Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Episcopal Church's first female presiding bishop (national leader), condemned the concept of personal salvation as heretical and idolatrous. Although the concept of heresy is meaningless to me, I have observed that people who emphasize personal salvation minimize the importance of virtue because they don't believe that virtue will get them into heaven--or wickedness into hell. What will get them into heaven in their view is begging God's forgiveness according to the infinite merit of Christ's redeeming blood, which means that had Hitler, in his final moments, professed faith in Jesus and asked forgiveness in His name, Hitler is even now basking in God's glory; but if fifteen-year-old Ann Frank died without begging forgiveness in the name of Christ, she is writhing in eternal agony alongside Buddhists, Hindus, humanists, and such Christians as had the misfortune to die before asking forgiveness for their latest sin. In the words of Acts 4:12: "Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone."

4) I first became aware of the Episcopal Church during the Civil Rights era when I watched Northerners in priestly attire participate in demonstrations. When one of those men was murdered* in front of numerous witnesses while saving the life another person in broad daylight, and the good Christians of Alabama refused to hold his murderer accountable, the killing became but one of hundreds of incidents that hardened me against the integrity of the Christian masses even as I had already become hardened against the depravity of the Biblical deity. Although in earlier centuries, the Episcopal Church had courted slave owners and robber barons, by my day, it was alone among white-dominated Southern Protestant churches in its concern for social justice. Never once did I hear a Church of Christ preacher speak-out for human rights, although they posted guards at church doors to keep black people from entering, and it was common knowledge that the same Klansmen who bombed churches and burned crosses on Saturday night, worshiped inside churches and before crosses on Sunday morning. 

By the time I left the Church of Christ, I was in search of a refuge of safety and healing away from Christianity, but there were none. However, there was the Episcopal Church, and because it was liberal, and because its liturgies and its sanctuaries were beautiful, the Episcopal Church came to represent an abandonment of all that religion had ever meant to me, and I embraced it. Church of Christ preachers devote a portion of every sermon to the torments of hell, and their sanctuary walls are bare. Episcopal priests seek to inspire, and their walls are richly decorated. Even today, the Episcopal Church doesn't seem like church to me, and I believe there were better men than Christ. Even so, he and the Bible do uplift at times, and I'm too old to go elsewhere. The world contains little that feels like home to me, and the Episcopal Church is among the things that do.



Elephant's Child said...

Thank you.
As you know religion (of any flavour) is not only alien to me, but also often anathema. The Episcopal Church sounds closer to one I could accept, and I knew nothing about it before I read your post.

Andrew said...

Like EC, I knew nothing about the Episcopal Church and I certainly agree that it sounds like a place to be, among similar thinkers. No real Christian would tolerate the mistreatment or another human, black or white.

Strayer said...

I'm happy you found a place where you feel like home. I stay completely clear of religion.

Tom said...

I grew up Catholic, and my first wife was an Episcopalian who was not allowed to date a Catholic when she was growing up in the Midwest. (She rebelled and married me when she was 26.) I've only been to a few Episcopal services, and don't pretend to be an expert, but the irony is that the Episcopal church is probably closer to the Catholic church than any other Protestant denomination.

Snowbrush said...

"As you know religion (of any flavour) is not only alien to me, but also often anathema."

I think it's a view that is shared by most atheists, and I must confess that for me to be allied to any extent with any religion feels like selling out, especially now that religion as a whole just keeps getting stupider and stupider under the Trump administration. For instance anti-abortion laws are being passed; "In God We Trust" is being written on the walls of public buildings and on car license plates; Christian specific prayers are becoming commonplace in schools and government meetings; Bible classes are being taught in public schools; legal discrimination against LGBTs is on the increase; etc; yet support for religion is plummeting. Religious people seem to have concluded that if they can't hold the hearts of the people voluntarily, then they'll turn the country into a theocracy so that what the masses want doesn't matter. For example, the state of Alabama recently passed the most restrictive of numerous new anti-abortion laws. Under the Alabama law, doctors who perform abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy (which is before most women know they are pregnant) will spend 99 years in prison; there are no exceptions for rape or incest; no new money will be allocated to help poor women who will be having babies they can't afford; and rapists can sue for custodial rights (this last item sounds so fantastic that I'll provide a link: If these new laws should pass federal muster (which could happen now that Trump is handpicking federal judges), then I can promise you that even more restrictive laws will pass, laws that go after women who have abortions, and that ban abortions even before six weeks. On the bright side, the gloves are now off, so a public that is already turning from religion will be forced to see the true nature of religious leadership.

"No real Christian would tolerate the mistreatment or another human, black or white."

Jesus taught love and pacifism on the one hand but exclusivity and violence on the other. He called Gentiles dogs and his opponents vipers. He told the apostles to buy swords even if they had to sell their winter coats to afford them, and he told his followers to shake the dust off their feet when leaving the presence of those who didn't accept Christianity. He also said that he didn't come to overturn the Old Testament laws, laws that were noted for their discrimination and cruelty. Of course, no one really knows what Jesus said, so all of these things might have been falsely accredited to him after he was dead, but the fact remains that he isn't presented as the warm and fuzzy character that many think he was. By the way, your thoughts about religion largely inspired this post. I worked on it over a period of forty to eighty hours and eliminated over 80% of its contents out of deference to my readers. I actually haven't been writing to you as much lately because of my work on this post that you inspired. I'm so glad to have you as my new friend, and I'm tickled that my first two comments to this post came from Australians who know and care about one another.

Snowbrush said...

"I stay completely clear of religion."

Given your history of physical and psychological abuse, I'm not surprised, and I relate to it to the extent that when I hear talk regarding how loving God is, my thoughts invariably go to the God in whom I believed as a child, a god like Donald Trump would be if Donald Trump had the power to do whatever he pleased. I'm not writing hyperbolically, it really seeming to me that the bullying and narcisstic god of my childhood and Trump are much alike, which is perhaps why those who trust that Trump is in the right no matter what he does or says are the same people who trust that their arrogant and brutal god is in the right not matter what he does or says. In short, Trump exemplifies the characteristics that they worship. I even wonder at times if Trump hasn't to some extent replaced God in their minds because how else can they trust a mere man so blindly and so completely no matter how obvious his lies or appalling his misdeeds?

"I've only been to a few Episcopal services, and don't pretend to be an expert, but the irony is that the Episcopal church is probably closer to the Catholic church than any other Protestant denomination."

You perhaps know that Episcopalians are divided between high church and low church parishes, with the high church people sometimes having incense, holy water, praying the rosary, and so forth (I'm very much a high church devotee). Modernday American Catholic services and churches meanwhile are looking more and more like run of the mill Protestant services and churches. Yet, this is all in regard to appearance as opposed to belief because the unquestioning rigidity of Catholic belief remains and is very much like that of Protestant fundamentalism. I view the Episcopal Church as the most liberal of churches after the Unitarian, the latter of which is SO liberal that I would be astounded if most of its members even consider themselves Christian. I've often wished that I could love Unitarianism because, as far as belief goes, it's a better fit, most Episcopalians very much identifying as Christian despite their tendency to define their god in such vague terms that I can't make sense of it. Of course, there's a lot of this vagueness among Unitarians also, although I'm not even sure that most Unitarians believe in any version of god, my guess being that most of them are extroverts who are more keen on sociability than on religion.

Elephant's Child said...

The recently passed Alabama anti-abortion laws have been reported on extensively here. I do hope they don't encourage our Pentacostal recently re-elected Prime Minister. They are an outrage.

Snowbrush said...

"The recently passed Alabama anti-abortion laws have been reported on extensively here."

A total of eight states have passed abortion laws this year after many years of trying to eliminate abortion by making it too expensive for abortion clinics to operate due to burdensome regulations. Clearly, the anti-abortionists are relying on the conservative Catholic Supreme Court to overturn a previous and liberal abortion law, and they might well succeed, and if they do, then it follows that they might start putting the women who have abortions into prison alongside the doctors because, after all, they too would be guilty of "murder." What will become of those women's babies, I have no idea.

Anonymous said...

Do you boomers realize how universally hated you are? There is not one single demographic that does not hate you- white people, black people, asians, mexicans, indians, chinese, millennials, GenX, GenZ. Something tells me that you boomers are not going to have a very comfortable or easy retirement, especially once you end up in the retirement homes.

Can you baby boomers hurry up and fucking drop dead? Enjoy your retirement homes cause we younger people will not take care of you even if we wanted to, due to the shitty economy you boomers created. Do you boomers realize that the younger generation is simply waiting for you to fucking drop dead?

You are all going to end up in retirement homes and we all know that the elderly gets treated pretty badly in retirement homes. Well, that's what you get for ruining your own children's lives. Even if your children WANTED to take care of you, they couldn't, due to you boomers destroying the economy. So I hope you enjoy the retirement homes, boomer scum!

Snowbrush said...

Anon. You have much greater confidence in the homogeneity of discrete generations than I, although when I was young, many in my generation blamed the world's problems on our parents' generation. Such blame is frankly something that one grows out of upon realizing that his/her generation is also far from blameless. For instance, our environment and climate are going to hell in a handbasket, and I don't see that the younger generations is doing much to stop it.

"Do you boomers realize how universally hated you are?"

I think it likely that I'm more hated for being an American--as presumably are you. Beyond that, I'm perhaps more hate for being white and male than for being a member of a particular generation, although I haven't seen any surveys to prove it.

Elephant's Child said...

You might like this post which I read this morning.

Starshine Twinkletoes said...

I have a feeling 'Anonymous' is no such thing, I may be wrong but that's my gut feeling.

As church groups go they sound more palatable than most, but mainly I'm glad you've found a place to gain comfort from and enjoy being in the group and I think more people than would admit (or possibly realise) attend churches for just those reasons - the community and comfort. Also they don't want to be hounded for leaving in some cases, but being part of such a community holds a great deal of joy for some. I have a different group, and, I suspect that were you surrounded by many caring friends you wouldn't necessarily be drawn so much to the group. We can't know, and as I said, I'm happy you're finding some peace at last and also having a beer at the same time. x

Joe Todd said...

Stopped by to say Hi. Enjoyed your many blog posts as I always do. I just really don't understand the world today.