I was raised in an extremely conservative sect of Christianity. I remember the Sundays of learning about God’s love and God’s mood-swings and God’s destructive impulses, but mostly of God’s love (Remember Job, it was just a test, nothing personal!). To get my bias out of the way: I no longer believe in God. Okay, that said … church had a very interesting effect on me growing up. As a budding transgenderist and psychopath, church did very little to quell my tendencies. Much like the restraint I show these days, all church did was make me worry about the punishment of actions, not the actions themselves. Restated, I tend not to be violent and not to get my steal on because of the possible punishment for such, not because I am immune to immorality. As a teenager, I would pray and pray that the budding transgender feelings would go away due to the fear of hell. There is not some guiding conversation that stops me from doing such solely on whether an action is good or bad, merely the fear of punishment. Conservative sects of Christianity do love our fears of eternal damnation as a way to shape how we think. By the time I ate my last cracker and drank my last sip of wine, I realized that I alone should dictate how my life goes.
I remember sermons growing up that dealt with non-heterosexuality and transgenderism. They more or less boiled down to: ‘GAY-MART™ has a blue light special just for you! They want you to indulge your primal urges and join the cult of homosexuality. In fact, they are rolling out ‘transgender’ people as a means to make those primal urges look more appetizing by making it ‘look’ like there are males and females involved. But we are better than that. We can resist the urge to rub our penises on others’ penises. We LOVE JESUS! (church stands up, starts applauding and speaking in tongues, and, fuck, was it weird)’. The focus on sin was much more pronounced than the focus of living well. There would be times in which we were taught of the Golden Rule and how to honor our fellow man, but those times were rare. I get it. True religion teaches love of deity and love of one’s fellow man. I get that there are tons of religions and persons that focus on that point and not some arbitrary measure of sin. The boat has sailed for me though and I’m not going back. The point I’m trying to make is that my upbringing exposed me to, what I consider, a pretty fucked up set of rules to live by along with, a very few, generally kick-ass rules for how not to be a douche around one’s fellow human.
Now, the take home message for me was always: DO THESE ARBITRARY ACTIONS AND BELIEVE IN JESUS OR ELSE YOU’LL BE MAKING A VISIT TO ONE OF THE BOLGIE. BUT, HEY, YOU’LL GET TO SEE A CUTE PUPPY ON THE WAY! So, once again, the notion of ‘avoiding punishment’ was favored over ‘doing right by your fellow man’. Once I became atheist, in early adulthood, I realized that I was good to go for doing whatever I wanted on the gender front. If I didn’t believe in an ultimate arbiter, what was there to be punished over? In a strange, and ultimately boosting, fashion for the amoral person, coming to believe that there was no eternal punishment for anything allowed me to realize that all I had to worry about was the punishment of Man. And man is much more easily charmed and manipulated and avoided than God. Ultimately, the biggest failing of my religious upbringing was that it taught me what not to do (which I ignored once I believed that there was no eternal punishment), but not what to do.
Church also taught us all that we have fallen due to Sin, but that we possess innate goodness as well. However, this was always presented as truth without proof. Why are we bad, preacher? ‘Because of the Sin introduced by Adam and Eve’. Why are we good? ‘Because you are human, created by God and in his image’. It always seemed so circular, much as gendered characteristics exist now because the previous generation had them and that generation had them because the ones before them did, ad infinitum. We were taught to be Share Bear, in essence, (and definitely not any of these bears) but never really taught why. I was at times confused as to why I would lie and cheat, manipulate and steal, because I never felt inherently evil doing any of those actions. I thought that it was maybe just confirmation of the Sin in man. But shouldn’t there be a feeling as one does sinful actions? As I write this, I wonder if I would have been different if I was brought up in a Unitarian Universalist fashion, if I would have had a much greater appreciation of either morality or immorality, rather than the amorality that I live in. Ultimately that dogma was wrong; not everyone possesses innate good. The psychopath is certainly not required to.
So my religious upbringing merely reinforced the golden rule I live by in the absence of conscience: avoid punishment. This is not to say that I am out doing immoral things at all times, but I am not troubled by doing immorality sometimes, just as I am not troubled by being moral sometimes. I wonder what my life would be like now had I been raised in a religious setting that valued the interconnectedness of life and society with one’s self instead of the punishment of failing to meet arbitrary standards. And, in order to really ‘get at’ that interconnectedness, religion needs to open up and acknowledge that people like me are not ‘Fueled By Lucifer’™ but are rather a result of genetics and the world around us. I certainly didn’t embrace transgenderism under the thought that it would be kickin’ rad to piss off God. I am certainly not a psychopath for the same reasons. But nonetheless I am what I am and, if one believes the dogma, God made me this way.