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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

religion


This post has been a long time coming. It may offend, though that is not my intention.

For a while now, The One has asked me periodically to discuss religion. It is one of the only things about our relationship that we have never discussed. I always evade his request because it is not something that I want to think about. I'm very good at forgetting things that I don't want to deal with. But I sense that I am finally ready.

In order to discuss my current religious state, or the lack thereof, I have to start right at the beginning of my existence.

I was raised in a Christian home. My parents attended the Dutch Reformed Church at first and later moved on to the charismatic (yes, fire and brimstone) churches. While they were no religious nuts, they were fairly religious. They always said grace before dinner, for instance, and attended church regularly. They called themselves born again Christians. There was even a time when we studied the Bible together once or twice a week as a family.

At various times in my life I responded to an "altar call", which is when people are asked to get up and go forward in church to surrender their life to God. Even though I honestly and completely surrendered myself many times, nothing ever changed in my life. I was even baptised, but still I was exactly the same as before. I have been told that my faith was not strong enough.

I have suffered through something that none of the people who judge me have any experience of. For as long as I can remember I have known that I am gay. As a young child it was not a such an important issue; it was easy to hide and to deny its existence - even to myself. Besides, I didn't really understand that there were only supposed to be men and women and nothing in-between. As a pubescent teenager, however, it became more difficult to evade. Boys at school called me moffie and faggot and all the other colourful, hurtful names. On a church camp, I was molested by a Dutch Reformed Church Minister one night - after he had told us that very day that homosexuality is an abomination that is caused by Satan. To say that I was confused would be an understatement. I suppose the most confusing and frightening thing was how God could hate what He had created. I became severely depressed

Of course, I never discussed the true issue with my parents. To them I was simply depressed and was taken to consult psychiatrists and psychologists. I never completely opened up to any of them either. How could I acknowledge to them what I wouldn't acknowledge to myself?

After my father's death I went through a period of rebellion. I got a tattoo. I got an earring. Looking back now, I think that I was rejoicing in finally being free from what I perceived as the oppression of my father. As the rebellion cooled, however, it turned into guilt and frustration. I was not free after all! Out of desperation, I joined Hatfield Christian Church. I wanted to plug into some sort of support structure. I wanted to belong. I wanted to be set free.

I pushed myself right into church life. I took over the production of the monthly newsletter. I attended membership classes, surrendering my life again to God. I attended morning and evening services. I attended lectures. I was baptised again. I studied the Bible every morning and evening. I went on church camps. At one such camp, a men's camp with the theme "breaking through", I revealed my secret to my team leader, Kobus. He suggested counseling that the church provided free of charge to its members. I started attending Kobus' home cell. I suppose I saw him as a kind of father figure; my spiritual father I think I called him.

Then the counseling started. Again, I was told by the counselors that homosexuality is caused by Satan and that I would have to go through a long programme of counseling, culminating in an excorcism. I can honestly say that I totally co-operated. I did everything that was asked of me. I told the counselors every sordid detail of my life. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be healed.

One of my counselors was the Pastor's son, Gebhardt. We saw each other outside of counseling sometimes, at Kobus' home cell or at the gym. I was even invited to his house once or twice. We started an early morning prayer circle with one or two other guys. Gebhardt told me that he would stand by me and be my friend whatever happened. But however hard I fought it, I became attracted to Gebhardt. It felt so good to belong somewhere, to have someone to talk to. I never realized that I was falling in love. Only when he started to distance himself from me and to ignore me did I see what had been happening. It had been completely innocent, but of course, it was too late. My counseling stopped. Christians who had promised friendship, such as Kobus, disappeared. The newsletter was taken away from me. Even my brother-in-law, another born again Christian, stopped talking to me. It has been almost two years since I last saw him or spoke to him.

If I wasn't such a coward, I suppose that I would have committed suicide. I devised all sorts of suicide schemes. I drank excessively, trying to get rid of the intolerable pain. All sense of religion disappeared from my life. I resigned from the church. I hated everything Christian. Had I not found a new beginning, who knows what would have happened?

Starting a new job was a new volume of my life. I re-read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, for the first time completely comprehending the book on a deep level, and finding strength there. Over many months I gradually resolved the tumultuous inner conflict by accepting that I was gay and did not need to change. In a wild stroke of luck I put my profile on a dating site on the Internet and met The One. I told the world that I am gay.

So, where does this leave me, religiously speaking? In the two odd years since I last attended church, I have only begun to puzzle things out. My current theory is that there is no God for me. There is a God for people who believe in Him and who find salvation in Him. I tried to live that way for many years, most of my life in fact, and was not successful. I suppose that makes me some strange kind of atheist.

In my mind, Christianity equals hypocrisy. As you can see, I still have issues with those Christians who had almost ruined my life. I think that I have not completely let go of the pain yet. It is a very hard thing, the hardest of all things perhaps, letting go. Forgetting. Forgiving.

The One is studying Buddhism at the moment. As I understand it, it is not strictly a religion, but more a life philosophy. I sense that he wants me to join him in becoming a Buddhist. I am very skeptical, though - once bitten, twice shy... Why should the Buddhists be any different from the Christians? For now, I guess am happy just the way I am. Spiritual But Not Religious.

Written by I

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