To start right off, I have nothing against Christians or Christianity. I was one. I know several who are wonderful and kind folks. But those aren’t the ones that get talked about because those aren’t the ones that stick out. We all know they’re there, but they’re the silent majority, kind of like “not all men” but yes, some men and yes, some Christians.
This past weekend I was back in my hometown for my grandfather’s funeral which was held at the church that’s right next door to my parents’ house, also known as the house where I grew up. It was a Methodist service as my family is Methodist and my parents attend service as often as their declining health allows. The service was lovely and lead by a wonderful pastor that I’d never met before, as the pastor I’d grown up with had passed away and the church has switched hands a few times since I stopped being an Easter and Christmas Christian for the sake of my parents.
Now my parents know that my sister and I are Pagan. They don’t really understand and we’ve never really spoken about it beyond a single conversation where my mother was worried we were going to Hell for our beliefs, but that’s the way of our family—just ignore the unpleasantness until it goes away. I had always thought, at least briefly, that my mom had at least done some internet research on the subject to maybe learn a little bit about the faith her daughters now follow since she wouldn’t ask us directly. That’s how she found out after all. We didn’t “come out” (and as a bi-lesbian-something, I’ve never come out to my parents but that’s a whole other story) but rather my mom had been Google searching our names for who knows what reason and had come across an article in our college newspaper about the Pagan Student Association, which my sister and I were the founders of for its brief incarnation while we were in college.
I was wrong.
We’re sitting in church, waiting for people to finish filing in before the service and my mom smiles at us and jokes “hey, look, the roof didn’t cave in.” So we stare blankly at her and ask “is there something wrong with the roof” because the church was built back in 1871 and hasn’t seen much repair. She replies “well, you’re here” and then I get it. We force smiles and joke that lightning has struck anyone down nor has anyone caught fire or started boiling because THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. But ha ha, let’s make fun of someone else’s religion because we don’t understand it.
Whatever. I’m used to it. I shrug it off.
We sit through the lovely service and the meal that follows and we head back to the house where some old friends of my grandfather’s swing by. There’s an old woman who chats with my mom while two old men talk to my dad. They ask about my grandfather’s passing. Dad mentions that our grandfather had passed peacefully in his sleep and one of the men has the gall to say “Well, I hear that’s what happens with Christians.” Now my head shoots up from where I’d been reading, just in time for him to say. “It’s those others who have violent deaths.” I barely stop myself from giving the guy the death glare since that would be rude while in my parents’ house.
Well, fuck you too, old guy whose name I have no idea.
I know plenty of Christians who die violent deaths. I know plenty of Christians who are afraid to die. I know plenty of non-Christians, atheists included, who have passed quietly. No one religion (or lack thereof) has a complete monopoly on peaceful deaths and it’s arrogant and offensive to think otherwise. You don’t need God to die peacefully. You don’t need God to die. It’s going to happen regardless of whether or not you believe in some man (or woman or men or women or gender-neutral essence) in the sky. How you handle that has nothing to do with your religion but instead with the measure of your faith and the circumstances of your death.
Faith and religion do not come hand-in-hand. Religion is just the name and trappings you surround yourself with. Faith is a personal matter. You can be a Christian and have no faith. You can be Pagan and full of faith, as I am. You can even be an atheist and have a measure of faith, though that’s less in the sense that there’s a higher power guiding us and more faith in the laws of science and the cosmic order of the universe. It’s a kind of “faith” in knowing that if I drop an egg out the window onto the sidewalk, it’s going to shatter. You can measure it and make force diagrams and you know that every time you drop an egg out the window onto that sidewalk, it’s going to do the exact same thing.
Religious-based faith is like that too. It’s the sense that there’s something waiting after death. That death isn’t the end. That there’s something more. It’s not measured like science, it’s not visible, but the same surety is there. And even if there isn’t anything after death, it doesn’t matter because I’ll be dead and no longer care.
I am not afraid to die. I’m in no rush to do it, and I’m hoping to get another 50 years out of this body before I turn it in. I can’t say whether my death will be peaceful or violent because that’s not up to me. That’s up to my body and the number of ailments that it carries. My grandfather was lucky in that his deteriorating condition did not come with pain. I’m in my early 30s and I’ve already got a good share of pain I carry around. And the violence? That’s up to whoever and whatever kills me.
Religion has no bearing on car crashes.
Religion has no bearing on being shot by a gangbanger, a policeman, or even some random person on the street with a few screws loose.
Religion does not dull knives or pad bullets or tamper any of the thousands of ways there are to die horrifically and painfully.
The only deaths religion has a hand in (besides those caused by people who think of religion as a reason to commit and of the aforementioned horrible crimes) are the slow deaths. The deaths you know are coming, and again, that’s not religion, that’s faith that gets us through or leaves us to wallow. Faith that you lived a good life and you’ve got something waiting for you or faith that there is nothing and so it doesn’t matter. Unless you haven’t lived a good life and you think there’s something bad waiting, then maybe that’s what needs worried about instead of what name it’s thrown under.
(This was a lot of rambling and I’m not sure I came to any real point, but it’s there and I still want to throw a pie at that old man and tell him to suck it.)