(Bonus note: this is post 200 on my blog! I’m glad that you guys are still around, reading this)
I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a, well basically agnostic household. Which does lead to a pretty amusing story into how I got religion at all. But that does not mean that Christianity was not a part of my childhood. I always was a curious child.
My mother is a lapsed Catholic, my father was a member of a Lutheran/Protestant church as a kid…but I sure never heard that from him, instead learning that from my grandma. My parents let me figure out religion and spirituality for myself. So I got to go to a cousin’s Hindu wedding ceremony, a Catholic wedding…as well as a slew of other Christian denomination weddings in the family.
As for actual religious services – I’ve been to a Catholic mass, a Protestant service, a few Evangelical services, and even to a Mormon youth group meeting. I got to read the Book of Mormon, massive parts of the Bible, I’ve read rabbinical texts outside the Torah, as well as parts of the Qu’ran; beyond the “Big 3” I’ve read Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist and Hindu scholars’ works. I’ve read works about Shinto, Jainism, Sikhim as well. (not to say that I could speak with any authority on those topics, because most of them I can only give a basic overview of belief) But, suffice it to say that I was given a lot of freedom to learn as I wanted growing up.
Which explains how my parents, when I was 11, agreed to let me go to an Evangelical Summer Camp with my neighbor. It was all split up into age groups, so I went with one of the neighbor girls, while my sister went on a different week with the other neighbor.Beyond the rather interesting advice that my mother gave me and my sister before we went (all to avoid either one of us “stirring” things to see how they went), I don’t really remember a lot of the week I spent at camp. There was the usual–or at least I assume usual, as I’ve never been to another summer camp–like archery, hiking, swimming in the lake, and campfires at night. But of course, this was an evangelical camp, so there was lots of singing and praising Jesus, and inviting him into your soul.
And also obvious – my neighbor friend told the counselors that I was not Christian. Which made me the only one out of like 100 kids that was not Christian. So cue the pressure, insistence and pleading that I “accept Jesus as [my] savior and repent of sins”. Lots of attention piled onto 11 year old me. And I was not the most confrontational of children, so I just kind of stayed quiet through it all.
See, my mother had warned me, on the Sunday morning we left to go to camp, “Do not mention Satan or how you might worship him. I don’t want to have to come pick you up tonight because you scared someone else’s children.” It was a valid concern. My sister or I would have done it. Not to be malicious, just to see what kind of reaction we would get. Both of us had a thing for experimenting to get results, and to see what the reaction would be. So I would have said it all in innocent fun, not realizing the backlash (or more accurately, not realizing quite how bad the backlash would be).
But after a week of all the pressure, singing, and stories about how wonderful and all-present God was, I just finally told my neighbor and the counselor that I felt God’s presence. Cue wonder, lots of appreciation and group-bonding on my “joining the Church”…and I even got a free Bible out of it.
I was never serious though. I just was tired of always being the center of attention, so I figured out how I would be just “one of the group”, and not the only odd one out. Then I took that path to ensure I was not bothered further. Really, acting a chameleon did me pretty well at the time.
Truth was, I just never felt anything. At least, not at that time.
Fast forward to my first year of high school…about 3 years later.
We’re discussing religion in school, in my history class. Group projects, each group assigned a religion from somewhere in the world – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Jainism, Taoism…and a few others I’ve since forgotten. My group drew Shinto, which we had to put together a presentation on.
The group who drew Christianity was hilarious – there was 1 Catholic, 1 Mormon and 1 Evangelical in the group. So of course, they hadn’t even agreed on what to present, and just spent their presentation time arguing on which one of them was right. Then proceeded to decry every other religion in the class presentation groups as being “false”, and that only by being Christian (their denomination) would save your soul.
I just ignored all that. After all, I was already into studying paganism, Wicca and ancient religions by that time. And I had long given up on even pretending that my family was Christian. So the whole class, I just ignored the whole thing and put it aside. But our class reading was for the time around the early Christian Church founding. And I got just this weird…feeling.
Like, someone was there. It took a while to dawn on me, but I realized that I was probably (and this is total UPG I know) sensing God while reading about the founding of the Church. Which is seriously frightening, considering how I’d dismissed belief in God as just as superstitious as any belief in any other deity. I was researching paganism and ancient religions for fun, but I considered myself almost an atheist, because I didn’t really believe any of that stuff was real – no matter how much I might want it to be. And then there’s this presence, just kind of looming there.
What I realized was that me and God just do not see eye-to-eye. I know he’s out there, and real…but I’m not one of his, and I’m not meant to be either. He seems fine with that, and I’m more than fine with how the situation got left. Because I did not have the feeling my Christian friends do–that of the “all-loving, compassionate” God. I got the feeling of wrath, and the ability to smite someone without a concern or care – again UPG and I know that. And that’s not something comforting to me, and it in no way motivated me to turn to God and repent of sins and accept him as my savior.
It was also during that time, reading my historical documents, that I kind of felt other presences. Considering I was reading on Greek and Roman gods at the time, I’m forced to assume that they were the presences I sensed at that time. So I learned then that more than just one pantheon exists. That was the real start, albeit totally unrealized at the time, of pushing me towards being a staunch hard polytheist. I might not have figured it out at the time, because I am a bit thick-headed most of the time, but I from then on knew that I couldn’t say I was an atheist. I also could never call myself agnostic. Because I had felt something out there, something divine.
It’s a bit amusing in hindsight. After all, I’ve sensed ghosts a few times since then…or seen even one. But since that day, when I felt those presences…I’ve never once felt anything again that speaks of divine. I have occasionally felt tugs of interest, such as what drew me to begin studying Slavic paganism, but never anything that I could snap my fingers and go “yes, that was deity X communicating with me”.
I don’t know if it is coincidence or not that it was right around this time that my being head blind became a thing or not. But I do know that I can definitively say at 14 was the first and last time I can ever remember sensing anything divine being around me.
And I really do have to thank Christianity for helping me learn such an important fact about myself. Without my explorations into Christianity and my brushes with that religion, as well as with Christians and their personal beliefs, I would never have learned where I was supposed to go. (Which I suppose is a bit of an amusing outlook for a polytheist to have on Christianity – considering the usual story of pagans who have stories about Christianity. Mine is not all bad, in large part due to my raising)∗