Lightning Didn’t Strike
J. P. Chasse
My pivot point came early! I was about twelve or thirteen, an altar boy, and quite rebellious.
One morning in the early 1960s, I was serving at the convent across the street with our head priest. That morning, he got quite caught up in his sermon to the young nuns-to-be. One specific statement he made really caught my attention.
He stated that if you cursed God, he would send lightning that would most certainly make short shrift of your existence!
I decided to test that theory. On the way home, I cursed to high heaven! And no lightning bolts!
I cursed again! Nothing happened.
I knew even then that all this religious mumbo-jumbo was exactly that: mumbo-jumbo!
Seventy-one years later, I still curse that SOB in the sky. And I’m still alive and well.
Barbara and the Volcano
It was while sitting in the choir of a Congregational church nestled in the Vermont mountains that I looked at the Order of Worship. The word worship screamed at me. Worship! That’s what ancient pagans did when they sacrificed an unwilling virgin to the volcano. Here I was, a seventy-plus grandmother who had compromised her nonbeliefs to sing with a choir.
Over several decades, I had gradually shed my Roman Catholic heritage. The dedicated nuns of St. Francis had drilled into my second-grade brain at St. Monica’s parochial school the words of the Baltimore Catechism—“Who made you? God made me to know, love and serve Him in this world and be happy with Him in the next.” Even at a young age, I had started to question the justice of just happening to be born into the One True Church. Was it fair that by accident of birth I could go to heaven while those who had not even heard about Jesus would be left out? And what about the innocent babies who were going to be stuck in Limbo because they were not baptized by the correct rite of the Catholic Church to erase the stain of original sin?
As I grew older, the questions multiplied and intensified. The “One True Church” had all the answers, but ultimately it all came down to faith. People felt sorry for me because I didn’t have enough “faith” to accept the church’s teachings. Then it became very real to me: after three C-sections in three years, I wanted my tubes tied. That did it. To me, it was a choice between my life or the Catholic Church, so I became a Protestant.
Now I replaced the authority of the Pope with that of the Bible. But there was music. We sang hymns. The congregation sang responses, and the choir did the most singing of all. And, we sang everything from Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem” to “Bridge over Troubled Water.” But, like everything else, there was a price to pay. The cost was sitting in the choir not believing the preaching, the beliefs, and especially the praying to an entity I didn’t think existed. So, I left organized religion, but I didn’t leave music.
Singing is as much a part of me as breathing. So, at age eighty-two and having moved back to Connecticut to be closer to my children and grandchildren, I searched for a place where I could satisfy my need of sharing music through song. Lo and behold, I found it in an old familiar place, the Congregational church I had joined when I left Catholicism. They welcomed everyone no matter who they were, what they believed, or where they were on life’s journey. We shared the vision of a just world for all. Now I sing with Christians. Barbara the humanist, barely fitting under the umbrella of acceptance, respecting the beliefs of others but marching to my own drummer and singing all the way.
Barbara Damon is a great-grandmother hoping to inspire all her progeny to explore the wonders of life and spread love to make a better world.
I am from a Scandinavian family that accepted religion as an everyday tradition—but only to the extent of learning a bedtime prayer for children (I can still recite the first sentence or two in Swedish).
For some reason, probably because my parents felt they had to keep up with the neighbors (in the United States), when I was aged twelve or thirteen, I was sent to Sunday school. After a couple weeks, I remember thinking that it was a ridiculous fairytale the teacher was telling. I asked my parents to not make me go again; this was granted. That is when I realized I was an atheist—or at least an agnostic—but I have never been tempted to look back on that decision. I am now seventy-four.
Apostle without a Creed
I am ninety-one years old. I was raised in the Presbyterian Church, attended Sunday school regularly, and at various times served as a deacon, trustee, and elder of the congregation. One Sunday, the pastor told the congregation that at each service we would all stand and say together the Apostles’ Creed. It was printed in the back of the hymnal. After several weeks, I said to myself, “If we are going to do this every week, I may as well memorize it.” In the process of memorizing, I said to myself, “I believe … I believe … I believe … .”
Then I said to myself, “No, I really do not believe”:
that he was conceived by the Holy Ghost;
that he was born of the Virgin Mary;
that he descended into hell;
that on the third day he rose again from the dead;
that he sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; and
that he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
Those things, to me, are not true.
I continued my membership in the church for some years; however, the church service became like the Rotary Club: a place to meet friends each week, have fellowship, sing a song, listen to an inspiring message, and go out into the community and do good.
I am no longer uncomfortable in professing a lack of belief in the Christianity as dictated by the Apostles’ Creed.
John Cook was raised in Ohio and educated at Culver Military Academy and Stanford University. He served with the U.S. Army in Korea during the Korean War, later in the Reserve. His civilian career was in management of an independent department store in Ohio. He now resides in Oro Valley, Arizona.
Ingersoll’s Pivot Point: At Age Seven!
Eva Ingersoll Wakefield
The pseudonymous reader Fellow Feather alerted us to this gem from The Letters of Robert Ingersoll (New York: Philosophical Library, 1951, pp. 8–9). In a biographical introduction, Eva Ingersoll Wakefield, granddaughter of “The Great Agnostic,” constructs a narrative around quotes from her grandfather’s collected correspondence to describe Robert Green Ingersoll’s own pivot point—at age seven! —Eds.
The first sermon he heard that made any deep impression on him was at the age of seven. A Freewill Baptist preacher gave such a graphic and frightful description of hell that “it left a mark like a scar” on his mind forever. The preacher did full justice to his subject, painting an unforgettable picture of the two men [the Rich Man and Lazarus] in life and in death against the background of hell and its eternal torments. The eloquence of this itinerant evangelist brought home to Robert Ingersoll the true meaning of the dogma of eternal punishment—awakened his imagination to the “height and depth of Christian horror.” From that moment he told himself: “It is a lie, and I hate your religion!” From that moment, for him, “the flames of hell were quenched,” and he “passionately hated every orthodox creed.” This “Free Will” sermon marked the turning point in Ingersoll’s intellectual life.
Eva Ingersoll Wakefield (1892–1970) was the granddaughter of famed freethought orator Robert Green Ingersoll. A 1914 graduate of Columbia University, she preserved the extensive library of press clippings originally compiled by her grandmother (Robert Ingersoll’s wife). She edited the 1952 anthology The Life and Letters of Robert G. Ingersoll, still the definitive source for the Great Agnostic’s correspondence.
Don’t Tell Me How to Vote
I attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through college, then taught in Catholic schools for five years. I saw myself as an ever-widening cafeteria Catholic—divorce, birth control, sex outside marriage, and gays were all okay. Not so much fear of going to hell. I was greatly aware of world overpopulation problems.
One Sunday at church, a woman, pregnant with her seventh child and an anti-abortion spokesperson, was given the pulpit to tell us how to vote. I walked out of the church, free of any remaining loyalties. But I never told my parents that I had dropped out.
Over time, I realized that most religious people saw their religion as the “true” one, despite huge differences among the various religions. Because they couldn’t agree on which was the true one, it followed that they were all bad dreams.
Susan Kennedy was raised in Chicago in a middle-class two-parent family, one of just two kids, and attended Catholic schools through college, where she got a degree in mathematics with a teaching certificate but then drifted into the computer software world. Kennedy is a serious gardener, does volunteer math help, and has a lot of pets.