I think I was about 11 or so when I started asking myself difficult questions. I think it was probably brought on by two things. First was my profound wonder at what my friends were doing on Sunday mornings. I grew up “unchurched” and at least nominally a “cultural Christian” so I wasn’t sure what the big deal was about going to church. Second, I went to church. But not just any church. It was a fairly theologically and socially conservative church and it was only for a week long Vacation Bible School. I don’t remember much about it except being really confused about things and coming home on Thursday of the week in tears because me and my whole family were going to hell for listening to “the Devil’s Music” known to the rest of us as rock-n-roll. (To be clear this was 1986, not 1956.) I don’t remember if I went back on Friday or not. I don’t think I did.
And so began my confusion about religion that led to exploring lots of religious beliefs and a continuous journey of looking at mine. It was eventually led me to a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Religion and later still, to Unitarian Universalism.
The question that bothered me most about Christianity at a young age (Christianity being the only religion I was then familiar with) was the idea that if you didn’t “know Jesus” you would go to hell. What confused and bothered me most was that there were young babies and children who died all the time without “knowing Jesus” and I just couldn’t believe that this supposedly universally loving God would allow an innocent child to go to hell. (Maybe my mom sparked this confusion by singing “Jesus loves the little children” to me as a child.) Or even more so, what about people who lived in places where Christianity didn’t reach? Remote inner parts of Africa and South America, Muslim or Buddhist countries, etc. Were all those people, even the innocent children, going to hell? That didn’t fit with this supposedly loving and forgiving person named “Jesus” that the Christians kept talking about. When I confronted adults, particularly ministers, about this problem, I found their answers equally disturbing. They ranged from “well, I don’t know. That is part of the mystery of how God works so I’m sure he has a plan for them.” to “yes, they go to hell.”
By high school, I had so advanced my questioning on this topic, that once accidentally reduced two well meaning door-to-door evangelist young women to tears by the time they left. Apparently their faith was rather shaken by my questions.
The very concept of a “chosen” people who believed that there was only one God, became an oxymoron to me. How can a universally loving God who sets universal standards for all people, then only tell some of them and yet apply it to all of them. Still confuses me.
Later, I would learn many other confusions. Starting with Catholic vs Protestant Bibles, the Bible itself, “trinitarianism” (another of those unexplained “great mysteries”), Calvinism and predestination, etc. In the many years since, I have sought (and still seek) to see what other people’s answers were. Sometimes through experience of their faith practices, sometimes through talking or reading about them, and sometimes through classes, I have looked at lots of versions of Christianity plus Mormons, Buddhists, Muslims, Judism, Sikhs, Zoroastians, Native Americans, African traditions, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, and more. The search continues. Hence why I found myself a Unitarian Universalist where exploring beliefs is not just encouraged but also facilitated and supported. I’m not sure now, that I will ever find anything more agreeable than UU.