Children often wonder about the nature of God. Depending on your family, and where you grew up, the answers could vary substantially. I was provided with many different answers when I was young. Some adults informed me that God was a figment of our collective imagination, and that heaven didn't exist at all, while others told me that Jesus and heaven were very real, and a force to be reckoned with. It was up to my eight-year old mind to pick a side, and either damn or save my soul in the process. No big deal, really.
The net result of all of this conflicting information was that I didn't believe in God, yet I was certain I'd burn in hell for my disbelief. Paradox was a concept I hadn't really grappled with. In the heart of an eight-year-old boy, these contradictions made perfect sense. God was an illusion, and that illusion was going to throttle me someday.
Sunday School Blues
As a young non-believing believer, I ran into a bit of trouble when I attended Sunday school with my best friend. Halfway through an "adult" sermon, the kids would be ushered off into a small classroom for Bible study -- and then the fun would begin.
The first time I asked my poor Sunday school teacher about the practical logistics of Noah's Ark, and the colossal manure problem, she told me that Noah and his family would simply push the animal dung out into the water. When I asked her if they used their hands, she answered that they cleaned the decks with brooms. After I pointed out that there weren't enough brooms or people on board to tackle such a mountainous collection of poop, she told me to stop asking silly questions, and then ignored me for the rest of the class.
Some months later, after learning about monotheism, I informed my beleaguered Sunday school teacher that I could in fact count to three (I've always had issues with authority) and this whole God, the Son and the Holy Spirit thing didn't make any sense to me from a mathematical standpoint. She gave me some kind of wishy-washy answer, which I no longer recall, although I do remember telling her that I didn't believe her. That didn't go over so well. I spent the rest of that class out in the hallway, all by myself.
Jesus on the Wall
A few weeks later, I went back to church with my friend. His parents suggested we skip Sunday school and sit through the entire sermon -- probably, I suspect, because my worn-out Sunday school teacher had requested my absence. A full sermon was hard for me to handle at the time, and my mind quickly began to wander.
I had a lot of questions about sexuality back then -- even more than I had about God. I understood the basics of human plumbing, but I was still a little fuzzy on the details. As the minster droned on, I glanced up at a large painting of Jesus on the wall. I knew his mother was a virgin, but what about him? Depraved (for an eight-year old) sexual images wormed their way inside my head. Surely the Devil was busy stoking his hellfire especially for me -- a little boy who let his mind wander when he should have been paying attention to the word of God. The more I tried to banish these unholy images from my brain, the more they grew in strength.
A Slab of Salami
I felt the minister's eyes, as well as the eyes of the entire congregation, watching me. I had to get these terrible pictures out of my head. In my desperation, I took a frantic plunge into the abstract, and mentally transformed Jesus and his hypothetical sexuality into a salami log, sitting on a wooden cutting board. I sliced my Jesus salami up into chunks and shoved the pieces into a wicker basket (why wicker, I have no idea) with the edge of my imaginary knife -- and it worked -- the filthy, sacrilegious thoughts fled my mind.
Of course, I now had to deal with another problem, which was the ocean of guilt I bore for turning the Messiah into a salami log. Jesus was a stand up guy, after all, who didn't deserve to be transformed into a slab of lunch meat inside of a boy's undisciplined mind. No matter what I did, or what I thought about, I figured I was destined for an eternity in hell.
And so my time at Sunday school came to an end. My experiences in the pews, and in the classroom, taught me that adults often profess knowledge about subjects they know very little about, and that my mind was prone to an enormous amount of speculative wandering. Yet the most important lesson I learned, at the end of the day, was that no one, real or imaginary, could ever judge me more than I judged myself.