Reading Time: 5 minutes

After spending an exhilarating few days in New York City last summer, returning to central Texas felt like an experience of culture shock all over again, reminiscent of when I moved here ten years ago. While in New York, I was surrounded by incredible and vast diversity. I found myself wondering about the religiosity of the people I saw. I made it a point to look for the signs of religion and/or Christianity that engulf me at home. Despite the multitude of people with whom I crossed paths, I saw only one cross tattoo, and a couple of cross earrings. Oh, and one mission-type-looking building with a lighted “Jesus Saves” sign out front.

Upon my return, the minute I stepped into the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, I saw a woman with a large, pink, bejeweled purse with a giant cross in the middle of it. Yep, welcome back to the Bible Belt! In my neck of the woods, you can’t swing a cat without it getting tangled in someone’s cross necklace.

Someone spends $$$$ on these things.

Up and down the I-35 corridor (DFW, Waco, Austin, San Antonio), there are a number of billboards with messages about God, Jesus, and/or the state of your eternal soul. One of them encouraged me to call a phone number to determine whether I am destined for heaven or hell. I wondered how the person answering such a call could know that kind of information, and what would be the basis for it?

I couldn’t help but wonder about the person receiving the call. Would he be reading a script? Would he have a Bible in front of him with sticky notes all throughout? Would he be wearing a headset while halfheartedly working a Sudoku puzzle and sipping on a Big Gulp? Would he be a pastor? You know, the type with special insights and connections to The Almighty? A paid employee or volunteer? Does he get a lot of calls? And if so, are they from jokesters, or people in real despair and seeking some kind of comfort or guidance?

My curiosity got the best of me, and so I decided to call. Yes, I did. The conversation was long; I will save you the boring details, but will share a snippet. It’s paraphrased, of course; I did not record the conversation, and my memory… well, you know. So here it is:

Me: So, how do you know whether you are going to heaven or hell?

Billboard Dude: The Bible says blahblahblahblah and those who have committed sins against God will go to Hell.

Me: What kind of sins?

BD: Adultery, fornication, blasphemy…

NOW we’re talkin’…

Me: Woah, hold up. Fornication? What exactly does that mean?

BD: Sex between unmarried individuals. The Bible says sex is only approved within marriage, which is only between one man and one woman.

Me: (Ignoring the fact of the recent marriage equality law passed in our country that legalizes all marriages between any two consenting adults regardless of gender) So, sex with a committed partner, in a monogamous relationship, without a marriage license, is worthy of eternal torture and damnation?

BD: The Bible says blahblahblahblah… so, yes.

Me: Well, then I guess I’m going to hell. I dated my husband for almost seven years before we got married. I was 30 years old when we did marry. And we had sex before marriage. So you’re saying that it is against some biblical moral code to engage in sex in a committed, monogamous relationship between consenting adults?

BD: The Bible says blahblahblahblah… so, yes.

Me: Well, that doesn’t seem reasonable at all. Does it? What if a person never gets married? You know, by choice, or circumstances, or whatever. Is that person allowed to have sex? Ever?

BD: The Bible says blahblahblahblah… so, no.

Me: That strikes me as ridiculous, not to mention cruel of your Creator. Why create people with sexual drives, desires, urges, and biological need and predisposition for sexual activity, if only to punish them for acting on them?

BD: The Bible says blahblahblahblah… so, those people should read it.

Me: Well, I committed this so-called sin of adultery and I can’t undo it, so I’m supposedly bound for hell, according to what you are telling me. If there is such a place, I don’t particularly want to go there. What are my options?

BD: You can repent.

Me: What does that mean?

Just say you’re sorry. Go ahead, say it. SAY IT.

BD: The Bible says blahblahblahblah… accept the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal savior and you will be forgiven.

Me: So, just, apologize to Jesus? But I don’t really think I did anything wrong. I chose to have sex. We both did. We were in love. Two consenting adults. I’m supposed to apologize for this to avoid hell?

BD: The Bible says blahblahblahblah… so, yes.

Me: Well, here’s the problem. I have a hard time believing any of this to be Truth. It all just seems to me like a conjured up system to keep people feeling guilty for any expression of their sexuality. So I’m kind of in a bind. You see? What happens to non-believers? What if a person doesn’t believe, but wants to? Should I pretend? Does it work if I apologize to Jesus but don’t really accept him as my personal savior?

BD: No. You can’t pretend.

Me: Well, then what should I do? I can’t make myself believe something I don’t. I’m not sure this is possible.

BD: What I recommend is reading the Bible every day, all the while asking Jesus to come into your heart. Eventually, that should work.

Me: Well, here’s the thing. I have read it… as much as I could stomach, anyway. That book was so disturbing to me that I could not continue. It is so full of murder, rape, slavery, oppression, misogyny, genocide, bullying, and just plain silliness that I found your God to be, well, contemptible, disturbing, and downright mean. How do people find that God to be worthy of worship? He sounds awful to me.

BD: Perhaps you should start with the New Testament.

Me: Right… OK, thanks.

We wish each other well and hang up.

How does this twisted logic even make sense? Sin, salvation, repentance, denial of one’s sexuality? It doesn’t make sense to me. Never has. And furthermore, isn’t sexuality a basic, innate part of the human experience? In my work with clients, I have observed how Biblical rules, structures, and guidelines around sexuality often lead to feelings of shame, guilt, doubt, and confusion.

Religious belief remains a mystery to me. I will continue to study, wonder, observe, and ask questions in my quest to understand why people believe what they do, and why religion continues to be so pervasive, especially in my (current) neck of the woods.

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