I grew up in a household that believed in God, more or less. I’m talking about the Christian one, the one with the Old Testament and the New Testament and Jesus as the Messiah and the Ten Commandments. All that stuff. We didn’t believe in Odin or Zeus or Hercules as the savior of man or that Balder died for our sins; we pretty much took the Bible on faith.
We didn’t go to church – I think that was my mother’s choice. My mother told me, much later in life, that she believed in God but did not enjoy going to church because of all the fighting. There was a controversy in her church about speaking in tongues, she said, and she just stopped going. She didn’t mind that everyone interpreted the Bible differently, she just didn’t like that people didn’t accept that everyone could. I guess she wanted God to be the judge of man, not man to be the judge of man. She was a good Christian, I would say.
When I went to church regularly, in my teens, I ran afoul of the same controversy. A friend of mine had gone to his uncle’s church – I think it was an uncle’s church – and found out that the only way into heaven was to speak in tongues. The only way. If you don’t speak in tongues at some point the Holy Spirit never moved through you and you have no access through the pearly gates. Harsh. My church believed it was optional; we were Pentecostal and tongues were fairly common. As I recall, though, only a select few ever spoke, and only a select few ever interpreted. No problem, according to my church. You’re baptized. No problem. God would let you in.
I did some research around that time. This was a hundred years ago, give or take seven decades, so there wasn’t any internet. I researched it the old-fashioned way. I read books, I asked people, and I looked stuff up in Bibles and magazines and encyclopedias. I found a third belief about the same topic. There were chapters of Christian believers who held that if you speak in tongues it was the devil moving through you and you were going to Hell. Going. To. Hell.
To summarize, there were three different types of Christians: the ones that believed you only get into Heaven if you speak in tongues, the ones that believed it had no bearing whatsoever on your afterlife, and the ones that believed if you speak in tongues you were eternally damned. That’s a pretty wide gulf.
I get asked a lot why I’m an atheist. I used to believe in God, when I was young, for the same reason I believed in Santa Claus – it’s what I was told. I won’t say that the controversy about tongues drove me away from faith in a Christian God, any more than it specifically drove my mother from church, but it made me question the validity of it. It made me dig deeper and look beyond what I was told. If my life has a theme, it is that. Dig deeper. Look beyond what you’re told.
I hope everyone has a spectacular day, whatever you believe. Hug tightly to all the family you see. Love one another as much as you love your faith. In fact, love each other more. Speak to them in whatever tongue you favor, and don’t judge them for their sins or even for their beliefs. Nobody knows the truth about why we’re here, especially not the people that swear they do. But while we are here we have each other and we have days like today to be together.
I would give anything I have to hug my mother today. Not judge her, just hug her. And I would give anything if you could, too.
Happy Easter. Everyone.