Oklahoma: The Buckle of the Bible Belt
When I was a teenager of innocent frivolity, I attended church on a semi-regular basis – not because I wanted to, I thought I had to, to fit in with my much-loved friends, in fear that I might be ostracized. No, I did not have to attend church, but I did; I am glad I did: for I now know what churchgoers believe, how they think and where their priorities lie.
I hail from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a subdued, retirement community, nestled in a valley on Cherokee land, that has more churches than banks – and banks here are legion – with nothing ever to do. This place is a black hole. Phillips 66 Company and ConocoPhillips are here – explaining the multitude of banks. Bartlesville is quite flush with money.
Oklahoma is ultra-religious and ultra-conservative. The governor, Mary Fallin, is an extreme right-wing conservative, who cares more about god than the state’s education, which ranks abysmally at 43rd in the nation. I am sure Fallin is an excellent churchgoer, but as a governor, she is a stumblebum. If you have never been to Oklahoma, the buckle of the Bible Belt, you now have a good sense of where it is I live -- a cave -- should you ever visit.
A multimillion-dollar Methodist church, now the biggest church in town, has recently been built to accommodate the faithful, while the foundation of a multimillion-dollar Non-Denominational church is about to be poured. Reportedly, its doors will open this time next year. Regardless of Bartlesville’s affluence, homeless people, who are in dire need of food, shelter and money, reside here. Yet, these self-righteous, sanctimonious cretins erect palatial churches, in which to worship their capricious, imaginary friend.
Is this revealing? Yes! Is this surprising? No!
At a local Wesleyan church one cold, foggy, Sunday morning, the pastor - a loud, rotund man, who perspires regularly - hypocritically told me, along with every male in the congregation, that masturbation is sinful and amoral - that I should not masturbate, lest I be damned to an eternity in hell. What the preacher did not know: it was too late: my fate had already been sealed.
Oh how cheeky and presumptuous! The preacher handed me and several other teenage males a copy of Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory At a Time, written by Stephen Arterburn, whose antediluvian thoughts and atavistic impulses set him apart – in a negative way – from the rest of humankind. The book, if you are curious, is basically about masturbation and its supposed harmfulness.
Some of the teenage males, who were also handed Arterburn’s book, were dying to know my thoughts on it. They invited me to attend their book club to discuss it. That next Sunday we met, and I pointed out to each of them the book’s myriad flaws, and made known the book’s demeaning overtone; I read the book in its entirety beforehand, though I was told only to read through Chapter 3. However vacuous a book may be, I have neither the patience nor time nor fortitude to foot-slog through one. Inevitably, those under-sexed hypocrites slammed me for decimating their precious book – i.e. their pornography. Gag!
I left that church, never to return. I do not know where my brain was, I was not thinking, but I decided to make the Southern Baptist church in town my new home; and it was my home until I had enough of its vapidity. I only lasted a year. In time, I stopped going to church altogether. My ears were overwrought by the incessant Christian platitudes: “You were born a sinner.” “You are a sinner.” “You must seek forgiveness for being a sinner.” “You are nothing without God, but you are everything with God.” Nothing new, nothing stimulating, came of my church experience – just an ongoing drone that served no other purpose than to deafen my ears. I came to the realization that having a mind opened by wonder is much more beautiful and exciting than a mind closed by belief.
My Brother, Without Whom I am Forlorn, Died
Not a year after I left the Southern Baptist church, my only brother died in a single-vehicle accident (unrelated to alcohol). People from the Wesleyan church and the Southern Baptist church brought my parents and me food, sympathy cards and hugs the day after my brother’s death. Two weeks later, it started - some of the same people, who wore the face of kindness and affability the day they brought food, sympathy cards and hugs to my parents and me, began to say (to my face), “Your brother died because he was a sinner.” “God needed your brother more than you did.” “Do you think your brother went to heaven?” “Your brother could have gone to hell; he wasn’t an avid churchgoer.”
What was said to me was hurtful, cold, loathsome, boorish and insensitive. How could these people say such things to me – I was in a dark place – without thinking twice?
To this day I have had to continue reminding myself that snapping on these people (I seriously wanted to) would have been out of character and inappropriate. I would have stooped to their level of insolence, and rued it afterwards. It has been four years, and I have kept my distance from the church.
If churchgoers could hear the rubbish that comes out of their collective mouth…
I Can Hear
My church experience was not a good one. When churchgoers say, “No two churches are the same,” I laugh sneeringly. Churches are the same, attended by people who are willing to believe in a higher power that cannot be proven true. Oh how they have duped themselves! These people are loud about their beliefs, but are irked when their beliefs are questioned. Indeed, churchgoers have the freedom to believe what they want, as I have the freedom to mock and criticize their beliefs. Based on experience alone, church is for the deaf. Thankfully, I can hear.