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Wow, it has been a while since I posted on this blog! I have been working hard on my next book, Estill County, which hopefully will be done some time this year. But I have also been deep in thought about my Christian beliefs. This has been a time of deep introspection as I have struggled with what is going on in the world today. Today, I would like to pretty much “bare my soul” and explain my thoughts over the past few months.
I was raised as a Catholic and attended a Catholic grade school. During my younger years and in my twenties, my Christian beliefs were pretty much black and white – follow all the commandments, all abortion is wrong, etc. etc. No gray area whatsoever. Since that time, I married and divorced (due to an affair on his side) someone who was Baptist, and we were married in a Presbyterian church. During my marriage, we attended Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and even non-denominational churches. I’m glad I had these experiences as I learned how people praise God in different ways. I still loved my Catholic faith, but I found myself becoming more open-minded about other faiths.
During those years, most of my encounters regarding religious differences were fairly positive, but I did run into a few problems. First of all, when I asked a priest to be a part of our wedding ceremony, I was met with a stern “no” because we were not getting married in a Catholic church. He went on to lecture me about my “weak” Catholic faith. Another example involves a guy that I dated long ago. His Catholic mother said that her son was not going to heaven because he was engaged to a Baptist girl.
On the other hand, I have met many people who have actually said that Catholics are going to hell. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard that Catholics worship Mary. I went to a Catholic school, and I was never taught to worship Mary – only to ask her to pray for me. I also am very hurt and irritated when others claim that Catholic teachings are not biblically based.
Right after college, I joined a Right to Life movement. At that point in my life, I would have gladly taken part in a protest outside of an abortion clinic. I remember getting all kinds of newsletters from them explaining how they were fighting against abortion. I specifically remember how this group would get involved in “protecting the life of the baby” when a mother’s life was in danger or if the fetus had a known defect. I didn’t think too much about that at the time.
I went to work in a genetics lab (my degree is in Microbiology). After several years of work, my views on abortion started to gray a bit. I performed prenatal testing, and I saw many really sad cases during those years. One genetic defect was particularly disturbing – a disorder called anencephaly. A fetus with this disorder has malformed brain development. Sometimes the entire skull is opened with very little to no brain development. At one point, my boss asked me if I would like to watch a fetal autopsy on a fetus with this disorder (the woman had miscarried). I said “yes” because I wanted to see what I was testing for in the lab. I was shocked when I saw the fetus. The brain was completely opened up. The baby almost looked like an alien – there was no forehead. The top of the head was just above the eyebrows. Anyone without a strong stomach couldn’t have handled that sight, but I could for some reason. Don’t get me wrong – it affected me in a way that words can’t describe, and I felt so horrible for the parents. But I am a scientist, and I believe that God gave me the ability to do this work to help others – just like some people can handle the sight of blood while others can’t. After witnessing several of these autopsies on fetuses that women had miscarried, it suddenly dawned on me the emotional toll that this sort of thing would take on the family. This was a child that was wanted desperately, but something went terribly wrong – something that was completely out of their control.
As I continued my work in genetics, I learned about several other genetic abnormalities – specifically trisomy 13 and trisomy 18. I learned that most of the time, after these children are born and if they survived, they would probably never leave the hospital and would most likely die within the first year of life. Their lives would most likely be spent in agony while they were hooked up to multiple machines. I hated when I analyzed a case and found it was trisomy 13 or 18. HATED it!! I knew what the parents were about to face. I knew it was going to be awful for them, and I wondered if their marriage would be able to survive such an ordeal. One day, when I analyzed one of these cases, I left at lunch, went to McDonalds, ordered carryout, sat in my car, and cried and prayed. Here is basically what I said to God:
God, I don’t know why this happens. I’m just a human, and you are the all-knowing God. I don’t understand it, but I know there is a reason. God, these parents are about to go through hell. You have said, “Do not judge lest ye be judged.” Therefore, I will not judge these parents if they decide to terminate. This decision is between you, them, and their doctor. I can’t judge something like this. I certainly don’t want to be judged with the same stringency as the Right to Life group uses in situations like this. So, all I will do is pray for them. I pray that they will somehow come out of this stronger, and I ask you to comfort them in this horrible time.
Not long after this, I quit the Right to Life group. I am against abortion overall – as a form of birth control, partial birth abortion, or in cases where there is an abnormality but the child can survive and live a productive life (Down syndrome, spina bifida, etc). However, I know from my experience in the lab that there are horrible cases where there is pretty much no chance of survival or limited survival where the child suffers terribly. For me, I choose to stay out of those situations. This also goes for cases where the mother’s life is in danger. Instead, I just pray for them – for comfort, for healing, and for the love of God to surround them.
This is just one example of when gray areas began to interject into my beliefs. But things really got tough – a deep introspection – since Trump took office.
I have always been Republican. I have voted Republican in every presidential race until this last one. I have voted Republican probably 98% of the time in all other elections. The abortion issue was a major reason. But what I have seen over the last few months has really bothered me, and after much thought, I have now become an Independent.
As you all know, there has been a lot of mean and vicious banter regarding this past presidential election from both Republicans and Democrats. However, a large portion of the Republican base are the evangelical Christians. Although I do agree with a lot of the Republican views on major issues, I became disheartened by the enormous number of mean memes and Facebook posts from some Republicans who have portrayed themselves to be good Christians. The posts were not at all Christian, and I honestly viewed them as highly hypocritical. This really bothered me. I also noticed that churches were promoting Trump based solely on his anti-abortion stance even though disturbing news came out about his behavior, especially the remarks about women while on the bus. I expected these evangelical Christians to stand up and denounce his behavior, and some did. But a lot didn’t as apparently they focused solely on the anti-abortion issue. This disturbed me even more, and hypocrisy was becoming increasingly clear to me. I hated this and struggled with it since that time. I believed in a lot of the Republican views but I didn’t want to seem like a hypocrite. I did not like Trump either and didn’t approve of his behavior.
During all of this, I prayed…a lot…and asked God for direction. I felt an uneasiness in my soul. I was confused.
Each time I prayed, I kept going back to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Several times, I opened the Bible to this exact passage. At first, this made me think about the abortion issue. If we stand outside of an abortion clinic and tell someone who they are going to hell if they abort the baby, how do we know the details of that pregnancy? We don’t know if that baby has anencephaly. Maybe those parents are having to make an incredibly difficult decision and really wanted the baby. We are judging a person without knowing the details. Do we want for God to judge us with the same stringency? I sure wouldn’t. I think God is telling us to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. We need to love those people, not judge them. They need comfort, not judgement. It is not up to us to judge others, and Jesus himself told us that. If we judge someone else, we are playing God. This thinking can also be applied to everyone who says that someone is going to hell if they don’t belong to a certain religion as my example above shows.
On Easter Sunday, I went to mass with my mom. We arrived quite early (because we knew the church would be packed). As we waited, I continued to pray and think about the behavior I had seen this year when I looked up at the front of the church, and once again, I saw “Love One Another as I Have Loved You” on the stained glass window. I thought about how all life is sacred. I thought about how disturbed I was that funding to the NIH was going to be cut which would affect all those who were sick – cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes – the list goes on and on. If funding is cut, those people would suffer. How is it that those that are pro-life only consider the life of a fetus but seem to forget about all the other people in the world that would be hurt by cutting funding to the NIH? and the EPA? Millions of people would be hurt, but that isn’t a consideration for those who are strongly pro-life? Why? Why can’t they see this? Again, I looked at the stained glass window.
Love One Another as I Have Loved You.
I believe God expects us to love everyone, not just the unborn. All life is sacred. All life.
A few days later, I went to a physical therapy session. Several of us watched the television as we saw that the “mother of all bombs” was dropped in Syria. While we were talking, a woman turned to me and said “All life is sacred.” She was right, and it confirmed for me that we have to look at how things affect everyone. Focusing purely on the unborn may ultimately harm those who are already here. Don’t get me wrong – the abortion issue is important…extremely important…but by focusing on that and only that, is not a good thing to do. We have to remember that all life is sacred.
Hypocrisy – I have seen so much of it in the last several months and am getting so sick of it. So-called “good Christians” that don’t practice what they preach. I am stunned that after all the things Trump has done, he still has die-hard followers. I have even seen recently how some people still consider him a good Christian even after all the lies (numerous), bad behavior (bus, making fun of disabled reporter), not keeping his word (numerous), pointing his finger at other while doing exactly the same thing (golfing!!), etc. Why, after all that, do people still call him a good Christian? Can’t they see the hypocrisy? Again, maybe they are focusing just on the anti-abortion issue only. I don’t know. I don’t get it. It bothers me so much to see all the hypocrisy yet people still say he’s a good Christian. Jesus speaks of hypocrisy all throughout the gospels. Are these people just turning a blind eye to that?
“The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others…They have the place of honor at banquets…” Matthew 23:4-6
I urge you to read all of Matthew 23 as he directly deals with hypocrisy…“Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites…”
Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. I thought some more about these issues. And it suddenly came to me…in the dead silence in the middle of the night. Something quite disturbing. I have talked to many people over my lifetime who have left the church because they have witnessed hypocritical behavior. Some of these people have gone on to become atheists. Hypocritical behavior in Christians is extremely damaging to the church. We have to remember that Satan is very devious and sly. Could he be using the hypocritical behavior of these so-called Christians to his advantage? I believe so. Then I remembered what Jesus said:
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes.” Matthew 18:6
Is hypocrisy a stumbling block? Is this hypocritical behavior by some so-called good Christians a stumbling block to those who are wanting to know Jesus? That’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it? This morning, in preparation to write this blog, I read a devotional in my Bible. The following excerpt came from St. Catherine of Sienna, a mystic who conversed with God. Again, she talks about her conversation with God regarding loving your neighbor as yourself. This is what God said to her as recorded in her book, The Dialogue:
“It is your duty to love your neighbor as yourself…In love you ought to help them spiritually with prayer and counsel…If you do not love me, you do not love your neighbors, nor will you help those you do not love. But it is yourself you harm the most, because you deprive yourself of grace. And you harm your neighbors by depriving them of the prayer and loving desires you should be offering to me on their behalf. Every help you give them ought to come from the affection you bear them for love of me…This lack of charity for me and for your neighbors is the source of all evils, for if you are not doing good you are necessarily doing evil…You harm your neighbors by not giving them the pleasure of the love and charity you owe them, the love with which you ought to be helping them by offering me your prayer and holy desire on their behalf.”
In conclusion, I have seen a lack of compassion and a need to judge others from the evangelical Christians during this presidential election and during his first days in office. In addition, I have seen incredible hypocrisy. I would like to suggest that we move away from judgement and condemnation and move more toward a spirit of compassion and empathy for our neighbor. Pray for those around you without judging. After all, we are not the judge. We do not know the details of their situation.
Love One Another as I Have Loved You.