I never managed to figure out what organized religion was actually about. It wasn’t for want of trying. I wanted to know. From almost as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a deep sense of there being something which was – how can I say? – beyond all this. And in order to explore this feeling, religion seemed the obvious thing to turn to. But the sight of men – usually men, though thankfully not so much now – dressed in gowns and odd head-pieces, addressing, in a purpose-built venue, a gathering of people, many of whom had dressed for the occasion, in incantatory tones and talking of a divine being separate from them, who had created the universe didn’t penetrate beyond my inner ear. Nor, as I grew a little older, could I align the words and deeds of their own prophet with what went on in those places. He had always seemed to me to be a true man of the people – and a maverick. He didn’t just quietly and politely tell the moneylenders they really ought not to be doing what they did – he marched in and overturned their tables! He consorted with the poor, the dispossessed and the disabled. That seemed a far cry from my experience of church with all its polite formality.
In my pre-teens, although I was shepherded at irregular but relatively frequent intervals to churches and chapels by my mother and step-father, I came away empty handed; in what I saw and heard, I found nothing of that mystery that I sensed within my own self. They sent me to Sunday School when I was about ten. I found it stultifying. I stuck the first session out to the end, but absconded a quarter of the way through the second and went off to the park – never to return. I felt horribly guilty. Whenever I saw the man who ran the Sunday School go past our house on his bike, I hid.
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