Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Michael Abrahams | Frontsliding into the 21st century

Published:Sunday | July 7, 2019 | 7:01 PM

One day last week, I ventured into the treatment room at the medical centre where I work to obtain some medication to administer to a patient of mine. While there, I encountered a charming and intelligent little girl sitting in a chair, being treated for her asthma. Somehow, we struck up a very interesting conversation.

For those of you who may not know, children have no filter. Zero. Whatever thoughts arise in their little brains get fast-tracked to their tongues and expelled from their mouths into your face. Anyway, during our dialogue, out of nowhere, she asked me, “Are you a Christian?” I responded, “I used to be, but I am not one now.” She then looked me in the eye and said, “So yu backslide!”

I was taken aback by the judgemental tone of my interrogator, but maintained my composure and replied, “No, I did not ‘backslide’. I am simply no longer a Christian.”

The child was likely echoing the sentiments of those in her household regarding people who leave the Christian faith, and her remark got me thinking about the use of fear and guilt by the religious to manipulate members of the flock.

I live in a country where I am surrounded by people who profess to be Christians. For many years, I, too, was immersed in that faith, having been indoctrinated at an early age. Looking back, I must confess that fear and guilt are tools often used to control believers. Words such as ‘backslider’ and ‘sinner’, which are used to describe people who leave the faith, have a derogatory tone. They suggest that such persons have regressed and are on the highway to Hell, where they will be toast.

The thought of this scares the crap out of persons who, even if they have doubts about their faith, would be unwilling to step away, fearing the wrath of their fellow congregants, clergy and, of course, God, who can squash your ass as if you are a little pimple. Just like that.

Backslide, huh? Backsliding implies regression, going back to a level lower that the one you previously attained. When I seriously think about my spiritual journey, I realise that I did not backslide. Instead, what I did was ‘frontslide’. I slid away from an archaic and unrealistic mindset into a state where I embrace critical thinking, evidence, logic and reason.

I no longer subscribe to magical thinking, believing that praying to God is going to change outcomes and make miracles happen, like the West Indies cricket team winning matches.

I no longer believe fairy-tale stories about talking snakes, talking donkeys and a badass dude using the jawbone of a donkey (probably a talking one) to kill a thousand men. Those stories are absurd, but there was a time when I absolutely believed them. Thankfully, I frontslid away from all that.

When I was in the faith, questioning the Bible was discouraged. I was told that the Bible is “the inerrant Word of God”. Today, I realise there is no evidence that this is so. I can now question biblical stories without fear. In the past, when questions were asked challenging the veracity of some Bible passages, I would often be told that the ‘enemy’ was confusing me, and that I should ‘just have faith’.

The ‘enemy’ is Satan, the guy who supposedly governs Hell and is evil. Back in the day, just the thought of Satan and going to hang out with him in Hell freaked me out, so I just believed everything I read, even if it made no sense. Thankfully, I frontslid away from the fear of questioning tall tales.

Two days after my thought-provoking conversation with the little girl, I again entered the treatment room, and another patient, this time an elderly lady, engaged me in conversation. Interestingly, she was sitting in the very same chair the little girl who interviewed me sat in 48 hours earlier. The lady asked me if I heard about the recent earthquake in California. I told her I had.

She sternly informed me that there is more to come, and that God has more in store for us. When she said that, two thoughts came to me. My first thought was, “Here we go again.” My next thought: “What the hell is going on with people who sit in this chair?”

The woman looked absolutely terrified and proceeded to warn me of impending bitchslaps from the Almighty. As she spoke, she trembled, her tremor registering about 7.1 on the Richter scale, similar to the intensity of the California quake.

I gave her the breaking news that these phenomena have always taken place and will continue to do so, and that in the past there have been far worse. I reminded her of the volcanic eruption that decimated Pompeii and the notorious Krakatoa explosion. But the woman was having none of it and insisted that the earthquake was God’s work and that He has much more in store for us sinners.

As she spoke, I said to myself, “Thank goodness I ‘frontslid’ away from this weird Twilight Zone stuff.

Today, in the 21st century, we know more about religions and their origins than ever before, and it is apparent that many beliefs are grounded inmythology, not fact. However, religion is by no means all bad. It has enhanced the lives of many and contributed to their well-being.

More important, religion has given us holidays, which we all need every now and then. On the other hand, religion has been used as a tool to control, manipulate, marginalise and oppress.

If religion works for you, great. I am happy for you. But it is not for everyone. As for me, I am way happier having frontslid into reality.