Dana Carvey’s old Church Lady skits on SNL were a great send-up of the stereotypical, holier-than-thou old maid who thought that anyone having fun was headed straight to H.E. Double hockey sticks. The character was funny because she was so absurd. But living here in Bible Belt makes me fear that she’s becoming more and more the norm and not just a character on late night tv.
It has come to my attention lately that there are lots of people out there who are sure that I’m going to hell. Even though I’m an active member of my church, volunteer there on a regular basis and generally try to be a compassionate person. (Except during rush hour and then all bets are off.)
But in the minds of many people, my liberal ass is doomed to eternal damnation. For the church I attend. The candidates I vote for. The causes I support.
Many years ago we lived in Arkansas and I had to go to the funeral for the father of a co-worker. It the first open casket I’d ever seen (not a practice in the Presbyterian denomination of my youth or in the Episcopalian one I profess today). And to add to the strangeness, the preacher was literally warning of the fire and brimstone the poor dead man was already experiencing unless he had “accepted the Lord Jesus as his personal savior” in the last days of his life. You could tell that the preacher was fairly certain that the devil had notched another victory in belt with this soul.
You have to understand that no church I’d ever been to had talked about hell. It wasn’t a threat. It wasn’t something held over the heads of bad little boys and girls. God wasn’t someone who punished–he forgave. So when that preacher started ranting and raving about the firey pits, I almost laughed.
An hour later, my friends and I were completely drained. Went straight from the funeral parlor to the first open bar we could find. Leaving behind a family that was frightened instead of comforted. With images of horns and pitchforks instead of still waters and peacefulness.
One other story.
One time in East Tennessee I was buying groceries at one of the local chains. When the girl (really long hair, no make-up, Little House on the Prairie dress) got to the 12-pack I was buying she looked at me and said “God don’t want you to drink beer.” “Maybe your God don’t,” I replied. “But my church dinner goup is coming over tonight and they’ll be pissed if I don’t have enough cold beer for them.”
In her mind, I was already a goner.