“Did you know that if you don’t go to church you’ll go to hell?”
“You don’t go to church? Are you an atheist?”
Contrary to today, I was an avid church-goer back in the days. There was this local church near our elementary school where our parents would encourage us to go to and attend Sunday classes as they call it. There would be a private jeep or a tricycle which would come get us from our homes to the church then back again afterwards. Going there felt like going to a regular school day class but with more singing, and instead of learning about Math or Sciences, the teachers would teach us about the words of the Bible. I was a shy kid so I wasn’t that active when it comes to group works and other interactive games they would do, so I often take the role of an audience. I didn’t like it when the teachers would force me to talk to a person I barely know or know when we have nothing to talk about. I didn’t like it when all of us needed to perform at the stage because it was our turn to do the opening or closing remarks. It made me nearly not want to go but the one thing that has gotten me the most to continue going back there was their story-telling. I love listening to the stories from the Bible, but that was just it.
Even with my history to our church, I somehow drifted away from it when I started going to high school which was located in the city. It was just about a 35 to 40-minute drive from our house but it felt like it was longer. Maybe because I was young and commuting back then but it always left me tired at the end of the day. I used that excuse to get away from the gatherings; telling my mom lies that I need to finish a homework or a project on weekends so I couldn’t attend any of them. Even going to the extent of hiding when I hear them parking outside our house. Soon afterwards, they would pass by our house to pick up other kids from our neighborhood. I guess they just got fed up with us not going there while them constantly picking us up religiously every Sunday morning. I wouldn’t blame them if they do so. Anyway, that started a rising dilemma in my teenage years.
I entered the school like a kid who went to the seminary. Like a saint ,as my former classmates labeled me as, I didn’t speak bad words like some of the other students did; did not smoke nor drink alcohol; I tried my best to always do whatever the teacher said; never broke any rules of the school; in short, I was the good girl . I was afraid that if I do wrong then I’ll be treated with contempt and would face divine retaliation so my movements were all restricted within the bounds of what was taught to me as a kid. This is right and that is wrong… there is no in between.
However, I was that annoying kid who tells the teacher every wrong move my other classmates did because I wanted others to move equally as me. I was trying my best to follow all the rules therefore all the other students must do so because they are there for a reason; I treated it like a golden word and everything must bow down to it.
Then, I was elected as the class secretary and was appointed to jot down every student who got late in class while the teacher was still not inside. Also, I got the job of jotting down students who’re noisy or unruly inside the classroom whenever the teacher was away. Those jobs gave me a door to socialization. Some of the students decided to befriend me so that they won’t get told off when they do something wrong and , naturally, I got haters. With that attention, I got conscious of my self and of my background. Every little detail of mistake that I did received an amount of scorn from those who were written on my ‘late’ or ‘noisy’ list. I was from a family earning average income but I was labeled as poor because even though we can afford to purchase new uniforms, I opted to just use the hand-me-downs from my sister who graduated from the same school because I thought that I didn’t really need to. I got picked on because of my crooked teeth so I learned to just smile without them or talk minimally, if not at all. Being the butt of the joke is never a good thing and I was on the verge of drowning within the pool of shame and insult. They talk whatever it was they wanted and I just stood silent. Don’t stoop down low on their levels, I reminded myself. Love your enemies, as the Bible has said. But it was hard. Thinking over and over, what could I do to help me float up?
It’s okay to be poor and have crooked teeth because I am hard-working.
It does have a good ring on it.
So, I worked my ass off at school to have a good record which I had used for my college of choice afterwards. I got so busy I couldn’t care less to the bullies, and my clean-cut record of being a model student ended because I wanted to stand up for myself and prove everybody that I deserved to be there. I became very competitive with the other students, may it be academic or extracurricular activities, and joined every activity I could find which I thought would boost my spot in the rankings. I liked the thought and the feeling of achieving something that I worked hard for. In a school with hundreds of students in it, and me being in the top ten in our grade felt very satisfying. I yearned for it. The bullying stopped but I gradually distanced myself from our religion; I thought to myself that even though I didn’t prayed nor go to church like I used to, I still got this kind of result because I’ve worked hard and that was all that matters.
But then I was very disappointed when I reached third year of high school and late bloomers in our class has started to fill up several spots on my treasured ranks. If I remember correctly, there were two of them who pushed me down from the ranks but I was still in the top ten, however that didn’t gave me any relief. I was just so bitter about it. After everything that I have gone through to rise up the ladder, I’ve gotten pushed down and I wasn’t having it. I have to do better so that I can have what I have planned form the beginning or else. That kind of thinking ruined my disposition at several points in my life. My greed for these material things got me ruined and I seemed to forgot everything.
I got so stressed out because I couldn’t go back to what it used to be. What a failure, what a failure. Those words resounded in my head so loudly every time they announce top scorers in our exams; when I see the ranking printed in our bulletin board; when I hear the people with higher ranks telling others they didn’t even review well and just prayed to God for guidance throughout the test. I felt like everything they say was to mock me and I received them openly. I couldn’t believe it. A case of do your best and God will do the rest scenario? But the guy said he didn’t even review that well! Was he bluffing? If that was all it could take for me to rise up the ranks, I would’ve reached the top sooner if I attended church regularly. Sure I do give out a little thanks when I felt like I didn’t deserve a reward but I do not pray regularly, and when I do I noticed that all I do was to ask for this and that. It was all take, take, and take. I contemplated going back to our church after that for the sake of my beloved record but I was shy so I wasn’t going to initiate it. Good thing was my uncle asked us to attend one Sunday service that he was going to lead and I grabbed that opportunity to try and be someone that’s close to who I used to be. Maybe, if I do that then I’ll receive blessings I do not even wish for.
This greed taught me a lesson, that not all of the people attending these sacred gatherings were good people.
People inside were mature bullies, asking how I’ve been and low-key implying some insult like it was a good thing I decided to come back going there and not end up like my sister (who never went back there when she reached high school) or to go attend other churches who were new to town. Even my choice of clothing didn’t go unnoticed to them. The sermon of the pastor was great, it was inspirational, but the people inside were not. As usual, before going home they prepared a little feast for us to partake in and have little chats with each other. I knew the people there but I chose not to engage in small talks with them so while eating, I opted to listen to whatever I could just listen to. People in there were terrible gossips; they gossip the bad kinds. Others brag to each other about the places they’ve been to and famous people they’ve met in their tours. Some size up others, looking for their accessories and how they dressed up, you can tell by the way their eyes go up and down several times and sometimes lingering on the Chanel bag someone was carrying. I didn’t feel good staying there so I left.
I did not want to generalize but attending that service made me thought I’ve added another sin on my list. Greed, jealousy, anger, pride, hatred; suddenly I looked at people and all I saw were lies. Most of them keep their masks on in order to adapt to their chosen environment, like a chameleon hiding its own skin in plain sight, and most of us live that way. I remembered asking another pastor’s wife about why Catholics have these statues and she just told me that it’s why their religion was fake because instead of worshiping God directly, they opted to praise the statues they keep on their churches. They have too may saints they worship, as she said, and most of them forget who they should be really praising. Did that mean our religion was the best and the only true religion in this whole, wide world? I was doubtful but I accepted her reasoning since I was just an elementary school kid. As I grew up, I learned that people in this field shouldn’t say anything like that because people immediately see members of a church as role models. They are followers of God; they should pattern their every movement as someone who is worthy to be beside Him. I don’t think that kind of thinking and brain-washing is suitable as one.
In college, I attended a Catholic university located very far from home. Not because I converted, but my choice of education was considered the best over there. Using it as a way of breaking things off of my involvement in the church I used to go to, I proceeded to never looked back and moved on. I did not became an atheist whatsoever but I admit that I had trouble finding and figuring out what state my religious belief has become. I was baptized there but could I still use my religion as my religion even if I don’t go to their gatherings anymore? Did I still have the right or was that too callous for me to do so? Nevertheless, since no one knows me that well in that school I still put my only known religion whenever official documents needed it. Even though I wasn’t asked to, I pretended that I was active going to church but was cut short because I moved in another city to study in college. It was to make it seem believable for others that what I’ve put in the documents were true. It was tough because I didn’t like lying, but I couldn’t stop the fire in time. College was a diverse world, people from different places and of different cultures gathered together and all sorts of mixes were made there. I had this Catholic seatmate back then and every time that we were both too early to enter the classroom we would always talk about anything. One time, she asked about the differences between our religions and I would talk as if I I knew everything about it when in fact I’ve only attended the Sunday classes as a kid and that one gathering for adults. Any questions I couldn’t answer were met with a shrug or an idk or I couldn’t’ really remember well. It was shameful of me to do so, but I recalled my days there as a kid so fondly.
College was so tough it forced me to enter another phase in my life. A phase of self-internalization, realizations, and reasoning. It was a good thing that we had Theology classes wherein people of different religious beliefs were given chances to show and explain their sides of the story. I learned a lot of empathizing with other people and that helped me a lot as I tackled every hard paths I went through. Even though I hardly went to any churches during my stay there (save for the invites my Catholic friends gave me to go to the Cathedral once in a while), I came to the conclusion that a person is good if he/she really is good. I’d like to think that goodness is innate and it just depends on the environment you are in for that to evolve, whether for the better or for worse. In my opinion, attending church gatherings are not a necessity and that it’s okay if you can’t go. One must not go there just for show; it is better to be true to yourself as in order to give yourself peace of mind. Using the statement that a church refers to the people gathering to worship the higher being, I’d like to think that I am also a part of that even though I do not go to the cathedral physically. Still, I don’t pray everyday and sometimes I even forget to do so however I try myself to be kinder and be of good help as much as I can to others as my way of compensation. I am convincing myself that it’s enough for now to do that. Others might say that the way I’m doing things is not the way a Christian would do however I’ll give them my pardon and still continue what I am doing. As long as I am not stepping other people in this way I think is still right, I will continue to do so.
If one will tell me I’ll go to hell for being the ‘false’ Christian that I am then so be it. I can care less to what others can say to me right now after I’ve showed them who I really am. They shouldn’t trouble themselves with mine but rather try to have control in theirs. All of us are messy in our own ways so I hope that people will be kinder to one another and not force their opinions on them. After all, there is only one being I consider giving the only and final judgement to each and every one of us. We’ll just have to wait and see.