I’ve spent both ends of my commute this week listening to an excitable recovering meth addict scream into my headphones about “sexual sin” and the dangers of “De-God-ing God.” If I had to summarize, every single person I know is going to hell.
This all started a couple of years ago when my brother was “saved,” as he (and no one else in our family) likes to call it, courtesy of the ironically-titled Hollywood mega-church Reality LA. This came as a surprise, to put it delicately, and I’ve spent the time since cycling through a makeshift, more uppity version of the Kübler-Ross stages on the issue — bewilderment, disdain, amusement (it can make a great story at parties), another round of bewilderment and disdain, and, finally, anger.
Though we attended church when I was a kid, religious groups that oppose things like the existence of gay people weren’t to be trusted or validated. When this whole thing first happened, I did what I instinctively do in tough times, and tried listening to the corresponding This American Life episode for guidance (I highly recommend it).
Unexpectedly, though, my problem has lasted longer than 58 minutes, and it certainly didn’t fade into soothing music and an epilogue about how he’d eventually snapped out of it and enrolled in med school. So, a week ago I did what any mature, concerned adult would logically do next — I picked a one-sided Gchat argument with my brother about gay marriage, which is about to be legalized in our home state.
At the time it went nowhere, but a few days later, the podcasts arrived. He sent me a sermon series his pastor had recorded, divided into three sections: “Image, Gender, Covenant,” “Sexual Brokenness,” and “What about Homosexuality?” His email said he hoped I would find them a good “resource.” As it turns out, liberal guilt and religious guilt don’t work that differently, and realizing that I had clearly brought this upon myself, I decided to listen.
The pastor of Reality LA, Tim Chaddick, has a massive cult (and I do mean cult) following among vaguely-trendy young people in Los Angeles — he was even featured in a Details profile that made heavy use of “hipster” as descriptor. A formerly promiscuous meth addict, Chaddick has since been born again and has not stopped talking about any of it since.
His is a brand of religion so startlingly “old time” that its doctrines more closely resemble those of the Spanish Inquisition than, say, a William Jennings Bryan rally. Still, I thought I owed my brother a favor and might even be pleasantly surprised. This didn’t happen.
After a few minutes explaining what made his brand of evangelism less hateful than your average politicized conservative Christian and a promise to “do away with stereotypes and lies,” Pastor Tim launched into ninety minutes of what amounted to total loathing for both the self and others. In a nutshell: anyone who watches pornography “should be slaughtered,” homosexuality is a learned behavior equally offensive to God as rape and pedophilia, and masturbation, along with things like re-marrying after the death of a spouse, is completely out of the question. “People have accused us of bigotry,” Pastor Tim explains, “but it’s only bigotry if what we’re saying is wrong.” Oh.
Even though volumes could be written about just what makes all of this terrible, I still couldn’t tell you why I hate my brother’s involvement with it quite as much as I do. Of course, having an immediate family member who thinks that you and everyone you hold dear is damned for eternity isn’t ideal. And, in general, I’d rather avoid thinking about religion at all if I don’t have to — truth be told, I don’t know what I believe, and I also don’t particularly care.
In spite of this, I feel guilty. While my brother and I both seem to think the other is setting themselves up for a wasted, deeply unhappy life (or afterlife, as the case may be), only one of us is unwilling to shut up about it, and sex podcasts aside, it’s not him. Maybe if I were as deadly certain about things as he is, I would.