I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing I thought that I heard you sing
I think, I thought, I saw you try
But that was just a dream
–REM/Losing My Religion
I lost my religion gradually while I was a teenager.
As a child, I was quite religious. Or maybe I just really enjoyed singing. I’ve never been completely sure, but singing definitely kept me in a religious environment long after I’d otherwise lost all interest in organized religion.
The first blow to my life as a Believer was in Vacation Bible School when I was 11 or so. We were having a discussion about choosing between right and wrong, and how we had the ability to choose because God had given us the gift of free will. We could choose to do either right or wrong because God loved us so much he allowed us to choose. That confused me a bit. I’d been taught that God was both omniscient and omnipotent, so I didn’t understand how letting us choose when he must KNOW we were going to screw up could possibly be a loving thing to do. The teacher attempted to explain by explaining that God wanted us to freely choose to do the right things. When I asked “but, you said he knows everything we are going to do as part of his plan for us! It seems kind of mean of Him to let us choose if he already knows we’re going to fail. Why let us choose? What doesn’t he just make us want to only do the right things?”
That was not well received.
I wasn’t trying to be argumentative (really!) but the woman teaching the class thought that I was questioning the will of God, and didn’t appreciate my curiosity one little bit. I persisted (nicely! really!) in my questions and was asked to leave. Kicked out of Bible school. I was mortified. I also assumed that I was completely in the wrong.
That was the first crack in my religious armor.
The hole in my armor got bigger when Elton John came out. What does that have to do with religion? To me, as it turned out, it had everything to do with religion.
In one of my churches, when I was 9 or 10, someone had overheard me singing an Elton John song and commented that I probably shouldn’t listen to him because he’s a homosexual and the Bible says that’s wrong. I don’t think I knew what homosexual meant, but assured him that if Elton turned out to be a homosexual I would have to stop listening to him if the Bible said so.
A few years later, in 1976, when I was 12 or 13, Elton came out as bisexual in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. By that time I had a better understanding of what homosexual meant, and also knew that I was not about to quit listening to my favorite performer because a book said some of the things he did were morally wrong.
Free will, right?
I chose music.
God clearly saw that one coming.
By that time, I’d already more or less stopped going to church. I attended a youth group through much of High School just because it involved very little preaching and a whole lot of singing. As I got older, my religious beliefs fell away more and more. For a while I tried to keep up a semblance of religious belief. First I would identify as an agnostic, but eventually had to admit that I simply did not believe in any kind of God at all any more.
I still don’t.
But I still love Elton John.
Music is one of the things I will always believe in.
Here is what Elton (via Bernie’s lyrics) has to say about criticism in the song “All the Nasties.”