I have been to the top of the mountain and looked to the other side

     Lately I have been hearing a LOT about religion, especially the Christian religion.  Partly because of the time of year (the Easter season) and partly about what has been happening in our country and the world when it comes to "religious freedom" and "persecution" of people because of various religions and certain political views.  And because of these things and my opinions about them, I have been told (once again) that I need to "Find Jesus".  (And I didn't know he was lost)  So, I have decided that I really need to explain once and for all what I believe and why.
     First of all, let me say that I absolutely do not believe in any "supreme being" or god.  And I also feel no reason to believe in one. 
     I grew up in the Disciples of Christ, First Christian Church.  As I grew to high school, the church became a very important part of my life.  I grew socially and spiritually and began to discover that my future would be helping people.  I finally decided that I would become a minister and so, with the help of our church's minister, I applied to the Culver Stockton College in Canton, Missouri to study ministry.  My goal was to become a minister in Minnesota and help others in the ways of the church.  After graduation from high school, I received an acceptance letter from Culver Stockton along with a notice of a full scholarship to the college.  Then it was time to make a decision.  And at almost exactly that time, the First Christian Church minister gave a sermon that helped me to start the hard decision making process.
     The sermon was about homosexuality and the devil.  In it, my minister said that gay people made the decision to be gay and that because of that decision gay people were going to hell if they did not change and ask god for forgiveness.  I was crushed and terribly hurt by this sermon.  Since I was in the process of coming to terms with who and what I was, hearing that I was going to hell unless I changed, this was very difficult for me to hear.  I remember going home and deciding to study the bible and learn exactly what it said and what it meant to me.  I spent weeks reading and studying everything I could about what the bible said and how it pertained to me and my life.  The more I studied the more I realized that this was not the direction I wanted my life to go.  I realized that the church was based on what others thought was right for everyone and that everyone should follow those teachings without question.  Because I always question what I do not understand or do not agree with, I felt I could not join in and tell others to live a life that I myself did not believe in.  So, after much studying and thought, I decided to turn down the invitation and scholarship to Culver Stockton College and see instead where life would take me.  And the more I thought and the more I studied, the more I realized that I no longer felt the need to believe in a higher power, I only needed to believe in myself. 
     This belief was enforced years later in 2002 when I became ill and was near death in the hospital.  As I lay in bed close to death I thought about life and what would happen after.  I thought about how life was kind of like climbing a mountain and death was at the top of that mountain and what happens next was on the other side.  As I climbed my mountain, I was responsible for what happened during the climb.  My actions alone would determine the path I would take.  Some paths would be steep and difficult to climb and other paths would follow a gentle slope.  And the paths I chose would also affect the lives of those around me.  If I believed I could make good things happen, I would do it.  Most of all I realized that I did not need a supreme being to help me climb my mountain or choose my paths.  I and I alone would find the way to make it to the top.  As I was close to death, I realized that my climb could very easily be over, I could pass over the top and move down the other side to the valley that represented death.  Or, I could fight and continue on with my life and find new paths toward the top.  So, at that moment I made the decision to fight, to work to find the new paths to the top of my mountain and wait to look over into the other side of the mountain.  Obviously I chose to fight, I made the decision to continue the climb.  And I chose to climb with the love of my life at my side.  And I think that Jim is happy with my decision at least most of the time.
     I totally do understand and respect the fact that some people have the need to believe in a god or a supreme being and that is fine.  I just do not appreciate it when those people feel the need to tell me what I should believe and that I am wrong if I do not believe as they do.  I also absolutely HATE to be told that I am going to hell because of who I love, what I believe and how I live my life.  I can climb my mountain just fine without help from religion. 
     So, I look for the best path to the top of my mountain and try hard to live a life that not only makes me happy but will guide the paths that others take on their personal mountains.  I try hard to follow paths that do not harm those who know me and those who do not.  And let me tell you, the view from my mountain just keeps getting better!

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