I’ll preface these remarks by explaining that I’m not about to endorse any particular religion or church, nor am I going to denigrate any. I won’t even mention specific names. This is just my own little take on the matter.
I loved all my grandparents. I was closest at a very young age to my paternal grandparents. When I was about five I helped my grandfather feed the chickens and he drew little faces on walnut shells for me. He passed away shortly after those memories, so I never had an opportunity to discuss religious matters with him. My mother held me up at the viewing so I could kiss him good-bye. The first and last time I ever kissed a dead person. But I really loved him.
My grandmother on the other hand proved to be very religious. She convinced my father to join her church and of course we children had to go as well. I don’t think my father had any deep convictions about this and my mother almost never attended, proclaiming (rightly, it turned out), that they were mostly a bunch of hypocrites.
Being a kid I didn’t question church, the need to go, or the purpose. I went because grandmother came over and got us. Certainly there was little to fire us up save for the Easter egg hunt once a year.
As I got older and we lived farther away from my grandmother, I stopped going to church. It was never a subject of discussion in our home and we did as well as could be expected without it.
But I wasn’t home free. Invariably, every time I got on a bus or streetcar some person would sit beside me and begin a little conversation that quickly turned to the question: Had I been saved? I really didn’t know whether I had been saved or not, or from what, but these helpful people were out to take care of that. People in the street would actually accost me with the same inquiry. A regular procession of religious persons came to our door talking about Jesus, etc. and exhorting us to read the Bible and attend their meetings. People I knew or got to know all had their particular religious preference and practically begged me to attend services. Being (a) a dumb kid and (b) innately too polite to tell them to buzz off, I sometimes let myself be coerced into attending these different churches. They all had one thing in common: people who normally wouldn’t piss on you if your pants were on fire suddenly went about shaking hands as if they were at a rare and wonderful family reunion. I remember more than one incident when I’d see someone from last Sunday’s church on the street and the person would carefully look the other way, not wanting to see me. That was okay. I didn’t want to see them either.
Over the years I saw the inside of a goodly number of churches of different denominations. Once, out of curiosity, I went to Temple. Afterward the rabbi suggested I not return because he didn’t want others to think he was trying to proselytize me. Much later I read someplace that the practice is to turn you away three times. If you persist in coming back after that, okay. Well, at least he didn’t try to save me.
Throughout all these years, growing into manhood, none of these churches offered anything I wanted to hear. Worse, I learned that my mother was right, they were rife with hypocrites. All of them seemed to take their faith and the teachings of their particular denomination and “customize” these to suit their own particular lifestyle.
I read the Bible. The Ten Commandments made sense. Jesus made sense. Yet so many people who mention his name at every opportunity think nothing of throwing the first stone, stealing, gossiping, bad-mouthing, committing adultery and even murder. Some of course are out-and-out wolves in sheep’s clothing. It makes a good cover if you’re a predator. Any politician worth his salt regularly attends church services. But most members are just people like everybody else. Evidently it’s human nature and it’s okay to take liberties with the church’s commandments.
Perhaps you’ll think I’m slow. Okay, maybe I am, but remember, all this religious stuff was not at the forefront of my daily ruminations. Normally I only gave it a passing thought when I found myself cornered by some fervent Bible totin’ missionary out to save me.
But there comes a time, I believe, in the lives of most people, when they begin to consider their mortality and what — if anything — comes next. I began giving these religious concepts some serious consideration.
I can certainly understand people turning to a higher power. Here we are, riding along in the night on a bus without a driver. Driver? Hey, it doesn’t even have a steering wheel. We’re completely at the mercy of the universe. The sun can explode, a comet may crush us, worldwide volcanic eruptions can tear the earth apart. Our planet it hurtling off into the unknown. We have no idea where, why or how. It would be comforting to know that an able hand was at the wheel, but we don’t really know. And even if there is some sort of divine guidance, it apparently doesn’t protect us from any of the above-referenced catastrophes.
It isn’t easy to speak out and say this, but in my considered opinion, the whole religious thing is utter hogwash. Even people who never go to church consider that blasphemous. They may never attend services or read the Bible, but they certainly don’t speak out against religion. After all, them’s fightin’ words.
I’ve heard people point out that, in the face of possible death, even atheists cry out for God. Sure, when a person is faced with a life or death situation, even the late Ms O’Hair might cry out, “Oh God!, please!”, and I’m sure some atheists use the Lord’s name in vain when someone cuts them off in traffic or the light turns red just as they reach the intersection. That doesn’t make one a convert.
Agnostic…I just don’t know what’s out there, and I’m pretty sure nobody else does either. We can hope. We can choose to believe anything that suits us, but none of us really knows.
And let’s face it. If I or anyone else, save in the movies, came out today and said God had spoken to me and told me he doesn’t want me to drive no Chevy; he wants me to drive a Cadillac, you’d think (correctly) that I’m off my rocker. I realize some people can get away with this, but I’m the kind of guy who gets suspicious looks from guards and tellers at the bank when I try to cash a check.
But somehow we suspend reason when we believe that in biblical times God did exactly that. He came to people in the night and told them what to do and sent them on their way. I’m pretty sure people at the time were just as intelligent as any today and I’m just as sure many openly laughed at these prophets. But time has a way of smoothing over all the inconsistencies in reason.
At times over the centuries, men sat down and tried to record either what they believed to be real events or what they thought aptly proved their point. Of course most of the written documents dealt with religion because just about the only persons who could read and write were monks and priests. Most of us know that in bygone times religious leaders picked and chose among all the stacks of religiously inspired documents to put together what we today call the Bible. As usual, they chose the documents that coincided with what they believed, or wanted to believe. The rest was filed away as unsuitable reading matter. And since they were just about the only people who could read, they had a really good thing going for them. Some churches became more powerful than countries.
Time has a way of legitimizing events. Some day, a hundred or two years from now, some of our more recent religious institutions will either have faded away or have become so entrenched that their extremely ridiculous beginnings will have been completely forgotten. One I can think of began as a simple self-help program before it evolved into a religion. Of course a self-help program is not tax exempt. A church is.
Most proponents of religion will testify to its sermon of family values, parenting, doing-unto-others, and many other laudable actions. But somehow, as with the rest of their beliefs, they tend to customize their arguments to fit their needs. They fail to mention that while religion does ostensibly promote good behavior, it is at the same time arguably the first and greatest cause of intolerance, strife, injustice, torture, greed and yes, murder than all our wars combined.
Is there more to life than what we see? Probably. That’s the up-side. We can only see and hear and sense in a very limited fashion. There’s the “Total Recall” story. Sounds great, but at least when you buy a total recall vacation, you get your money’s worth. Arnold did. But if we had paid for this experience, I think a lot of people would demand their money back.
Do we slip into a parallel world or a higher realm? Is there some sort of life after death? Anything’s possible. Nobody knows. We may never be able to know for certain. We can always hope. But then, considering the miserable life the majority of humans suffer through in this world, maybe another life is not something to be so greatly desired after all.
Whatever all this means, I’m definitely not going to pray that my team win the game, or that I’ll win the lottery. A god who deals in that childish stuff is a god I don’t need.
As children we love our parents. But as we grow up, do we spend the rest of our lives thanking them at every turn for every little thing they ever gave us, for having changed our diapers and for not killing us when we cried all night and threw tantrums? Do our parents want us to? Of course not. Do we want our children to spend the rest of their lives worshiping us and thanking us for whatever blessings they think we have bestowed upon them? Of course not. Why then would any self-respecting god want us on our knees night and day thanking him for all our (mostly dubious) blessings and for the food that we worked to get and prepare? That’s another god I don’t need.
It’s a strange and wonderful universe. There may well be vain and jealous gods out there who enjoy watching us doze in church, play with snakes, kill live animals — even humans — for blood sacrifice, gods who get a kick out of watching us forgo certain food and drink, fast, wear skullcaps, garments; in short, carry about all sorts of advertising that proclaims, “I’m a Believer”, and I might have to fear those perverse gods, but I would never for a moment respect, let alone worship, them.
But I’m not without hope. Perhaps it’s only human to feel there is a great Intelligence to the universe. None of us can know what’s really going on and maybe we never will, we can just hope and trust that it’s a good thing.