Many of us struggle with the issue of religion, and in particular the evidence for or against the existence of a god, or indeed, a glowing afterlife. This topic is one I myself have wrangled with for years (and years, and years). To that end I share with you my own ‘spiritual enlightenment’.
As a teenager, my daily world revolved around questions that required loads of thought and deep contemplation. Weighty stuff that many teenagers of the 1970’s were forced to grapple with.
Exactly how fast could I get to my locker so as not to miss being seen by Mark Estrella between third period and literature class?
Would the cafeteria be serving burritos for lunch today, and if I ate one would that blow my whole diet?
Could I copy the math homework from the smart-geeky guy in my history class? Again?
If I missed Mark Estrella at third period, could I leave literature class early and intercept him before fifth period?
How sweaty would I get in PE that day?
Would getting sweaty in PE ruin my hair so that I would have to do it again before I saw Mark Estrella?
You get the idea. Heavy questions indeed.
Like most teenagers I also seriously questioned the existence of a ‘god’. Which actually meant that I obsessed on the various and sundry punishments that could befall me for transgressing against said ‘god’. Contemplation of which led to more heavy questions:
Can drinking beer get me sent to hell?
If there is a party Friday, will my parents go to bed early enough for me to sneak out?
Can I really get pregnant just from kissing?
If I can get pregnant from kissing where does that leave me with Mark Estrella?
Unfortunately for me I had started to question the idea of an old-guy-in-the-sky meting out unfairly harsh punishments at a far earlier age. Like six. Yet I still worried about daily transgressions, even as a doubting teenager.
In the 1960’s being raised in America meant the only religion I was ever exposed to was christianity. In case you’re not familiar with it, the beliefs of this group are based on second or third party hearsay of guy who wandered around the deserts near Israel.
On a camel.
Two thousand years ago.
Rumor has it that the head guy, who used the 'only-one-name' moniker of Jesus ,was not only quite the genius but a magician as well. Apparently he traveled from one god-forsaken-tent-town-in-the-desert to another performing magic tricks. Part and parcel of this act included ‘pulling fish and bread from an empty basket’, the much lauded and often publicized ‘dying and miraculously coming back to life’, and my personal favorite, and one I would still like to believe happened, ‘changing water into wine’.
He is also said to have dabbled in water sports, and once in a great while would show off by actually walking across a nearby body of water. Suffice it to say, that even from a very early age I didn’t exactly buy into the whole ‘christian’ thing.
I don’t know where (or if) you attended an actual ‘church’, but part and parcel of being in this ‘christian’ club required that you get up super-early at least once a week and attend a ‘service' in a building, referred to by chrisitians as a ‘church’.
The church my parents attended was considered not merely a ‘church. Oh no. It was reverentially referred to as ‘The Cathedral’. This million dollar architectural beauty featured twenty-five-foot-high stained glass windows, the centerpiece of which was a montage of sparkling colored glass depicting a young man hanging from a large cross. Of particular note were the large spikes protruding from his palms, and the bright red glass used to highlight the rivulets of blood running down his face.
Even more disturbing? The crowds of people at his feet obviously taking great delight in this young man’s pain and suffering.
Suffice it to say, ‘church’ was not a favorite activity of mine. As Sunday approached my stomach would tighten with dread as I desperately tried to find ways to avoid having to attend. Some kids faked stomach pains, fevers, and stuffed noses to get out of going to school. I used these ploys to get out of going to ‘church’.
The truth was, going to church terrified me.
This whole Sunday morning ritual didn’t have a lot to recommend it, and there were many reasons. First and foremost, attending church on Sunday actually required me to get up earlier than I did on a school day. Strike one. Attending severely cut into my Sunday-morning-cartoon-viewing. Strike two. Riding to and from said ‘church’ in the back seat of my parent’s station wagon next to my brother? I’m out!
Sunday morning would be off to a wretched start from the moment I entered the sanctuary of the ‘cathedral’. Here is where it got truly frightening. Entering ‘The Cathedral’ revealed row upon row of murmuring people, all of them dressed in their finest ‘Sunday’ attire. All of them would be holding identical books All of them facing straight ahead, staring, ‘Stepford-like’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. By the time we took our seats I had already been threatened within an inch of my life not to talk, laugh, smile or in any way make contact with those around me, mostly my brother. Can it get much worse for a six year old?
Yes, it could.
Church is where I first heard stories about fathers selling their children into slavery, mothers leaving babies to drown in rivers as a way to gain gods favor. When this same ‘loving’ deity sent droves of flesh eating beetles to devour his own kids, I refused to play outside for months. Was this the same ‘god’ that the screaming guy up front referred to as ‘peaceful’, ‘benevolent’, ‘kind’, and ‘caring’? It made absolutely no sense. Even to a kindergartener.
It wasn’t the sermons that scared me. Fire and brimstone? Nope. I lived in a city were the fall temps routinely hovered in the triple-digits. Flaming lakes? Please. I didn’t dip into the pool until the water was a refreshing ninety degrees.
What scared me most was that each and every one of the parishioners seemed to grasp some important point that I had, apparently, missed. They had ‘accepted’ all of the drivel as ‘truth’, and never questioned, never doubted.
It horrified me to watch the people I knew in everyday life as happy, polite, thoughtful people, studiously nod in tandem agreement while being told they were worth less than a stone on Jesus shoe. I listened in dismay as the women were told they were unlovable, wretched beings, tainted by some ‘sin’ that was (evidently) quite original.
But what really drove me crazy was the inherent paradox of the whole belief was based on.
Let’s take a look at it from the logic of the six year old mind, shall we?
If one were to choose to accept this 'god’ hypothesis as a relevant ‘truth’, along with the premise that though you might commit a ‘sin’, you would be automatically forgiven with the slate wiped clean, and the record expunged, if this was the ‘truth’ then it would appear that sin, in and of itself, was a non-sequitur. While being told what to expect should I dare to ‘sin’, there came with it the over-riding message of complete forgiveness. Huh? So this pie-in-the-sky guy who was bent on sending my black soul to hell for any number of ridiculous reasons would wipe the slate clean if I just asked? Perhaps the parishioners took a Pascalian view of the whole thing: better to believe and ovinely attend a sermon on a weekly basis than take the risk of being wrong. The penalty for non-belief was almost as scary as believing. Evidently, should one choose NOT to ‘believe’ assured one a seat next to a guy in a red suit with bad breath and horns.
I remember wanting to yell out: ‘WHAT ARE ALL YOU PEOPLE SO WORRIED ABOUT?’ Why, in god’s name tolerate the bad coffee and the stale donuts, the judgmental peers and the rampant hypocrisy? Why bother to listen to what will happen to you if, by virtue of ‘god’, ANYTHING you do will be FORGIVEN?
Here is where the human element plays into the spiritual. This is where the ‘free will’ of humanity, our basic ‘human’ nature, contaminates the purity and goodness that which is ‘god’ and ‘spirituality’.
Religions are manmade and these scions of spirituality play the middle man in a business meant to make profits. Afraid you might not be getting that all-expense-paid-trip to the Holy Land? Airfare included? No worries! The church has a way to handle that. A bit of cash changes hands and the ‘church’ will see to it that you have a first-class seat.
Fortunately for me I chose to question. The idea of a ‘god’ who only lets a fortunate few into his heaven never felt right to my ‘soul’. Yes, I do believe I have one. It has taken me many years to come to terms with my own spiritual philosophy. However, my beliefs are a private matter, and I have no one to answer to, or to beg acceptance from, but myself.
Religion is man-made artifice. Spirituality, on the other hand, is private.
Four decades later I am very comfortable and confident in my beliefs. I accept that while I may not agree with christianity, it’s the beliefs I don’t like, not the believers. I don’t need to ‘convert’ others to assure my place in a cloud-gilded afterlife. I don’t need to make a spectacle of myself ‘praying’ before my meal in a restaurant. I would never knock on my neighbors doors to warn them of the impending doom they face if they don’t see things my way.
My wish is that those who see religion as the end-all-be-all of salvation could be relieved of this burden on their souls. If they would only open their mind, ‘practice what they preach’ if you will, they would be surprised how happy with themselves and others they could be, A little forgiveness, especially of yourself, goes a long way. Perhaps if we could all just leave the ‘religion’ thing behind and embrace what our souls know on an intuitive, spiritual level, we would all be happier with others as well as ourselves.
 Rumor had it Susie Moore did!
 Judaism? Buddhism? Certainly you jest?
 From what I can gather? He was also suffering from severe heat exhaustion.
 Much like ‘Prince’, before he added ‘The Performer’ to his name.
 David Copperfield would have put out a contract on him. Guaranteed.
 A brazen marketing ploy if you ask me.
 Houdini, watch your back! See above footnote.
 Which I, quite frankly, question. I mean it’s the DESERT? How much water could there have been? Mirage anyone?
 Apparently, praying from anywhere else just wasn’t as effective.
 Which, by default, was the one I was required to attend.
 My mother? She wouldn’t have been caught dead in just a ’church’.
 I tried the old ‘thermometer-on –the- light-bulb trick I had seen on the Brady Bunch. I ended up with a fever of 108 degrees and having to explain why the thermometer blew up in my hand.
 Hymnals. Not even something I could READ for Christ sake!
 A solid oak pew, 25 feet long, with a golden-plate attached thanking my parents for having ‘gifted’ it to the church.
 Thinking of disobeying your parents, any of you?
 Turns out it wasn’t so original after all.
 Yes, I thought this at six. I just didn’t have the vocabulary to express it. Calling ‘Bull Shit’ would’ve got me grounded. For life.
 For a price, mind you. In dollars. Preferably American.
 Pun intended.
 Which were possibly the only reason I went anyway.
 Again, for cash, preferably American. However, I think at one time wine and women were also acceptable forms of payment. That was before Visa, of course.