Religion for Beginners...in which Uncle Duke blasphemes and profanes
In this life, I have had a long and complicated relationship with Religion. Many of us have. It is the thorniest of issues. Indeed, for those of us who walk upright and dare to have opinions, wrestling with it should be a required rite of passage. I would offer, in fact, that if one has not struggled with this question for some significant amount of time, one has simply not given it sufficient thought. And therefore has not properly reached adulthood. And should probably not be allowed to speak in public spaces or certainly to run for office. Or vote. Or perhaps, for that matter, procreate.
At the heart of it is the fact that if one reaches an assumption that there IS a God, or if someone in your lineage had reached that assumption and taught it to you, then there follows an assumption that there is a way in which this God wants you to act. There is a manner in which God (or Allah or Jehovah or Yahweh or The Great Spirit, etc.) wants you to live and to carry out His (Any pronouns used in this piece are merely used as figures of speech and are not intended to ascribe gender. Either biological or chosen. God forbid.) Divine Plan. SOMEONE then is invariably put in charge of interpreting God’s wishes and desires. This situation is, at best, problematic.
Now there are many terribly intelligent people out there. Moral and well-meaning too. They are decent sorts, the salt of the Earth, and I listen to what they have to say.
Additionally of course, there are charlatans and scammers. Fakes, frauds and swindlers who play upon our need to be saved and use the Lord for their own purposes.
But when either of these lots commences to tell me what their God said or requires me to be or do, we part company. I frankly do not trust anyone to tell me the Heart or Mind of God. Or even if there is such a thing. It is my view that these are all unknowable. They are the definition of Unknowable. They are Grand Secrets, Divine Mysteries, which may or may not even be revealed at our own deaths. In the Afterlife—if there is one. None of that is certain.
Although I am told there is a Book which purports to be the Word of God. It is a rather long book, divided up into two sections. The first section, the Old one, is mostly a how-to book for Jews. The New section is the how-to book for Christians, though many Christians give more weight to things said in the Old section on account of its God being more prone to smite and drown and hurl into the Darkness. It is more action oriented and often sounds like a Superhero comic book.
Whereas the new section is more nuanced. It concentrates more on the confusing, fuzzy issues of acceptance and kindness, loving your enemies and such. There is some self-examination involved. A certain introspection.
The problem with this of course is that most of us are not fans of nuance. We cannot tolerate this imprecision, this lack of surety and precise direction from our Deity. We require that the Lord God speak and give us answers so that we can follow His Word precisely and not be required to follow the bewildering messiness of our own consciences. I find that most of the religious crowd out there are Originalists in their Biblical interpretations. Consequently, the popularity of the New Section is rapidly waning as a guide-post for True Believers.
But in both of these books, God speaks either directly to or through people who are presumably very good friends of his. People He entrusts with His Word. This frankly has my Spidey-sense tingling. The people I know who regularly speak to God do not have my genuine interests at heart. Their interest in me is generally financial, not spiritual.
Nevertheless, there are many out there who have memorized almost the whole book. They take great pride in that, and they quote it very sanctimoniously and ad nauseam to prove one theological or social point or another. I am generally not impressed, any more so than I am when someone has managed to memorize the alphabet or the multiplication tables. Actually, I believe the latter two are considerably more useful and vastly less pretentious
The problem is that there are some very contradictory things said in this Book. There are things said which most of us now recognize to be untrue. In point of fact, it is actually immoral and even illegal now in most states to kill all the classes of people that the Bible says we should. These include, but are not restricted to: witches, the curious, non-Hebrews, non-believers, fortune tellers, homosexuals, disobedient children and those who work on the Sabbath. These Biblical over-statements we generally dismiss as being apocryphal or hyperbolic. We give the Lord a pass on those and suggest that She was just a heck of a kidder. But The Rest we retain and enforce because we have chosen to believe that THEY are in fact The Word of God.
But it is safe to say that the Word of God can sometimes be a little muddled. It is very much in the interpretation. And who is doing the interpreting? Again, there is that conundrum. Whom do we choose to believe and how fervently?
My truth is actually that I have nothing against God. Any God. Even those who are past their prime, in poor health or even discarded entirely. Every civilization throughout Time has had at least one God, generally more than one. Someone to whom they could turn in times of crisis. Someone to reach out to and intercede on our behalf in an unpredictable world. Famine, pestilence and war. Sickness, death and despair. Someone who will look out for us. Someone who knows all our faults and still understands us and loves us unconditionally. It feels good to have a God.
So I am truly in no way anti-Religious. I was raised with one, and it served me well for a goodly time. Religion is a powerful, stabilizing force in many people’s lives.
The rituals in particular are useful—the baptisms, the marriages, the funerals. They cover the major events of our lives in familiar ways. The ceremonies are reassuring, soothing, calming. We know who to call. What to do. When to stand and when to kneel. It is a path our forefathers followed, and we have been encouraged to continue along that path. From generation to generation. The customs, the sacraments, the services. They lead us from age to age. From birth to death, cradle to grave.
But having said that, and rituals aside, I do present the personal caveat that I don’t believe anyone has ANY IDEA whether there is a God or not. And should there be one, I don’t think any God worthy of the title gives a flying fuck whether or not you pass your algebra exam, whether America wins the war we happen to be in or whether the Saltwater Flats Fighting Sturgeons win their homecoming game on Friday night. Though it is comforting to imagine that.
We assume that God, being all-knowing and all-powerful, could change the outcome of things. And that, if He were sufficiently flattered, or perhaps adequately bribed with holy candles or sacrificial lambs or some spiritual or monetary offerings, She would likely rise to your defense and smite those bastards who have been making fun of your hair all semester. Or dash the brains of those inconsiderate, ill-conceived sons-a-bitches who always park in your handicapped spot. And that God, being also All-Knowing, would understand exactly the reasons why those smug, selfish pricks so richly deserve to die horribly.
This, as far as I can tell, is the bedrock theology of many religions. When it comes down to a conflict of interests between humans, OUR GOD is the official arbiter. “OUR GOD” we say, “will kick the shit out of you and YOUR god because OUR God is mighty and righteous and true and lives in a palace in Heaven, and your god is an idol made out of twigs and feathers and clay and lives in a dilapidated hut up on the mountain somewhere.” And then, to put the finishing touches on it: “Your god ain’t diddly squat. We will crush It AND You and then have your guts for garters!”
I might add here that my views on religion are fairly well-known. Or at least I have tried to make them so. And if there is a God, I have left a paper trail of skepticism and doubt that is both long and wide. I will be pretty easy to track down. If it is a vengeful God whose feelings are easily hurt, my goose is pretty well cooked. I am existential toast. Though I am ready for the Inquisition.
In 50 words are less, I hereby testify that God is an option for all of us. We can choose to believe that there is such an Entity and live according to a set of rules that we believe It has made for us. Or not.
I respectfully suggest that each of us must individually identify and befriend deeply and profoundly the One, or multiple Ones, in whose baskets we choose to put our eggs.
This would perhaps make it more complicated on an individual basis, but it would prevent many of the horrible wars that have been fought in blind allegiance to tribal gods, familial gods, national gods, trans-national gods and the so-called Universal God. Those wars in which we fall in line, choose sides, pick a uniform and do unspeakable things to each other in the name of some temporal deity or another.
Although personally I am firmly in the agnostic camp, I have always been willing to listen to persuasive arguments on the existence of a God and what They would like me to do. But I have not really heard any thus far. In this lifetime. At least from any of the world’s great religions. I am listening intently these days to the Quantum World. And to the Buddha. Who is not a God. And I have heard some interesting arguments.
I currently believe in Infinity. And all that that implies. In short, this means that Everything is possible. Which is kind of like believing in God, but without the long, white robes and the Pearly-Gates thing.
It is a World that goes on and on. It is a Universe that always was and always will be. In its enormity, it holds The Purpose and The Soul of the Cosmos. It holds all those things that no one can understand. It is a Religion that gives us a million chances. And then a billion more. Until we all get it right. All at the same moment.