“Well, I guess hard times flush the chumps. Everybody’s lookin’ for answers…”
— Ulysses Everett McGill
O Brother, Where Art Thou
As our friend Col. Hans Landa would say, “That’s a bingo!” I got my card early, found about fifteen of this guy’s followers to monitor on Facebook over the weekend, observed their varying reactions, and marked off the excuses as they came up. (Actually, the most common one used by a factor of about 1000 was the “convoluted explanation” one, second down from top left, but it wasn’t in a neat row like the rest.)
Religion as a topic of study will never cease to fascinate me, as the very title of my entire blog suggests. Within arm’s reach of my computer at all times, along with my complete works of Shakespeare, is my King James Revised Bible (and my New Oxford Annotated Bible, and my biblical atlas and concordance.) Since the Holy Bee was in short pants, he’s always said if you want to truly understand the history, breadth, and beautiful capabilities of the English language, you should have a familiarity with the speeches of Churchill, the plays of Shakespeare, and the KJV Bible. (Students of the English language’s close American cousin would do well to know his or her Lincoln and Twain.)
Fascinated as I am by its history and sociological impact, for as long as I can remember, actually adhering to a religion has been anathema to me. I have always found it oppressive, creepy, cloying, and ultimately empty. I have no questions about my purpose or existence. I don’t need any outside set of doctrines to give me a code of ethics or morality. (And as far as my moral lapses — of which there are many — as long as they are confined to victimless pettiness like snickering at the fundamentalist rubes on Facebook without their knowledge, who the hell cares?)
And yet, so many are driven to seek answers and purpose, and I confess to a total failure of understanding this. It’s so simple for me:
- I’m perfectly content to accept my own and all others’ existence as random and haphazard.
- There are no “answers” to the meaning of existence, apart from our biological need to perpetuate our species
- Morality exists independently of religion. It’s an instinctive way for homo sapiens to make their surroundings more pleasant and comfortable. Being robbed, assaulted, or killed can ruin anyone’s day, so we avoid doing it unless driven to it by economic desperation or psychological deviation.
- We have been blessed and cursed with super-charged cerebral cortexes, which have boosted us to the top of food chain, while at the same time gotten us into all kinds of trouble as we tied ourselves in knots concocting elaborate mythologies and constructs to answer all of the questions that started occurring to us before we had the means to answer them technologically/scientifically. We are also the only species that has a conscious awareness of our own mortality, and that scares the hell out of us.
- Even the early forms of sexual morality made a certain primitive sense. “Don’t screw a bunch of random people/animals/objects or you may end up with a disease that could endanger the tribe.” (The development of the condom very early on in our history made this as obsolete as the sundial, but religious leaders love to cling to the sex stuff to this very day.)
- By combining fear of death with our innate desire for safety and order (i.e., “morality”), we get religion. “Follow these rules, Jebediah, and you won’t really die.”
And then it all gets culturally conditioned into (most of) us for the next 5000 years, until even a person who seems rational in all other areas will express a belief in an invisible sky-king.
And even if I allowed for the possibility of a “god”, the trans-Jordanian deity YHWH (“Jehovah” if you prefer the erroneous translation of the original Hebrew), the God of Abraham, is not the one I’d back. His cruel, capricious, petulant, and downright psychopathic behavior all through the Old Testament should be enough for anyone to run to the more reasonable embrace of Zeus or Odin. But the people of the Ancient Near East have repeatedly proven themselves gluttons for punishment.
Fast forward a few thousand years…For the most part, your average modern Christian goes about their daily lives finding comfort, meaning, and a sense of community through their religion. They accept much of the Bible, especially the more unpleasant and/or outrageously fantastical parts in the Old Testament, as “allegorical.” Which is kind of cheating, isn’t it? You get to pick and choose, like a cafeteria. “I’d like a double serving of the love and charity, please, but you can keep the smiting and stoning.” If you want to put only the bestest and nicest parts of the Bible on your tray, I’m here to remind you that there’s still a shitload of headcheese and squid innards on the Big Menu that the Original Chef once insisted you eat if you wanted to be in the club, but you now feel free to ignore the unpalatable bits due to your own interpretation. (And it is your interpretation once you start to get picky — you don’t get to quote one verse to back up your point while ignoring the bloodthirsty lunacy of the verses preceding and following it.) But I understand the vast majority of religious folks in America are trying to lead a good life and abide by the Golden Rule, which is really what the whole she-bang boils down to. As long as they keep the more extreme stuff away from my genitals and science textbooks, I’ve got no beef with their beliefs. You see things your way, I see them mine, now let’s have a beer and watch 30 Rock together.
Then there’s the fringe types, who give all religions a truly bad name by doing things like flying planes into buildings (same God, different book), or holding “God Hates Fags” signs at soldiers’ funerals. Which is wrong, according to all observable evidence. God seems to regard “fags” as, at worst, a minor annoyance. (He certainly allowed all those kid-touching priests to get away with it for decades, didn’t He? All part of “His Plan,” I guess.)
No, God reserves the full fury of His bottomless hatred for…poor people.
He’s given the poor and impoverished such a royal (divine?) fucking-over for five millennia, it staggers the imagination. The pat response is that they get to go to Heaven after their suffering and receive their “eternal reward.” The same Heaven that the wealthy Christians go to. The ones who lived their lives with Cadillac Escalades and granite counter tops and vacations in Cancun. If these rich folks were truly devout and believed with all their hearts, according to the tenets of the faith, they would go, wouldn’t they? To the exact same place as some poor Haitian bastard who’s lived in a mud hole and ate rat shit his entire life. There’s no special Super-Deluxe-Heaven for poor people. It’s the same place. Raw deal.
Out on the furthest whisker of the fringe are those that believed that an 89-year-old retired civil engineer, using some convoluted numerology, calculated Judgment Day from the date of Noah’s Flood. (In other words, dating an event that never will happen from an event that never did happen. Can I please have a list of bridges that this civil engineer worked on so I can avoid them?) They said the date was May 21, 2011. There have been end-of-the-world doomsayers throughout history, but none got the attention these people did these last few weeks. They spent millions on advertising billboards, and a fleet of tastefully-decorated RVs (religious nuts love stickers!) to criss-cross the country (many of them quitting their jobs) to “sound the trumpet” for what they passionately believed to be the End of the World, which would begin with a massive world-wide earthquake, followed by their physical bodies being “raptured” skyward, while the unworthy stayed behind for five months of Hell on Earth before the planet was literally destroyed on October 21.
With very little effort, in the spirit of an anthropological study, I found some these people who had public Facebook walls, kept all their tabs open all weekend, and periodically checked in on them as they gradually realized they had been duped and the worldview they had clung to for who knows how long was totally invalidated. As the weekend wore on, and the Rapture failed to materialize, they kept coming up with more and more desperate scenarios for how it could still happen. Here’s how it went down:
The Original Scenario: “The Rolling Apocalypse.” When the earliest time zone — represented by the island of Kiritimati in the South Pacific — hit 6:00pm in the early evening hours of the 21st, the earthquakes and rapturing would begin, rolling westward so all the world could witness the destruction as it moved toward them, zone by zone, and the mockers and scoffers would “wail and tremble and gnash their teeth.” (The fundies seemed to get a great kick out of this, if their wall posts were any indicator. They must have relished feeling like winners for once.) They began posting links to geological websites, noting with delight all of the seismic activity occurring. (Never mind that there’s always seismic activity occurring, and that this is just the first time they’ve bothered to check.) As the hour approached — about 9:00pm Pacific Time on Friday the 20th — there were lots of goodbyes, and then it got real quiet. The appointed time came and went, with no apocalypse.
The Revised Scenario: “The Stroke of Midnight in Jerusalem.” The lack of a “rolling” apocalypse only fazed them for a moment. They dismissed it as just a theory. In reality, a careful study of Scripture that they did in the last few hours revealed that the world will end all at once at the very last moment of Judgment Day in Jerusalem. Which would be 3:00pm Saturday where I was. The anticipation was intense. (I thought they would shit a collective brick when that volcano in Iceland popped off.) The zero hour approached, again there were tearful goodbyes, the throwing around of Bible quotes, and lots of “brother” and “sister”-ing each other. The clock chimed midnight in Jerusalem, and guess what? If you said “no apocalypse,” come and collect your prize. The Facebook walls stayed quiet for a little longer this time.
The Revised, Revised Scenario: “As Long As It’s May 21st Somewhere In The World.” The flop sweat became visible, but the hardcore True Believers regrouped and said it wasn’t over. The last spot on Earth where it would be May 21 was Pago Pago, once again in the South Pacific. That would occur at 4:00am Sunday morning my time. I wasn’t going to stay up, and looked forward to what I’d see in the morning, when all the Whos down in Whoville cried “boo hoo.”
The Aftermath: When I checked in at 9:00am Sunday morning, it was clearly all over for most of them. Some simply hadn’t updated for ten or twelve hours. A couple of them gracefully admitted being snookered, apologized for bugging their friends and relatives for so long, and continued to profess their overall faith. Several more of them turned their walls private, or de-activated their accounts altogether. Larry “JesuswillreturnMay21” So-and-so changed his name overnight. Some spun May 21st as the “last available day of salvation” and the real shit would go down on May 22nd. Or 23rd. Or maybe the 24th, depending on how you interpreted a particular month in a particular version of the Hebrew calendar. Some are now preparing for October 21, when the Rapture will occur and the earth will be destroyed in a kind of 2-for-1 deal. Pretty much every statement on the bingo card above was trotted out at one point or another on the 22nd.
And through it all, making repeated smug and sometimes hateful posts on their walls, were the mainstream Christians, who either helpfully suggested they were going to hell for being blasphemers in league with Satan, or oozed their condescending okely-dokely sympathy all over them for following a “false prophet,” and said there was always a place for them (and their wallets) in their church. They also never, ever got tired of throwing Matthew 25:13 or 24:36 at them. Over and over and over. I wish just one of them would have exploded, “Yes! Yes! I saw it the first nine hundred fucking times you posted it on my wall!!!” Alas, they’re too nice. Deeply messed up, but nice.
Okay, we’re nearing the end of Our Text for today. I ultimately found myself kind-of, sort-of sympathizing with these people. I want to know what they’re missing, that they can’t find in conventional religion. What happened to them along their life’s journey? Did they come out the womb with one or two synapses that just didn’t fire? If only for a few minutes, I’d like to feel like they do, just to see what it’s like. Even though we occupy polar opposites of the religious spectrum, both atheists and weirdo doomsayers exist outside of the mainstream. I have no questions, require no guidance, and I love existing in this world, with all its flaws. They seem desperate for answers, will take guidance even from an elderly crackpot with an adding machine, and want nothing more to see this world destroyed in flaming violence because of all its wickedness and evil.
…And by “wickedness and evil,” those types almost always mean “homosexuality.” Sometimes “wickedness and evil” means gangsta thug rappers in saggy pants. But, really, 99.9% of the time it’s homosexuality. It’s their #1 go-to issue, leading the pack of other sins by a country mile. But guess what? Men have always been fascinated by their own penises and the places they could put them. It’s nothing new. Gay sex is in the Bible of course, and was condemned, but it pops up (pardon the expression) so much in the Bible, it’s a wonder any of those guys slept with a woman at all. The guy who painted The Last Supper was down with a little guy-on-guy action, as was King James himself. It’s just that now, the fundies are bothered that it’s all over their TV without being judged as sinful behavior. The easiest solution would be for them to get rid of their TVs and pretend it’s not happening, the way people did for thousands of years. But then they’d miss The Young and the Restless. (No kidding. Looking at those people’s profiles, you wouldn’t believe the number of “daytime drama” fans.)
I’m afraid there aren’t any “good ol’ days” to which to return. Every era and epoch had its problems. There were none of these in the good ol’ days:
But there were also none of these:
I’ll take my chances against the gangsta thug for the luxury of crapping indoors any day.
So, the world will keep on turning, horrible and wonderful things will continue to happen with no particular rhyme or reason, people will continue to do horrible and wonderful things to themselves and each other, until our volatile species eventually fades into evolutionary obsolesence and extinction, which will happen long, long before our sun goes into red giant phase and burns our little blue-green ball into a lifeless charcoal briquette in about 5 billion years.