Wednesday, December 07, 2005

In The Beginning Was The Weird

I can clearly remember a conversation I had with a friend who attended the same church I did when we were kids. I had been wrestling with the fact that one’s religious convictions seemed dependent upon where one was born. If I’d have been born in India, or Israel, or Ireland, I’d have been holding quite a different banner, it seemed to me.

Given that we can’t all be right about God, didn’t it seem to him, as it was beginning to seem to me, that since you can’t control where you’re born, this matter of what faith was “correct,” regardless of whether it was ours or anybody else’s, was a moot point? Wasn’t it all the same? Weren’t we all trying to get to the same place? Maybe we Presbyterians didn’t have a monopoly on Heaven?

“Nope, never worried me,” he said. He’d never questioned it. God said it, he believed it, and that was that.

Not that this was a traumatic conversation. It merely made it plain that I was not long for the church. No, my most traumatic childhood conversation occurred when I was much younger and first realized that I would one day have to die.

The thought chilled and depressed me, not to mention setting me on the personality path I’m still traveling on. I told my father about this realization and he told me, looking a little shaken as he did so, that he never wanted to hear me speak that way again.

I don’t blame him, really. It must have been a little surreal to have these existential statements coming out of such a tiny mouth. And I was too young for him to offer me a drink.

As I grew older and began attending Sunday School, questions of mortality came up, but I became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that the only reason to behave kindly to others was to avoid the Land of Fire and Brimstone after I’d kicked the bucket. It didn’t seem like a spiritual concept at all. It seemed like a threat, something I never responded well to.

This other idea, the one that proclaimed that we had to convert everyone else to our way of thinking lest they go to Hell, was just another threat. Still, I went every Sunday because that’s what we did. I’d get this free comic every week with a Bible story in it (the art didn’t seem that different from that in my Superman comics) and then we’d all go to the Linton’s restaurant afterwards for breakfast. It was minimal suffering for maximum gain.

So the idea of participating in a Bible Memorization program didn’t seem so odd at the time. It was a challenge that would get progressively harder, I’d get free books (even if they were all devoted to Christian subjects), and it wasn’t like I was making a commitment to any particular religion, I reasoned. It was just a way to have some fun and make Sundays a little more interesting.

Each module of the program featured a slim volume in fake leather binding that nevertheless smelled very good. I’d commit a hunk of Bible verses to memory each week and then recite it to the fellow at the church who was in charge of witnessing these performances. Each week, I’d go up another notch as the length of the passages increased and the language became more difficult.

I still remember this large book with a blue and white cover called Heaven that I’d won early on. The writer had taken all the references in the Bible to Heaven and tried to construct a reasonable scenario of what one might expect. I still wasn’t sure where I was going and, in fact, began to suspect that I might not be going anywhere at all. I could still summon up that chill from childhood when I saw the abyss in front of me, a great emptiness that engulfed the world regardless of what any of us tried to do about it.

Whether we called our response Religion, Community, or Civilization, I could see how feeble these would be in the face of The Great Emptiness, a black hole that invalidated human existence, laughed at our attempts to become more than the animals we were, and that could burn it all down as quick as a thought.

It was all pointless, pointless and endlessly sad. Life was an abattoir that we did our best to laugh off.

And you never knew when the abyss would open its gaping maw.

Fast forward to Los Angeles, March 2005. I’m walking down Sunset Boulevard, dazed by the sun and the heat. I’m 3,000 miles away from home and I don’t recognize anyone or anything. My fear of nothingness faces me on every block in the form of the homeless and destitute.

A cold chill runs through me. Where do I know this feeling from?

Next: Pitchforks At Dawn


Anonymous Uncle Cleetus said...

Religion has always been a real mystery to me. I was raise without any- my parents said they did not want to jam any religion down my throat (my Mother had Catholicisn beaten into her)- and when I was old enough, I could make my own choice. I guess I never bought into the hypocrisy that is the cornerstone of most denominations.
I always liked "The Great Spirit" concept of the Native Americans- respecting the natural world around us...being outdoors and connected to the environment is about as close as I feel any spirituality. I guess no one every made a good enough case to me to "buy in" to a religion....

Thursday, December 08, 2005 9:19:00 PM  
Blogger Count Screwloose said...

Well, I'm with you, especially concerning the outdoors.

Sometimes that feels like the best church in the world, a heaven here-and-now that hints at some crimson heart beating behind the universe.

God, I've got to stay off the pipe.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005 1:22:00 AM  

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