THOLOS OF ATHENA

Monday, March 31, 2008

BE HAPPY IN YOUR THOUGHTS

My cousin, Jasper, is always sending me these diatribes based on religion. I won't say what his religion is; it's more or less liberal, I guess, but trying to have a normal discussion with him is like pulling teeth. As far as I can tell, he virtually has no opinions of his own. No kidding. He truly doesn't appear to know what to think about anything. He won't vote or participate in politics in any way. His religion forbids it, he says. It's almost like his beliefs and delusions have so clouded his mind over the years that he's finally turned into a zombie.

And this has happened to literally millions of people around the world. Millions of people, it seems, have had their brains snatched out of their noggins by the hocus-pocus of religion.

As I see it, the idea of Jesus being martyred on a cross so the rest of us can be “forgiven our sins” is simply ridiculous. Of what possible use is that to anyone? What is the point of a religion that doesn't move one to try to make the world a better place? I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose religion caused him to be an activist for civil rights; and the actor Martin Sheen's Catholicism, which compels him to work for peace.

I saw Sheen at a peace conference in Crawford, Texas awhile back. When he was introduced, he stood up and said, “You all know what I do for a living. This is what I do to live.” Then, he and Cindy Sheehan proceeded to hold a requiem mass for the dead in Iraq--the first real religious moment I've experienced in a long time.

Weren't the disciples proactive in trying to make things better? Wasn't their leader an activist, himself? So much is made of Jesus' birth and death, yet nobody talks much about what he did between the time he was a helpless baby and when he became helpless again as a condemned criminal on the cross. But didn't he, in fact, spend the best part of his short life advocating for the poor, the downtrodden, the hungry, for those in prison? Didn't he plea for peace instead of war in the Sermon On The Mount? And wasn't he finally put to death for challenging the ethics of the state? Isn't that the real message of his life? What other lesson is relevant for us, if not that one?

EASTER

Jasper recently dropped me a line citing, in his opinion, a certain discrepancy concerning Easter. Some 2,000 years ago, according to my cousin, the day began at sunset rather than midnight. “So if Christ was crucified on Friday evening,” he asked, “how could he have arisen on the third day?”

“Beats me,” I replied.

Curious, I did a little research and found that there is rather an intricate method for “calculating” the exact day when Jesus rose from the dead. It goes like this. First you determine when the Vernal Equinox occurs, or the first day of Spring (Between March 21st and 22nd). Then look for the next full moon. Resurrection Sunday falls on the following Sunday. Simple.

The writer on this site happily notes that this was rather inconvenient for merchants doing their annual planning for sales. But, as he says, the resurrection is one thing not determined by commerce, but by the movements of the sun and moon. So it agrees with the “divinely ordained purpose of heavenly lights as markers for times and seasons.”

Well, that sounds pretty good, but somehow, I have a feeling the merchants are doing just fine on Easter.

To me, the notion of dryly debating on which day somebody “rose from the dead” in the same way that historians might argue over, say, a timetable for the life of Shakespeare, or the last words of Robert E. Lee, seems completely removed from reality. If we accept as fact (beyond what is proven historical record) some particular detail of the Biblical epic, then, it seems to me we are in the impossible position (in which so many evangelicals and the like have placed themselves) of accepting as literal truth all the phantasmagoria, the allegories and myths of the Bible, or whatever “holy” book or prophet's version of things you've settled on as your basis.

And if we are to believe the Bible is the literal “word of God,” then surely we must accept that God really is the deranged, homicidal maniac presented to us in countless passages, from Genesis to the book of Revelations. This is a God whose ego-driven flights of anger could spell the doom of men, women, children, newborn babies, birds, cattle, koala bears, you name it. This God would put witches and homosexuals to death, approves of slavery, made a willing accomplice of Abraham in the murder of his son. He kills with plagues, boils, disease, hailstones, fire, drowning, turns people to salt—in short, uses every means at his disposal. Might as well say you believe the coldly psychotic fiend going around punching out people's brains with a pneumatic cow killer in the film No Country For Old Men is none other than God himself.

THE DEBATER

I recall my own father debating the Jehovah's Witnesses who came to his door, happily in his element, I imagine. He, too, fancied himself something of a Bible scholar, and I suppose he was. And that's good. I think it's a fine thing to know the Bible, undoubtedly a majestic and poetic book. But I don't think one should necessarily know it any more than one should perhaps know the Quran or the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita . In fact, I would hope one would be just as familiar, if not more so, with such books as All Quiet On The Western Front, Slaughterhouse Five and A People's History Of The United States. Surely, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn qualifies as one of the most religious books I've ever read.

I think my old Dad, bless his soul, was as “right”--and as mistaken--as the humble Jehovah's Witnesses at the door. What we have is simply millions upon millions of magical thinkers all equally convinced that they are right. . .pitted against each other. My father, getting himself up in the armor of his voodoo to do battle with the charlatans on the porch, clutching their magical book and their leaflets—what do they call them? “Tracts.” Periodically, the disagreements and bickering between this group of magical thinkers and that one breaks out into real actual war that destroys cities and maims and kills hundreds of thousands of people.

And that's what we have now in the Middle East. We have the Christian magical thinkers making war on all the Muslim magical thinkers. So, too, with Israel's nonstop aggression and slaughter of Palestinians—the basis for which may well be that passage in the “Good Book” where God hands over the land of Canaan forever to Abraham and his descendants.

And, as it happens, we just posted our four-thousandth American death in Iraq. On Easter Sunday! Imagine that. The Iraqis have lost over a million, the highest percentage of which happen to be women and children. I wonder how many of the survivors woke up Easter morning wondering which day precisely Jesus popped up out of his tomb and walked around. . . .

Happy Easter, all you Iraqi children!

THE WITNESSES

Speaking of Jehovah's Witnesses, I always enjoy talking to them, myself, as a matter of fact. I tend to get the same two black ladies appearing at my door--about three times a year. I think I've become their special project. I like them not so much for the foolishness they've stoked away in their heads, but mainly because they're so sweetly well-intentioned about the make-believe they're so determined to perform. Never intrusive, always acting with the utmost decorum and kindness. And always dressed in their Sunday best—which, for most of the people on my street would be sad weeds, indeed. And I love them for that, too.

And it's rather comforting, I must say, to have a couple of grandmothers showing up at my door who so ardently yearn to save me, even though I'm quite sure in the end, it would have to be on their terms rather than mine. And if saving me meant counting on either of them for a blood transfusion, say, then I imagine the odds of my survival in that moment would go right in the crapper.

But they're so childlike, they can't help it, I guess. It's what often happens to people who completely surrender to their delusions. They're just not as deceitful or as cunning as the rightwing Evangelicals.

Another reason I like them is because I happen to know a little about their history. The Witnesses historically have suffered terrible abuse at the hands of mainstream religions in this country, including mob violence and lynchings. So I can't help having a special sympathy for them, as I tend to have for the underdogs.

Thus, have they come by their belief in church/state separation by hard experience, which deserves high praise in this day when it seems like all the religious nuts are doing their best to infiltrate our schools and our government. Just recently, we were treated to the spectacle of a presidential candidate suggesting we should change the Constitution to bring it more into line with “God's standards.”

God's standards. . . .

* * *

I always smile brightly at the two ladies and welcome them to my door. I usually offer tea. I reflect back to them all the love they seem to be beaming at me. And they always look a little sheepish when I smilingly remind them how important it is to get out and vote in the next election, and that I still believe in science and Darwin's Theory, rather than the goofy pseudo-science of “Creationism.”

Only, I leave that last phrase unstated, of course.

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