Sunday, October 08, 2006

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, for My Parents Tell Me So


There are times when living in this city isn't simply tolerable but downright wonderful. Yesterday, my wife and I spent the afternoon wandering through the labyrinthian Museum of Natural History, taking in the myriad exhibits on the science of the universe and mankind's growth throughout the millennia. We followed this up with a walk through a street fair in the kind of crisp air which can only herald the dawn of autumn, then an evening at my agent's place on the Upper West Side, drinking wine on the terrace and watching twilight descend over the city in shades of blue and purple, providing a view which was beautifully augmented by the rise of a giant and glowing full moon.

This morning, I dragged myself out of bed, threw on a leather coat and wandered out onto a relatively quiet York Avenue to grab a cup of coffee and a few provisions for the refrigerator. Given that I had no intention of straying very far from my apartment, I neglected to bring along my iPod, an accoutrement which is attached to my person with the regularity of a soldier's sidearm. The lack of Dave Brubeck flowing into my head (the perfect soundtrack to a Sunday morning in Manhattan, I believe) of course meant that my ears were open to the sounds of the city itself.

It meant that I was able to listen to and fully appreciate the conversations taking place outside of St. Monica's Catholic Church on East 79th Street.

On the steps of the church sat a mother and what I assume were her two young children; she was explaining to them Christ's inarguable plan for their lives. Not far away, I strode alongside a family which had apparently just exited Sunday mass; the children were -- as children do -- innocently questioning the dogma which the priest had just laid out for them in no uncertain terms. It made me smile and shake my head, a somewhat ironic gesture for a somewhat ironic moment.

Here were a group of children -- willing to no doubt thoroughly buy into the existence of Santa Claus -- asking logical questions about a professed truth which even to their young minds seemed incomprehensible. Their parents' predictable response to this curiosity?

Just trust us -- you have to believe because that's the way it is.

Suffice to say, it took me back.

As it's Sunday, perhaps a confession is in order: I was raised in a Christian household.

To many, this will come as absolutely no surprise. It takes a fierce knowledge of -- and an even fiercer indoctrination to -- a given belief to eventually wage war against its tenets in any meaningful way. At some point -- exactly when, I can't recall -- I made a personal decision that religion in general and Christianity in particular, was nothing more than absurdist wishful thinking and that in this day and age, it's more likely to get you killed by those with equal but opposite views of the hereafter than it is to create a more ethical and moral Earth for the totality of mankind to reside upon.

Needless to say, a majority of America and the world disagrees with me, which as far as I'm concerned in no way substantiates its opposing position. For some reason, we've come to accept Validation Through Democracy, the idea that the larger the group to adhere to a belief, the more likely it is for that belief to be accurate. Obviously, this is nonsense; it's entirely possible for a very large group of people to believe something that is completely false. At the risk of proving Godwin's Law, it's important to remember that Hitler once had the overwhelming support of his people.

Many of those who are true believers in the concept of religion, of course, are parents. It is also, of course, these parents who instill their religious beliefs in their children, essentially creating an inherited fear of God in the same way an inherited eye-color, acquiescence to the parents' ideas of right and wrong, and even the parents' political beliefs are passed along. The end result is that religion becomes simply another ill-fitting hand-me-down. As I witnessed first-hand on the street today, kids will believe whatever their parents tell them: insist that they must be "saved" and accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior and it will take years for them to believe otherwise (that is, if they ever do, as opposed to simply passing down to their own kids the beliefs they themselves never thought to question).

If you'd like a frightening example of the dangers of this kind of indoctrination, go see the new documentary Jesus Camp. True, the film highlights only the most fervent of Christian extremists, but make no mistake that the ambition of these extremists is to claim the United States of America for Christ. They want nothing less than the dawn of a new theocracy, and -- to borrow a line from George Benson by way of Whitney Houston -- they believe the children are their future.

The film focuses on the "Kids on Fire" camp which is located, ironically, at Devil's Lake, North Dakota. While there, children are forcefully instructed how to become "Christian Warriors," the eventual frontline in the battle to win the hearts, minds and souls of America. It's essentially a Jedi camp for Fundamentalist Christians, with a rather unassuming pastor named Becky Fischer playing the part of Yoda. Some of the film's most trenchant images are of children -- most under the age of ten -- weeping openly, speaking in tongues, praying before a large cardboard stand-up of George W. Bush (an image, coincidentally, with roughly the same IQ as the real President Bush), and talking about their initial desire to be "saved" because, at the astute age of five, they realized that they simply needed something "more" in their lives.

It would all be hilarious, if it weren't so utterly disturbing.

Some have seen the movie and called the tactics and methods used on these children nothing short of brainwashing. Unfortunately, it's simply parents doing what many parents do: passing their beliefs down to their children and giving them no other real option. Kids generally want to please their parents during their formative years, so if, as a parent, you tell your kids that they should believe the sun revolves around the Earth -- or that they need to be saved by Jesus Christ -- you can be all but assured that that's exactly what they'll do.

Understand, neither Pastor Becky Fischer nor the mothers and fathers who send their children to Camp Kids on Fire care one bit about my opinions or beliefs; to them, I'm to be at the very least pitied for what will surely be an eternity in hell, or, at most, despised for openly wishing to inflict my belief in logic and reason on the rest of the planet, which would inevitably turn it away from their "One True God."

This leads me to confession number two: For a very short time (not even a full year, for reasons which should be obvious) I went to a Fundamentalist Southern-Baptist school.

For the record, my parents sent me to Dade Christian School not because they were zealots or in fact subscribed at all to the school's extremist take on Christianity; I went there because it was right up the street from my home as a teenager and because it actually did offer an excellent education. Unfortunately, with that education came indoctrination. Dade Christian was -- and still is, unless raided by the ATF at some point -- the kind of school which force-fed students Evangelical dogma to the point of exerting a chilling level of control over not just their lives in school, but at home as well. Children weren't allowed to hold hands -- in school or out -- dance, attend rock concerts or generally do the things that normal kids often do. Important to mention at this point is the fact that the students who either truly believed the teachings of the school or simply hoped to ingratiate themselves with the teachers could be counted on to report the behavior of those kids who broke the rules outside of the school gates back to the almighty administration. Dade Christian School operated as if it were an occupied city, complete with traitorous spies and a Vichy student government.

It goes without saying that I was less than popular with the occupying force, acting as the metaphorical insurgent who wandered the streets painting a giant red V over each Bible verse.

The clash of beliefs however reached critical mass in the wake of a tragedy.

A few years before enrolling at Dade Christian, I became friends with a young girl who lived up the street from me. Her name was Debby, and she and I would meet most afternoons to play kickball and generally get into trouble. We had both recently passed the point in life where boys and girls loathed each other, which meant that there was an odd but undeniable undertone of intimate curiosity to our relationship. We liked each other -- quite a bit in fact. We had the kind of relationship which was tinged with a level of youthful discovery that in retrospect brings a bittersweet smile to my face.

At some point, however, it just stopped. She still lived up the street from me, but for a reason unknown to me at the time she simply seemed to disappear.

It was later, during my first day at Dade Christian, that I ran into Debby again. She was warm and kind to me, but strangely distant. I did my best to put it out of my head; I figured I would need all of my mental faculties to resist the school's relentless day-to-day prosyletism.

Debby and I never really talked again -- we never got the chance to.

A few months after my encounter with her, there was a fire not far from my house. I awoke to the sound of firetrucks screaming past my window and quickly rushed outside to see what was going on, running after the trucks until I saw what exactly had dragged them to my quiet neighborhood in the middle of the night.

Debby's home was on fire.

I stood silently, bathed in flashes of deep red as the lights from the trucks created a chaos of long shadows and violent bursts of color. I watched Debby's mother -- whom I'd never actually spoken to -- cry loudly and collapse into a firefighter's arms. I never saw Debby come out. The reason is that she didn't.

I walked home numb, a lack of feeling which lasted well into the next day at school. It was there -- surrounded by tearful students and teachers, comforting each other with the knowledge that Debby was in a better place -- that something overcame me. My numbness was replaced by something else: sheer fucking rage. I didn't doubt the honesty or sincerity of those who grieved at Dade Christian School, I did however doubt that they ever knew the Debby that I did; they never saw the truly beautiful young girl underneath the thick topcoat of artifice with which they had covered her through the perpetual insistence that there was something wrong with her, that she needed to be "saved," and needed to denounce her humanity, herself. To those who truly believed the teachings I was inundated with daily, Debby was simply another lucky Christian soul gone to heaven.

My anger finally exploded just a few days later, during the memorial service held for my friend at the New Testament Baptist Church, which ran Dade Christian School. It was there that something so hideous happened that I have no doubt of its impact on my view of religion since. During the service, the silver-haired pastor -- a man who looked as if he came right out of Central Casting -- stood on the stage and uttered these words:

"Perhaps something good can come from Debby's death. Perhaps it can teach you all that you can be taken from this world at any moment, and that you cannot take your immortal soul for granted. You have to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior now, because there may not be a tomorrow."

He then urged those who were saved or wished to be to come up to the stage to bear witness for all of those in the crowd.

It was at that moment that I got up and walked out.

I was in the outer lobby of the church, pacing and shaking with what I feared was an uncontrollable fury, when one of my teachers, one I happened to like, came out to find me. She asked me if I was alright, and that was when I let everything inside me come bursting out.

I tried to keep my voice down, but I wound up seething and spitting anger through clenched teeth. I told her that what was going on just behind those double-doors was wrong. I told her that she couldn't possibly condone that kind of macabre exploitation of a student who sat in one of her classes just days ago. I told her that there was no reason for Debby's death, nor the death of any other kid, and that justifying or rationalizing that kind of tragedy was simply outrageous. I told her she couldn't possibly believe in a god that would allow such groundless suffering. I told her the death of a young girl was just fucking wrong.

And then I cried.

Rather than defend the grotesque spectacle taking place just a few feet from us, the teacher simply nodded her head in acknowledgement.

But there were others who didn't, who wouldn't, They were children -- like the baleful faces at Camp Kids on Fire -- who have been the targets of so much religious agitprop throughout their formative years, from parents who believe that they're doing God's will, that they truly believe that the death of one of their own would offer a silver lining in the form of an object lesson from on high. At the risk of being too provocative, you have to ask yourself: If this kind of manipulation of children were coming from anyone but those who preach the dominion of Jesus, would we as a nation tolerate it?

Yesterday, my wife and I visited the Museum of Natural History. As we took in the exhibits on the earliest incarnation of the universe, the earliest incarnation of man, and the fossils which act as a concrete testament to the existence of dinosaurs, it dawned on me that there are children in this country who believe none of it. They deny proven fact because their parents do. They've learned to demand nothing less than a new age of unreason.

Which is nothing compared to demanding that the death of one of them be accepted as the unquestionable work of a god who operates in ways we're not meant to understand.

The best we can hope for, is that they grow out of it.

33 comments:

Chez said...

I'm going to use this space for an "author's note." I in no way wish to imply that my mother and father -- whom I love and care for dearly -- are religious fanatics. They aren't. They're far from it in fact. I was raised in a Catholic household and attended a Christian school for many years, but aside from my time at Dade Christian I was never beaten over the head with religion. My mother prays for me -- obviously with good reason -- but neither she nor my father assume that I'm going to burn for an eternity in hell.

I'm the only one who assumes that.

Alice said...

chez- would that I could have articulated my exact same feelings about this subject as you just did. kudos. nice to know there are others like me out there.

Liz said...

This was beautiful, and revealing. I have learned firsthand the type of ugliness and abuse of power that dwells beneath the doctrine of complete and total submission to an ideal, any ideal. I used to get in trouble for questioning everything in bible class. All the other kids would hiss at me to shut up, but the bullshit we were being spoon fed never made sense. As an adult, it still doesn't. I believe in God, but not in a dogmatic way, more of a "universal conciousness" type of way. I'm aware that stimulation of the cerebral cortex can bring on what feels like a spiritual experience, so I'm not entirely ignorant of the arguments against a higher power. The idea that I feel almost ashamed to believe in God, when I don't believe in Christianity in any form is almost absurd, but I do. If we all were to conform to the same dogma, as the Christians want us to, we are indeed in danger of becoming a fascist state. That is what I fear, and what these little "Soldiers of God" remind me of. Remember the Hitler Youth anybody? Thank you for sharing this intensely personal experience Chez.

Genevieve said...

I used to be Catholic, I'm now converting to Judaism, but the priest at my old church once gave a sermon about how believers of Christ were the only ones who would be saved, and he started naming all the religions that WOULDN'T be saved. My sister's a Buddhist, and for community service hours for school once she worked at our church's Bible school, and everyone else there hated her just because she was Buddhist. So I have no problem with CHRISTIANS, I just don't like that THEY tend to have a problem with everything I believe in. Ultimatly, these people want to change America from a forward-moving country into a backward moving one, with no adherance to science and no respect for individuality. And I will fight them every step of the way.

Chez said...

I mean you no personal disrespect Genevieve, but saying that you prefer Judaism to Christianity is basically like saying that you're giving up that Astrology crap for a Ouija board: it's essentially the same ridiculous hokum. Yes, Judaism professes to allow for a more impressive level of scholarly discourse -- but anything which attempts to grant real-world relevance to 2000+ year-old superstition is just silly.

As for implying that the Jewish faith is somehow less exclusory than Christianity -- please. Do I really need to remind you of the "Chosen People?" Every religion believes that it's the correct one, and if one of them is wrong then all of them are. Period. By virtue of the fact that most religions (certainly the ones which vociferously claim a piece of real estate such as Jerusalem as their home) believe that they represent the one true path to God, they arrogantly aim for some level of dominion -- whether it be by the word or by the sword. Once again, they can't all be right.

My advice: trust no human being who tells you that he or she knows the path to heaven; that person is likely full of shit.

SmellyTerror said...

I'm going to quibble.

It's an important fact of history that Hitler never had majority support from the people. The Nazis had formed a minority government when they conducted what was essentially a smei-constitutional coup to get total power.

...and once you're in a position where saying anything against the government can get you and your family disappeared, and when the actions of that government has brought the whole world coming after you with fire bombs, then you don't have a lot of options but to help your fellow countrymen as best you can.

I'm not pointing to any similarities here, just sayin'.
:)

Oh, and this post, like most of the blog, rocks.

If there was a supreme being, I'm pretty sure he could come up with revelations a little more convincing than something that looks exactly the same as the ignorant ramblings of an ancient tribe of goat herders. I mean, no disrespect to goat herders, but if someone said that their magic book was true because the magic book says it's true, and so since it's true then this must also be true...

Well, I'd offer to sell them a bridge.

Eric Blade said...

I swear, Chez, reading most of your writing makes me wonder if you're pulling things out of my head, and putting them in your words. Except that you can pinpoint your reasonings, you have anecdotes . . . all I remember is growing up in a family where the only person who cared one bit for any religion at all was the "wicked stepmother", who stormed into my life a few years after my mother died (when i was 5) and tried to turn us all into some kind of Catholic something or other. At age 7 or 8 or whenever the heck it was that Rosemary moved in with my father, I had already been under the assumption that if there were a God, there could be no free will -- If the God were all knowing and all powerful, how could there be such a thing as free will? And that b/witch attempting to force myself and my brother to attend her church, that would be curtailing free will. Free will, I believe is the root of all Good. People should do good things, because they CAN not because after their God strikes them down, they will then burn in Hell.

Then, 4-5 years later, a band by the name of Thought Industry summed up that thought in a quick lyric, and I presume that they probably borrowed it from some philosopher that I had probably also heard it from, and just never connected it in my head. My brother read tons of philosophy stuff for a while, and often doled it out to me as we were growing up.

Anyway, the line is:

God exists, God is Good, God is Omnipotent - you can only have two of three, to choose them all you contradict.

SmellyTerror said...

PS: Here's an educational link regarding the Nazi rise to power - it's a bit dry, but interesting, and gives parallels to the present situation.

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2004/09/germany_in_the_.html

Chez said...

Terror:

A worthwhile point about the Nazis. It's true that by the time Hitler gained an undeniable popularity among the German people, he was essentially in a position which may have left them no choice but to fall in line -- making his true support impossible to measure. Still, he had a remarkably large number of supporters which facilitated his initial rise to power.

As for your point about the "magic books," once again I defer to Sam Harris -- author of The End of Faith. His basic take is this: how do we know God exists? Our holy books tell us so. How do we know our holy books are holy? They tell us they are.

Circular, self-reinforcing logic at its absolute finest.

You wouldn't swallow it in any other facet of your life. Why make an exception for religion?

Chez said...

Eric:

All I can say is, I'm really sorry man. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) you're not alone in this world.

Some people tragically prove that maybe not everyone deserves a spot at the table of humanity.

Julie said...

I was born Roman Catholic (hey, my family is Italian). Growing up my parents didn't have money. My mom was going to nursing school and both parents worked while trying to raise two kids. In fact, many weekends we went to visit family in NJ because my parents didn't have enough money to get groceries for the weekend. I went to catholic school in my early ears. So, one day in church the priest asked everyone to give more money than they were already giving. My mom, who had spent some time in a convent as a young girl, went to the priest and told him of our family's economic situation and asked if instead of giving money if she could give to the church by cleaning it. She knew the "proper" way and it could work out well for everyone. The priest refused her and said that they have people to clean the church and they only want money. That was when we stopped going to church. In college, I revisited church again. This time a UCC. At first, everyone was nice and I liked it. Then one night I went with a friend to the "women's ministry" where we made crafts etc. I was in a strange situation at the church since I was the only one in her early twenties who wasn't married. I was too old to connect with the teenagers and too young to connect with the "moms". The entire time during the ministry, the pastor's wife and the female pastor of the church sat there and talked to each other. Not one word was said to me. I stopped going to that church too.

Anyway, your entry truly hit home for me and I really appreciate it.

cruella dahling said...

We went to a beautiful fall festival yesterday in a small, quaint town nearby. As we wandered in and out of the little shops, there were adorable little girls in long braids and long skirts handing out tracts entitled, "Heaven or Hell, You Make the Choice." There was also a group of long-skirted, long-haired women singing hymns on the street corner. Several people, along with myself, commented that the singers reminded us of "O Brother Where Art Thou?" But that movie was a comedy, this was a tragedy. Getting these children to shill your religion is inexcusable. The tracts had a lovely drawing on the front of the apocalypse. Seeing these sad faced children, who should have been drinking lemon-shakeups and eating corn dogs while feeding the ducks in the canal, thrusting these tracts at everyone in sight really ruined an otherwise beautiful day. I agree completely....this is merely sanctioned child abuse.

Chez said...

It's probably worth mentioning that I'm equally offended at parents who pimp their children out at events like political rallies and -- particularly -- labor strikes.

While I was growing up in Miami, the now-defunct Eastern Airlines staged a mammoth walk-out which grounded the carrier. The picket lines ran day and night, as the strike dragged on. At any hour, you could count on seeing children wearing T-shirts with anti-management/pro-union slogans -- shouting along with their parents about the need for worker inclusion in subsidiary options and better compensation for mid-level shifts.

Robo said...

I've never bought into any Religion. I did buy into thinking my own way however.

So funny story...I used to go to church with my friend and his family sometimes on Sundays when I spent the night at their house. They weren't fanatics but their father believed it was important for his children. (Aside - I don't blame him really. The church can provide a good structure for a young kid to live their life by. So can a prep school...moving on). So the father always gave me the choice to go with them or not. I usually went out of respect for him since he fed me, let me get drunk at his house (underage), and gave my drunk ass a place to crash.

I always felt out of place. I didn't know the rituals...Stand, sit, stand, knee etc. I didn't know the songs which I'm told are Hymns. I didn't know the prayers you say out loud and ones you say to yourself. I Didn't know when to chime in with a Hallujah or Ahmen. SO when everyone would start to sing some song I would find the basic rythmn of the words and replace them with Gangster Rap lyrics. It's actually quite funny to 'sing' Nothing But a G Thang to an Organ. I didn't sing too too loud but loud enough so that my friend would laugh so he couldn't sing and loud enough so that people around us would give me dirty looks. I was also the kid who sat in Sunday School and always asked..."Why, how, and who says?" And oddly enough it always was answered with "Because God/the bible/jesus/that statue of Mary Says so".

It was fun to see the frustration on the face of some of the teachers and preists. I was like the Ultimate Challenge for them and I would laugh when they tried harder to convert me.

I always chuckle to myself when I think of the way I tormented these people using simple defiance.

I do love the costumes though...

But on another amusing note....if there was something to truly worship...wouldn't you think The Fucking SUN would be a good target?

Anonymous said...

you went to dade christian? i had no idea....i knew a couple of people from my neighborhood that went there, and it was nuts. one girl got thrown out because the school found out she had a party at her house...

-manservant hecubus

Andre said...

That was something which always confused me about Christianity... how is it that they can believe that they're good christians who will go to heaven, but still fear death? Aren't they supposed to be going to a better place?

Seems hypocritical to me. That's like being told when you wreck your beat up old pickup truck you're gonna get a free Ferrari, but you're still afraid to even scratch the pickup.

Chez said...

Robo:

Fucking hilarious. I once got in trouble for calling the communion wafers "Jesus Chips." Even as an outsider looking in though, it took you about twenty seconds to realize the first rule of religion: you don't ask questions.

Andre:

Yup, another perfectly pointed out flaw -- and one I too will never understand. I actually mentioned awhile back (The Cynicist Manifesto) that I never understood why Randall Terry and his ilk fought tooth and nail to keep Terri Schiavo trapped inside a body which was essentially a broken prison.

If you believe in a glorious afterlife drinking milk and honey with the almighty, shouldn't you be wishing death upon her?

It's that dichotomy which exposes the utter hypocrisy of Evangelicals who attack the 9/11 hijackers. The reality is that those guys were such true believers that they didn't even fear death. That's true faith.

It's completely fucking insane, but at least it's honest.

damnyanqui said...

So the next time someone close to you dies, the proper expression of condolence would be... what...
"Hey, that was such a nice person, I'm sure the worms are getting a real treat?"
For better or worse (in this case worse) it seems the angry young man you were remains angry to the point of some painful derangement.
Too bad.
Having come through what I'm guessing was a religious education far more bible oriented than mine was, I'm surprised you didn't recognize the biblical allusion beneath the pastor's comments at which you took such offense.
Perhaps you simply chose to ignore it.
I recently heard the passage about the guy who gets his wealth (harvest and silos) all set up for the long term, only to be told... surprise!... he checks out tonight.
It's one of several admonitions that we know neither the day nor the hour when we face judgement, a common theme of course.
Surely you're familiar with it.
But such stories as the parables of the rich man or the foolish bridesmaids are regrettably... shall we say... distant.
How many 20th century schoolkids would have been familiar with granaries, or care about the marriage rituals of 1st century Jews?
Now comes a real world case demonstrating with excruciating clarity just how fragile corporeal life really is.
The expression "teaching opportunity," pathetically inadequate and new-age as it is, nonetheless sums up the situation with which your despised cleric found himself presented. As far as he was concerned, Debby was indeed now better off, and in a position to help her friends and classmates with a lesson that transcends 2000 years of separation from the surface subject matter of those dusty parables.
Just look at the Amish and see that for those with faith, the time to step up and embrace it is PRECISELY those times of horrible loss. It is then, most of all, that faith actually has its meaning, not some vague hypthetical scenario but a real opportunity to stand up and say "yes, my loved one has gone on to the reward that we really do believe awaits us."
Must you agree with that assessment? Of course not. That would require embracing a belef system to which you clearly do not subscribe.
But the blind, contemptuous rage with which you attack the message, the messenger and the medium without even acknowledging their internal logic reflects poorly on your own claim to some superior level of reason.
The fact that with years of hindsight you're still unable to even begrudgingly acknowledge the value of the lesson (not to you of course, but at least to those who hold to the school's faith) wraps that vitriol up in a sad sealant of closed-mindedness.

Irrational?
Pot.
Kettle.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said. You've outlined exactly why I will not raise my children in a religion. Even though I believe in God, it is something I came to on my own, not something I was spoonfed by my parents. Nothing good comes of raising children Christian. I've seen it fuck up so many people.

Chez said...

Damnyanqui:

I'm not quite sure where to begin with you and your argument -- one which, although certainly appreciated, makes a dubious amount of sense.

First of all, the stand you take -- one not uncommon to those pushing the relevance of religion -- seems to rely on my belief in the supernatural as opposed to the real. At the very least, it implies that a belief which is grounded in absolutely no proven fact is somehow deserving of respect. I'm sorry, but I disagree with this wholeheartedly. I've met many wonderful people in my time who are religious and whom I love and respect as people, which in no way means that I accept their belief in superstition or believe that it in any way is responsible for the qualities which make them good people.

Put is this way -- and I've used this example before: if someone came to you and said that they believed that gravity wasn't real or that the entire world was actually a computer-generated Matrix-like illusion, there's no way in hell that you'd respect that opinion (unless you were stoned at four in the morning). The belief that Jesus has taken your loved one away to be by his side with his father is no less ridiculous.

I realize that a belief such as this is the very definition of the word faith, but I dispute its practicality beyond helping you get through the day -- helping you give life much-needed meaning. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, children believe in Santa Claus for roughly the same reason -- and it in no way makes him real.

My issue -- and I'm baffled that you somehow didn't get the entire focus of the piece -- is with children being indoctrinated against their will with a belief system which is so radical, exclusory and damaging.

Yes, I said against their will because they literally have little choice but to adhere to the wishes of their parents and teachers.

And yes, I said damaging because telling children that the world was created in seven days 12,000 years ago, and that womankind came from the rib of a man is just plain false by any reasonable standard. Ironically, these teachings indeed seem to be preparing children more for an afterlife than the life they have here on Earth.

Please understand, I agree that there are astonishing lessons which can be gleaned from religious texts, but guess what: there are just as many astonishing lessons to be gleaned from Khalil Gibran, Joseph Campbell and Shakespeare. The point may be that I don't need a supernatural being to make my life worthwhile -- in fact, I would argue that the understanding that this one life may be all we have makes it all the more precious and beautiful.

Which brings us to Debby.

The death of a young girl is nothing to be celebrated -- by anyone. Period.

Feel free to be as condescending and pitying as you'd like -- as the religious often are toward those who haven't achieved true eternal peace -- but a tragedy which claims the life of a child, or anyone for that matter, is a sorrowful occasion (regardless of whatever fairy-tale you've concocted to help you think otherwise). The correct condolence is to say that you're sorry -- so sorry -- and that you're simply glad that the person was so special and so loved during his or her time here.

Or...

You say that your life -- your world -- who you are -- was affected by everything that person was. You say that you're lucky, glad and proud to have been touched by that life -- and that the effect he or she had on you will be part of that person's amazing legacy to this thing we call humanity.

You don't exploit. You don't use that death to make a point. A memorial service is neither the time nor the place for an object lesson.

I follow the "logic" you're speaking of: that if you believe that there's a religious message to be found in a death, then when presented with one, you accept the opportunity.

Very true. And if you believe that the world was created by clowns then the circus becomes your temple. The point being that even the most delusional mental patient adheres to the specific paradigm of his or her delusion; once again, it doesn't make the delusion real.

The bottom line however -- and this goes back to what I said at the beginning -- is that I have an issue with children being relentlessly force-fed this belief (particularly in exclusion of others), or any that isn't grounded in reality; and being done so with the intention of turning them into the next generation of Holy Mouthpieces.

I would call you one of those, but I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and trust that you're not attempting to convert me.

I'll do you the same courtesy.

As a great bumper-sticker once said: never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Anonymous said...

I found this blog via links for the new documentary "Jesus Camp". I had an experience similar to your reaction at the young girl's funeral.

I was born and raised in an agnostic household (plus a grandfather who couldn't abide "Jesus freaks"). Thing is, older I get, more I sound like Grandfather.

Anyhow, 2 years ago, I attended a funeral--my boss's son had committed suicide. He was mildly handicapped; he was functioning enough to hold down a job, but not enough to fit in with the "normals". The tipping point was his breakup with a longtime girlfriend.

I attended to show my condolences for her loss--he was her only child. She happened to be an evangelical Christian, so her pastor presided over the funeral.

The funeral itself was beautiful, with people who testified about the boy's life, etc. Which was followed by the pastor, who said exactly what you heard--that there was a lesson to be learned from his suicide (which would be--that suicides are damned to hell?), that it was a warning to find Jeezus and be saved (the pastor did not mention whether the boy had been saved or not), and that his church was open to everyone (gotta hand it to his salesmanship!)

The incongruity (not to mention the disrespect shown to the family) made me want to gag.

VOTAR said...

Uh oh Chez, your chronology is a little off. The world was created in only six days, and only about 5,800 years ago. Ignorant Goy.

But seriously...

Remember when Jorge died (of course you do, it was like yesterday still). Everyone at the service kept coming up to us to say how Jorge was in a better place now. Yada yada. That experience was for me an opportunity to revisit one of the basic tenets of my philosophical persona. I forgave those people their instinctive platitudes, because really, they don't know any better. And neither do I. The difference was, and is, that I don't fill in that void of ignorance with some institutional system of beliefs in an attempt to help make sense of situations that are beyond understanding.

Remarkable how each of the basic functions of life -- and I mean "life" in the primordial sense -- has been evolved into such elaborate industries that consume the behavior of mankind. Hunting and gathering was replaced by farming, which begat commerce, which begat money, which begat reading and writing, which begat government, which begat taxation, which begat property ownership, which begat warfare....

The need to eat has evolved to the point that there is such a thing as "haute cuisine;" consuming nutrients risen to the level of art. The need to find shelter from the elements has evolved into "Architecture." The need to protect one's self from harm and to stay warm and/or dry has evolved into "Fashion." The drive to procreate has evolved into internet porn (thankfully).

Try to imagine your life without these things; go live in the woods, naked, and scrounge up things to eat. Try to live without television and microwaves and asphalt and glass and zippers and pop-tarts and iPods and almond-scented body wash. You'd be left with that one, primodial instinct, the one that begat them all. FEAR.

Every living conscious thing on this planet knows that at any moment, something bigger, faster, stronger, and hungrier than them could snuff out their existence, most often in a manner that our "civilized" sensibilities regard as gruesome. Your fuzzy little kitten purrs when it is fed, and safe, and not having its entrails torn out by a wolf.

So on a certain level, we have to forgive those who cling to that one most elaborate of modern human psychological constructs: religion. They are as frightened as we are. The mourners at Jorge's funeral didn't KNOW whether he is in a "better place" at this moment, any more than they KNOW he is frolicking with 72 virgins, being stabbed in the ass by flaming pitchforks, or doing anything other than slowly transmuting into nutrient-rich soil (which is a waste of resources since they put him in that big marble drawer).

They don't KNOW any more than I do, any more than Mr. Damnyanqui (with all due respect), or any more than the pope or ayatollah does. They HOPE there is something better, just like I do, because the alternative is difficult to accept, that this mortal experience of perpetual terror is all that there is. We have insulated ourselves with the trappings of civilization, and with the comfort of rituals, to keep at bay the nagging genetic memory of being run down by the wolves and spending the last moments of our lives in agony so another creature can consume our flesh and survive until the next meal. Strip away all the artifice of civilization, and really, that's all there is.

"Painful derangement." Now that's hysterical.

Prophet of Ra said...

About a week ago, there were people parading around my campus (PSU) with large signs saying, "Obey Jesus or Perish," with people yelling in the streets. They tried to give my friend a slip of paper that was the "first step to forgiveness" at which point he told them, "I don't believe in God."

Their response?

"You are lost."

He told me about this later on and it was then I mentioned that they are damned lucky they didn't tell me I was lost.

I thought back to grade school. After every test, people would congregate in the hallway and ask, "What was your answer to number 5?" "Who did you write as the ruler of the Assyrian Empire?" "Did you get 84 1/3 for the bonus question?"

When they found out that people agreed with them, suddenly they felt a whole lot better about their answers. Without people to agree with them, they felt lost and alone, and the only way they could feel sure is if either everyone was wrong, or he/she was right.

It made me think about first and second grade, when the teacher would bring in a tasty treat for our Halloween party or Valentines Day party. She would take a pole to see what kind of cake everyone wanted. Chocolate or Vanilla? We would all put our heads down and vote silently. After the voting, everyone would get together and ask, "what did you vote for?" Well the first answer heard aloud was vanilla. So from then on, everyone said, "I voted for vanilla," just so they could feel accepted and secure.

Obviously enough, in a second grade classroom, the winner was chocolate and so we had chocolate cake on that holiday. But did anyone mention that everyone voted for vanilla? Absolutely not, once again, everyone was afraid to be different from the rest of the class. They all either wanted to be right, or have everyone be wrong. In this case, they were all wrong.

And so I think of these people standing on the streets shouting to me. I realize that it is not I who is lost, it is them. They are lost. The fact that they will do anything to make me agree proves that. They realize they cant change minds of people who know what they want.

So they shoot for minds that don't know what they want and in fact don't know that they should want something at all. Who is that? Their children. The same children who all agree on the same cake because that's how a 1st grader thinks.

I say to all Christians bent on converting the world, "Your mind is the equivalent of a 1st grade child. You don't know the right path but you'll be damned if you're going down alone. You try to scare children into agreeing with you, because people your own age are too intelligent to buy your crap. Converting 5 year old children is the equivalent of playing a game of RISK with a 5 year old, realizing that they are beating you, and making up rules because you know they will believe you and make you win. You are sick, pitiful, and a disgrace to all that makes you human."


*The above statement does not apply to all Christians, only those who don't have the will power strong enough to accept their own beliefs, and let others have theirs.

VOTAR said...

Not to monopolize your blog unnecessarily on this point, Chez, but I just remembered something worth mentioning. Less than a week ago, I'm not sure which night, on Hannity and Colmes (yeah, yeah, I know...but work with me ok), they had on Shirley Phelps, a representative of that insane uber-fundamentalist christian cult Westboro Baptist Church, that protests outside of funerals. The occasion was the impending burial of the first of those hapless little Amish girls.

The WBC intended to protest at those funerals, with all their "God Hates Fags" sandwich signs and such. After being placated with some free radio air time to spew their psychopathic hogshit, they relented and cancelled the protest.

Seriously, if it's available, on YouTube or wherever else, it warrants being posted so more people can see this. You want an inarguable display of how truly BATSHIT CRAZY religionists can be, find and watch that segment. I've rarely seen Hannity and Colmes agree with one another (that would be a violation of their Prime Directive or something), but they were left with no choice. This woman sat there, and with what passes for a straight face among the criminally insane, she insisted that those little girls deserved to die, because this was another of god's judgements on America. I am not making this up.

There is a wealth of stuff on the internet about them, and they have a number of websites (such as, and seriously, I'm not making this up, www.godhatesamerica.com and www.godhatesfags.com).

Cleverly, they are indoctrinated to expect to be greeted with revulsion and hatred for what they do, since we are all sinners anyway and thus we will rebel against the truth of their message. Therefore, to disagree with them, proves them right. Brilliant...and utterly, unredeemably evil.

Look for yourself and see just how shameful and pathetic humans can actually be.

Chez said...

Yeah, I've seen their leader, wacky Fred Phelps, all over You Tube. If you get a chance, check out his rant against "clever sodomites" Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Fucking hilarious.

My real problem with the Westboro Baptist Church is not that it exists -- which is unfortunate, but expected (if you take religious text literally, then there will always be extreme extreme elements out there -- the kind which even the extremests can't abide); the bigger issue with these fucking idiots is that if you saw Shirley on Hannity and Non-Threatening, Pencil-Necked Liberal Stereotype Wuss (Colmes), then that means that they brought her back.

She's been on there before -- for no other reason than to give Hannity the chance to prove that he's semi-human by tearing into her as loudly and indignantly as possible.

In other words, the entire thing was basically Vaudeville.

I can see the booker and producer of the show saying, "Yes! We get to have that vile nutjob Shirley Phelps on again; Great TV, here we come!"

The better response would be to never give her nor the shithead who spawned her two seconds of airtime.

Since taking them out into the middle of a field and putting a bullet in each of their heads is technically illegal, ignoring them until they crawl back into the ground to quietly wait for armageddon might be the best way to deal with them.

As for their belief that the anger of the well-adjusted just validates their crusade, that's called a "self-reinforcing delusion."

If you look up the definition of the term, you'll see that it fits most religion.

VOTAR said...

Most religion? Why quibble?

I was going to end my last post with a get-out-of-hell-free disclaimer, something to the effect of "my revulsion against cultists like Phelps is in no way a reflection of my respect for other well-meaning christians, etc..."

But then I realized I couldn't. Their methods may be unusual, and sickening, but at their core, the message is precisely the same as it would have to be from any Sunday morning preacher, priest, catholic school teacher, nun, the pope, or even your mom, or mine. If it was written in that book, it must be true, it must be believed, and all must be proselytized or punished.

From personal experience: my mother's conversion to born-againism in the mid-eighties was heralded by an act of vandalism, as every item in my bedroom was destroyed to "cleanse the devil from our household." This was followed by at least a year of letters to me in college, consisting of dozens of double-sided pages each of hand-written bible quotes. And let me not forget two parental separations, each lasting about a year or so, because my dad wouldn't convert and join the church. She had been taught by this cult that it was better to leave her family, than to abide the un-saved.

This was my mother, the woman from whom I inherited my intellect and creativity, who nurtured my curiosity about art and architecture and science and literature. Like a horror movie, I was certain that beautiful, bright woman had been replaced with a humorless and stern alien, a stranger planted in our home, who would tell me things like "the dinosaurs died in the great flood," that she had been taught by these madmen.*

I was left wondering, how did she allow these people to do that to her? How does anyone? The euphoria the newly-religionized must feel, looks to me a lot like the adrenaline rush of a drug addiction, except it appears to last a lot longer. They should all be in rehab. The world needs an enema, Bob.

*(My mom is a lot better now. The zeal has worn off, although I suspect it's still there in a cicada-like dormant phase. But we get along just fine these days; my peace treaty with the cylon jihad seems to be holding.)

cruella dahling said...

Ok, you may remember that I work in a church office. Last night we had a board meeting and the minister was talking about a class about "reaching the unchurched" or something like that. In other words, how to reach out and corrupt more people's minds, and how we should all reach out, every day, to tell more people the fairy tales they believe in. I would just as soon follow Aesop's fables. They are stories used to illustrate a point, and they make no bones about it. Tortoise and the hare....natch. Fox and the grapes....ok. Water into wine? WTF??? Ok, maybe that means take a sad song and make it better. Whatever...the Beatles make more fucking sense. Anyway, these religious people are constanting trying to find new ways to reach out and touch someone, it is called "the great commission" or some such crap. Until people with some intelligence stand up and tell them to shut the fuck up, it is only going to get worse. I saw a campaign ad on TV for a local congressional race that states one of the candidates lacks "good H*****r values" because he did NOT vote for an amendment to state that marriage should only be "one man and one woman" and he did not vote to protect the flag. In other words, he has a brain. Guess what? He's got my vote!! With the politicial party that is in control now, this right-wing religious crap is only going to continue. Damn, a cave in Montana is looking pretty good right now......

Anonymous said...

I understand a lot of the anger here. I am from upstate South Carolina - we're talking buckle of the bible belt. I grew up in extreme fundamentalist Baptist churches; the entire focus of my religious upbringing was FEAR. I remember the mentality so well that sitting here thinking about it I feel the same feelings I did as a child; I would lie awake at night too terrified to go to sleep.

Even the hatred and bigotry taught from pulpits is based on fear. These people honestly believe that if gays are treated like human beings and allowed to be an accepted part of society God will punish us. (Sodom and Gomorrah part II) These churches weren't as extreme as the Phelps monster, but it's scary to me that it really isn't that far of a leap from the mentality I see from all fundamentalist christians.

I have a hard time controlling the anger I feel when confronted with this mentality and the ignorance behind it; unfortunately living where I do I'm confronted with it quite often.

That being said, I still believe in christ. But the difference between me and most other christians is that I know the difference between faith and logic or faith and science. Faith is something that does NOT have a basis in reason. There is no proof. My belief in God makes no logical sense; I have no defense for it - it's just what I believe. I also don't believe every word in the bible is meant to be taken literally. One of the stupidest things I see is when ppl read these scriptures with no regard for the cultural context, time period, or symbolism involved.

I DON'T believe in trying to convert ppl that have no desire whatsoever to be converted. I think that many of the tactics used in the name of the "Great Commission" are heinous and despicable, and many christians have assumed I was an atheist because I have voiced my opinion about them.

I also think that telling children to believe everything your religion tells them to without questioning is wrong as well. My belief is that you never believe anything until you've questioned everything. If we have children they will be taught to think for themselves and capable of coming to their own conclusions; whether they agree with mine or not is their choice and I think it would be wrong to try and force something on them that even I admit makes no logical sense.

I feel that if you really believe something is true it won't bother you when ppl disagree. I don't believe that christians that grow angry and defensive when faced with ppl that disagree with them really believe their own dogma.

I apologize for rambling. I'm running on less than 3 hrs of sleep, but I've been wanting to comment on this since you first put it up.

-JBS

Anonymous said...

you've got to love the religious schitzophrenia

Liana said...

Just to add to the other stories.

I grew up in a non-religious household. However, when my mother died when I was 16. My grandparent organised that the funeral be held in their church and preside over by the pastor.

As I sat though the event I burned inside as a man who did not know my mother, talked about her and God and took the opportunity to make a sales pitch.

Recently I also found a website that I would like to share:
Fundies say the darndest things!
An archive of the most hilarious, bizarre, ignorant, bigoted, and terrifying quotes from fundies all over the internet.

Zoe said...

Just wondering. Have you ever heard of something called Terror Management Theory? It more or less posits that due to a fear of death, people cling to their own cultural world view, which provides their life with meaning, familiarity and most importantly, continuity. When a person's belief in their cultural world view slips, they are open to the devastating fear of death. Thus, any attack on the validity of this person's cultural world view is rigorously refuted. The authors of the theory say it explains religious wars, evangelists, fundamentalist; more or less every evil thing man does can be attributed to TMT (which is total bs, because if EVERYTHING can be explained by TMT, it's use as a workable principle is nil. However, still an interesting theory) So, more or less what you're saying dressed up in pop psychology.

And I am sorry that your disillusionment with religion came at such an awful price. My own started when I was banished to the cafeteria while all the baptized Catholics received their First Communion. I was only 8, but I realized that the loving God the school preached about? Actually kind of a dick head if I was going to hell because my parents didn't baptize me.

Great post, and reading the replies wasted another good ten minutes of my workday.

HB said...

I too experienced the same tragedy that led me to be disillusioned with religion all together. I lost a good friend a couple of years ago and I can still remember the disgust I felt when I heard the priest chant along his crap about her being in a better place and that she is with God now and that we'll all have the same "joy" she has one day. Gosh!

Anonymous said...

To Chez:
I agree with your first impression regarding your friend and the preacher trying to get people to be "saved". What you have is a case of the blind leading the blind. They are making it up as they go because they really don't understand what was being said in what they study. I would also be furious.

I have studied religion, metaphysics and Christianity for quite a while and have had the profound experience of getting connected with a wonderful teacher who has helped me understand a great deal of how things actually work. Based on my learnings, I say the following in the interest of providing different concepts for you to consider. It is not intended to convince you of it being true compared to the "other guys". You will have to consider what is said here and determine if it feels right for you.

Summary of some points my teacher makes:
- The essence of the universe is Love. Love means seeing the best in each other and caring for each other. It does not matter what the gender/ sexual orientation/ appearance seems to be. You take care of and help out those that are present around you.
- God does not cause anything negative in any way whatsover.
- When asking about why things happened, we have to sincerely ask God/the Universe/whoever you connect with what really happened. (I did that and got connected with my current teacher who is not affiliated with anything that could be called a religion. He does not consider himself a Christian, but he has a far more profound understanding of what the concepts of Christianity really mean than any one else I have ever connected with.)
- "Nothing I see means what I think it does."
- The bulk of what is true in the Bible is contained in the very first chapter of Genesis where God created the universe and said it was "very good", or, in another way of saying it, "verily God." Stop reading about 1 sentence before the end of the chapter. Everything else after that was essentially made up in some form or another.
- The Bible says that Adam went into a deep sleep. It does not say he ever woke up again. What was written after that is not necessarily correct. (Consider that it was believed for a long time that slavery was OK. We now believe quite differently.)
- (Paraphrased) The concepts that the person called Jesus in the New Testament talked about were sufficiently different from the then current beliefs of the people at the time that it was like trying to explain subatomic physics to a 5 year old. Basically those at the time did not get it, and the misperceptions have been carried on for a long time.

A book that continues on in this vein is called "A Course in Miracles." If you wish to investigate, I suggest trying to get an electronic version based on the Hugh Lynn Casey version because the printed versions were modified in the first 5 chapters, which changed the original author's meaning a bit.

You may think I'm all wet, and that's OK.
I offer this in the spirit of providing another point of view.

If you have any interest in chatting more, just respond here and I will respond back.

I wish you all the best in your looking for new opportunities. I'm sure something will present itself that will make the best use of your talents.

Hang in there.