Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Losing My Religion

It’s far easier to be a dogmatic Christian than you may think. You don’t need the ability to read, or a secondary education, or a sense of reason or even reality. You need believe only two things, Creationism and Armageddon. Once you have alpha and omega nailed then everything in the middle is just gravy. Doesn’t even matter if your dogma is slightly different than mine. It’s a disturbing Irony that Jesus never wrote down a single sermon, perhaps because he knew exactly what was going to happen, that by writing something down his words would have become exactly what it is today: Dogma, especially for those who prefer to be read to.

Because reading, as the always-brilliant Jeanette Winterson said recently, is an act of free will, and it is a private act. This is why when the oppressors come, whether they are culture warriors or Armageddon-horny church sisters, they destroy the books first. An educated mind is a liberated one and a liberated mind is a dangerous thing, especially when it becomes sensitive to injustice. This is why Religion is still the opiate of the masses and for it to remain so; the masses cannot be too intelligent. Who’d ever guess that an ignorant, uneducated populace would serve both a religious and political agenda in one shot? An uneducated believer can be told that hardship is his lot and accepts such as God’s will without even once realizing that his slave ancestor was told the same thing. Or he is told the opposite, that MONEY SHALL COMETH TO HIM NOW, and he will believe that instant, unearned money is God’s will as opposed to the whole “by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread" business. A friend of mine bought this hook line and sinker several years ago and thought it was the Lord speaking to him when an old, childless woman willed him the contents of her safety deposit box in England. He had only to pay the overdue bank charges and the contents of several boxes would be his. He flew to England, paid the charges to her attorney at his six storey, busy office and was handed the keys. He soon found out that while the bank certainly existed the account did not. By the time he got back to the attorney’s office, less than two hours later the people, the furniture and the phones on all six floors were gone.

I’m not convinced the faith is supposed to trump reason. Ever. I’m not sure God thought so either. For every “Faith can move mountains” one can also find in the bible a “test me in this.” There is something essentially backward and pagan about blind faith, something unintelligent in such thinking that runs contrary to a God who seemed intent on establishing a kingdom of reason and justice on Earth. Yeah you read me right, don’t let all this faith mumbo-jumbo fool you. God also said faith without works is dead.

Because if religion without question becomes dogma, then faith without reason become mysticism, a holy witchcraft. We’ve seen this before. Not just in Jim Jones’s Guyana or Waco or the Moonies or Mormon polygamists. We see it also in Jamaican churches that insist on their pastors being a final authority. That nutcase preacher who condemned her congregation for exposing the filmed gang rape of a young girl wasn’t pissed that the rape occurred, but that by taking the case to the authorities, the congregation members challenged her God given authority. I wrote a novel about this, set in the past because I refused to believe that I was telling a contemporary story. Boy was I wrong.

I still consider myself a believer, but I’m not sure if I’m a Christian anymore. One reason for this is that to this day I have never been able to take my mind to church. It always seemed unwelcome in a place that lionized the once illiterate Smith Wigglesworth while ignoring that the man did eventually learn to read and write. The church has the archetype of the holy idiot who takes things on faith, sings choruses for two thirds of the service and pays attention to the sermon only if it condemns everybody else for being sinful and praises him for being saved, sanctified and spirit filled while promising him that while bullshit happens in the night, joy cometh in the morning.

I cannot think of a more satanic existence. As long as religion never engages the mind it never engages reason. The by-products of reason, ethics for instance then become fluid to the point of meaningless. A case in point, some of the kids I counseled could speak in tongues at the drop of a hat. They could also sleep around with no remorse whatsoever. They would drag praise and worship for hours so that the “spirit” is given free reign but tune out once a pastor starts to challenge them. They would condemn everything and every one outside their window but never look at the monster in the mirror. Because open-mindedness, fairness even is an act of reason as well.

A lack of this creates moral hypocrisy. More porn in consumed in Utah than in New York. Adult friend finder.com has 21,000 Jamaican members, even though, as we will sooner or later tell you, we have more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world. You can always tell when a Christian convention is staying at a hotel, for the adult cable viewership quadruples. A woman I know who sold adult toys and videos when asked said she hadn’t sold a sex video to Jamaicans in years, instead they preferred scat, amputees, S&M and all manner of kink.

Christianity began as a renewing of the mind. That is what made it so liberating and so dangerous. Maybe it is the curse of all movements that they become the very thing that they were supposed to be a reaction against. The crux of the New Testament are letters from Paul that impressed people through reasoning, not dogma, condemnation or cheap spirituality. The first manifestation of Jesus’ uniqueness was him dazzling the Sanhedrin with his intelligence and wit at such a young age. This Jesus and the adult he became flipped the script on dogma with intellect, not by creating new absolutes of his own. And if you don't think the sermon on the mount is a profoundly intellectual discussion then you're reading the wrong bible. I rarely find this intelligence in church and even when I do, I still feel as if I have to set my mind on dim.

What so great about being proud that the Bible is the only big book you’ve ever read? Jesus never even read it. Why do people rejoice when they hear that sister so and so doesn’t have a PhD but a G O D? How come all these evangelical anti-Catholics all praised that orgy of gore and violence called The Passion of the Christ? Why did they use the film to recruit new Christians? I told some church people that I felt like I had seen a snuff film or some really kinky porn with children in the audience. I thought the film was nothing more than the director’s bloodlust passing off as art and it played into the belief that people should still be scared into faith—something that Jesus couldn’t have been more opposed to. I also said that Jesus would have been appalled that anybody would stoop so low as to show his suffering in order to get people to follow him. I think he would have been appalled in the utter refusal to engage the mind as opposed to the heart or in this case, the stomach.

Two of my favourite writers are Jack Miles and Gary Wills. Both are Catholics and both are part of the few who believe that Faith and Reason are by no means mutually exclusive. I read their books like how others take drugs. Both agree that by not trying to explain God, by resorting to “he works in mysterious ways” you reduce his supernatural power to magic and Jesus becomes hocus-pocus. I love the Jesus of the bible. He was actually quite scandalous, fraternizing with whores and tax collectors, cursing trees, praising lowlifes, hanging out with women, staying homeless, remaining single, calling himself the fulfillment of prophecy, educating leaders in the dark, giving over to rash emotions like fury and mirth, sometimes at the drop of a hat. There is simply no way to understand a mind such as his without using your own . That is what I plan to do. I just don’t know if I can do this in the church.