Losing My Religion

on Monday, March 16, 2009

I gave up Catholicism for Lent. The last time I went into a church for religious reasons was probably around 1980, and even then it was because it was how I was raised, not how I felt or what I believed. I began questioning my own beliefs when I was a freshman in high school, and ultimately decided to leave the church. And I am not alone.

The recent American Religious Identification Survey by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life and Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut found that more and more people are moving away from organized religion, some moving towards a more "spiritual" view, while others are giving it up entirely. Similarly, the Christian Science Monitor recently printed an article entitled The Coming Evangelical Collapse which suggests that Evangelical Christianity will all but disappear within the next 10 years. Good riddance, I say.

Personally, I think Karl Marx hit the nail on the head when he said that religion was the opiate of the masses. I believe a person's spirituality should be a personal journey and that when one person tries to convince another that, basically, they pray wrong they are committing a very wrong act. I think that groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, who protest at soldier's funerals with "God Hates Fags" signs should be outlawed, and I have nothing but utter contempt for Christian Missionaries, who carry the "you pray wrong" message to the most remotest corners of the globe.

I do not understand people who adhere to a religion that spurns or condemns them, Gay Catholics top my list (Gay Republicans are next on my list, but that's not a religion per se). Why would anyone want to belong to a group that wants to limit or remove their personal rights and freedoms? I understand that there are more "liberal" Catholic congregations, and that the Catholic Church in here in the U.S. is not like the one you'd find in Vatican City, but to me that's like choosing to drink bleach instead of drain cleaner.

Ultimately, I understand that it is an individual's choice and if they choose to be Catholic or a member of the Westboro Baptists, that's entirely up to them. But there are so many who don't think they have a choice, they were raised in the church and they stay there because that's all they know, and I reserve the right to question their decision in my own mind.

All that being said, an acquaintance of mine recently wrote a list of 10 simple things that religion, especially Evangelical religion could do to keep from losing any more members, and perhaps even attract others. I reprint them here because for the most part I agree with him (my apologies for not de-Internetting his spelling, punctuation or grammar):

1. The Ten Commandments are history; not words to live by.

2. Matter of fact, TTC were used as bait to try and stumble Jesus. He showed up these morons by saying there's only two commandments; and they easily summarize and give purpose rather than be a set of arbitrary rules.

3. Put up or shut up about the so-called Gay Agenda. Give us something other than "because the Bible says so". Especially since the loudest dissenters can't even tell you where. Matter of fact...

4. Stop calling NIV and or KJV the infalliable, irrefutable word of God. I get that it's a Living Word, I do, but it sucks the power out of YHWH when you commit idolatry within the pages. Especially when...

5. They consider Paul to be canon. Really? Guy who writes letters to churches telling them to shut their womenfolks yaps and to cut their goddamn hair and you say he's God's mouthpiece? I've got more stock in Balaam's donkey having some residual holiness as compared to the greatest con artist of the era.

6. Dump the culture war. Puppets simulating oral sex didn't destroy society, Tinky-Winky didn't turn your kids gay and giant blue cock will fall short of generating mass sexual immorality, too. Telling people to not go see movies that you yourself haven't watched because you heard a rumor won't stop Hollywood from generating tripe. Letting themselves burrow into the ground and YOU show us how it's done. But not with the reasoning of "like {something} but with less violence"; use The Greatest Story Ever Told as a template and prove to people that you love smart stories and are willing to make sacrifices for it. "Joshua" was a step towards the right direction. Anything with Kirk Cameron in it thus far is not. Speaking of violence:

7. Stop giving society mixed signals. You cry for ass blood when society nabs a child molester, and lament for the days when the Old Testament God would rain fire on nations, but cry foul when entertainment is packaged up for your blood lust and sold to you. Jack Thompson is in the fight for the money; he uses your beliefs as a podium and you let him. Then he goes on to wish death and rape on people who disagree with him, and you turn a blind eye. You freak out over fiction and allow reality. Matter of fact...

8. Darfur should not be an issue. The second we hear the word "genocide", prayers, money and manpower should be poured into stopping it, instead of this pansy-assed missionaries to places where you're comfortable bait and switching resources for converts.

9. Placate the people that can't be ignored and ignore those that can't be placated. Celebrities that "found Jesus" need to be roped in when they publicly say it and discipled in some meaningful way. Mr. T and M.C. Hammer of all people are exceptional examples. Mel Gibson is not. This goes for spiritual leaders turned celebrities, too. The second someone says that God hates anything other than sin? Cut them off. Don't seriously devour another word until they are cleansed. Are they not adhering to the laws of the land? Jesus said give to Caesar what is his. If they so much as give the vibe that they are unashamed at accumulating massive amounts of wealth and saying that they report to a higher power in regards to it, lose them. They love money more than you or your Lord.

10. Dump Evangelism entirely. No leaflets, no Chick tracts, no "enjoy the meal/concert/clothes? Let me tell you about my friend Jesus...". No. Live your life. If you're truly interested in saving people, live your life like Jesus did. With a fucking smile. People will know if it's real or not. And if it is? They'll ask you. They want to know what separates you from the pack. What your secret is. The fear is that evangelical Churchianity knows the world will not because they aren't happy and don't truly know love and salvation as they writhe at mentions of homosexuality, and gently caress the flag.
When you mix religion and politics, you get religion.

And Jesus wept...


on Monday, March 9, 2009

Last week I came face to face with another bout of mortality. I found out that my old friend Nina is dying of lung and brain cancer, and another friend's mother, for whom I had great respect, died of breast cancer.

I met Nina through some guys I had played with in college and through the years we did a whole slew of small "noise in the corner" gigs, played in a whole crap load of pit bands for musicals from Jesus Christ Superstar, Nunsense and Little Shop of Horrors to a little known show called Baby. In fact, it was on a trip to Mankato for a gig at a convent that I bought my Stratocaster. I learned a lot of music and a lot about being a professional musician from Nina.

She had a weekly gig at the piano bar at a place called Charlie's until Karaoke took her job away. To this day I hate Karaoke because of that, and I'm sure it wasn't just Nina, but piano players across the country who lost some gigs because of it.

She told me stories of her early years, playing rock-n-roll, folk, jazz... whatever would pay the bills. There were stories of whiskey and cocaine, of bad love affairs and a few good ones. I watched her get divorced and fall in love again, I met her mother, her sister and brother and was treated like part of the family for a long time.

Unfortunately, we had a falling out when I took a Music Director job for a show that she really wanted to do. I didn't feel like I was going behind her back, but she did and our friendship suffered. But some friendships are stronger than petty things like jobs and we eventually made up, although we never worked together again. Her moving to Hackensack, MN didn't help matters there.

As I think back I am inundated with a cornocopia of memories...

I remember sitting in a practice room when we were both in the SCSU jazz band going over the tricky unison part of Chick Corea's Spain over and over again until we nailed it.

She told me that her father had been a POW in a Japanese camp in WWII and how he refused to have anything in his house that had been manufactured in Japan. But since he had been, she was able to get her mother a ride in the POW/MIA balloon for her birthday.

There was her admission that piano tuners (of which she was one) got "cranky" from hearing the same notes over and over, which became the butt of many of our jokes to each other.

She was in the balcony of the Paramount Theatre tuning the piano one afternoon as my friend Steve and I worked on painting a set, after about a half hour of hearing first one note repeated over and over and then the next she yelled down to the two of us, "Are you guys hypnotized yet?" Without missing a beat, or stopping what we were doing we droned in unison, "Yes, master."

And the memories keep coming.

She commissioned a mutual friend of ours to make the urn for her ashes. I can't even imagine that, but it is totally Nina.

The result is that I have come to think of my own mortality again. I think of Kate and my age difference and I realize that, barring some tragic turn of events, I will make a widow of her. I wonder if I could face my own imminent death with the same composure that Nina seems to be and my admiration of her has doubled in just the past few days.

I don't know how much time she has left, and I will cry when I hear the news.