I have no kick against righteous practitioners of any religion, those who use religion as a way to become more empathetic, more humane, more active doing good works, more righteous. It’s ignorant and dangerous to tar an entire religion because of the actions of violent zealots, or the smug establishment that is often religion’s double-talking political voice.
I don’t think any less of Jesus because his American Evangelical followers were so fervent in their lockstep support of someone like Trump, as irreligious a duck as we’ve ever seen striding this earth. It’s no reflection on Jesus or his teachings. The rituals of my own Jewish religion leave me fairly cold, though I recognize that its teachings have provided the core of my moral awareness.
Every religion contains contradictions. Followers of the Prince of Peace put peaceful civilians to the sword, Allah’s name is shouted by psychos who murder innocents for some imagined higher purpose. Religious Jews, Hindus, Jains, Taoists, Muslims, Christians in every nation embrace vicious political ideologies. Even the Buddhists are persecuting and massacring religious minorities now, for Christ’s sake. Truth is one, paths are many, as one guru or another once said.
At its best, religion offers fellowship, community and comfort to those who gather to pray, study the religion, do good works. All of these things are important, the last of them essential. I do not sneeze at any of them. My own experiences with religious hypocrisy when I was an impressionable boy soured me on the organized religion business, but I recognize that people can be genuinely touched by their faith in God. I don’t sneeze at it. I don’t sneer at it. I take each religious claim solely on the basis of its action in the world, whether it makes the person wiser and kinder, or an even greater asshole. In the case of religious assholes, of course, few types are more insufferable than those who are always right because God told them they are.
An old friend of mine is up against it these days. I’ll call him Dave. We sat down the other night for a long overdue check in. He is overwhelmed, as so many are today. We are supposed to be happy, optimistic, we are supposed to feel secure. Why are we so unhappy, so fearful, so goddamned insecure in our homes, our very lives? Religion offers a timeless explanation, so it is no mystery that people so often turn to it when times are scary.
Dave spoke at some length about some of the insights he’s getting from his study at the synagogue he attends. He described, by way of example, the complex mystical explanation about the ten veils that keep man from seeing God. Humans cannot see God, he explained, because of these veils, one veil veiling the next, until God, who is always present and beyond any and all veils, may appear invisible to man. This is the reason, presumably, to study the holy books. To be able to perceive God’s presence.
When I hear the word “God”, I immediately think of man’s greatest, and also most destructive, creation. I consider myself, like Sekhnet, a somewhat spiritual creature, but, unlike Sekhnet, I leave God out of it. “God is a concept by which we measure our pain”, as Johnny Beatle put it so well. God is not dead to me, as many have suggested, but understandably driven mad by grief.
If God is a loving deity, his heart was long ago broken by the doings of his crowning creation homo “don’t call me homo, you fucking homo” sapiens. Either God, and/or his amanuensis, is/are, and I hesitate to sound judgmental here, fucking psychotic sometimes.
I was at a bar mitzvah last year, reading along as the boy chanted in a beautiful voice. I read that God had instructed the Jews to do as he had done, work six days and take the seventh day as Sabbath, a day of rest, contemplation, relaxation. “You shall do this because I, who created you, did this. You shall rest to remember that I rested.”
That sounded pretty good to me. Then, as the bar mitzvah boy chanted the next line, I read: “And whosoever shall work on the Sabbath, he shall be put to death.” Bingo.
My friend Dave has come to recognize that the good Jews of that prosperous town, with whom he studies God’s works and His unknowable plan, are largely knee-jerk Trump supporters that would make their good, civil rights championing grandmothers vomit. This has been hard for him to reconcile with the rest of what he is learning. It is hard for all of us to reconcile.