Thursday, September 12, 2013

Was I a Jehovah's Witness?

I wasn't raised as a Jehovah's Witness. The church I grew up in considered itself "nondenominational," though it was part of a large collective of members all across the world that called themselves the Body of Christ. Like every other religious group, we knew we were special and that everyone else got it wrong. Indeed, we had many beliefs that I thought were unique to us. Much later -- after I left it all -- I learned more about the Jehovah's Witnesses, and -- whaddaya know -- they had many of those same weird doctrines. Was I a secret Jehovah's Witness without knowing it?

Here is a (not comprehensive, but pretty decent) list of beliefs that my church and the Jehovah's Witnesses shared. It will give you an idea of what I used to consider the most important stuff in my life. Behold:

Trinity -- There is neither a trinity nor a "oneness." God the Father is a spirit but also a "person," an intellect. The Son of God is another spirit-type person who eventually came to earth as a human named Jesus. The Holy Ghost isn't a "person" but instead is some sort of power of God or something like that. More like The Force. You can talk to the Father and the Son, but you can "have" the Holy Ghost. Jesus was filled with the Holy Ghost from birth, so he had powers that other humans didn't have (though, after he died, we were allowed to receive that power). Two persons, one "thing": none of them a part of each other.

Jesus -- The Son of God (before he was the human Jesus) was the first creation of God. God then created nothing else, which is why the Son is the "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end." The Son is the one who created the universe and is the one who has a personal relationship with you. God is only gotten to through the son. The Son appears in the Bible in his pre-Jesus form as the angel Michael, the concept of Wisdom, and the concept of the Word.

The 144,000 -- Only 144,000 people will reach "perfection" and enter Heaven. You don't just go to Heaven because you're a good person who dies. These 144,00 are called the Bride of Christ and will serve as the government for the eventual New Earth, an earth (this same earth we're on now) which will always have humans and which will eventually be free of sin, making the world free of death, disease, etc. The Bride members will be able to go back and forth between Heaven and Earth. Many or most of this number already exist, so seats are limited.

The Resurrection -- Eventually, those who have died will get another chance, in a bodily resurrection, to do good and live on the New Earth as immortal humans. These will be the people who make the earth look the way God intended in the first place, before the Fall. You only have one shot, however, in this first life to make the 144,000.

Satan -- Satan and his fellow fallen angels torment humans and try to make them turn from God. But, one day, Satan will be bound for one thousand years, then unleashed again, then eventually destroyed for good (along with his underlings) in the Lake of Fire (which was created for this purpose and is not to be confused with Hell).

Hell -- There is a Heaven, but there is no Hell. God is happy to reward you for doing well, but he's not going to punish you for making poor decisions, since you didn't ask to be born, after all. Instead, if you're bad, you just die and that's it. The soul, therefore, is not necessarily immortal, but can be snuffed out like a candle.

Eve -- The wife of Adam was actually an evil dark-haired woman created by Satan to torment and destroy the first human. However, the Son of God managed to make her good (and blonde) through the power of the Holy Ghost. Still, Satan had a trick up his sleeve and turned himself into an old beggar woman who offered Eve a poisoned apple, which she took and also gave to Adam, causing them to slowly die and also discover their genitals. (Okay, that's actually a mash-up of the Eden story, Snow White, and the Smurfs, but I had you going for a while.)

So there. Obviously, of course, I wasn't really a Jehovah's Witness. Unlike them, I celebrated all the holidays, would have taken a blood transfusion if needed, didn't go door to door with Watchtower magazine, etc. But it's odd to me that these two belief systems that seem to have nothing to do with each other arrived at the same specific conclusions. And maybe it's the remnants of my brainwashed mind talking, but I still think that -- as a comic book style mythological system -- the above still makes more sense than most "mainstream" Christian doctrines.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Religion: Facebook Official

A few years ago The Washington Post published a semi-interesting (as these things go) article about the little box on Facebook where you get to type what your religion is. As the article pointed out, it's kind of daunting when you've got "Religious Views: _____" staring at you, knowing that whatever you write is going to potentially influence how people think about you (even if you don't write anything).

I think I left mine blank when I first got the account. But eventually I decided to put something there. "Atheist" doesn't accurately describe my "religious views," and why would I willfully reveal to hundreds of friends and friends of friends of friends the fact that I eat babies? What else could I write? "Former-Christian"? "Myth-Lover"? "Ask me when I'm dead"?

I took a cue (once again) from William Blake: "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's." I came up with my own:

SPELLIANISM

(I named it after myself.) This is its description: "The prophetic writings of William Blake, the Joseph Campbell approach to myth, a marriage of humanism and mysticism, absolute liberty for others, and the necessary blasphemy of tricksters. (Major texts include William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Joseph Campbell: Thou Art That, Christopher Hitchens: The Portable Atheist, Paul Radin: The Trickster, and the First Amendment of the US Constitution.)"

If Spellianism were a religion (and it isn't), you couldn't join it. It's just for me. Even more exclusive than "God's chosen people."

I feel the description of Spellianism does a pretty good job of at least pointing you in the right direction. It's easy enough to unpack all the authors, terms, etc. and put together a decent starting picture of how I think about religion. Most important, no one has ever said a word about it to me, so I think that means it has done its job. Or it means that no one looks at these things anyway.

My political views on Facebook were a lot easier to answer. One word: "Angry."

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Ten Commandments

Introduction

Many are taught that "The Ten Commandments" are ten simple "thou shalt nots" that spell out how to live your life, written by God himself on tablets of stone. But, in addition to the Commandments having little to do with our lives and modern sense of ethics, there are other problems and confusions that occur concerning the commandments when you examine the text of the Bible. There are more than ten commandments, first of all. There are hundreds. And it's difficult to say which ones, if any, were written on stone. The Bible does eventually give us a list of ten commandments, but they are not the popular ones we sorta kinda think we know. There is much to sort through and discuss concerning this topic, so we'll walk through it slowly.

The First Ten (Or So)

It begins simply enough. God allows Moses' people to escape slavery by bringing ten plagues upon Egypt and then killing their pursuers in the Red Sea. Moses makes it to Mount Sinai, where God comes down in the form of fire. Moses' company is instructed not to touch the mountain or get too close or they'll die. There's lots of thunder and trumpet blasts. It's all very Wizard of Oz, and it sometimes seems as if Moses is just making things up, saying that the words are from God, and asking everyone not to pay attention to that man behind the curtain. But, of course, we're supposed to imagine that God himself really is saying and doing these things, so that's what we'll do.

At this point God begins to instruct the people, giving what are commonly known as "The Ten Commandments," even though the book doesn't call them that here and I'm not so sure they add up to ten. They are as follows, with commentary by me. Since I've heard over and over that the Ten Commandments are the basis of many contemporary laws, including those of the United States, I'll discuss them in relation to the current laws of our country. Penalties for breaking these commandments are also worth noting, so I'll list those. If you want to read along with me in your preferred translation (I'm, as usual, using the New Revised Standard Version), you can find "The Ten" in Exodus 20. They appear again, slightly modified, in Deuteronomy 5.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Father's Blasphemy

I can't walk into one of these empty places
Without thinking of Philip Larkin's "Church Going,"
And I certainly can't write about going to an empty church
Without Larkin's ghost poking me on the shoulder
And telling me, "I've already been here. Move along."
But I'm not moving along. I'm staying. I used to live here.

And so here we are: me and my daughter,
Who has only been walking on this earth a few months,
At the entrance of a church, a respite from downtown shopping.
She is banging on the baptismal font and laughing at the echo.
"You bang away, sweetheart," I tell her.
"You'll never have to be water-boarded in one of those things."

She runs from pew to pew, more giggling at novelty,
And I only make sure that she doesn't rip the hymnal pages.
Otherwise, I let her run free and sinless in the aisles
As I become distracted by wall paintings of Peter, Paul, and Mary,
Which remind me of the children's song "Puff the Magic Dragon,"
A bittersweet song about putting away nonexistent childish things.

After the baby grabs my finger to climb onto the platform,
She whacks and scream-laughs at the wooden pulpit.
In her size four purple Sauconys, she runs roughshod over this space,
Like a little trickster who knows she is defiling the sacred.
But it is her ignorance of sacrilege that pleases me most,
That odd word invented by penis-owning homo sapiens.

I imagine that my daughter will change the world one day.
I won't allow places like this to tell her that she can't.
I won't let them tell her that she needs a dead man to marry her
Or that to have a vagina is to be a second place human
Or that my sperm contained the gene for original sin,
Passed down to her along with my eye color and penicillin allergy.

When she lifts her arms for me to pick her up,
I think of those who will fill the sanctuary this weekend,
Crying and raising their hands, like babies in a crib,
Toward a father who isn't around or maybe has his headphones on.
As for me, I can pick up my girl, tell her I love her, and leave this place.
In this way, I'm a much better dad than certain folk I'm not allowed to name.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Catholicism Reboot: The Forty-Five Theses

Now that the pope is retiring, it's time to bring in some changes to the papacy and the Catholic Church in general to make it more up to date for the 21st Century. Here are my Forty-Five Theses. (Martin Luther had just under a hundred. I'll go just under fifty, since I know we have less time on our hands than they did in 1517, what with all the screen-based activities we have to do.)

1. The dogma of papal infallibility should be abandoned.

2. Bishops should be allowed to move in other directions besides diagonally.

3. In order to improve upon the other-worldly quality that Latin provides, the Mass should be performed in Klingon or Elvish.

4. Baptisms should be optional. Also optional in baptisms: the use of water. Green slime preferred, especially to attract the youth.

5. Popes should not be considered important political figures or otherwise have any political power.

6. Popes should be chosen at random: slips of paper with the names of all Catholics will be placed in the hat of the previous pope and pulled out by whoever is the current host of Let's Make a Deal.

7. Rather than believing in the trinity, the new doctrine should allow for a fourth person of God -- a female -- because that actually makes more sense. (If the word "Trinity" is something that wants to be kept, then simply remove the Holy Spirit from the lineup.)

8. Rather than white smoke announcing the election of a new pope, a firework that forms the shape of the robot from the 80s television show Small Wonder should be shot into the sky--because why the fuck not?

9. Any social works -- such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, etc. -- should be recognized as something anyone can do without getting it all tangled up with the supernatural.

10. Anyone who finds the baby in a king cake no longer has to bring the cake the next year. Instead, they have to bring the condoms to the new Catholic swinger parties.

11. Priests should not be allowed to rape children. Any church authority who finds out about a child molesting priest should not consider themselves above the law and should turn over the criminal to the police, rather than moving them to another diocese where they can rape more children. This practice should, within a reasonable time, be thought of as "common sense."

12. On Ash Wednesday, instead of ashes, maybe some garlic shavings--which will have the added bonus of warding off vampires.

13. Transubstantiation -- the belief that crackers and wine served in communion are literally the body and blood of Jesus Christ -- should be replaced by a belief of things that happen in the real goddamned world.

14. Catholics should stop forbidding birth control and realize that allowing women control over whether or not they have babies is a sure-fire way to help solve the poverty problem. (Poverty should also be considered a problem, not a fetish object.)

15. Priests should be allowed to marry and otherwise engage in healthy adult sexual activities.

16. Catholics should be much more clear that the "immaculate conception" actually refers to the Virgin Mary being born without sin and filled with the "grace" given during baptism, that it does not refer to the virgin birth of Jesus. Once this clarification truly sinks in, this and similar doctrines should be abandoned, for fear of sounding like one is arguing over who would win in a fight between two comic book characters.

17. Women should be allowed to be priests. Men should be allowed to be nuns.

18. Nunsense should no longer be thought of as a musical that hilariously breaks the fourth wall.

19. Priests, bishops, etc. should begin dressing like artistic depictions of Jesus, not like Liberace.

20. Anointing the sick should be replaced with visits to a qualified physician.

21. Any pope who accepts the title, after chosen, should be immediately martyred. Any pope who refuses his title, after chosen, should decide a new, non-religious career path.

22. Lent should no longer be a creativity contest for what to give up.

23. The "Final Judgment" -- in which God decides who goes to Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell -- should be a game show in which Catholics can live out this fantasy doctrine, since it likely won't happen when they die.

24. The church should pay taxes, and at a higher rate than billionaires to make up for lost time.

25. Instead of Lent, Catholics should just think about spiritual things each time they clean the lint screen in their dryers.

26. Rather than wishing to go to Heaven, all Catholics should just go ahead and take that long, expensive vacation to another country they've been talking about for years.

27. Confession booths should become masturbation stalls for repressed priests.

28. The practice of confessing to a priest to be absolved of sin should be replaced with individuals taking responsibility for their lives and facing the consequences of their actions. In most cases, however, there should be no need to confess anything, since the concept of "sin" will be recognized as a human invention and a tool of oppression.

29. Marriage should be allowed only for same-sex Catholics. Men and women who want to marry will have to undergo what is known as a "genital-interlocking ceremony" and keep their union hidden from the public until they reach age 85, by which point it will be viewed as adorable.

30. Boys should no longer have to kneel in front of priests.

31. All sacred images, candles, crucifixions, stained-glass, and other beautiful objects should be given to museums, where Indiana Jones would prefer they be.

32. Rome should admit that it stole and worsened Christianity just as it stole and worsened Greek culture.

33. Prayers for the dead should only be allowed when the dead person specifically requests it. (Requests made while still living do not count.)

34. The church should admit that (for reasons that should be obvious) it has no business deciding matters of morality.

35. Catholic Schools should have a "Whack a Nun Day" during which schoolchildren hit nuns with rulers in memory of the days when nuns used to do that to children (which, if they still do, should be abandoned).

36. All Catholic dogma should be replaced by Lars Von Trier's Dogme 95 philosophy of filmmaking.

37. The Vatican should be sold off brick by brick and the money should be donated to charities aiding victims of childhood sexual molestation.

38. Catholics should, each time they want to say "God" or "Jesus" or the equivalent, replace it with a god they don't believe in, just to see how it sounds to the ear.

39. The pope should no longer be considered the successor of St. Peter.

40. St. Peter should no longer be considered "the first pope" or a saint or anything else special, since he seemed like one of the stupider disciples among many stupid disciples.

41. The Virgin Mary should heretofore be referred to as "The Sexually-Active Mary."

42. The priesthood should be dismantled, and Jesus should no longer be recognized as the son of God.

43. The Catholic Church should admit that it is not the "one true church" and should help elect a new "one true church" every four years (coinciding with the Olympics), starting with the Mormons.

44. The church should apologize one more time for that Galileo thing.

45. All Catholics should become Protestants, try that out for a year, dabble in Buddhism (preferably during a year off after college), and then realize it's just as well to become secular and live a real life.