Being a former Christian, I have a right to expound on dogma and high ritual in the churches, comparing the old-time religion of the 50s and 60s with today's megachurched world of air conditioned dog houses and preachers with summer homes in California.  So let me borrow a snippet of a local TV newscast about some people who are angry that the murderer of a friend is free on bail and awaiting the friend's "justice." They were shown in a Catholic church praying for retribution. 

Yep, they were praying to God to destroy the accused.  Before a jury hears facts.  

If anything sounds wrong with this then perhaps you, like me, have a certain post-enlightenment "nostalgia for religion," to quote the late Pier Paolo Pasolini, famous for his black and white gritty docudrama, The Gospel According to St. Matthew.  I don't know about Pasolini, but my own nostalgia for religion finds current Christianity abhorrent and certainly counter to the interpretation of the canonicals I learned in 12 hours of religion in college.  Was I wrong to assume that a person who advises turning the other cheek would ask followers to forgive even the homicidal, for theirs, too, is the Kingdom of Heaven.  But here are these people praying to the same God to smite a person out of good old-fashioned revenge.  Their participation in such an obscenity inside a church is just mind-boggling.

Abraham Maslow wrote that religious people babble rote nonsense when they go to services. Most know nothing about their religion except basics: it's been shown that atheists have more acquaintance with the bible than most Christians.  Maslow thought that people go for social, business, and political reasons than because they genuinely believe in something they know little about.  How many of them know that Leviticus forbids shellfish?  They aren't going to synagogue.  For that matter, as George Carlin observed, why honor with worship a God who tells women to cover their head in a cathedral but never cover the head in a synagogue?  A God that fickle, that arbitrary, that capricious...isn't worth worshiping.  He's worth forgetting.

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Nice point, Michele, thanks. How very true. But if the pastor sent a memo, please dress up for Jesus, they probably would not even go.

Pat, the poetry of your response reminds me of Hart Crane and Ginsberg with rhyme from line to line, and you have caught the irony of it all like no other could.

They say very little written with altered consciousness makes it to the final product, but I wonder if that is true of screen writing.  The screenplay for Midnight Cowboy was written in a frenzy of amphetamine intoxication, and in reading a book about Hollywood in the 70's, Easy Riders and Raging Bulls, one gathers that almost all superstar directors in that era, the era of Jaws and The Godfather, were experimenters with not only weed but cocaine, amphetamines, and the hallucingenics.  (They drove poor Dennis Hopper mad.)  Sometimes they had to have been too loaded to ever edit.  Robert Towne was turning out 250-pp. (rule: minute a page) s.p.'s probably knowing someone else would be editing anyway. Some  ventured too far out, only to have their tether cut.  Poor Hal Ashby (Being There) died of too much indulgence.  Could his having been born a Mormon have led to the drugs?  They had a huge role in the Calvinist-brainwashed Paul Schrader, author of Taxi Driver, one of the best scripts ever.  Also written, in all likelihood, on some substance or other.

I last darkened the door of a church, for an infant baptism, a couple of years ago. At that time I wrote this piece about the horrible story the priest told as part of celebrating the sacrament. And though up to that point I could have said that I sometimes still missed aspects of church--mainly the aesthetics at their best--I'm feeling more and more that I am over that, that the nostalgia is gone, and that life without all of that is really now as comfortable as an old shoe.

Of course, so much that is religion-related is imbued in our culture--the music of Bach, say, and the language of the KJV--so it's impossible to avoid. And I wouldn't want to avoid it altogether. There's no reason not to feel uplifted by the Dona Nobis Pacem of Bach's Mass in B Minor, for instance. But I find the effect and impact of these artifacts to be much greater when they are excised from the institutions and people that purport to uphold a certain set of values while in reality, as Pat points out, they violate everything they claim to hold true. It makes sense to sing Dona Nobis Pacem--Give Us Peace--only if we are willing to admit that the onus of making that peace is on us, not on some imagined deity.

So, though I don't feel any sort of hankering for church or god, I remain open to the touch of the arts and language that religions have produced, hoping in my own way to transform them by recognizing them for what they really are: human expression that explores our shared centuries of history. Take god out of the equation, and that's precisely what they are--and that's plenty.

I have you flat out beat for Malaprop at rituals.  When my ugly horrid aunt Maxine died, after staring at the open casket for a couple of minutes, wanting to put a mirror under the old toad's nose, the treacly swell nice guy protestant minister told all about Maxine's calling him at 3 a.m. asking him to take down notes on what she wanted at her funeral.  I am sure glad the old bitch turned to a preacher, she probably had lost all her friends. 

You are dead on about our vibratory harmonic central nervous system; I tried to get into the Bach Passions, but found myself more in tune with Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier and am on a rampage to own every recording made.  The soprano trios are spine-tingling, especially in the last act, and the "Italian tenor" (sometimes, "Singer" only) has a solo in the first act that makes me weep each time I hear it.  I am certain I am having what many believers (and the rest of us, too) call "the spirit of oneness."  All of the big three atheist writers have explanations about our "spiritual" experiences, pointing that far from proving there is a God, they prove by example that such feelings are normal without Him.  Like your take on it, though.

I just read that book by Thompson about four months back.  It is super.  Kind of soothed my nerves because it says, in effect, Lord, forgive these believing fools, they cannot help it if you hardwired them to believe.  Amen.

Heh heh heh.  Yeah, strangers to the experience of a person like that might think ill of you for being disrespectful of the dead.  I say if they were shits, dis 'em.  Maxine was an only child for too long, and when Jeanelle, my mom came along, her older sister was jealous of the affection.  She also learned to be manipulative.  One day in a general store, she saw those big glass jars of candy that they had, and she threw herself onto the proprietor's flooe, thrashing about, moaning and weeping and so forth.  When the poor owner asked her what was wrong, she said, "I'm soooo hungry!  I'm sooooooo hungry."  He gave her a piece of candy. 

I miss none of it--period.




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