There's sort of a long road into this post, which like most of my posts will turn out to be half sick joke and half sincere. This is probably a habit I should curb, for I get several e-mails a week asking me to repost sections of previous essays for quotation without the attendant nastiness. ("Dear John: Is there any way you can post the argument for gay marriage without the 'Stephen Harper is a bottom-bitch' part? Thanks!")
So, I'm in one of the glorious Canadian bookstores in the coffee shop, working on my laptop. Sitting opposite me are a boy and girl -- and I mean that in the 1950's "boy and girl" sense. Squeaky clean-cut, maybe 16. They're talking about the Jesus and their faith. Plainly evangelicals, all the buzzwords are flying around.
Despite what you may assume, I found this very, very sweet. When fat old bastards in suits are screaming about the downfall of youth and society, they are, well, lying. There's less teen sex -- except, of course, among kids in abstinence-only sex education programs -- a rise in social awareness and spirituality ... anyway, I dug it. "Evangelical" doesn't mean "radical" -- it's just where a lot of them come from. It's a brandy/cognac, cognac/brandy thing.
Then they started talking about the Rapture. The Girl asked about it, the Boy explained, the Girl asked another question, the Boy was stumped ... don't get me wrong, they in no way seemed less sure what they were discussing was absolute truth. But it was readily apparent that their entire understanding of Revelations came from the Left Behind Series and mainstream Dominionist prophecy.
I couldn't help myself. I stepped in, and explained how Revelations was laid out, what sequence the Rapture, Tribulations, etc were ordered in, and which sections were actually in the Bible, and which were sort of tacked on as cultural artifacts. (I'm a fair hand with this not because of my faith -- I was working on a one-man show about the End of the World for a while, and did a helluva lot of research ...) They were very appreciative, and we had a lovely chat. They seemed a little wary when I suggested that they read a few things about the history of the Bible. Seeing as they actually couldn't be bothered to read a book they were using as the basis of their life and faith, I could hardly complain. We parted amicably.
I have an odd emotional relationship with the Bible. I'm a lapsed Catholic (post-Catholic?), and we didn't so much read the Bible as go to Church every Sunday and have sections of it explained to us. But I'm reading it again now, an excellent student-annotated NIRV. Not as soaring as the King James, but with slightly less "10 guys sitting a room making shit up" factor. For both non-believers and the more devout folk who come here (and we have more than a few), I can not recommend strongly enough Don't Know Much About the Bible. Kenneth Davis examines the history of the Bible as it was assembled over the centuries* without ever losing sight that it's an important document of faith.
*(and if you don't believe it was assembled over centuries, you;re not using the brain God gave you, and you need to crawl back into whatever Dominionist compound you escaped from and let the adults talk)
Anyway, I'd honestly say Davis' book may be one of the few "must-reads" I ever push.
So, putting aside the Bible, which I view ambivalently as both inspiration and cudgel, connection with the Holy Spirit and framework of Organized Religion which does Many Things What That I Do Not Dig, how can one get closer to God? Well, there's ...
Clown Ministry. Clown. Ministry. This actually made me scream and back out of my chair, as if suddenly on my computer screen Samara had risen from the well with big, floppy shoes.
Or Gospel magic.
Or, my favorite, Gospel Juggling. Where:
"A running hedge trimmer, a sword, and a set rat trap are juggled to discuss the fact that we were created to know God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Whatever it takes to get you through the day. Or night. Or more specifically, 3 a.m. But, just, if it's Clown Ministry, don't share. I don't know if we can be friends any more.
I do find myself drawing a line, however. Personally, I don't much care for Revelations, where the modern theocrats live. Too many flaming swords and vengeance. Seems a bit, oh, I don't know, out of character with the four frikkin' Gospels that are supposed to be the foundation of faith. But lordy lord, those guys sure live in Revelations when it comes to their preaching. Revelations or the Epistles, with Paul laying down the law. Just don't expect them to bring up the words "peace." or "poor." They'll usually keep hopping back and forth between Leviticus and Revelations, skipping over the tranquil waters of the Gospels proper, pants-legs pulled up lest they get stained with any unsightly pacifism, or sacrifice, or tolerance.
Luke, by the way.
Luke, this agnostic's favorite Gospel. Lots of singing. I never noticed that the first time around.
I don't know if I'll ever quite believe in God. But I know that I believe we can rise, through intangible Spirit or inspired Reason, to something closer to God.
Closer to love, or acceptance. Or simple damn joy in the unexpectedness of the new, or the different. Closer to a place where we help because we take "Do Unto Others" to heart, where we see the world differently. Because while they see a world where "they are damned,they are the enemy, because they are not us", we see a world where "we have to help them, because they are ALL us." In the New Testament, as my sainted nuns taught me, Jesus basically broke it down as "All right, I'm going to make this so simple you screwheads can't POSSIBLY misunderstand. One word -- empathy. Got it?"
And the sonuvabitches still screwed. it. up.
That's my fatal flaw, of course. It's only, on these very rare occasions, when I consider the uplift of humanity be it by the concept of God or humanity's own potential for joy -- only when I consider the height of such a possibility, and for one moment discard the safety of reason and hope ...
... do I then really consider the anchor, the chain around our necks that these manipulative, terrified, close-minded self-righteous pharisees yank down, how they spike our ascent, keep people suspicious and angry and clannish in a world of wonders -- and I hate, I hate with all my heart, the black hate of the Irish.
I only truly, truly hate ... when I believe there might be a God.
That's a hell of a thing to realize sober.