Long time readers know that I am no fan of religion. I have no use for it myself, and I seek no solace from it. I try to tolerate the impulse in others, but if they make too much of a fever of it I find that the whole enterprise becomes distasteful in a big hurry. There are times, however, when my feelings about religion change character. They do not become actually positive, but the tone of my negativity shifts its axis. There are times, frankly, when I dearly wish that the promise of religion could be fulfilled.
All of us face times in life when push comes to shove in dramatic fashion. And then the negatives of life on earth may come into strong contrast with the positives. The process may include details that call into question the very efficacy of the positives in the first place. Things go around, and come around, and may bring with them the seeds of their own horrors down the road, the way that being born ineluctably leads to dying. Where is the profit in all of this suffering? And to whom can we go for help?
It may be that religion itself was a response to just this kind of worrying. We still have little understanding of the natural world, or our place in it, so perhaps we can understand that during the epoch in which religion first appeared man had virtually no understanding of his situation. He felt even more helpless than we do. Religion gave man answers, which I am sure were comforting, and religion gave man rituals to bind him to his community. I might even admit that religion was useful for a time, and to some.
I was raised in the Catholic Church, the one, holy and apostolic Roman Catholic Church. God was in His heaven, usually imagined to be a bearded older gentleman on a throne; to God’s right hand sat Jesus, His only begotten son, still thought to inhabit an earthly body; and the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, was . . . where? Perhaps hovering above, yes, that’s it, in the form of a dove, probably more like a holographic dove. The whole earthly family of Jesus was there too, close at hand, probably. There was Mary at least, having also retained an incorruptible earthly human form. (Joseph would be at some remove, if I don’t miss my guess, and without his body. He did not appear in the Baltimore Catechism with anything like Mary’s frequency. He got even less credit than most earthly fathers do.) No other family of Jesus is mentioned in the officially sanctioned ancient writings. And then of course there would be the huge catalog of Catholic saints, one for every occasion, and several for many popular specialties. And dear old Uncle Roger, who was such a nice man, and went to First Friday Mass all of his adult life, well he must be there too. All of these entities were in constant contact with every person on the earth, it was imagined, and any of them could be petitioned to intercede with God and get something done on our behalf, we, the living. That would be a comforting reality to inhabit, especially if positive results could be had.
Jesus, of course, saw into all of our souls, and was Himself God, cutting out the middle-man of the intercession with God. Help was never further away than the simple thought of it!
How great would that be, if it were true? Why, one could almost wish that it were true.
A lot of praying went on in those days, but without a lot of results, I’m afraid. This is where the whole “God’s will” concept comes in, as in, “it just wasn’t God’s will.” Or, “God works in mysterious ways.” The law of periodic reinforcement was in full effect, because sometimes little Betty would get over that pneumonia after a stern bout of praying. That too, of course, was God’s will, through the power of prayer.
Oh, but sometimes, when the pushing really comes to the shoving, and the going gets tough and it’s time for the tough to get going, I really long for that simple world that religion promised me so long ago. I rejected it then, and I have never regretted it, but sometimes I do wish that it was all really that simple.
The real world as we find it a mixed bag of tricks that can be truly horrible at times. We’re on our own, with few resources to fall back on. Money does little good in a pinch, and often does no good at all. Family and friends are better, but not consistently reliable. All we can do is suffer with a smile, in silence, and wait our turn for the final bell. If there were a heaven, doing that successfully would get you in for sure.