Monday, February 16, 2009

My Religious Failure To Thrive

I have always been a lucky guy, I understand that. And one of my greatest bits of luck has been that all attempts at instilling religion into me failed utterly.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. My family may not have been deep believers in anything but the generally negative character of life, but they were observant, my mother’s Irish Catholic family especially. One of my mother’s sisters was a nun, one of the good ones, I might add. I was sentenced to Catholic school at the age of five, and I served twelve years for the crime of being born. There was a lot of religious instruction, and I received all of the appropriate sacraments. None of it took. It was as though I had been immunized against supernaturalism.

I was not otherwise contaminated by common sense. My resistance to religious inculcation stood alone in my otherwise foolhardy existence. My generally faulty bullshit-detector worked extremely well when it came to religion.

Maybe it was the cartoonish Baltimore Catechism. Heaven was depicted with stairs on which were engraved words like “Faith,” and “Good Deeds.” God had a beard and a desk, several heavenly people had desks, and there were books, and angels, with wings, it was like a courthouse with bird-men. There was a hell, with fire and disagreeable looking devils. None of it looked very otherworldly at all. It all looked and sounded, in fact, suspiciously like my day-to-day life, like my fight-starting, dime-grubbing, so-called friends, like the demanding, frustrated, always dangerous nuns, like the mixed-bag of more-or-less failed adults in my circle, like the imperious priests. Heaven didn’t look like too much fun, and I was kind of in hell already.

As a teenager, I decided that it was all so unlikely, all of that supernaturalism, that I didn’t really need to worry about it. Even with my severely challenged self-esteem, I was ready to face any possible judgment. I was, I am, a good person. If anyone was going to heaven, it’d be me. Later on I came to hope that there was a hell, because if there was a hell, there’d be a heaven too, and I was going to heaven, I remain sure, and from there I could observe the poor bastards down in hell. Don’t believe me? Maybe Mr. Saint Thomas Aquinas can convince you: “That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly, they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell.” (In Summa Theologica)

Sometimes I wish there were a God that answered prayer, but mostly I am content to live without one. I wish the religion inspired murderers of the world agreed with me.

And if all of that were not sufficiently flippant, I’ll play us out with a poem:

Somewhere in Heaven

Imagine when upon my sad demise,
After years of cynicism, thought wise,
I found myself in heaven among friends,
Was welcomed to a party without end.

Bright without assistance from the sun,
The temperature is always seventy-one,
No time, no space, but only here and now,
No worried minds, and no more knitted brows.

I was not like the one who had succumbed,
Looked not the aged wreck I had become,
Tattoos intact, I was to youth restored,
And reassured that I’d be never bored.

Remembered from my Bible, yes I read,
That poor guy, Lazarus, when he was dead,
Saint Peter took him to a balcony,
Where he, in hell, the rich could clearly see.

This broad veranda’s now my second home,
There’s time the rest of heaven to be shown,
I always have a cool drink in my hand,
And love to scan below perditions lands.

One day Saint Peter gave my hand a shake,
Declined a drink, said, “I’m just on a break.”
But took my earnest offer of a seat,
Said, “Freddy, we’re all friends, just call me Pete.”

Through heaven’s lens we both could plainly see,
All hell-bound souls, could find them instantly,
And Satan too could we closely observe,
He tortured those poor souls with fearsome verve.

“He must be very angry, all this time,”
But Pete just smiled, he took a different line,
“He’s not so bad a sort,” I heard him say,
“You should see his apartment, take your breath away!

There’s air-con there, and a much better view,
Than this one, here spread out in front of you,
He has the Platinum Package, big TV,
His friends go down to see him frequently.”

“I thought, the war in heaven, and that God,
You know, it hurt His feelings, took it hard.”
“No, all that stuff was over long ago,
But we’ve still got the system, don’t you know.”

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