Religion. Let's talk about it.
In life-threatening situations -which mine only falls under the "kind of" category, really- personal and public discussions of faith and spirituality are par for the course. Even if you don't subscribe to it, people will do it for you. To prove this, you may ask my mother about the small battalion of priests and nuns along the eastern seaboard (none of whom I've met) that have me in their thoughts and prayers. Since I kinda like being a big deal, I dig that.
But religion in general is worth discussing, and I suppose now is as good a time as any. So here's my nickel version.
There is certainly a trend with people my age (or so) that find that what they grew up with spiritually to be some sort of hoax or vindictively evil wolf in sheep's clothing (a Biblical ref!). To be sure, a lot of those people have had some trouble in their lives reconciling who they are as an adult with what they were taught as children. It seems only natural to feel, well, disenfranchised at least with the notion of a belief system that it seems has turned their back on them. Others, however, simply grow older and realize that maybe God or Allah or whatever just wasn't for them. That's where the resentment starts, mostly because they were forced to swallow the bad medicine of faith for their entire upbringing. And we all know that the only cure for the illness of a strict youth is the the freedom that adulthood affords you to make your own decisions.
Most of that is bullshit. I am not an embittered. I'm a realist.
As my man Winston tells it, I dig Jesus' style, you know? However, do I have the piety that came with mass on Sunday, Catechism afterward, a family rosary later that night, prayer group on Wednesday, school mass during a weekday, and the wide variety of first Saturday rituals? Mmmmmmno. To be fair, my church-going antics are very minimal these days, but that doesn't mean that I finished college (and then The Worst Year of My LifeTM) angry and dismissive about it. Enlightened about the world around me and my place in it perhaps, but it was more so that my take on things changed, not its take on me.
Now if you aren't down with going to temple or something every week anymore, ok. I get it. Starting a theological fist fight about it is not really in my realm, and honestly, I don't give a fuck. But to be angry and dismissive about it can render you a callous butthole of a person for two reasons:
For one, you're not thinking pragmatically for what you already got out of it. Look, if you are a 2o-year old kid that's just read his first Don DeLillo novel and is telling me that God is bullshit, I'll first shake your hand at reading a Don DeLillo novel, then ask you why. If you tell me that it's because you feel like you were lied to you in your whole life, the point you missed flew over your head at the altitude of a Learjet.
Sure, maybe God really is bullshit. I mean, who can say, really? But even the act of taking part in it on a ceremonial level grants you, at least as a supplement, academic and social connections. Can you tell me the story of Moses? Maybe not everybody can, or even get all of the details right, but you can probably throw me the gist of it. First, that tells me that you're imaginative enough to retell something that you probably haven't really talked about since you were either 8 or the last time you watched a Charlton Heston movie. It also tells me, if you're clever enough to read between the lines, that you know the origin of Superman, because it's basically the same thing. Let's list what we've gotten already: either reading or oral comprehension because you can recall the tale, a use for mental imagery because you probably didn't think of the story as a page of text in your head, plot development if you get most of it right, and synthesis with modern culture if you pegged the connection to the Last Son of Krypton.
Let's think more holistically then. Say you're a Shintoist 12-year-old living in downtown Tokyo. If I asked you to drop your DS (even though I know you're playing Dragon Quest IX. Me too!), pick up the nearest mechanical pencil, and jam it in the neck of the cook at the ramen shop that you're in, you would not only scream in terror at the notion (and me), but also run as far as possible from the entire situation as you could. The lesson here: Judaeo-Christian beliefs don't have the market cornered on being cool with people. It doesn't take the Ten Commandments to tell you that you probably shouldn't embezzle by means of salami slicing (another Superman reference! (albeit a shitty one)) or sleep with another man's wife to tell you that you probably shouldn't. That, friends, is a cultural thing. We have laws in place for a reason (yes, I know infidelity isn't exactly illegal, but still), and they are built on a fundamental set of rights and wrongs that had to start with something. Religion just seems like a good focal point, if anything.
If a god being(s) doesn't exist, then fine. I figure we're all gonna figure it out eventually. To disregard the uses of it on a utilitarian level, though, is asinine. You can rag on how it was planted there, but these things got in there somehow.
The second way of being a callous butthole is to realize that there are people out there, quite a lot, actually, that really need this stuff. I'm sure that all of you out there have ways to either disprove X faith's existence or to put somebody in a state of catatonic shock if provoked enough with your evidence that Jesus was probably black (or at least Mediterranean) or whatever. I have a couple of doozies myself that I hold on to for just such occasions with overly zealous bible-thumping assholes, so I get that, too. I know that this is a lot less quantitative than the first reason to not be a jerk, but people have to realize that not all deeply spiritual people are the ones that hit you over the head with it. Yes, there are folks out there that tell you in normal conversation to have a blessed day, or that, through the guidance or whatever deity, they were able to accomplish whatever mundane daily feet, but that doesn't mean they're going to sit down with you and pressure you to have some sort of spiritual revelation on the spot and change your viewpoint.
I have known people, emphasis on "known," that would begin a verbal confrontation with someone because of something as minor as the mention of Christ outside of an expletive context. I ask you, who's the real dick here? Some people have hard lives and others don't, to be sure. But some people have just gone their whole lives just believing. Believing in something bigger than themselves. Believing in something to hold on to for comfort when they get old. Or, shit, believing because they've just believed for so long. To take that away from them by pointing out holes in the dogma doesn't make you a jerk, or an awful person, or even a butthole. It makes you the guy that tried to take away something that certain people hold on to more than life itself. I can't live with that.
If anything, I almost envy many of them. They believe in something so deeply and passionately that they say "fuck the problems, this is meaningful for me." The older I get, and the more detached I become to material possessions (as people should when they get older), the more I find that I just don't hold anything outside of the people I love in such high regard. I appreciate that kind of devotion. Christianity, and obviously Catholicism specifically, has had a lot of its faithful shaken by recent scandal, and for good reason. But the real believers, the ones that are quietly built on this stuff, those are the people I feel sorry for, and that I respect that much more. The cornerstone of what defines them is constantly getting hit with a jackhammer these days, but they stay strong for a greater good. You gotta give them that.
I don't really go to church that much anymore. I don't pray as often as I used to. But God and I, we're kinda like me & Mrs. Jones: we got a thing goin' on (please don't analyze the lyrics, it just fit). I get that there are problems. I hate that your faiths hate people. I got some questions about Satan. But you better believe that I'll ask before I go to sleep tonight, right before I thank you for keeping my friends and family healthy.
So believe if you want. Or not. Even with a lack of organized religion you can still find something to live for; friends, loved-ones, whatever. I'm just a little done with trendy bashing of belief, so let's just move and agree that it ain't for everybody.
But I make it work.