So I saw this node title and it caused me to start pondering something other
than my belly button
The first two words, "religion" and "suffering" are to me inextricably
connected. Some folks believe that Christ died for our sins. Now, I assure you
that while Christ was up on the cross with nails through his wrists and the
vultures circling about, there was more than a modicum of suffering involved (on
his part). Many religions ask that their followers fast for a period of time
during certain religious holidays. Well, I can tell you, starvation (or at least
annoying hunger-pangs) is no holiday and qualifies in my book as
suffering. My good friend Dominic regularly cheats on his wife and, believe me,
he suffers until he goes to confession on Tuesday to cleanse his soul and
become relieved of the guilt-suffering he feels about cheating on his wife. I
know that he suffers 'cause he cheats on Fridays, and then drinks seven or
eight martinis a day until confession on Tuesday. All that
drinking, to me, is evidence that some sort of suffering is being relieved
(self-medicated, if you will) by my good buddy.
My friend Vito is further proof that religion and suffering are indeed
connected. When one of his clients owes Vito money, and they don't make at least
their vigorish payment each week, he visits some sort of suffering
upon them. Invariably the person upon whose person the suffering is being
visited invokes the name of either The Father, or The Son (not usually the
Holy Ghost, though), e.g. "Oh, God, not my fingers!" or the old familiar "Jesus,
Vito, not my kneecaps!" In extreme cases, the poor mope will be stricken with such horror at the prospect of what may happen to him, he'll utilize the familiar catch-all, "In the name of all things Holy, Vito, please, NO!"
Someone said that "religion is the opiate of the masses." I wouldn't go that
far, but when I'm down and out, I like to believe that God, or Buddha, or
someone (even a nearby chipmunk) is listening to me when I voice my woes out
loud. It makes me feel good (even though when I voice my woes out loud in
a public place, people tend to think I'm talking to myself; mothers grab
their children and hustle them away, etc.) So when I voice my woes out loud, to
God, the feeling is good, although nowhere near the good feeling I
get when I get my hands on some real opium.
An acquaintance of mine, Thomas, was an atheist for a long time until he
heard me mention the statement which begins the paragraph above. Old Thomas
couldn't hear well and thought I'd said something about the Church handing out
opium at masses. When he knelt at the altar to take communion he asked for
"extra crackers and a little more of that wine to wash 'em down." Suffice it to
say the priest was nonplussed.
Now dogma can be overbearing if one lets it become so. But I can tell you
that the folks who created dogma were not stupid people. They just told
stories that had a moral. Look at Job's wife, Ruth. The Bible takes a long time
to get to the heart of her story, but they finally tell you, "she rent her
garment." Great historians like my uncle Marvin have determined this to be the
beginning of the tuxedo rental industry. What the Bible doesn't tell us is that
after she rent her garment, when she found a new tenant, she raised the
rent. Now that's a smart lady. Well, she was Jewish. Everyone says
that Jewish people are good with money.
When I first heard the word "dogmatic" I thought it was a doggie-door with an
infrared sensor that opened it automatically before Fido scratched the heck out
of the doggie door. Boy, oh boy was I wrong. A teacher of mine assured me that I
ought to take up something simple; like public safety, and not
Theology. Now the teacher had nothing against me but he thought that I'd breeze
through a course in public safety 'cause all of the cops he knew were
stupid. He thought it was stupid that he got so many tickets (but the guy had a
lead foot so it just figures he's gonna get tickets).
Now one more thing about the folks who take dogma a bit too seriously. Sure,
God made the Heavens and the Earth etc. But Ray Kroc made McDonald's. Some
people take the power of prayer too seriously. Take the case of the two guys,
Irving and Clarence. Irving believed deeply in the proposition that "through
prayer anything is possible." So does Clarence (who is blessed with an
uncanny sense of common sense). Now one day Irving and Clarence are both hungry.
Who's gonna get the Big Mac? Irving, who's sitting at home with his Bible
praying really hard to God for a meal — or Clarence, who's walking
quickly down the street on the way to McDonald's, calling out for God to relieve his hunger, and has $2.90 of the requisite
$2.95 in his pocket and is praying to God that the McDonald's clerk will forgive
him the five cents... Of course Clarence. Irving's still sitting in his
Barcalounger praying really hard for a miracle to occur and deposit a Big Mac (or at least two hamburgers and a large order of fries) on his coffee table.
One must forgive Irving, though. He bought a new Cadillac a year ago and is
to this day convinced that the earth is, indeed flat because the GPS screen in his Cadillac is perfectly flat and
shows all the roads, highways and states in perfectly good order.
Now the big question, if there's a God, why do so many terrible, horrible
things happen in the world. When my pal Sol put half of his paycheck down on a trifecta
at Belmont Racetrack and lost, he told me that if I didn't loan him the money his wife
would tear him limb-from-limb. Not being one to hand out that kind of folding
money to a reprobate gambler, rather than loan him the money, I gave him
$21.95 and told him to go to the bookstore and buy a very, very good book called
"When Bad Things Happen to Good People." The book was written by a nice rabbi
and I have to tell you, it makes a lot of sense.
Finally a word about people who take dogma too seriously. Did it ever occur
to the evangelists who scream and howl about men lying down with
men being wrong that maybe, just maybe, when the Bible was written all they
made were "twin" sized beds, and it was just a matter of practicality to caution
people from having too many sleep in one bed? (One might fall out, and hit his head, or worse, break an arm!) The Bible, you see, is written
with so many big, old-fashioned words and is so extremely complex, all sorts of
nice folks can construe the words to mean different things.
Who am I to question my Aunt Minerva when she tells the story of Adam and
Eve, running around naked in the Garden of Eden. Now, every time I see a picture
of the Garden of Eden, it's lush with greenery, trees, bushes, and waterfalls.
I've never gotten up the nerve to tell my Aunt Minerva that Adam and
Eve's nakedness were just a metaphor for birth (because wherever there's that
much greenery, it's sure as shootin' going to be darn cold at night). I'm not a
stupid guy; I can spot a metaphor a mile away. Perhaps Adam and Eve weren't
wearing Ralph Lauren, but I can tell you that when the sun went down, they
were wearing clothes. My Aunt Minerva is a good example of a good religious
woman who believes in dogma, but not perfectly. If she believed in the Bible
perfectly, she'd not have had me cut her grass all those Sundays during my
childhood. Because, after all, doesn't Genesis say something about "On
the seventh day He rested..."