Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Damn-Fool Search for Religion

I was raised an atheist. Then one day when I was fifteen, my kitten died in the dryer. It seemed unfair to me that such a tiny, loving creature would die meaninglessly. Thus began my quiet quest for divinity.

I began very cautiously. I was already aware that organized religion was repellent to me. One only needs to learn about a single crusade to discover that there is a down-side to large groups of grouchy people who think everybody else should think the same way.

It was when I was playing the last movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony in the Saskatoon Symphony's viola section that I was touched with the divine. Call it a chemical reaction in my brain if you must. But it started as a tingle that spread from my shoulders and filled me with euphoria. I felt something tug my consciousness upward. I soared even as my body played tremelo in place. It was fucking amazing.

While my search for the divine had been based completely in wishful thinking up to this point, I finally had some sort of indication. It was a physiological reaction of some sort. But I was unclear as to whether it was caused by Jesus, Mithras, a chemical reaction or midichlorians. (It was several years later that I learned of the existence of midichlorians from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. My midichlorian count is unusually high, you know). Whatever this feeling was, it was caused by music.

I decided to do some actual scholarly investigation on the world's religions to see what everybody had to say on the subject. Fruitlessly did I learn, fruitlessly did I wander. Did you know that the holy books and traditions of all the world's major religions are chock-full of useless information, contradictions and commandments now irrelevant to modern life? It's all "don't cut the hair above your ears" and Jesus getting mad at fig trees and this or that makes you unclean and "women, don't you contradict your husbands" and "Allah hates it when you hitch your camel like that, you know" and "when you die there's nothing: hurray!" and "when you die you float up to the top of the universe's skull and bounce around" and "welcome to heaven: here's your virgins".

I know what some of you are thinking. Organized religion has good aspects, it teaches morals, it has community and charity. Much of the music I was listening to after university had religious lyrical content which made me yearn for a religious community all my own. This is exactly what I was pondering when a girlfriend of mine invited me to Catholic services at Saint Thomas More chapel at the University of Saskatchewan. With some trepidation, I accepted.

Well, Saint Thomas More was everything I hoped it would be. It had (and has) a community of intelligent, enthusiastic worshipers. It has thought-provoking sermons. It has music and solemn traditions.

I desperately wanted to be a Catholic then. But I could not. Here's why:
1. The Old Testament is senseless and insane.
2. The New Testament was written from decades to over a hundred years after Jesus died. His lessons were preserved (mostly) through oral tradition, which is like a decade-long game of telephone in which Jesus preached something like "be nice to everybody" and we heard "purple-monkey dishwasher". Then several hundred years later, a bunch of people Jesus never met picked through everything and removed anything they didn't like.
3. Even assuming everything Jesus said was accurately recorded in the Bible, the Catholic Church is a huge, bloated, worldly organization which has amassed immense wealth, all the while espousing the beliefs of a homeless guy who asked us to live poor.
4. A two-second glance at the history of the Catholic Church - with its crusades, antipopes, illegitimate children, schisms, wars of conquest, child abuse cover-ups and Nazi lovin' popes - confirms that it would be an agent of pure evil if it were not alloyed with hypocrisy.
5. As Christianity spread throughout the world in its infancy, it appropriated all sorts of unwholesome gods and traditions from pagans and turned them into saints and holidays. Old-Testament God does not approve.
6. Saint Thomas More chapel's worshipers are not actually Catholic. I could have gone through that crowd and asked people if they thought contraception was evil and homosexuality is a sin. The answers I would have gotten, from the priests included, would vary significantly from what the Pope thinks. You get different answers from Catholics in Scandinavia, Africa or South America. Back in the day, this was called Heresy. But now it's called, "believe whatever you want as long as you give us money on Sunday."
7. And most of all, the Mystery of Faith is anti-intellectual. How does Jesus' blood banish original sin? The answer is: nobody knows, don't think about it. Shut off your mind and accept it.

I apologize if I have upset any readers. I strongly considered going back and deleting that last section. It's mean. But they are my reasons for not being a Catholic. By listing them, I don't mean to challenge your faith or convert you. It's not about you.

They almost won me, those Catholics. When I list my complaints, it is with deep anger from betrayal. Their community enchanted me and made me forget that Catholicism is a teetering tower built on a delusion, built on a sham, built on a lie with a solid foundation of myth. Somewhere under that dark tower is buried truth, but to unearth it would topple the whole structure.

I pick on Catholics, but honestly every religion I've investigated is guilty. Where people congregate and organize, power appears. Power is the great corrupter and turns any religious bastion into a fountain of wickedness that spews lies and guilt into the world.

As I again found myself metaphysically adrift in a leaky boat of my own devising, a simple phrase illuminated my dark world like a lighthouse. "King Kong died for your Sins". It's from a document called the Principia Discordia, one of the holy books of Discordianism, a poorly-known religion created in the 1950s based on worship of the Greek goddess Eris, appropriated as a goddess of change and chaos. It has been called either a joke masquerading as a religion or a religion masquerading as a joke.

Remember: KING KONG died for your Sins. It was the first phrase I read from Principia Discordia and it made me laugh out loud. As such, it is the only sentence from a religious tract that has motivated me to do anything. Honestly, I was never able to get my head around what Jesus dying has to do with original sin, so honestly, King Kong makes about as much sense. The Principia Discordia contains many such laughs and a philosophy that made me think seriously about the role of chaos and discord in my life. It doesn't ask me to do anything I don't want to do.

Though I had first read it a decade earlier, I began to seriously think about Discordianism as my religion. Eris-worship does not ask me to surrender my mind, does not ask me to speak to her through a priest who leeches money from me, does not make me feel bad about myself and helps me accept change when it occurs in my life. I decided to investigate further.

I joined an online Discordian forum in 2006, expecting to have philosophical discussions with good-natured and inquiring fellows such as myself. What I discovered appalled me. Even on this simple website which should have been fun incarnate, rigid power structures existed. The most avid users had formed a clique and expected new users to undergo a hazing ritual. Rather than engage me philosophical discussion, the clique argued with me using name-calling and concluded their posts with pornographic images that they supposed were funny.

I'm sure that from their perspective, their antics were hilarious. But to me, they were cruel and snobby. The lesson I've learned from all this is that I will never find a community of people to share my worship. Even Discordians, when they congregate, become insular and intolerant. It doesn't matter if your religious organization operates from St. Peter's square, a single mosque or even an insignificant internet forum. Power crystalizes like a kidney stone, halts divine flow in the holy urinary tract and causes significant pain.

It's been five years since I learned this hard lesson. Now I have but one simple religious observance. As commanded in the Discordian Pentabarf, I partake of no hot dog buns. But every Friday at the Cook household is now Hot Dog Day, when I joyously partake of a hot dog as also commanded by the Pentabarf. By doing so, I remonstrate against Judaism and Islam (no Pork), Hindus (no beef), Catholics, (no meat on Friday), Buddhists (no meat of animals) and Discordians (no hot dog buns). But if I miss Hot Dog Day, it's no big deal. As a self-declared Discordian Pope, I can completely rework the Discordian church as I see fit. While I don't necessarily believe there's a crazy lady named Eris running the show, I am at least satisfied that if she exists she's not mad at me for doubting her.

And here's the point in all of this. The Divine is not something reserved for certain places or persons. As individuals, I believe we all have the power to commune with the Divine, whatever you believe it is. We need not go anywhere or ask permission from anybody, we need not consult a priest or give money to anybody, we need not worry about what the community thinks. If you think something holy is out there, you need only pick up a pen, a paintbrush, a musical instrument, or simply clear your throat or head. While there is nothing wrong with discussing religion with others to discover your truth, I say to you that those who ask you to surrender your will, your intellect or your money to them on God's behalf are scoundrels. You can be your own church.

For those of you interested in not taking religion so goddamned seriously all the time, there are a number of religions other than Discordianism available for investigation. Check out Zen, for instance. It's classic. Christianity is to Judaisim as The Church of the SubGenius is to Discordianism: it's not exactly to my taste, but sequels are usually worse than the original. And of course, whenever fundamentalist Christians attempt to impose creationism on the public school system, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also desires its due.

Remember, religion is supposed to make you happy, right? As humans, we are never as happy as when we are laughing.