Some people, it appears, define themselves in terms of their religious beliefs, which would explain some of my e-mail over the years, in which said people call upon me to define myself in such terms. I have always declined, sometimes politely, sometimes considerably less so.

One aggrieved correspondent demanded "Just what kind of Christian are you?", the way a person unfamiliar with the concept of brand names might ask a convenience-store clerk, "What kind of cokes you got?" It's a safe bet that The Coca-Cola Company wouldn't think too highly of this perversion of their trademark; much of my spirituality is based on the notion that the divine is similiarly misrepresented by users of its terminology.

Bertrand Russell beat me to it by a mere seventy years, but perhaps it's time for me to open up a bit about what I think are problems with Christianity, problems that go clear to its roots and which would likely prove unfixable, even in the unlikely event that someone from within would undertake to fix them. And besides, Easter is coming up.

The experience of Adam and Eve is a case in point. God's instructions were quite clear: eschew everything connected with the Tree of Knowledge, or else. Being new at this sort of thing, they were fuzzy on the concept of "or else", but like any children, they were curious, and the rest is pseudohistory. The moral of the story is quite clear: Paradise is yours, if you mind your own business and don't ask any questions. For a species which climbed to the top of the food chain by dint of its willingness to experiment, this is an astonishingly self-abnegating philosophy, and one which flies in the face of everything we know about human experience. As an explanation for The Way Things Are, it would be laughable, were it not so easily exploitable by charlatans.

For their grievous offense of having confronted authority with something other than blind obeisance, Adam and Eve were duly booted out of the Garden and condemned to death, a punishment which was extended to any and all future generations as well. Authoritarians love this sort of stuff, since it resonates well with their own lust for power, and for much of the last twenty centuries, Christian apologists have been working on trying to explain how God's alleged infinite goodness and justice can be reconciled with the pathologically insane levels of wrath he vented upon two of his creatures. As an intellectual enterprise, this ranks somewhere above the fantasies of the creationists, but below your average episode of Family Matters. Either way, you get lots of reruns.

Viewed as metaphor, and recycled metaphor at that, much of Scripture is readable, even useful, but the ostensible keepers of the faith aren't having any of that figure-of-speech stuff; they insist that the rest of us read it as a literal transcript of events, and further, that we do so without snickering. (I get accused of blasphemy on a regular basis, an experience which suggests to me that it's the very definition of a "victimless crime".) Since clearly not everyone who subscribes to this particular religion is dumb as a post — counterexamples abound, even among the fundamentalists ("fund", to give money, plus "amental", lacking a mind) — it seems at least plausible that, since the fundamentalists are still very much a minority, many present-day Christian adherents are simply paying lip service, which adds a new dimension to John's assertion that "the Word was God".

The evangelicals pitch for a personal relationship with God. For myself, I'm rather disinclined even to be associated with an entity that has an even nastier temper than mine and which presumably endorses the actions of earthbound fools like the soi-disant Christian Coalition — despite the name, they take their marching orders from one man and one cute hand puppet, and there's no room for discussion — and your favorite "anti-pornography" group. Heaven, I am told, is filled with such folks, which is even more of a disincentive.

For someone like me, who is persuaded that there is some sort of small-g god (as distinguished from the character with the capital letter, which is treated by Christians as a trademark of sorts), which may not necessarily correspond to popular conceptions, life's banquet deserves something more than catering by some lowest-common-denominator fast-spiritual-food joint, especially one which dares not post any meaningful nutrition information. I distrust anything that claims to have all the answers, and more so when the list of questions is rigged. If this gets me an eternity or two in the Rotisserie League, well, pass me the Nomex — and a Pepsi.

The Vent

#46
24 March 1997

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