Let’s Talk About God

“Every mythology, every religion, is true in this sense: It is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery.” – Joseph Campbell, the Power of Myth

God

Detail of Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco at the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.

Our first summer in Florida, I was 13 years old and wheelchair-bound after corrective surgery on both feet. My parents sent my brother and me to vacation Bible school at the Presbyterian church up the road from our Palm Beach Gardens apartment complex. There, in the Sunday school classroom, as I sat in my wheelchair with my feet in their twin casts sticking straight out in front of me, a young man with shaggy brown hair, bad acne and huge glasses asked me if I would accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior.

If so, he added, my soul would be saved and I would be guaranteed a place for all eternity in the Kingdom of the Lord.

That sounded OK to me. So I said, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

And he said, “Praise Jesus. You are saved today.”

So, I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

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Sundays at our house have always been reserved for rest. If not rest, Disney World. If not Disney, Busch Gardens. Or laundry. Or yard work. Or the community pool. Or grocery shopping. Or anything except church.

Put simply, we don’t go. We are among the 20 percent of Americans who a Pew Research Center poll identified as having no religious affiliation. That’s not to say we are not religious. Beth certainly is. She prays regularly, and she believes in the traditional, organized-religion definition of the Christian God.

I don’t share her beliefs. I suppose I would have to be lumped in with the 33 million Americans who identify themselves as atheistic or agnostic. I don’t know what that means, though. What I do know is that I don’t know what happens when we die.

I also know this: Neither does anyone else know. But you know what else? That doesn’t matter.

Religion isn’t about that. Or it shouldn’t be.

Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative mythology whose work influenced George Lucas as he created the Star Wars universe, makes as much sense to me as anyone I’ve read or listened to when it comes to the purpose of religion. He said it exists not to reveal the meaning of life, but to help us find a way to live life with grace, to discover within ourselves an accord between what we experience and the questions and concepts that transcend our experience.

Campbell said God was, in fact, a metaphor for the things that transcend thought. I think what he meant was that because we exist in the field of time — we’re born, we live, we die — it is incredibly difficult, maybe even impossible, to grasp the concept of eternity.

And that’s about as deep as I want to go with that. As I say, I don’t know. I want to know, but I also am not arrogant enough to believe that I have the answers. That said, nor will I at this point in my life acknowledge that anyone else truly knows, either. That’s what I believe.

Which brings us to our sons.

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Beth wants them to go to church. We have found one that might serve, at least for now.

I have qualms.

On one hand, I want our sons to learn about organized religion, about spirituality, about humanity’s attempts to make sense of it all.

On the other hand, I believe that much of humanity’s strife — today and throughout history — has been caused by organized religion. As Campbell said, practitioners of the individual religions get stuck in their own interpretations of their chosen metaphors. That is, they fail to read the sacred texts or hear the sacred stories as poetry. Instead, they read it and hear it as prose. It is, Campbell said, a purely literary problem.

I see people in the public eye espouse views in the name of their religion about topics such as homosexuality, and it is clearly a bigoted way of thinking. Here’s the problem, though: They don’t think of themselves as bigoted, because they simply are adhering to the things they learned from their religious leaders. They are wrong to think that. Hiding behind specious lessons does not excuse the ignorant. While I might not know the answers, I do know this: Any religious teaching that is used to objectify and dehumanize other people is deplorable. I hope our sons never think that way.

Some of my favorite people in the world are deeply religious, and so sure in their convictions that it sometimes makes me wish that I could give myself over to the rapture and let the joy wash over me like a baptismal font.

It’s tough, but our sons need a frame of reference. They need to be exposed to these ideas — and at 7, our older son is probably as impressionable as he’ll ever be when it comes to ideas about spirituality.

It’s tricky. I bought our older son a book the other day called The Kids Book of World Religions, and he sort of freaked out about the drawing of Jesus on the cross. He needs to know what that means, that the resurrection is emblematic of the “death” and “rebirth” we all must experience as we transition from one stage of life to another (I am aware there are those whose interpretation of the crucifixion differs from this one). I Googled [talking to children about religion] and found an entire blog dedicated to the subject, along with this Washington Post story about the author of that blog. This is not a problem unique to us.

It’s necessary. We want our sons to make informed decisions about how they choose to think about spirituality in the future. We’re going to expose them to different ways of thinking, to different paths. We’re going to let them make their own decisions when they’re ready. You’ve got to start somewhere. So … we’ll start by giving up our Sunday rest or recreation to explore the spiritual.

And we’re going to hope that when (if) they choose their paths, they find grace and peace and love. Above all else, we hope that.

Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s Pieta, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.

Are Angels Real?

“Dad, are angels real?”

Not what I expected to hear tonight as I tossed supper onto the stove. I waited a beat, turned toward the kitchen table.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I don’t know.”

Fair enough. But I wasn’t quite ready to give him my answer. So …

“Well, what do you think?”

He pointed toward the ceiling.

“Are they up there?”

“On the ceiling?”

“No,” he said. “The place on the clouds. What’s on the clouds?”

“Rain?”

“NO,” he said. “Heaven.”

“How do you know that’s heaven?”

He has read it somewhere, or seen it on a TV show or a movie. Or perhaps he heard it at school or at his after-school center. We’ve not had many conversations of a religious nature yet with the boys. We don’t go to church, but the idea is to give our sons a grounding in spirituality and right and wrong, as well as we can. Then we’ll let the boys make their own decisions about religious beliefs when they’re old enough. Not saying that’s the way it ought to be done, necessarily, but it’s right for us, and that’s how we’re going to do it.

Meanwhile, back in the clouds …

He told me he read about heaven in a book on the Civil War. Someone was hungry and scared, and they prayed to the angels for food and protection. I can imagine why a kid — anyone, really — would want to know if that works.

Hence, the question.

“So, what do you think, buddy? Are angels real?”

“Well, I don’t actually know,” he said. “But do you think they’re real?”

“I don’t actually know, either,” I said.

“No one knows,” he said.

“No one knows?”

“No one.”

No one.

On Chick-fil-A and a Sad Video by Bad Parents

I was going to write about Chick-fil-A. We’ve always been a Chick-fil-A family. And by family, I mean a man, a woman, and two kids. You know, the “right” kind of family. Dan Cathy’s kind of family.

We’re not a Chick-fil-A family any more.

Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy is free to cloak his blatant bigotry in the language of religion if he likes. The company is free to donate as many millions as it wants to anti-gay organizations. Fine. But we’re just as free to not eat there again unless something changes. I don’t want another penny of mine being funneled toward groups that actually fight against the civil rights of an entire population. It’s too bad, really. We really liked that place.

It’s been very strange seeing people on Twitter and Facebook boast about eating there today, revealing either their ignorance or their intolerance or both. By the way, you are wrong if you think this is some kind of attack on religion. It is, rather, a denunciation of those who believe following a particular religion gives them the right to consider other people beneath them in some way. Why would anyone want to practice a religion that doesn’t embrace all of humanity, a religion that would place one group of people above another, simply because of a belief system? I don’t think I’ll ever understand how someone could think that way, and still see themselves as being “pure” and “right.” They are neither.

If your religious beliefs dictate that you deny other people their civil rights, you might want to rethink your religious beliefs. And don’t give me this nonsense about “false outrage from the left.” I’ve never been active in the LGBT cause. It’s just never had much impact on my life that I noticed. I’m just sick of the hypocrisy from the right, and I feel compelled to write about it. Listen, if you don’t want to be called a bigot, don’t support bigoted policies. It’s that simple.

I was going to write about that.

But then I saw this video of a 6-year-old boy counting down the top 10 reasons not to vote for President Obama.

If you decided not to click on the link, here’s a brief summary. I’m not going to dignify it by describing it in too much detail. It’s simply too appalling. Suffice to say it is a spite-filled, scornful, wrong-headed regurgitation of everything Shaun Hannity and Rush Limbaugh want you to believe.

It made me slightly nauseous. The worst were the out-takes at the end, which were presented in black and white like some macabre farce. I guess it was supposed to be funny. It wasn’t.

I can’t imagine making my son doing something like that. Our videos are of him and his brother dancing like fiends to Phineas and Ferb songs in the family room. He knows Barack Obama is the president, and we don’t turn off political TV when he’s in the room, but he doesn’t have the first idea about politics in this weird country of ours. Nor should he.

Nor does the kid in that travesty of a video. His parents are the buffoons here, not him. Did they think this was cute? Did they think it would make anyone out there say, Hey, the 6-year-old has a point? I really don’t understand their motivation. Surely they didn’t expect it to go viral like it did (nearly 180,000 views as of tonight). Or maybe they hoped it would go viral, and their kid could get his own talk show on ClearChannel. I don’t know.

So … what then? Why?

I mean, considering the No. 1 reason not to vote for Obama was torn straight out of the Orly Taitz, Donald Trump, Joe Arpaio* playbook, they couldn’t have been using this is a civics lesson for the kid. Could they have? Good grief. What if these parents actually believe the wretched untruths they scripted for their unfortunate little boy? And what if, one day, this little boy learns the truth? What if all of the indoctrinated faithful who consider Hannity, Limbaugh and Fox News the gospel suddenly see the light, and this little boy is swallowed up in their terrible wake as they collectively veer toward reality? Or, worse yet, what if he’s the heir to fake investigative reporter/conservative hatchet boy James O’Keefe**?

The video made me sad. It made me sad for that child, and it made me sad for this country.

Maybe it’s best not to poke a stick at the Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day crowd or the Taitz/Trump/Arpaio minions. Nothing I can say or write or do will change their minds. Maybe it’s better just to leave it alone.

But no. That’s not who I am. It’s not who we are as a nation. Maybe I can’t do or say or write anything to change your mind. But that doesn’t mean I won’t speak mine.

*The Internet marketing geek in me loves the fact that Joe Arpaio’s Wikipedia page is page one, number one for the Google search [crazy Arizona sheriff].

** Page one, number two for [fake acorn pimp]. Heh.