I happened to spot a billboard with a public service message, urging parents
not to subject their vulnerable children to the unedifying sight of them bickering.
The little ones are sponges: they soak up everything, and everything makes its
mark, even if they don’t know what to do yet with the input. It will come
to rest deep in the subconscious, never fear. And who knows what effect it will
have there? Who knows what deep-seated damage certain traumatic sights may cause,
damage the cause of which may never be found? The billboard featured a cute
little face, wide-eyed, obviously looking at something it did not know what
to make of. But taking it in.
was well designed. And its message was important. But another message occurred
to me. I thought of the mixed signals a child receives when different parents
issue conflicting demands. A steady diet of that stuff can set up a state of
irresolvable cognitive dissonance, and the only apparent path ahead is schizophrenia.
One must be ready to catch balls all over outfield at the same time. One must
be, mentally, everywhere at once. And that way lies madness. Remember, Schizophrenia
means “split personality” in the sense of fractured personality,
not multiple personality, which is another whole kettle of fried fish. This
concern is not far removed from the overt message of the signboard.
mind went a step further. I thought of the damage wrought in the mind, even
in the character, of the tender religious believer who tries his best to absorb
the contradictory messages sent him by the faith into which he is indoctrinated.
God is love, and he sends people of Hell to be tortured eternally in unimaginably
horrific ways. God is truth, and if you look for truth too hard and come up
with your own conclusions, there’s Hell, literally, to pay. God wants
us to grow spiritually and morally, but the constant threats of damnation intimidate
us into remaining stalled at the most primitive stage of moral development:
childish “reward and punishment.” The signs of the Holy Spirit are
love, joy, peace, patience, longsuffering, etc., and when we see these manifested
in the life of an unbeliever or a member of another faith, they must be Satanic
counterfeits, which means their appearance in my life doesn’t necessarily
mean a thing.
it mean to “trust” such a God? “Though he slay me, yet will
I trust him,” moaned Job. Yeah? Trust him to what? What’s left?
Ever see the old John Birch tract, You Can Trust the Communists—to Be
Communists? I guess that’s what it means in the gospel chorus: “Trust
and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust
might one be able to draw as to what God would do in any given situation? You
might think he’d have had an interest in averting the torture of his chosen
people in the Nazi concentration camps. But apparently not. Could one ever even
remotely hope to discern his will? Not if he persists in moving in such damn
strange ways. And we are constantly told that he does, since otherwise we’d
have to blame him for things, e.g., neglecting to prevent evils which we would
be quite culpable for allowing.
how apparently sincere religious people, doing their level best to be pious,
somehow wind up riding roughshod over “sinners”? Whence the hatred
for homosexuals one sees emblazoned on ultra-fundamentalist picket signs on
TV? The true believers are caught in the trap of religio-moral schizophrenia:
They believe in a loving God, whose character, however, is perfectly compatible
with torturing sinners in Hell. Well, brother, if your moral criterion is “What
Would Jehovah Do?” no wonder you’re cruel. And no wonder you don’t
notice the contradiction: your theology tells you, like that stupid late-seventies
song says, “you’ve got to be cruel to be kind.”
commitment to so-called Truth shows the colors of its madness in religious apologetics.
Invisible to the Christian debater, the pathetic mind-games he plays are transparent
to anyone else. He says he believes in truth, but it is all deductive. Worse,
it is all spin on behalf of a list of beliefs previously embraced for emotional
reasons, now defended with spurious “intellectual” arguments that
never caused his conversion in the first place. How phony it all is, and how
sleazy! How corrosive of the simple search for truth—on which one can
only feign to embark if one thinks one already has it in the bag, the truth
like a deer splayed over the hood of the pick-up truck. The apologist wants
to “win souls,” or at least arguments, “by any means necessary.”
This again corrupts the conscience right out of the starting gate. It is all
the result of conflicting demands from one’s religious authorities, whether
the Bible itself, which speaks with so many voices it ought to be named Legion,
or of the sanctimonious buffoons who interpret it from the pulpit. They are
so many ventriloquists using the Bible as a talking dummy.
Did I mention
that when I saw that billboard, I was on my way to church? I did not, I do not,
go to church like the sheeplike Eloi heeding the underground summons of the
Morlocks, to come to a dinner in which they themselves will serve as the main
course. I did not approach church like Dorothy, the Straw Man, the Tin Man,
and Democrat Lion, seeking boons from the great and powerful Oz. No, I can only
go because Toto has already pulled aside the once-concealing curtain from the
mountebank Professor Marvel. I go not because I do not yet realize it is all
a special effects show. Quite the contrary, I go to the Episcopal Church because
I know it is all special effects. I go to church for the same reason I watch
The Wizard of Oz: to be swept away again in the mystic fantasy epic, and to
gain some lessons from it about the mind, the heart, and courage. I suspend
disbelief to let it enchant me for an hour, with some lasting effects thereafter.
I am no
idolater, bowing before what I know is a sham, a false god. No, I know there
are no real Gods, that if there is to be divinity, it must be ours, and part
of that divinity is the play, the drama, the epics and the poetry we have created.
I come to partake of what Tillich called “the broken myth.” It is
broken like an idol which we may yet revere as a monument to once-living human
belief. It is broken like the hull of a nut so we may enjoy its inner fruit.
Church is the mausoleum, as the Mad Prophet proclaimed, of the Dead God, and
as we stand there commiserating, we know a secret joy in the fact that we must
have been gods ourselves to do the deed.