Monday, December 14, 2009

Doer of Wonder

I'm no great seminary student or learned scholar of biblical texts. However, I have had my humble share of teaching in this area. From practically birth to my mid teens I regularly attended Baptist Churches every Sunday morning, most Sunday nights, and depending on the church in question there'd usually also be social opportunities on Wednesday nights as well. I didn't do this because I wanted to or needed to. I went to church because my family were church goers and therefore so was I. I had no reason to rebel beyond the fact that most of the time, it was usually incredibly boring.

I recall once in my junior high years we had an active Youth Director who was Filled With The Spirit and had taken it upon himself to educate us youngsters on the Power of Christ. I think he had recently attended some seminars where he'd purchased cool looking educational materials and he felt if we were armed with Knowledge, we'd be able to Witness to Nonbelievers and our own Salvation would be intact with our Belief. ..or words to that effect.

I should reiterate here that I didn't go to church because I wanted to. Thinking back I can't even say I went because I did believe, although I must have. I think. I went to church because my parents asked me to and I didn't want to displease them. I went to church because that's what you do when you live in a family that goes to church. I don't even think I'd thought that much about the whole thing before this point. I got more out of comic books that illustrated bible stories than I did out of the bible itself but to me it was all the same. If adults told me there was a god, there was a god. Just like any answer to "why is the sky blue" was acceptable so long as it was some kind of answer. I couldn't have been more than 15 at this point and the idea I'd one day be 40 was fantastical. Most of the universe was fantastical to me. I didn't take much of anything seriously. Even when I did take something seriously, it'd be in that melodramatic way where kids strung out on hormones take serious things. Whatever bad thing happened it'd be the end of the world and I would experience my life as if it were an episode of a TV series named after myself. I should also point out here that I did attend these meetings at least partially cuz there was a gorgeous blonde chick whose name escapes me at the moment but that I had completely failed to ever impress.

Our Youth Director planned to have us meet together every Wednesday night all summer and he'd relay to us the Wonder of Jesus from an historical perspective. I recall one particular night where he came in armed with all kinds of charts and booklets and a whiteboard upon which he'd jotted bible verses and he was going to prove to us once and for all that Jesus lived, and that the Bible was a valid historical tome as well as living proof to the Word of God. The room had us surrounded with authentic looking evidence, but that I could tell didn't really tell me anything more than we already knew.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem because his parents had to go there for the purposes of the Roman Census. Joseph followed Mary even though they both believed that the unborn Jesus wasn't his. That alone always troubled me but that night I didn't bother to mention it. We know very little about what happened to Jesus between his birth and his adulthood. There's one scene when he was about a decade old where he rebelled from his parents by spending all day in a synagogue arguing with pharisees. When Joseph demanded he return to their house, Jesus said he was already at his Father's house. I always found this a very rebellious sentiment, kinda like when I'd diss my Dad over worthless trifles. It amused me that Jesus was as petty and self-centered as I am. There's entire years unaccounted for. Jesus goes from birth to puberty in the space of a couple paragraphs, and then graduates to a beard and sandals by the turn of a page. This is a rather cryptic historical record for a guy that's supposedly the centerpiece of an entire religion. George W. Bush prized his privacy throughout his reign as Leader of the Free World, but we know where he attended college. We know he drank a lot of alcohol in his youth and probably did cocaine. We don't know Jack about Jesus.

The Youth Director went on and on but my mind was drifing, and I found myself more concerned about the fact my eyes kept involuntarily flitting back to the gorgeous blonde chick and her sandy blonde hair and crystal blue eyes and soft white skin. I honestly wanted to concentrate on what the Youth Director was saying, but I found myself combating sinful thoughts instead. They didn't seem all that sinful really. I wasn't thinking of nudity in that moment in fact I kinda preferred her wearing clothes. In fact it woulda been fun if the both of us were fondling one another fully clothed, inside a big sleeping back, near a cozy campfire underneath a moonlit sky...

I had issues. No doubt about that. However, they didn't seem to be particularly hellfire and brimstoney. I was really just mostly thinking how could I get her to be mildly pleased about the fact we shared the same air.

I blinked back to reality and the Youth Director was talking now about the authenticity of the Bible itself. How it WAS the Word of God, and he'd prove it. Then he spent the next half hour or so explaining how the Bible actually got written.

Thousands of years ago we didn't have printing presses or magazines or anything like that. They had paprus. The Egyptians invented paper and it was rolled up in the form of scrolls because they kept better that way, but paper is very delicate and moisture or insects or any number of other things could damage them over time. Before paper was invented, the only way stories could be captured was if they were chiseled in stone, or more commonly if they were passed down from one generation to the next.

Tribes of people would live together like a community, and the wise people of the village would regularly tell stories of great wonder to the others in the community, and the older generations would challenge the younger generations to memorize these stories so they'd be able to tell them to their children. And this is how most of the Old Testament was chronicled. These stories passed down for scores of generations were eventually transcribed onto papaya by people the Youth Director called Scribes. These Scribes would then keep collections of scrolls hidden away for safekeeping from extreme weather, hungry bugs, marrauders, etc.

"Password," I mumbled I thought to myself.

The Youth Director turned to me, "I don't understand."

"Yeah, I don't either." I glanced about the room. The cute blonde wasn't looking at me. She was looking at the Youth Director. Everyone else though was looking at me. I found it uncomfortable and yet the attention whore in me perked up - always preferred an audience even if I were the butt of the joke. "We were playing the game Password in this very room just a few months ago," I looked at everyone else in the room to see if anyone else remembered this. They either didn't, or didn't care, as it made no difference to them. "One person started with one phrase and after twenty people whispered it to each other we came up with something entirely diffferent!"

"You're right!"

"So if we can't keep a simple phrase accurate in the same room over the course of a minute, how could entire tribes of people keep bible length stories straight for over twenty generations?"

The Youth Director responded to this as if he were expecting the answer, and launched into a very detailed account of how younger generations were required by elders to learn not only the exact wording of these stories but identical inflections and mannerisms and what not. I asked him how he knew this was so and he said some historians whose books he'd read had researched this.

"How could they research it?"

"They're historians. They looked it up."

"But we're talking about pre-history. We're talking about a time before writing and paper. What are they looking up? Other historians?"

The rest of the summer went kinda downhill. Every Wednesday night for weeks the Youth Director came in armed with more answers and I came armed with more questions. By the time we got to the King James Version of the Bible and canonization practices of the Roman Catholic Church, I walked away from the whole thing more confused than ever. I think the Youth Director thought he won the argument, but by then I'd realized that pretty much everyone else in that class shunned me, because I was a squeaky wheel, and that cute blonde chick was never going to know I'm alive, so I didn't really care about the class at all anymore. I'd just stopped arguing. And then I stopped going.

None of them were there to learn more about God. Like me, they were there because when you're a white anglo saxon protestant in suburban America in the 1980s, you go to Youth Group on Wednesdays because that's what you do. You go to public school during the week because you go. You do what your parents tell you cuz you do what your parents tell you until you get rebellious and learn when and where and how you can break that particular commandment, and suddenly some of the other commandments (like lying and coveting for example) get easier.

You believe in God because you believe in God. You don't question it.

I kinda repeated this to a lesser extent in college. I attended a Methodist university which required some theology classes. I took the New Testament course because I figured it'd be an easy A. I'd already read enough of the textbook to pass. I came out of that class with an even firmer understanding of how weak The Holy Bible passes as an historical document, that outside the Bible itself there is zero documentation that Jesus ever existed, and I also molded a detailed opinion of Saint Paul of Tarsus that left me thinking when I got to heaven the first thing I wanted to do was walk up to the guy and punch him in the mouth.

"Give unto Caesar that which was Caesar's." What a coward. He'd tell the followers in entire cities what he thought of them while sitting comfortably in someone else's city, judging even though he wasn't the one who should be judging, a believer in his own press who became arrogant and drunk from power, and he wasn't even one of the original twelve! There were twelve people who hung out with Jesus - why is over 80% of the New Testament from a guy who was Caesar's lap dog? He rebelled a bit and got thrown in jail and wrote even more letters to cities telling them how to live their lives as if he were some authority. And his statements against gay people are harmful and cruel. Even though I was then and still am now a recovering homophobe (sorry gay people you creep me out but that's my trip not yours don't sweat it), Paul is downright prejudiced to the point of disgust. THIS was the guy who founded Roman Catholicism? Paul's the ass upon which all contemporary Christianity is based? No wonder the religion makes no sense.

Yet despite all this, despite the fact that the more I investigated about the religion the less credence I could give it, I still considered myself a Christian all the way up until March of this year. Even when I embraced The SubGenius Church in 1985 and found ways to laugh at my own beliefs, I still thought of myself a SubGenius Christian and honestly thought I could balance the two.

Sure MANKIND had fucked up chronicling and accurately citing proof to the existence of God, that didn't mean God didn't exist. It meant we humans failed to prove His existence but that's just because we are inferior.

I look at a leaf or a baby or the stars in the sky and think surely this was all made with a purpose. It's too majestic and wondrous and amazing to just be there with no logic behind it. There must be a Presence. An Instigator. An Artist of Universal Proportions. Something. Surely something so breathtakingly wondrous as the Universe didn't just happen by sheer chance. There must be a method behind the madness. That method must have been orchestrated by something akin to human, or at least humanoid, or at least something or someone who is on our side. Otherwise, if there is no god, a random 'planet killer' asteroid could at any second be discovered on a collision path with Earth, and there wouldn't be a god to coincidentally place Jupiter in its path so that we'd be saved.

I still let myself believe in god and just stopped believing in Man. I stopped believing in religion many years ago, because that was a construct of Man. I stopped believing in god less than a year ago, because it finally dawned on me that if religion is a construct of Man, then so are gods. Even and especially The One True God. It's all a lie. I hope it doesn't take you forty years to see it. Whoever you are.

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