What if none of the religions that people practice were meant to be something to practice?
What if they were never intended to be THE BIG BOOK OF RULES FROM A TIME OF LOTS OF SAND but instead – like cinema and literature and paintings and poetry and song – meant to evoke a feeling or provide deeper insight into the Human Condition based upon subjective and flexible interpretation and aesthetic study sans threats of eternal damnation?
What if they were intended as metaphor-laden epic troubadour tales, or like fairy tales and fables, but all of it meant to teach lessons in the same spirit of, say, The Ugly Duckling or The Little Engine That Could?
Broadly illustrated stories that varied from location to location, tribe to tribe, all having essentially the same basic tropes and plots and message – “Love Each Other, Damn You!” – but featuring different characters and angles that spoke to each particular audience in their own cultural language, like Art that could teach you Life — but everyone got the wrong idea?
For my intents and purposes here, It doesn’t really matter how you define God – you can say God is the Bearded Sky Dude, or God is a bunch of friendly ETs, or God is a programmer (or a whole mess of them), or the Superfriends, or the cast of Parks and Rec, whatever.
(If you’re averse to the idea of a Higher Power, understand this isn’t about “what you believe in” – that’s on another ball field. This game is about finding new meanings for things.)
Here’s the pitch, then:
The idea of a Higher Power CREATING all of this amazingly complicated and beautiful stuff, stapled onto the idea that somehow, this very same Creative Higher Power is ALSO a bureaucrat with a checklist and a shoulder-chip gives me cognitive dissonance. You’d have an easier time convincing me that Mitch McConnell directed Polyester.
It’s a bit paradoxical for one to be moved by the beauty of a sunset and then – in the same body and time period – say that God is, basically, a judgmental dick with a scorecard, just waiting for you to fuck it all up. But this is what I see so-called religious people do on the reg.
To me, it seems more like it’s Man who is the scornful score-keeping wanker wielding a red pen, and God is more a cool AF Artist with mad complicated skills, creating butterflies and puppies and kittens and mountains and trees and have you noticed the human form at all?
Art, all of it.
If one of us humans draws or paints a kitten or a puppy or a naked lady, and draws it well – or even half-assed – we can freely and happily claim “artist” to describe ourselves.
But the original Creator of those things, as portrayed by religion, is not as agreeable for some reason, with apparently no sense of humor, making a world containing all this amazingly beautiful and complicated stuff but oddly also where every baby is automatically at fault the moment they are born.
Is that a first draft or something? Because that character arc is weird.
Being rigid and inflexible and possibly surly while simultaneously creating everything truly Beautiful doesn’t track.
There’s a whole story behind religion that is interesting, though – the story of the people that packaged religion, who I am imagining as the Madison Avenue guys on that episode of The Flintstones where Fred was an Ad Man, “Whose baby is that? I’ll buy that! What’s your angle?” — and suddenly because of this silly mental image, the entire topic is so much more interesting to me and maybe for more information I’d check my local library or something and THAT is how you get someone into something, through color and flourishes and laughter, not flat singular definitions that people other than yourself decided on because they think they know how much God weighs.
Shouldn’t the whole deal about living a ‘good’ life be mostly about how important it is to love one another unconditionally and forgive one another and help each other to grow?
Shouldn’t the focus be on, like, numerous examples of the beauty that is created in the World by such love and how that love could be accessed by everyone so as to achieve such a peaceful state?
And. Wouldn’t it be the religion that was intended to scare and control you that would go super-heavy on the danger of eternal damnation if you didn’t follow its rules, with all of those rules leaning so heavily on what NOT to do, but scant information on suitable alternative avenues when faced with the temptations and ills that could derail the whole ‘good’ life train?
It’s kind of like the difference between yelling at a child who is carrying a cup of milk “DON’T SPILL THAT OR ELSE!” and saying kindly to that child, “Walk slowly and carefully, kiddo, you’ve got this!” – a sort of “You can do it and here is how” approach.
Maybe that’s how religions were before the focus group results came back.
“People are reading into this thing and it’s not the message that’s gonna help us to oppress and control them, we need more shame!”
“Hey, Boss – what if we say newborn babies are in trouble, too?”
(SFX: Cash register)
Please tell me what Artist would want only ONE questionable interpretation of the story (meaning religion’s show, What A God Wants), instead of a kerjillion of them as viewed through the lens of every culture?
Artists dig on many different interpretations of their work, not this “no, no, see this flat line here, that is PRECISELY AND ONLY what this means, nothing else, don’t you dare use your imagination or feelings or take from it what works for your actual life” style nonsense.
Cause if you have only the one idea of a thing, cut and dried and non-negotiable, not only is that limiting in utility, in entertainment value, in depth and breadth of what you can personally apply to Life In The World After Everyone Stopped Wearing Caftans Exclusively, it also means you don’t have symbolism, you don’t have metaphor, you don’t have analogy or multi-dimensional information of any kind, and you lose all of these things that make a work of Art great and make it meaningful on an expanded and enduring level.
Seems a little twisted to me. Kind of like if there were some Shamalyan “Village” and some dude ventured outside of it and somewhere in his travels stumbled across a novelization of FRIDAY THE 13TH and people read all the wrong things into its significance, and built a religion around THAT, but they missed the entire point of it in the process, made it all about forbidding summer camps of any kind and beating the Rules of Horror into everyone’s head in place of commandments:
- Thou shalt not have sex
- Thou shalt not do drugs
- Thou shalt not drink
- Thou shalt not say “I’ll be right back”
- Thou shalt suspect everyone.
And then everyone in our little strawman village starts living by these rules when actually the entire takeaway from the novelization should have been totally different, they should have gotten that maybe it’s a good idea not to leave a kid alone in a canoe in a murky lake while you go shag a colleague if your job is keeping an eye on the kid, and maybe it’s a good idea to provide support to grieving mothers lest they turn into murderous camp-stalking maniacs. (Spoiler alert)
But instead of taking those sorts of lessons from this story, our make-believe villagers ban camps and camping, which does not involve the actual cause and effect that creates such a murderous situation such as the one that plagued Camp Crystal Lake.
The really messed up part is, this village didn’t even have camps to begin with. No one even went camping. I mean, it’s a village cut off from everything. Every day is already like camping. It’d be a hat on a hat.
But the tale gets them so in their heads they may as well be eating ergot-laden wheat because the information gleaned from this story – which was then used to create pressing societal rules – did not even actually apply to them in the first place.
The thing is this: it is not about are you good or are you bad. It is about are you teachable. It is about can you expand your capacity to love. It is about can you let go of the ‘dispute for dispute’s sake’-ing and can you let go of division and needing to have an Other to shame and blame for your own dissatisfaction.
The part of the Bible people don’t really hear that often is ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’
It’s sort of interesting to juxtapose that with people who use religion as an excuse to take out their unhealed personal issues on others. God didn’t cosign that behavior. One of the Commandments is not “Be a dick to thy neighbor.”
It’s “Love thy neighbor.”
Anyone who condemns another in the name of God is telling on themselves because they are literally breaking one of the rules they claim to follow by doing so.
I mean, if a person insists on taking religion literally, perhaps they might also actually take it literally, by not judging, but instead expanding their capacity for love.
That’d be kinda cool.