…your fucking shirt.
Everybody’s talking at me
I don’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind
People stopping, staring
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes
I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes – Harry Nilsson
No, he wasn’t talking about the cacophony emanating from the human race but the lyrics really suit the mood of the day regarding cacophony. With the pain of the mass murder of the great minds at Charlie Hebdo still fresh, condemnation freely flows. A good amount of it is justifiable. From our perspective, no one has the right to silence another because the message may be unsavory. We have a right to argue. We have a right to disagree. We have a right to ignore. We have no right to kill another human being because we find their particular message distasteful or blasphemous. This seems to be lost among many (regardless of preferred religion).
Along with the justifiable outrage, sheer terror and tremendous heartbreak, now we get to wade through the sea of bigotry because this is what happens when a subset of a particular group behaves horrendously. The few become the sole representation of the many and unfairly so. Being a religious minority myself, I certainly appreciate that special feeling of mortification and understand the dread in anticipation of the backlash. Each time Israel blunders, I steel myself for the hate speech and look at the computer monitor through splayed fingers with a turning stomach and legs that feel like lead. Today, tomorrow and, potentially, the following day, decent Muslims will be attacked by the ignorant masses who presume that bad apples represent an entire belief system. It’s shameful and disgusting. It’s why so many people looked at Australia with wonder in middle-December when they responded to an attack with love instead of hate via I’ll Ride with You. The rest of the world seems completely incapable of doing that. It’s why I have a tendency to get a bit twitchy and bitchy when I hear people say :insert random demographic here: are dangerous/evil/vile/must be wiped off the planet. It’s why I won’t allow others to besmirch what they do not know or understand – at least in my presence. It’s very easy to look at something, form an opinion and stick to it when you lack basic facts and knowledge, especially when everyone else appears to be doing the same. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but that is the very definition of prejudice. Oh…and you thought you were so very evolved and enlightened, didn’t you?
Alas, this isn’t a tentacle wag at the bigots. This is actually something a bit different. The above is actually a rambling aside.
I freely admit that I spent a large portion of my time in my 20s in a drunken stupor or stoned (possibly). If you’re unmarried, childless, gainfully employed and unencumbered by any other responsibility, your 20s are the appropriate time for fucking around and fuck around I did. That said, for as drunk as I was, I don’t recall the world being as barking mad as it appears to be today. Could it have been because I spent ½ of my 20s living outside of the Bible Belt where religion was just one of those things that was a part of life and not the sole point of life? I really don’t think so. I lived in predominantly Catholic Western Pennsylvania, went to a state university and for the life of me, I don’t recall the cafeteria feeding us meat on Friday. It was fish. Every Friday in Western Pennsylvania was fish and mac and cheese day. Yet, no one was hounding me to surrender my faith. Those who even bothered to ask really didn’t care that I wasn’t one of them. Oh, and I really loved fish and mac and cheese day, too.
Religion didn’t really become an issue for me until I moved to the Bible Belt. Since then, I have had the joy of experiencing discrimination at every single job I have had. It’s not pleasant. But what’s really unpleasant, what’s really the catalyst behind my picking up my ball and going home (reevaluating my entire position on religion, in general) is the incessant attempts at evangelization. Yes. I understand that certain groups have instructions to go forth and seed. And, yes, I have tried to be patient and respectful of this but a person can only stomach so much before it becomes offensive.
As I see it, religion and attempts to shift someone away from their existing ideology to the ideology of another is just madness. And it’s presumptuous, rude and in very poor taste. Think about this scenario:
You’re out and about doing whatever it is that you do and someone walks up to you with a shirt in their hands. They see that you’re already wearing a shirt but that doesn’t really matter to them. That person thinks their shirt is better than the shirt you’re currently wearing. They say “Look. I have a shirt for you. I think you need to put it on right now. This very minute, to be exact.” You tilt your head in confusion. You point to your shirt. You tell them that you’re already wearing a shirt that you quite like. Yet, the person you’re speaking to is neither listening nor caring about the words coming out of your mouth. Instead, they say “NO. You must wear THIS shirt. This shirt. Right here in my hands. Wear it. Wear it now.” Again, you look at your shirt and the slightly deranged person talking to you and you say “Allow me to iterate, I have a shirt. I’m wearing a shirt. It is a comfortable shirt. No thank you.” Still in denial, they thrust the shirt in your face and adamantly exclaim “But MY shirt is better than YOUR shirt. It will save you!” “Save me? Save me from what?” you ask “Is it made of Kevlar and thus bullet proof?” The shirt bearer stares at you like you’re crazy and says “No.” You ask “Is it impregnated with some sort of anti-bacterial and/or anti-viral substance that will keep me immune from all disease?” Shirt bearer shakes head no. “In the event that I’m standing atop a very high building, near the ledge, and someone decides to shove me, will a parachute deploy and will I float safely to the ground?” The shirt bearer, again, responds “No.” You follow with “Ok. Given that there is zero evidence that this particular shirt will save me from three imminent threats (or three terrible traps, three terrible traps, three terrible traps – so terrible!), please tell me how and why you think this shirt can save me.”
Marginally flummoxed, the shirt bearer responds in the only manner they can “Well, it’s because that is what I believe.” You, finding this data insufficient, tell the person that you disagree with them which prompts the de rigueur “But then you will go to hell.” Not one to pass up the opportunity to scramble brains, you say “Well, the joke is on you. I don’t believe hell exists.” Completely exasperated, the shirt bearer hollers “PUT ON THIS SHIRT!” You calmly say “Please take your shirt and leave.” “MY SHIRT IS BETTER THAN YOUR SHIRT! I WILL NOT BE DENIED” howls the shirt bearer. You repeat “Please take your shirt and leave.” “WHY WON’T YOU WEAR MY FUCKING SHIRT?” Losing patience, you testily snap “Please take your shirt and your very un-pious self and go away.” “I HATE YOU. I WILL ONLY LIKE YOU IF YOU WEAR THIS SHIRT. “ Again, “Please take your shirt and leave.” Shirt bearer snarls “YOU ARE A VILE HUMAN BEING AND I’M GOING TO SPEW HATEFUL WORDS AT YOU, YOU BLASPHEMOUS, SINFUL PIG!”
In that scenario – do you want to put on that shirt? Do you want to spend time with that shirt bearing freak? NO. And now you understand why many of us are growing tired of religion, in general? Is the popularity of the Flying Spaghetti Monster starting to make sense?
Within the first few months of living in North Carolina, a colleague asked me out to lunch. I was excited as I thought “Hey! Friend making time! Hooray!!!” And, since we know how much I love putting myself out there and trying to make friends, this was a pretty big deal to me. On our way to lunch, she played Christian rock which I found peculiar but kept my mouth shut. At lunch, she openly prayed before eating. Again, for someone not from the Bible Belt – different but something I was going to have to accept as the cultural norm. Then she proceeds to talk to me about religion. She expresses her grave concern for my soul since Jesus is not my savior. She is very worried that I’m going to hell; so worried that she invited me to lunch to talk to me about where I was going astray. All I could do was look at her, smile and say “I’m not concerned about hell. I know you’re praying for me and that should take care of it.” We never went to lunch together again.
Mind you, all of this isn’t meant as an indictment of Christianity. Like every family has its crazy relative, each religion has its crazy zealots who taint the rest of the followers. Each religion has its own issues with thinking it’s the only path (towards what…who the fuck really knows). Each religion sits in judgment of the next. Shit – each religion judges itself. I spent one Rosh Hashanah listening to a Rabbi drone on forever about how horrible the Hasidim are towards those who are less orthodox. The Rabbi condemned someone in our own faith for condemning us. It was one of the most fucked up experiences I have ever had. I wanted to walk out of synagogue but I was too afraid that the Almighty above would smite me for leaving temple in the middle of a High Holy Day. And don’t even get me started on how fucked up being afraid of something that may or may not exist is. My attempts to reconcile that one over the past 18 years have proven unsuccessful.
And this is why I sit with a very fatigued brain and heart and wonder if any of this is worth it. Aside from some inner peace which could, theoretically, be obtained through various other methods, what is humanity getting out of this whole religion thing? War. Discrimination. Murder. Death. Women being treated as chattel or worse. On a good day, we’re lucky if someone is simply offended by hearing their religion used as a verb, it seems. That’s not sufficient enough for me. Not anymore.
There are many things I think humans are not capable of handling responsibly, as collectively, we all do a wonderful job of dropping the ball and screwing things up. I’m starting to wonder if religion is one of those things. Have we bastardized the whole concept to the point where it is more detrimental than beneficial? Is religion simply an outmoded technology (a series of laws before there were actual governments)? I genuinely do not know. What I do know is this – I cannot bear another yesterday. I don’t want to raise my child in a world where yesterdays are not only possible but normal.