On a warm Thanksgiving evening with a glass of fine red wine in hand, I’ve decided to at least touch on a subject to which I’ve given much thought over the years but about which I’ve said very little … religion.
On an evening not unlike this, and not so long ago, a guest at the Macon, Georgia Salvation Army Homeless Center reminisced about an old encounter which had deeply moved him.
You know, I might git me a flat bed trailer and a big ole tent and do me some evangelizing. There was an ole boy usta come into Macon four times a year and you could hear the Lord’s spirit flow from him six blocks away. He didn’t need no sound system. He was the real thing. No collections. No singin. The real deal. I don’t know that anybody ever knew his name. He prolly died draggin that old tent around behind that car. Those people who got around that man got a blessing. If they were to drop dead right on the spot they’d be closer to God. I usta live on the river back then and you could hear his holy voice all the way up the river. He didn’t have to touch nobody. That voice would carry up through those trees all the way up Riverside Drive and as far away as the food stamp office. That was God’s voice travelin up there. That is a fact. You could just sense the absence of the Devil when he was finished. If I could be one thousanth of the man he was I’d be walkin in the path of Jesus. You’d have that feelin two three days after he left. I was truly blessed to have heard him.
His words seemed so musical at the time, enchanting even, as I remember the softly serious cadence of his voice and his eyes perfectly focused on a spot far away.
When I was a boy I wanted, for a while, to be a Roman Catholic priest. I used to dress up in homemade vestments and recite mass on Sunday afternoons. Neighbors would come and attend these little services and I’d recite the mass in Latin one week and English the next. Eventually I became an Episcopalian and would perform Holy Communion services using authentic wafers given to me by a real Episcopalian priest for whom I was an acolyte on Sunday mornings. I had migrated to the Episcopalian version of priesthood because I had no truck with the celibacy idea offered to future Catholic priests. It was, in my opinion, an idea opposed not only to all common sense, but to the very root purpose of humanity. I should explain that at that time I was in love with two little girls, and they were in love back.
I eventually discovered the Boy Scouts and quickly changed my career goal to becoming a forest ranger. And there were other objectives in their turn: newspaper publisher, naturalist, veterinarian, trainer of race horses and, finally, a business mogul modeled loosely after Howard Hughes. But along the way I had also discovered Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Acquinas, Bertrand Russell, Ayn Rand, Einstein and a host of other philosophers and illuminaries and had scrapped any thought of devoting myself to religious pursuits. I became the thinking man, the sovereign individual. And a man entirely without religion.
I haven’t changed much over the years. Though I’m not a religious man, I believe strongly that there is a need for religion in human society. Religious beliefs provide an explanation for natural events that might otherwise seem incomprehensible; religious discipline provides a code of morality by which populations are managed for their own good; and religion provides a deity, or deities, which allow us to believe in powers vastly superior to ourselves, a comforting thought for most and the means by which many, once properly supplicated, can attain that elusive and much sought after feeling of personal security.
These are good and necessary things, it seems, for people to have.
Having said all that, I want to introduce the work of another thinker, writer and former marine, Michael Martine, as he writes about his own coming to terms with religion. Later I’ll come back to this topic and write some more.
I’ll quote a couple of sections of his work then turn you over to his hard edged and engrossing entries on religion.
Belief is a euphemism for brainwashing, and brainwashing is a form of training. The purpose of military training is to get personnel to automatically react according to how they have been trained. Most people believe in the religion in which they were raised. That simple statement says much about why we believe what we do; it has nothing to do with thought, analysis, historical accuracy, seeking the truth, or even spirituality. If you were born into a Catholic family, chances are you’re a Catholic (even non-practicing Catholics often refer to themselves as lapsed Catholics). If you were born into a Protestant fundamentalist family, chances are quite good that’s what you are, too, and you believe that people of other faiths are doomed to Hell. No, don’t kid yourself; you may talk nice, but in your heart of hearts I bet that’s what you really believe. If you were born into a Muslim family, you would be raised as a Muslim. You wouldn’t question your faith. You would probably hate the “Zionist dogs,” or whomever you were indoctrinated to hate as a youth …
There is an old saying: There’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole. I wasn’t even in a foxhole. I wasn’t in mortal danger, about to be blown to bits. In that time of intense stress, I had, quite helplessly, it seemed, retreated into my indoctrination. From when I was very young, I was told there was a God and a Heaven and a Hell. I was told this when I had no capacity to reason it or doubt it or investigate it. I was told my religion was the true path, and that all others were on false paths which led straight to Hell. Before I posessed any analytical skills or the initiative to question what I was told, I was told that the Bible was the infallible Word of God passed to humanity via the Holy Spirit. When I was older, the more I read the Bible and studied it the stupider and more impossible it seemed. But there I was, crouched at the foot of my bunk in Hotel Company barracks, reading my Bible as though my life depended on it …
The two parts to Martine’s writeup on religion (from which I’ve borrowed the above extracts) were written at different times so I’ve made two links which open in new windows. If you have trouble navigating around his blog you can close the window after reading Part 1 and, returning here, click on Part 2.
Trust me, if you’re interested in religion you’ll find Martine’s work … provacative.
Then there’s another truly fascinating site (linked to by Martine but which deserves its own link here) that sets out to present a comprehensive review of religion and culture. It certainly does that. Click here to go to SomaReview.com.
I’ll leave these two interesting sites to your perusal and will return later with further commentary on religion, from my point of view.