Usually, if you were to ask me if I was religious, I will tell you that I am a Zen Atheist and that, every Sunday, I attend ‘Our Lady of the Mattress by the Springs.’ I don’t mean to be glib (actually, that is exactly what I mean), but the question is loaded with many assumptions that I hope to dispel.
No one asks that question without assuming that you will tell them anything except some form of Christianity. Perhaps it is to be expected… when the majority belief in your country is Christianity and, as a white male, averages would assume I am one, it is to be expected, but it doesn’t mean that I should play along.
The problem arises, too, in that I still preach. It isn’t intentional, but I do. Fruits of the Spirit, Jesus’ stance on Hypocrisy, whether or not Christians are called to do in this world, these are all topics on which I can pontificate on with assurance.
I was once, a long time ago, headed to a career of a Protestant Preacher. I truly felt the calling inside that this is what I was called to do, and I dove into it with both feet. Despite being at a Public School, I packed my Bible in my book bag and read it whenever I could. I was considering Falwell’s Liberty University after my time in the military, and planned on telling them that I was there for Chaplain training as well.
This is Psalty, with his pal Charity Mouse, and they are both property of Maranatha! Music, distributed by Warner. Psalty is the Christian version of Big Bird, except he’ll teach you all of the books of the Bible and Christian citizenship skills.
The oldest of my siblings is just short of a decade younger than me, and so, every time we went anywhere, Psalty went along too. Tape after tape was played, over and over, until I reached a point only achieved by those poor bastards in Guantanamo Bay, forced to listen to Elmo in their psychological not-torture.
One song sticks with me to this day, as clearly as if I just finished listening to it. It is two Bible verses, with some repeating as is necessary with any poppy song, but inexplicably coupled with a classic Cuban beat.
“Beloved/ Let us Love one another (love one another)/ For Love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God/ He that Loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is Love (God is Love), Beloved, let us Love one another, First John Four: sen-un ‘n eight!” (Cha-Cha-Cha!)
(The song is property of Maranatha! Music. I added the Cha-Cha-Cha, because I always did. First, it was to make my sisters laugh. Later, it became a form of passive protest)
To clarify, this song beat a specific verse into my head. Namely, 1 John 4:8. “8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (New American Standard Bible)
Here I was, learning all that I could from the Bible, yet I’d walk through the doors of a church and be met with the rankest hypocrisy. You see, most churches belong to a governing body, and mine was the Southern Baptist Convention. They would meet regularly, to clarify the finer point of contention so that everyone in the group was preaching the same thing.
The problem is that they also establish who is to be excluded by virtue of their sin. If you are ever curious what this list looks like, street preachers love to scrawl in in angry Sharpie marker across poster board.
You know what, this guy put a lot of effort into not loving (Not Lenny. The other guy.) and if he put this much effort into it, 1 John 4:8 tells us that he does not know God. He puts forth a lot of noisy gusto, but without Love he is outside God’s plan. It is right there in their Book. I didn’t take it out of context, and I didn’t adjust it.
When you begin taking a broad general view of things, you begin to realize that none of them know God, and in this world of Pain and Grief, if you spend all of your effort on taking umbrage to what someone else does to find Comfort and Love, you don’t know your Deity at all.
You can look at the whole list of the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and you will not find righteous indignation nor holy judgement.
Now, I have said that I am an Atheist, and that is technically true, but not in the way the label normally applied. I do not believe in a Supreme Being that rules this thing we call ‘Reality,’ waiting to punish the unfaithful. I also do not believe in any magic that can be called upon to change my situations in this reality, through prayer or otherwise. I also do not believe that any religion has the whole schematic on saving me from damnation, keeping my consciousness immortal nor having any real impact on anything in my everyday existence.
That being said, I also don’t believe that the Science explanations of chemical and electricity in this blob we call a brain can fully explain the gnawing empty spot behind my eyes that asks, “Why?” This awareness we call ‘Me’ can be greatly affected by the goings on of our chemicals and baser desires, but it can also resist them.
There is a tradition that says that Brahma, through a series of bad decisions ended up making our world and chopping his awareness into tiny bits. Each of those bits is using that world to experience everything possible in the hopes of gathering back together. It says that we are all flecks of consciousness in the mind of a sleeping god, living in his dream world in an effort to better ourselves.
This thing we call ‘Reality’ has always been subject to questions. A few Quantum Scientists have begun to question whether we live in a hologram, and even my layman’s mind can grasp the basics of it. Everything that surround you, and you yourself, are made up of atoms, and the only thing that separates you from your chair, the air you breathe and the ground you sit on is that all those atoms vibrate at different rates. When you put it that way, it sounds almost like that Matrix from the movie.
Whatever the nature of ‘Reality,’ what we do know is that every life around us is striving to be safe, still alive and better at it tomorrow. If we made that our moral touchstone, would we need Commandments? It’s why I like the Brahma story, because it also implies that we are all in this together. If I can help you in some way, it helps me because we all, in the end, have the same goal, and if we can do it in a way that is Happy, it becomes its own reward too.