Deities and Other Comforting Rituals

October 22, 2013
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My parents sent me to a Catholic pre-school. As the belief systems running in my family range from lazy agnosticism to my father’s very Harold Camping-like “I-believe-in-God-just-not-organized-religion” lecture, this decision struck me as curious. When confronted about it, my parents gave the very enthralling response, “I dunno, it was pretty close by I guess.”

It was nothing to complain about, really. Nothing suspicious, honestly – no brainwashing, no sketchy anti-Satanic rituals. Besides the fact that I was probably about 4 years old, had about the sentience of a green pea, and wouldn’t have understood any of that anyway, I had two very sweet ladies as my teachers who administered delightful things like arts and crafts and naps. The best part, however, was snack time. There was a hitch though – we had to pray before anything we ate. Suddenly Oreos and goldfish weren’t simply just processed consumer goods, it was God-given nourishment! In my toddler mind, this seemed to make sense, at least. Hey, if a couple of words were the only things keeping me from digging in, who was I to challenge the system?

The religion craze didn’t just stop at school. Even at home, I tirelessly prayed before every meal, while my parents and sister ignored me and began stuffing their faces immediately. Once, when my mother, sister and I were taking a leisurely walk, we stopped at a STOP sign like dutiful pedestrians, looking both ways. I pointed at the sign, and quipped, “Thank God that He made STOP signs so we’d be safe!” Hysterical laughter followed, along with an explanation that not everything in the world was made by God. This puzzled me; as didn’t my teachers explain back in ol’ Genesis 1:1 that this dude – excuse me, Dude - made everything? I was pretty sure this suspicious “STOP” sign fellow fell into the grand category of everything. It was around this time my Catholicism fell into a standstill, as along came public school, whisking me along kindergarten all the way to high school, where I reside currently.

Needless to say, today I know how STOP signs are erected, and it isn’t by the Big Guy’s holy finger. As of today, I am a staunch agnostic, firm on my uncertainty of God’s existence, proud in my lack of caring. But this doesn’t mean I don’t respect Christians or Jews or any other religion – in fact, I find them all fascinating. I can empathize with the believers. I envy these people.
Sometimes, I really wish I had a religion. It doesn’t even have to be Christianity or Islam or Hindu or anything even vaguely famous around the world. I just want something to believe in, even if it’s mindless propaganda that just sounds good. I know that sounds awful and ignorant, but sometimes I think that’s just what the idea of God is.
Why not have faith in something that sounds so good? I am not religious, but I can understand the appeal. The Big G is an effigy of stability; something that one can rely on when everything else seems to moving too quickly. That’s why I think Christianity and other monotheistic religions in particular are so popular – when everything’s changing and moving and unstopping, and of course we’ll want a thing, person, what have you, to pray to. To pin your hopes on. To love. And to know that that thing, no matter how much s*** you do, has to forcibly love you back! What an idea! Even a rogue disinherited by his/her parents for doing crack cocaine and abandoned by friends for being too smelly can say, “Well, at least the Big Man Upstairs still loves me for whatever reason.” In times where nothing is a guarantee and everything is a gamble, God is not so much a deity to be worshipped but a steadfast symbol of how some things can comfortingly stay the same. And that’s exactly what I want. (Am I Holden Caulfield or what?)
Of course, at least for me, mindlessly believing in anything is a struggle. I have to grapple with these stupid things called “personal beliefs” and “moral code.” I can’t simply have “faith” in something, however nice it sounds. (This coming from the girl who resets the clock on her phone to get unlimited lives in Candy Crush Saga and shamelessly steals all your curly fries). Whenever I drift into the gray area of religion, my usually lethargic and nonresponsive brain kicks into hypercritical mode – how is it possible that someone can live beyond the clouds? How was the whole Universe created in a measly week and managed to maintain itself for so many millennia? Anything I spend a week making tends to break down in the first twenty minutes of its lifespan. Point is; I can’t buy into things with a snap. However, my own research into religion was just coming back in circles, usually resulting in me undercutting my own conclusions and eating cheesecake, ready to call it a day.
So what is a young person with a semi-interest in the wonders of religion, particularly Christianity, to do? Obviously buy into peer pressure and go to that youth group church place your friends go to every week.
The church was a small, humble looking place, with sturdy brick walls and a couple of trees scattered in the vicinity. It was no mosaic-stained cathedral with flying buttresses, but a homey local building, where youth groups met on Friday nights and Sunday mornings were as holy as could be. So on one particular Friday night, I headed in, a little nervous and having about as much knowledge of church as I did when I was 4. I was greeted warmly by friends and having just a pristine time until I was forced to get up by the pastor and introduce myself awkwardly in front of the youth community to let them know I was a visitor. As if they couldn’t smell my ignorance from half a mile away.
Unfortunately for me, that night was a special guest speaker night, in which some enlightened Christian man or woman would go up onstage and talk for a couple of hours about their life and loving Jesus and whatnot. As it turned out, I could not observe the youth of Christians in their natural, undisturbed habitat. But what ensued was not a complete waste of time.
I listened to a young man, not more than thirty years old, talk about his life volunteering at Native American reservoirs and helping broken communities. I watched him orate his experiences with such an assured tone of voice, especially when he explained a time when he was attempting to convert a community of Native Americans by bringing them to church and describing the wonders of God. Apparently, religion was one of the factors that brought these societies of people, torn apart by alcoholism, unemployment, drug abuse, and more, together. Truth be told, even by the end of this three hour lecture, I still was as iffy about the whole Christianity deal as I was before. It was inspiring, but to me, Christianity didn’t have as big a role in the revival of these communities as the actual people involved. But it did give me a new perspective on it all. More about the people who believed in this stuff than the actual stuff.
They were all so sure. At least the people in that room (I can’t speak for the rest of the one billion people who partake in this religion). The pastor, the kids gathered in that room, the speaker – they spoke about God as if He was right next to them, whispering nice things in their ears. They were so sure about their faith, their lives devoted to this divinity; so much so they wanted to convert others into it. For someone who has an aneurysm over breakfast choices and spends an hour thinking of a good movie to recommend to a friend, this was more than a little scary. In fact, it all scared the hell out of me.
But… in a good way.
I think.
One thing’s for sure: faith is a difficult thing to reach. But when you reach it, damn. It sure is powerful. And I think that pertains more to the people worshipping the deity more than the deity Himself.
So like, you’re probably looking for some kind of conclusion, I suppose. I guess after this 1,500-word rant/rambling/tirade thing you do deserve it. But honestly, I am as confused as you are, even with all my very worldly, deep, philosophical encounters with the world of the spiritual that you have just seen here. I think the best I can say is that I’m still the lazy agnostic, one who plays Candy Crush all day and ponders revelatory subject matter until I get bored with it after 30 seconds. But, you know, I’m interested. At least I can say that faithfully.

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