Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Whys Have It

  (Note: after writing this blog entry, I wrote and quickly, sloppily recorded this song)

  There's been a lifelong progression as to why the sacrifices in my life were being made.  When I was a kid, I kinda had these things sacrificed for me (I had no say in the matter and was punished every time I expressed any interest in not making these sacrifices meekly and without question):

-the 80s pretty much as a decade
-being part of Canadian culture and my age group
-trying to be fashionable or cool
-expressing myself by my hairstyle and clothing choices
-all forms of entertainment and pop culture (including the music, television and movies of the time)
-dating girls who didn't go to our church
-slangy, fashionable, vulgar or overly colourful language
-emotional expression in most of its forms
-discontent, questioning, defiance, dissent 
-any Christian replacements for pop music or videos or the like 

  Now, that may not seem like much (and I've never learned what the appeal of smoking, gambling or voting is at all), but what making these sacrifices does is it leaves you cut off from the culture and world going on around you.  The question always was "Why is all of this being sacrificed?  You seem deeply unhappy and your life is extremely lonely, boring, empty, pointless and depressing.  So, why?"

  To begin with, the answers were as follows:
-because God requires this
-because you will be rewarded for these sacrifices when you get to heaven
-because our church is the only right one, and you need to live like this to be a part of the Only Right Church
-because God will only bless you (add success into your life) if you make these sacrifices
-because God does not bless people who don't make these sacrifices
-because good people make these sacrifices
-because you're better than "all of that stuff"
-because you can hold a position of responsibility and respect one day in your church if you do

  Well, it turns out that as far as I can tell, God didn't want all of that.  I think this neo-pharisee, nouveau puritan lifestyle was actually sinful, self-indulgent and excessive, and something I have to get over on earth, rather than being rewarded/reimbursed for in heaven.  All abstinences are by definition immoderate.  Our church was wrong about many things, including about them being The Only Right One.  Also, despite making these sacrifices, I was never really a part of that church, and many people who did not really make these sacrifices at all were and are part of it to this day.  Things have changed.  Also, they now hold positions of responsibility and respect sufficient to involve excommunicating my whole family for not supporting their authority to excommunicate others, then they can enjoy going home and having a beer in front of the TV.  I have met many good people who do not make sacrifices of these kinds.  They are generally more joyful and healthy.  I was not better than "that stuff."  I was a religious prick.  As the years have gone by, I've seen God bless screwups and sinners, addicts and assholes of every stripe but a religious one.  Jesus treated religious people completely differently from how he treated everyone else.  And God has not blessed any of that sacrifice-making.  He has asked me to repent of the piety of it.   It wasn't just all for nothing.  It was actually misguided, life-damaging and bad.   And it wasn't just the What.  The Whys were all wrong too, it turns out.  Often, that's more important.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Harold Camping: The Boy Who Cried Rapture

  I'm of too many minds about all of this.  I know what it's like to grow up and believe there would be a rapture coming soon.  I know what it's like to have the advent of 1984, 1986, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2011 and 2012 greeted by all the crazy prophecy talk:

JIM: Did you see the paper?  Ships of shittim in the Gulf.  Like Mr. Lunden said there'd be.  The abomination of desolation in the temple.
MORT: Yes. The Lord is so good.  The Roman Beast.  The third horn and Lybia.  We know it's Ghadaffi, now that Hussein's out of the picture..
JIM: Yes, and Cyprus.  Hitler, too.  A grievous head wound of which he is healed.  The woman riding the scarlet beast.  Like in "No King But Caesar"
MORT: The Roman beast and the church in Rome.  CNN and Fox News.  The two witnesses.  Three days and creatures like scorpions with the hair of women.
JIM: Well, Babylon, anyway.  With the sixth seal and the fourth woe and the angel being told to write down the measurements.  Cubits upon cubits.  Seven plus eleven is 19 in Greek.  Jerusalem, Jerusalem.
MORT: And Obama playing right into Daniel 4.  With the four and the seven and the three.  Which add up to twenty in Hebrew numerology, which spells "LORD" in Greek numero-linguistic glyphs.
JIM: Yes.  How wonderful it is to know the Lord.  Not like that Jack Van Impe with his ignorant misuse of scripture!
MORT: Oh, certainly.  How sad it would be to be like the Baptists and be deaf to the clear teaching of the word of God regarding the false prophets and teachers!
JIM: Yes!  It's SO clear!  I just don't understand why everyone can't see it.  They must have their hearts hardened against it so they might not believe. 

I grew up surrounded by that talk.  By people who forbid us watching Star Wars or Ghostbusters because they delved into the occult.   My house was full of it.  So much so that on May 21st, it really made me antsy.  Superstitious.  Very divided in my thinking and feeling.  In 1984, 1986, 1992 and all the rest, it was just weird-to-others-but-normal-to-us stuff that people did in our houses, but almost no one much even knew about it, let alone cared.  The majority of the people in our churches had no idea about and placed no emphasis on this stuff if it didn't interest them.  They just thought that people who were "into that" were pretty smart.  For most, it was not an important part of their faith.  My dad was into it for a good while.  It attracts people who need there to be a clear right answer to everything, and to be someone who knows it.
  People in general are very interested in how the world might/could/probably will end lately.  The Mayan calendar.  Zombie apocalypses.  (Ships of shittim in the Gulf.  Like Mr. Lunden said there'd be. Two twos, which add up to five in newspeak.)  It's fun to imagine the end of the world.
  For the past two years, I've been added on Facebook by many followers of Harold Camping.  He's another one of these old dudes vivisecting the bible and trying to use it like it's a word problem in grade 10 algebra, but he's also an old dude with a 122 million dollar radio station and many thousands of followers who sell their stuff because the end is nigh, and give him all their money.  Their thinking never made sense to me.  But it sounded terribly familiar.  Human pattern-making gone mad.  Projecting personal issues onto text.
  Some Christians believe you get in God's good books by believing.  Some believe you do it by devoted following of a Christian lifestyle.  Some believe you need confession and priests and stuff.  Some believe you do it by having correct teaching and not believing anything false. Some believe you do it by careful, dutiful association with and submission to a community of Christians who form what they call a "church."  Many just think "I'm not such a bad guy.  God's going to tell St. Peter to let me in."
  But Christians who seem to me to be connected in some way with the bible feel it says this: 

God was making dinner, and humans were supposed to get to help, but were convinced to believe that putting dogshit from the lawn into the casserole wouldn't ruin it and make it harmful to eat, and then God became a human to show how being human is meant to be done (people are wrong, but don't judge them; people change, and let them; people learn and help them; people mess with you, but don't start a war).  It's almost like being in a group in school, and Jesus is in your group, and because of his exemplary work, you get to share his mark/grade.  So long as you say "I'm with him.  This is the work our group did."  If you say "I don't want to be in Jesus' group anymore.  I think his work sucks.  I'm handing in my own crayon diagram of a newly-redesigned nuclear power plant instead of his (I know his Dad invented the nuclear power plant, but who cares, right?)" then that's suddenly more of a problem as to what mark you get.

  So, the idea that:
God wanted things to go well, people tend to screw it all up, and that God works well with screwups and likes them, and helps us, and if we accept the help rather than saying "No, I'm OK. Leave me alone.  I haven't been shot, that's...a pimple.  I don't need an ambulance", then He's got us covered, things will be fine?  

Used to that idea.  Christians are sharply divided into two groups on one particular matter, though: will some people not benefit from God's bailout plan?  
-Some think that anyone who chooses to go with it (and they frequently make an idol out of their own capacity for, and past wonderful, mystic Choice For God) will be fine.  
-Others think that God chose who would be able to hear this message from the beginning, and so when people learn about it, if they have been helped to be able to hear, they will hear (and God knew who'd be able to hear, and worked in them to help them hear) and if they can't hear stuff like that, it's like planting a seed on the sidewalk.

  So, the Campingites were being interesting on Facebook this year. They were really stressing the idea that, if God has worked in you, you can't do a damned thing to avoid being damned, because you were already looked after and will be fine.  But then (and this is what confused me) they sort of claimed they were the only ones in the world Christian enough to know the day and the hour that Christ would return to earth to take with him the only people who God had worked in, who would be saved from the (zombie) apocalypse. 
 And then, they kept going on about how everyone should beg God's mercy.  "Why beg His mercy?" I would ask.  "If He's already worked with you, and you're set, why the grovelling and fear and stuff?"
 Their answers never made sense to me.  They said that begging God's mercy if He hadn't been working with you wouldn't do a damned thing for already-damned people.  They said that begging God's mercy if He had been working with you wouldn't do a damned thing to already-saved people.  And then it seemed that the begging (and the warning others to beg) seemed to be their favourite thing to do all the time, and the only relationship with God they ever spoke of. 
 I would ask them exactly where the peace (or joy or serenity or contentment or the other stuff God claims to have sent Christ to give Christians) was in their view.  They'd dismiss me in ways that made no sense and tell me to beg for mercy.  Because begging was the "only appropriate response to the situation" they'd say.
  They did signs and billboards and vans and radio and TV.  They were on CNN and Fox.  They seemed to feel that God would choose not to help the majority of the world's population, but then have the minority saved group "warn" the others that there was no hope for them, and to beg (fruitlessly) for God's mercy, though He'd chosen from before the foundation of the earth not to show them any.  Made no sense to me.

  And here was the weirdest thing: I grew up with the secret embarrassment of knowing approximately how weird parts of our religious belief would sound to "regular" people.  I grew up taking comfort in the fact that, apart from a few curious question-askers and people who studied theology professionally, no one was paying any attention.  And just like with Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps, suddenly the entire Internet, radio and TV network lit up worldwide this week, looking on and laughing at people who spoke uncomfortably like how people did in my house.  I was in Subway (restaurant) with a musician I was doing final mixes for, and a veterinarian who also does music production work with her, getting a late supper, and the DJ on the radio was flipping out with boyish delight at how stoopid the rapture people were.  It was quite like being pantsed before the world.

  And it really further complicated the whole messy science vs. religion nonsense (You know, the bigotry which feels that there're no scientists who are informedly religious, and no religious people who are good scientists.  No good, live injuns.): 

"What's your religion?"
"Oh, I don't have any religion.  It's all bullshit."
"So, you have no beliefs as to how we came to be, where we came from, where we're going, how the world will end, what human existence is in aid of, how humans should act, any of that?"
"Oh, yeah!  I have all that.  But I don't just have beliefs... I have FACTS!  You know?  Not like religious freaks. They're all dogmatic and closed-minded to what's REALLY going on!"
"So, you believe in the modern grab bag of misheard high school chemistry, Dr. Phil relational dynamics, Oprah ethics and National Inquirer/New Age/herbs/gluten-free superstition?"
"No.  I don't believe. I KNOW!  Not like religious people who just believe what the bible says."
"How do you know what to believe?"
"I don't believe, I know.  I already told you that.  I know because the bible... I mean, because a recent survey I read about on the Internet by some guy, I forget who, said.  He said his research might indicate that (or maybe something else, he's not sure, and can't explain various things that happened and didn't happen.)"
"So you're a scientist?"
"No.  I dropped out of high school and now I work at Wal-mart.  But I know enough to see through religion!" 
"So the smartest of scientists, if they are religious men and women, get no respect from you?"
"None.  Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins get my respect."
"Have you read any of their books?"
"Well, no, but they're the shit, dude!" 
"Do you claim to understand Stephen Hawking's theories well enough to know if there are any holes in them?  Do you feel he is qualified to dismiss there being any merit whatsoever in work that was being done for centuries by the most educated men and women of the time?"
"There aren't any holes in them!  What are you, insane?"
"You can say this because you understand them, as well as the thinking done by theologians for centuries?"
"Well, no, but he's right.  I know that.  Because he's writing more recently than they are.  And he's really smart.  Just look at him!"
"So you believe him.  You trust him to know, and then you believe him."
"No, I KNOW.  Haven't you been listening?"
"What do you think about black and white, right/wrong thinking?"
"Oh, it's fucking stupid.  Religious people do that. Must be nice being wrong about everything and still getting up in the morning!" 

And on and on.  The Camping people were extremely arrogant and irritating (and in a couple of cases, said they hoped I had a family so I could watch my family suffer and die, hopefully for the entire period leading up to October 21st of this year, at which time the entire earth would finally be consumed, lucky/magic/divine seven months after the chosen few were airlifted out.)  
  But it is May 22nd today, and I wonder where they are and if they're ok.  The entire world is looking on so they can have a good laugh at People Who Thought They Were Right but Were Wrong.  Because that makes us right, and we LOVE being right.  And we LOVE laughing at people who were wrong.  Because we tend to screw things up.
 I have heard report of suicide attempts and people having sold homes, vehicles, property and businesses only to donate the money to Harold Camping to pay for more "warning the irrevocably damned to fruitlessly beg God's withheld mercy" stuff.  Only three of Camping's many followers who added me on Facebook have contacted me today.  One deactivated his account and did not answer my email.  Another privately claimed that have lost faith in the May 21st date a month prior to it, but had not said anything; another says that May 21st is still, somehow, correct, perhaps in a way not yet clear to us. (Because God's right, and the bible's right, so if we disagree with it, we're wrong and fools, right?  And the bible doesn't have to make any sense?) One flatly and bravely stated his error, and  apologized.  That makes him the best Campingite I know.