Mr. Chatterbox

By staff November 1, 2007

If you’re a religious person, it must be quite a vexation to have all these anti-religious books appearing all of a sudden, like God Is Not Great, The God Delusion, The End of Faith, etc., etc. How dare they? It takes a lot of nerve to trash God and organized religion, particularly since He and it have given us a moral foundation, comforted so many, and promised us an afterlife with no economic recessions, drug and alcohol cures for all your relatives, no pain, no suffering. It sounds like heaven, which of course, it is.

I could never write a book like one of these. I would be much too afraid of being struck down by lightning. But I did go to Barnes & Noble, which has the nerve (good nerve or bad nerve I can’t tell) to actually carry these things. Gingerly, I picked one up. I read a page or two. Nothing happened. No lightning, no thunder. The other patrons didn’t even look at me—although it took a while to get over the feeling that I was reading pornography in public.

I found a chair, one of those wonderful big armchairs that are so appreciated by customers like me, who spend hours if not days there, reading and looking at pictures and never buying anything. I continued to read. And I must say I found it quite eye-opening. The authors did bring up some points that I personally prefer not to think about.

Like, isn’t it weird that each religion is absolutely certain it’s the right one? And that each one has a sacred book that is considered the infallible and the revealed word of God, and yet these books are contradictory, full of strange rules you must follow or you will be damned, and reflect the superstitions and folk traditions of many thousands of years ago, when science didn’t exist? That there exists no proof that God exists, other than some sort of awe at the majesty of the universe (which, frankly, has always been enough for me)? And that, in the final insult, religion is responsible for most of the ills of mankind, even to this day?

Whoa. That’s a little much and clearly not true. To reassure myself on this point, I left my copy of God Is Not Great on my chair so nobody would sit there (and believe me, nobody did), and I went over to the newspapers. I wanted to see if there was anything about religion on the front page of the New York Times. Probably not, I reasoned.

Well, on the front page of the New York Times, there were six stories about problems caused by religious violence. In fact, only one story wasn’t. That’s odd, I thought. They happened to have yesterday’s Times there, too, so I looked at it. This time it was five out of six stories.

I didn’t care for the way this was going. On my way back to my chair my eyes fell upon another book. It was that enormous best seller, 90 Minutes in Heaven. I grabbed it, desperately in need of comfort and reassurance. It tells the true story of a pastor from Oklahoma who has a terrible automobile accident coming home from a church retreat or something like that (I skimmed that part) and is dead for an hour and a half, during which time he actually goes to heaven. Then he’s brought back to life and has to return to earth, but fortunately he remembers everything.

You want to know something awful? I didn’t care for it. I think it was the gold bricks that did it. It turns out that heaven actually has streets paved with gold bricks, and I hope God doesn’t strike me down, but I think that’s vulgar. Is that really the level of taste we’re going to find? I also wasn’t nutty about the lighting (very bright) or the constant music and praise. It also turns out that all your relatives are there, and this time you really like them. Oh, and those pearly gates. The pastor makes it quite clear that they are not really made of pearl. They are “pearlescent.” There is a difference, although why God didn’t spring for the pearl is beyond me.

I found 90 Minutes in Heaven a very depressing book. I’m real good all my life for this? It made me want to run out and start sinning.

OK, maybe there’s a tiny little problem with certain religions—not mine, but some of the others. I keep wanting to tweak these other religions a little, bring them a little more up to date with the way things are now. Here are my suggestions.

Non-confrontational. I want a religion that preaches peace, peace, peace. All sermons should be about conflict resolution.

Limited proselytizing. I personally find it offensive, as I already know my beliefs, and it usually comes at an inconvenient time, like when you are taking a nap and the doorbell rings. And rule No. 1—no killing people just because they won’t join your religion. You would think this goes without saying, but many times in history that’s what happened. Besides, I want a religion with people who really want to be there, with whom I can share things on a social level. I want a community of believers, not every Tom, Dick and Harry in the entire world.

Those pesky rules. Do you know some religions (I’m not naming which) actually tell you have to kill your kids if they join another religion? Or that all adulteresses have to be stoned to death? (Try that in Sarasota; our arms will all get tired.) It seems that many of these strictures in the various good books were penned thousands of years ago, when life was much different. Hence a very moralistic approach to what should happen when humans misbehave. Wouldn’t it be better to have a system based on sound psychological principles and techniques—like Oprah? (I’m serious!)

Hands off sex. It’s all biology and hormones and has to be dealt with from that point of view. Religion and sex are a bad combination, and when you add children, you get all those problems with pedophile priests and those youth ministers who are always getting arrested.

Be a little cagier about promising an afterlife. Remember on 9/11 when it was revealed that the hijackers were conned into this by promises of paradise, where they got to bring along 70 relatives and got their pick of all the young virgins? (See above comment.) That should have been a red flag right there. But they still went ahead and did it. Weren’t their human longings and gullibility being taken advantage of?

Naturally, like most of us, I had always planned to embrace religion on my deathbed. I would get real holy just before I died, not just to go to heaven but to bring comfort and structure and hope to my final days.

Then I saw my parents die. Neither one of them turned to religion .And you know something? I think of them more highly because of it. They were tough old people who were ready to face whatever was going to happen next, even if it was nothing. And I genuinely think it’s too bad that because of that, according to most religions, I won’t see them in heaven.

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