Rookie Religious, Selfish Spiritualist

In talking about various lifestyles, it’s hard not to see commonalities between fashion and thought.  The twentieth century may be easily divided into its prevailing Western philosophies, each decade pigeonholed for its own flavor-of-the-month philosophical fad, such as Bertrand Russell in the Roaring Twenties, Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteen-fifties, or Jean-Paul Sartre in the nineteen-sixties, though others could suffice as well.  People tend to take their philosophical fads about life, the universe, and everything very seriously, and I can’t abide “seriously.”  I regard seriousness as an intellectual plague of the modern day.

The hardest people to prove wrong are usually laughing — and they’re usually laughing at themselves.  Even Shakespeare’s wise men were all court jesters, and I for one don’t blame them.  The funniest thing about humanity is its nearsighted self-importance, and laughing at people when they’re passionately convinced of themselves amuses hell out of me, like turning a vicious, snapping turtle on its back.

What follows amused me thoroughly to write, an indictment of three sorts whom I no longer naively expect to present consistent logic in casual conversation.  Each of them easily deserves their own post, but I like to examine a variety of topics, so this will have to do.  It should be noted (and I say this with an uncharacteristic twinge of tenderness in my voice) that I consider the following social groups fragile in one or more crucial ways, and I wouldn’t say these things to them unless they asked for it — or had the ability to stop reading.

New converts: more faith in their tee-shirts than you've got in gravity.

I. Socially Ambitious Spiritual Leaders

If there’s anything atheists and agnostics seem exceptionally good at, it’s automatic distrust.  The secular paradigm does not depend on faith as immediately as most religious perspectives do.  It’s not surprising, therefore, that when spiritual leaders run for office or hold massive conventions in sports arenas, atheists and agnostics refuse them “the benefit of a doubt.”  Since typical spiritualism and religion are against fame, large-scale material gain and power over one’s fellow man, it is often difficult for the secular world to trust spiritual leaders who appear on television, magazine covers, or the jumbotron digital screen at Anaheim Stadium.  Non-believers have no patience for spiritual leaders who ignore their own religious tenets.  Go figure.

Believers, though, they have no problem practicing George Orwell’s concept, doublethink.  Pat Robertson’s a great big jackass because he said horribly racist things to the media recently, but Jerry Falwell’s memory will remain untainted by his own shortcomings because they’ve been conveniently forgotten by people who desperately want to believe in their representatives.  Jimmy Swaggart’s biography, “Thrice-Born: the Rhetorical Comeback of Jimmy Swaggart,” says his public applauded the reasons he gave for his moral failings.  How’s that for accountability?  Spiritual leaders, it would appear, can abuse the public trust as much as they like without serious, lasting repercussions.  The only people who remember when they lie or steal or otherwise transgress their own moral standards are the same people who thought these leaders were crooks to begin with.

The historic Jimmy Swaggart apology. It's OK, big guy, we never really believed in hell, either.

There’s much paradox in large-scale spiritual leaders, anyhow.  Throughout history, hardly any of their burgeoning number have been founders of their particular brand of faith.  The majority have been little more than charismatic persons with evocative ideas and perspectives regarding preordained doctrine, which would be fine if that were all these leaders had to offer.  Once they’ve garnered sufficient attention, though, they tend to inflate their office like a wartime American president and commence making changes of all sorts and sizes, great and small, changes to the traditions of their faith, their practices, their creed, even their holy texts or ultimate doctrines themselves.  If the reader fails to see paradox in this, he or she will be kind to note that it is only upon these traditions, creeds, texts, and doctrines that the leaders attained their positions.  Fine joke, that.

If this argument seems dubious, one has only to consider the lists and lists, branches on branches of religious schisms and sects, denominations and cults.  Each of these represents an example of the above paragraph in action.  For instance, Martin Luther was not Christ, and yet. . .  Sai Baba was not Swami Vivekananda (let alone Ghandi, let alone Ramakrisna) and yet. . .  All that remains to be said is: don’t read Josh McDowell to understand the philosophy of Jesus Christ, read Jesus — and don’t read Alan Watts to grok Taoism, read the Tao-Te-Ching.  Socially ambitious religious leaders all either attain to power or have it heaped upon them, and anyone can tell you what affect power has on people.

II. Golden Years Relapse and AA Christians

Anyone can tell you that many elderly humans return to God (big G).  Alcoholics and druggies do, too, and in fact are ushered to it by groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.  It isn’t bad math or inconsistent logic, if one looks at it.  Many religions offer amnesty in the form of baptisms, confessionals, or amoralism, and promise eternal life and love for virtually nothing in return; when faced with oblivion — well, one almost has to err on the side of a possible paradise rather than risk eternal suffering.  Of course, many non-believers see no risks or possibilities whatever, so they go about their business and simply snuff it at some point or other, tilled and ready to fertilize the daffodils.  Golden-years converts and addict converts, they revert to what took some of them decades of soul-searching and introspect to escape, namely, the same damned worldview they had when they were still being punished by their parents.  What a fucking way to go.

Rev. Oh Beng Khee, a friendly pastor who converts 25-40 seniors over lunch every weekend. Would you like fries with that?

The main frustration comes from their immediate desire to proselytize and witness to non-believers or believers of other faiths.  There’s nothing for one’s confidence in a doubtful matter like convincing someone else that it’s true.  Try it!  You’ll like it.  It’s a sad shame that so many of the world’s most beautiful systems of thought have no standard at all governing the earnestness of their converts, because there’s narry a congregation in the world without a solid percentage of confused persons, people having no business at all swearing oaths, speaking prayers, and outwardly worshiping symbols and icons with serious doubt in their minds all the while.  That sort of thing is definitely not good for everyone else in the congregation who stakes his or her own faith on the support of so many other steadfast believers.  If a fella learns to operate Windows XP on Monday, ought he to be given a job in information technology on Friday?  Do your beliefs a favor, you golden-years and A.A. converts: keep your gods to yourself until your faith outlives your reputation.

III. Spiritualists and Neo-Hippies

So-called spiritual people do not call themselves religious, and do not abide anyone else calling them religious, kindof like a Frenchman insisting that he be called a Parisian.  Religions control people, they say; spiritualism, though, frees minds like in a Bob Marley song.  Self-proclaimed spiritual people say that religions siphon money from believers, and that offerings and donations do not reach the poor and disadvantaged when they come from churches.  Of course, if the money were given to Hari Krisna dancers, “Save Tibet,” or the aforementioned Sai Baba, it’s global change in pocket change.  This is one example of dualistic spiritualist thought, but a mere one of hundreds, and the differences betwixt spiritualism and mainstream religion have more to do with the size of the congregation than with anything else.  But you knew that, already.

Sai Baba. You have no idea how globally popular this motherfucker is -- but if you've ever purchased a box of incense sticks, it was probably Sai Baba brand. Not kidding.

One annoying difference (or similarity) is the spiritual persons’ habit of maintaining a salad-bowl paradigm.  Today’s new-age and spiritual believers do not have a consistent set of beliefs, but rather pick and choose as though the fundamental principles of the universe were a produce section in the local supermarket.  While this may well be true of the universe and its principles, little effort is taken on the part of many spiritualists to reconcile one belief with another, so that while tarot cards might predict a fine day, Y Ching sticks may proclaim tumult while astrology declared perfect balance throughout the cosmos, and the modern spiritualist will find a way to accept the resulting conclusion — an admittedly shallow example, but a suitable one for our purposes.

Perhaps worst of all, few spiritualists really give a fuck about the authenticity of their beliefs.  The easiest American instance of this is the widespread abuse of the Hindu concept of karma.  Since spiritualism’s rise to flower-child popularity, the word karma has been used to describe a sort of cosmic vengeance which, were one to drop a brick on someone else’s head, would bring ten bricks down on one’s own.  This is a gross misinterpretation likely born from the Western need for a holy fist of heavenly justice.  Karma in the Hindu traditions is the effect of this life on the next life.  It is inextricable from the concept of reincarnation.  The effects of this life on this life are called dharma, and are much closer to the scientific concept of cause-and-effect than anything else, which pretty much takes all the magic and mysticism out of it — much like a large portion of other twisted metaphysical and hermetic philosophies.  The closest spiritualists in America typically get to understanding (or caring to understand) this crucial distinction, however, is a giggly aha! moment when the title of the mediocre sitcom, “Dharma and Greg,” comes to mind.

"When we go green, we go all the way," because, you know, you have to sit in full-lotus position to recycle a fucking can. Makes me want to burn a mound of styrofoam in the nearest Whole Foods supermarket, right next to the flax seed and patchouli oil.

That’s a fantastic image of modern spiritualists, in fact: imagine a group of people dressed like fashionable, anachronistic hippies, smiling at their recognition of a word they don’t have any compunction to really comprehend.  Oh, also?  Also make them shake their head ‘no’ while smiling.  That’s the spiritualist version of disagreement.  They’re as peaceful as Ghandi and as passive as apple pie, so they have to wait until their detractors have left the conversation to agree with one another about how much they disagreed with what that last guy said.  They could have to enjoin real conflict otherwise, and that just wouldn’t be natural.

*     *     *

What leads people to spontaneously become acolytes of a new system of beliefs?  Is it an immediate and crucial yearning for not just one dire answer, but a network of interlacing answers?  Is it a need to belong, a desire for a ready-made society of comrades united toward a common cause?  Nobody can say without being equally presumptuous, but there is a thread of similarity that connects these tenderfoot believers which is hard to ignore, one which their members would likely not bother to refute, and that is the vulnerability present in the spirit of each, the meek, affrighted lamb attempting to appear a lion by proudly waving its humble timidity like a glorious banner of courage.  Terror must abate — it must — and everyone hides under the covers under certain circumstances.

I’m afraid, too, afraid of men with guns, afraid of car accidents, afraid of both heights and spiders. . .  But I try to remind myself that these fears are usually irrational and childish.  I try not to massage my oft-bruised ego with salves of irrational, childish behavior like bandwagon belief systems, not that there’s anything wrong with being childish — so long as one doesn’t take oneself seriously, of course.  So what’s my problem?  What the fuck is it I want from people?

Consistency, sucka.  I want some goddamn consistency.

I want loudmouthed Christians to study their fucking books — all of them, apocryphal or not.  I want neo-hippies to study a little Hinduism if they’re going to start talking pop-culture reincarnation, want them to show genuine interest in all the yogas, karma, raja, jnana, and bhakti, too,  rather than presuming they learned all there is to know from a hatha yoga session at 24-Hr Fitness.  The cults of Kali, for instance.  There’s a side of Hinduism I doubt the Beatles would have endorsed.  I want grandparents who find God again (big G) to keep their dignity and pass on the altar call for the first few visits on Sunday.

But most of all, I just want people to re-evaluate their silly confidence in their best guesses at the secret of life.  We don’t know.  We don’t know.

Hey.  We don’t know.

With All My Cheerful Tidings,

-BothEyes

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A Hurried History of Pagans and Pulpits

I found out at a tender age that Mr. God created heaven and Earth in the beginning, and I’m very amused to read that this was probably a mistranslation.  If the hereafter actually exists — which it really, really may, you know — then this little verse that kicks off the epic bestseller creatively titled The Book (Bible in Greek) may be one of the biggest SNAFUs in history.  I gotta tell you, the blunders of humanity at large make me all soft and warm and bubbly, and this one has had me in stitches for a while.  It’s especially funny because fans of The Book will denounce the discovery out of hand and pretend it never happened rather than embrace the more likely translation, and the cosmic goof of human existence will have provided me with yet another vaudevillian pratfall.

I am not an enemy of the church, however — regardless of what they think of me — and have constructed as a display of my good will a handy crash course of the world’s major religions for those who may be shopping for some inner mysteries, eternal life, or ultimate truths.  Can we be friends again, gods?  No just and sensible deity worth worshipping would refuse a hand outstretched in peace, would it?  Of course not.

So come on in!  Have a try at dividing by zero in the zoo of zen, or a shot at real godhood down in the annals of Hindu cosmology, or a bite at the ol’ apple of knowledge as described in The Book itself.  It’s the arcane arcade, where every player gets infinitely more than three lives, so hur-ray, hur-ray, hur-ray, the show is about to begin!  Welcome!

<curtain>
Paganism: chaos and hijinks

Ah, paganism.  Paganism is actually the religion of non-Christians, so-called from paganus in Latin which basically means “hick” or “hayseed,” and represents all those real old pantheons found in ancient Greece, Rome, Norway, England and Ireland, though these are only examples.  The earliest religions are pagan, and many pagan festivities and belief systems have survived so that we may enjoy them in their modern forms today, such as Santa Claus, Halloween, painted Easter eggs, and New Year’s Eve parties.

Since pagan religions are real, real old and real, real numerous, not much can be said about all of them as a group without treating them unfairly, but the original all-powerful awe inspirer deserves at least a paragraph of homage.  Before Moses was parting seas, before Mohammed was praying in caves, and way before Joe Smith was digging golden plates out of a hill in Wayne County, New York, the supreme life of the party, Pan, was causing your daughters to bed with passers-by in the foliage amidst confusion and much merriment.  Having discovered unto himself the powers of creation and destruction (pangenitor, panphage) he did the only thing an immortal can be expected to do: he went about amusing himself to assuage the boredom inherent in a flawless existence without end.

His main symbols were good music, good food, good wine, good sex, and good pranks, and rather than having arch-enemies to fight with, he merely contended that they were lies and did not exist.  And what were these non-existent enemies, you might ask?  Reason, logic, and death, mainly.  Gee, good thing we don’t have a church of Pan, anymore.  The neighbors’d call the cops on that sermon before the keg was even out.

Hinduism: just try and exclude yourself -- just you try.

During the reign of Pan and somewhat more Southeasterly, the East Indian people started figuring some things out about the universe.  They figured out that it was unified, infinite, and duplicitous, for example.  They called the illusion that humans believe to be reality “maya,” and described the true reality as a network of interlocking gemstones, each reflecting and being reflected in all of the others.  This meant that everything was a god or goddess and just as holy and deserving of reverence as everything else, which made sense to them because everything was unified and connected in Universe, anyhow.  They also saw a hell of a lot of death and birth in that dangerous and fertile country (hundreds are washed out to sea each year in the annual monsoon alone) so the reincarnation idea had to come pretty early, too.  There wasn’t any goodness or wickedness in the Hindu belief system, because everything was holy.  Even today, any god you can invent will bless your days and be worth your prayers, because everything is holy.  Oh, and in case no one told you, you are Hindu, too.

“No, I’m not,” you say.  “I’m Catholic.”

But the Hindu smiles patiently, chuckling, “Ah, but you are Catholic Hindu.”

“But I, I am an Episcopalian.”

“Ha ha, yes; you are Episcopalian Hindu,” he informs you again.

You see, since the Hindu pantheon includes all possible deities, they see all the other gods and beliefs as Hindu, too.  The idea gets better when you know that the Rig Veda was written circa 1200 BC, a full millenium and a half  before The Book got published, so much earlier that every religion in the hemisphere borrows from it and shows ancient Indian influence.  We’re all a little more Hindu than we knew.  Go figure.  I want twelve arms.

Buddhism: because all you need to know you learned in kindergarten.

Among the ideas that sprang from that old-tyme religion in India is Buddhism.  The Buddhist mythology has to do with Siddhartha Gautama sitting beneath something called a bodhi tree and achieving enlightenment, which apparently has less to do with light and more to do with weight, though Sid wasn’t too clear about the actual nature of this achievement.  He taught eight ways to reach perfection by pointing to the spokes of a wagon wheel, told everyone that they were already perfect but had forgotten, and insisted that contentment was better than happiness.  He had four truths altogether, one of which was the wagon wheel stuff.  When you laid them all out, they went something like this: life is pain; pain is forgetting that you’re perfect; and if you stop trying to be what you already are then everything will be fine — oh, and check out this wagon wheel.  What’s that?  You want a book?  To heck with that!  No holy texts in Buddhism.

So everything’s fine.  Relax and enjoy your enlightenment.

Added bonus: do you know where the Dalai Lama said the world’s best Buddhists were?  Southern California.  If you figure out why, then you really may be enlightened.  Good for you!

We don't need but one god; just make 'im real big, is all.

Now while the Hindu religion is getting off to a roaring start and the Buddhists are in their infancy, the Jews of the Middle East are compiling a very, very impressive mixture of history, mythology, and theosophy which most of us are somewhat familiar with, being this book with the creative title that I’ve mentioned.  The most innovative bit about it is the monotheism, which means they only have one god.  Why only one god, you may ask?  Why only one, indeed!  Well, it makes perfect sense that of a crew of gods one ought to be more badass than the others, right?  And it follows also that it’d make the most sense to talk directly to the head honcho than to some lowly petty sergeants, right?  And that’s how this worked out, presumably.  Besides, you can always say that the little immortals are mere branches from or organs in the big-immortal-spirit-deity thing, anyhow.

The Hebrews included all sorts of things in their bestseller, The Book, too.  There’s a whole bunch of mythology in there, complete with magic Gandalf staffs and seven-headed dragons, music for the groove-minded, lusty poetry (dude goes on about his wife’s tits like you wouldn’t believe), fortune cookies such as, “Better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman,” blood-spattering war stories, cute, quaint children’s fables, reams of condemnation for the enemies of swell fellas everywhere, and — everybody’s favorite — prophecies of the future!  Oh, and bytheway, the Hebrew Tanakh is about ten times longer than just The Book, so if you thought I was just talking Sunday school stuff, you’ve got a lot more reading to do for homework than you bargained for.

Added bonus: kabbalah is super, hyper, mega, über interesting.

If you don't pronounce it "dow," then you're imbalanced.

Meanwhile this guy Lao Tzu goes around saying a string of words like, “In-out, back-forth, up-down, yes-no, good-bad, hooray-hoorah. . .” and finally gets somebody’s attention.  It seems he is saying something like this to a border guard on his way out of China to go off and be very mystic and wise somewhere and grow a long thin mustache, and the border guard begs him to stick around long enough to write these magic words into a book.  Little bit later, bang, out pops the Tao Te Ching, Taoism is born, and Lao Tzu bails out over the mountains, never to be seen again.  It’s all about “the way,” and the way is about flow, balance, change, and nature, it would seem.  Taoism doesn’t get any more complex than that, and it has one of the most poetic holy texts around.

Added bonus: the Tao Te Ching is short enough to read in one sitting at Starbucks.


Zen Buddhism: they meditate on nothing by not thinking. Really.

Meanwhile some more and a few hundred years later, Zen Buddhism sprouts out from Taoism.  The god question usually gets started, “Where do we come from,” and ends with whatever X thing you’d like to suggest, but Zen Buddhists take it one step farther.  They say, “OK, well what came before the first thing?” and you have to look at them all weird and say, “Well — nothing, of course.  X was the first thing, remember?” at which point they say, “Well then maybe we should be trying to get closer to nothing.”  Then, you say, “What?” and they say, “Exactly,” and that’s more-or-less how Zen works.

You know the sound of one hand clapping?  Zen.  If a tree falls in the forest alone does it still make noise?  Zen.  And then there’s the story of Zhaozhou, whom was asked, “Does the dog have Buddha nature?” to which he answered, “Mu,” which means no, the dog does not, and yes, the dog is zen at the same time, because mu means both ‘no’ and ‘nothing’.  One guy gets enlightened when he puts his sandal on his head and walks out.  Another guy says the Buddha is five pounds of flax seed.

Zen Buddhism is my unofficial favourite.  It’s so awesome, I had to spell favorite with a U.

Added bonus: the symbol for zen is a big paintbrushed zero, usually in black or red.  Effing cool.

Christ. What a guy.

So then Mr. Jesus comes around, and he’s got this strange idea that you should injudiciously love every Tom, Dick, and Harry who strolls into your yard.  Previous to him, some jerkoff cruised into your part of town, you did your best to chop off his ears and nose, send him home ugly enough to keep his pals from wanting to pay a visit to you.  Now things are different, though.  Now, if your neighbor sets fire to your house, you’re supposed to help him fan the flames; because, you know, that’s going to teach him by example to be nice to people.

Oh.  And Mr. Jesus is God, Jr.

Well lo and behold, this idea of Mr. Jesus’s really takes off after the government tortures and kills him for it, and since he is Jewish, people start getting into the Hebrew book he was brought up with.  This is pretty handy because he doesn’t even have to write a book of his own (though some people do throw some of his quotes together and slap it on the end to give the whole thing a little authenticity).  Then a college boy named John gets around the Mediterranean quite a bit, and it seems he knows quite a few languages, so he sells Mr. Jesus’s lemme-help-you-burn-my-house-down philosophy pretty well.  And then there’s this serial killer named Saul who was fairly famous for being a fucked-up character until Mr. Jesus says he should take “Paul” as an alias, after which Saul/Paul turns out to be a very fine orator indeed, so after Mr. Jesus is slaughtered Paul gets the crew together and makes a name for Christianity. . .

And then everybody else and their mother edits and revises this stuff for two thousand years, effectively watering down and mucking up the hard work of the college boy, the serial killer, and Mr. Jesus himself.  Thank god I’m my own editor.

Islam: more prayers than you can shake a crusade at.

Then comes Islam, and Islam is pretty cool, if not too different from Christianity.  Like Mr. Jesus, this guy Mr. Mohammed decides that god has more to say than what is in the Tanakh and The Book, and goes into a cave for six months to think about it.  Well, he comes out with god’s instructions for revising the old Hebrew religion into something called “submission,” or Islam, which his friends write into a “Koran”.  As you can see from the above picture, it’s a pretty good name for it.  Anyway, Mr. Moe gets a decent-sized crew together and conquers Mecca, because it had never liked him.  Mecca had never liked him because it has this black rock that people have been paying money to visit because they think it fell from heaven, and Moe never liked idols, so his new instructions from god talk a lot of trash about that.  It’s a little fuzzy why Mr. Moe then decides to require all Muslims to travel to Mecca in order to visit the black rock at some point in their lives, and also to point themselves toward it when they pray five times a day, but whatever, it’s his religion, not mine.

One cool trick Muslims do is Ramadan, this month when Muslims are supposed to keep from eating and drinking anything while the sun is up.  I’ve done it before, and I can tell you, it changes your head around harder than an acid trip.  Lasts longer, too.

Added bonus: Korans are by far the coolest-looking holy books going.  If there were a holy book cocktail party and all the holy books were invited to come over for martinis, the Koran would show up in — like, I dunno — Versaci.

If Mary were this cute, no one would believe the virgin part

Just like Mr. Moe, and around the same time, some other guys start editing the Hebrew stuff.  It prolly went something like this:

“OK, so we worship God.”

“Yeah.”

“. . .and God is this Jesus guy the Romans nailed up a while ago. . .”

“Yeah.”

“. . .and the chick who made God never fucked nobody to help her do it?”

“That’s the story.”

“Well — hell!  What’re we doin’ praying to anybody but her?  Seems like she did all the work!  Besides, if she can make gods and stuff, she must could do all sorts of things!”

“Hmm. . .  I reckon that’s about right.”

And that’s the story of Catholicism, except that there are some people they start calling saints who can do magic tricks, but only in one school of magic or another.  For instance, St. Timothy is the patron saint of bellyaches, St. Bartholomew is the patron saint of twitching, and St. Monica is the patron saint of wife beating.  No, I’m not kidding.  And St. Christopher used to be the patron saint of traveling until too many hippies started carrying his emblem, prompting the Vatican to drop his ass from the liturgical calendar and the official list of saints like a bad habit.  Still not kidding.  Hey, that’s how they roll in Italy, man!  You know who makes the rules.

Added bonus: you can do just about anything you like and be Catholic; they have this confessional deal going which is a sure fix between you and god, and they’re pretty elastic on all sorts of sins ranging from child abuse to alcoholism.

Excalibur in Las Vegas -- or, the Temple in Salt Lake City.

The next editor and revisionist of the Hebrew stuff is Joe Smith, usually called by his full first name to give it added clout.  Joe found some golden instructions in a hill in Wayne County, New York, and these told him what to add to The Book to get the fresher, more correct perspective.  There’s an American prophet involved, too, who goes by the unlikely name Moroni, and an “American Moses” named Brigham Young.

There are some interesting cultural attachments that come with Mormonism, AKA the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Moroni, his dad Mormon, Joe, and Brigham Young being the late saints they mean) such as its infamous reputation for abetting polygamy, ties with the occultist Freemasons, and the so-called “Mormon Murders”.  They don’t drink coffee, and they like modern-looking castles with lots of bright light shown on them.  My dad’s Mormon.  He’s OK.  I don’t think I’d follow anybody named Joe Smith across a wild continent, though.

Classic J.W. Painting Depicting All the Fun They Get When They're Dead.

Last on the list of editors of the old Hebrew stuff are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who started as an active team of Christian-pamphlet-hander-outers.  They came up with their name in the 1930s and split from the other non-Catholic sects because they, the J.W.s, didn’t think they should celebrate Easter, Christmas, or birthdays.  This distinction has signified the religion ever since.  Why not, you’ll need to be reminded?  Because these celebrations are pagan Pan parties, that’s why not!  And also because J.W.s are absolutely certain that the end of the world is right around the corner — which to be honest, it always really might be — so they earnestly want God to know that they’re doing their best to not fuck up.

As the modern version of the quakers, J.W.s have the least fun of all religious people, but they win the Consistent Belief System Award among the Christians, and they get to meet lots of people.  Still, I wouldn’t date one unless she let me make my own annual celebrations.  I’d have one in spring called Teaser, one in winter called Mistcrass, and one in September called Me-Day on which I would celebrate everything but my birth and death with much dancing and inebriation.

This is L. Ron. I kinda like his book, but I got it for .50¢.

Far from merely revising the battered, overused, over-interpreted Hebrew stuff yet again, L. Ron Hubbard just fuckin’ made up his own.  In case you’re unaware, you’re living on a planet with millions of alien ghosts who were blown up seventy-five million years ago on this planet by an entity known as Xenu.  Xenu was about to be impeached or something from the throne of the Galactic Confederacy, so he rounded up his constituency, laced them around volcanoes, dropped atomic bombs into these volcanoes and detonated them simultaneously.  The ghosts cause most of your internal conflicts and are called Thetans, but you can pay money to the Church of Scientology for lessons in ridding yourself of their influence  and the secrets to becoming what they call a “clear”.

The Xenu history is made available only to top Scientologists after considerable financial contributions and was kept secret until court documents containing this information made their way to the Internet.  L. Ron has been quoted many times saying, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction.  If you want to get rich, you start a religion,” but the (very) persistent rumor is that Hubbard started the religion to win a bar bet with R. A. Heinlein.  Whatever.  Tell you what, though: I’ve only read the first few chapters of Dianetics, but they had more useful philosophy than you would think, considering how bat-shit crazy the culmination is.  Don’t give them your money, though.  Seriously.  Don’t be stupid.

Added bonus: L. Ron hung out with Aleister Crowley!

Ah, we've come so far. The church of the future. Zoom.

Well, here we are at last, the pinnacle of world religion that is modern Christianity.  In America it’s mostly unified now to the point where the Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and non-denominational Christians can’t tell one another apart anymore, nor say why they belong to one sect rather than another.  They’ve got a The Book that has been through sixteen centuries of editing, revision, and translation, they’ve changed their clothes, music, and churches, and they’ve founded their first wildly successful nation through the wholesale slaughter of an indigenous people, so at long last the old Hebrew traditions are here to stay.  Modern Christianity is popular, highly marketable, and comes with a built-in social life for new converts whose existing one is either an empty room or a clan of bad influences (non-believers).

This is the sort of thing I grew up knowing, just like millions and millions of other kids.  I had preachers on my TV, God in my music, and bumper stickers on my car.  Hey, it’s an entire world for billions of people!  Don’t laugh.  Some people never see pornography or read Friedrich Nietzche.  Some people really do avoid R-rated movies.

The truth is, though, all the inner mysteries of Pan and Ein Sof and Mr. Jesus and Augustine et cetera are all intact and pulsating with real, honest-to-god wisdom that can whisper to you the secret of life right between the pages of their respective books, but you have to be able to ignore the slogans printed in faux eXtreme! lettering on tee-shirts, the weepy fanatic babbling, the misinformed sermons, the various anachronistic prejudices, and other such bullshit that keeps people from seeing world religions as anything but a sales pitch and a bad joke.  If you can do that, then there’s a lot of really, really interesting shit out there, and I’m telling you, if you think you’ve got nothing to learn from Shiva because your man is Jesus, or nothing to take from Buddha because you voted for Mohammed, or nothing to glean from Lao Tzu because Moses really turned you on, then you’re pretty arrogant for a guy who proudly calls himself a ‘believer’.  Go ahead.  Step outside.  The world won’t bite you any harder than you’ve already been bitten.  And besides. . .

You can always bite back.

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