Wanna know what really gets under my skin? I’ll tell you.
Overzealous religiosity does.
This morning, a woman got on my train and proceeded for about 20 minutes to engage all of us in her praise session. Of course, there was the usual chorus of goaded amens and rounds of applause. The woman had tricked me. Initially, she entered our space determined to wish everyone within earshot a raspy “Good Morning!” I thought it a bit much, but her intention seemed selfless and kind, so it actually was pretty cool that she went out of her way. But shortly thereafter, her well-intentioned good mornings turned into a praise and worship session that went on and on as she paraded through the aisle, preachin’ and signifyin’ like the metro was her own personal pulpit.
Sorry. Just because what she was yelling about was peppered with references to God and Jesus, didn’t make it okay to be carrying on like that first thing in the morning, or at any time, in public space.
I understand the desire and the need to share personal testimony. But this wasn’t that. It was obnoxiousness that the woman felt compelled to share — obnoxiousness shrouded in the context of worship. And the people ate it up because her rant was endowed with a spirituality that was familiar to them. What if a monk hopped on the train with a meditation singing bowl and an offer to join him in morning meditation? What if a wayward Catholic felt the sting of guilt most urgently this morning and began clutching her rosary beads and, just as loudly as the Christian steward, began her series of prayers? Better yet, what if 2 or 3 Muslims decided that the morning commute was an opportunity to get in one of their daily prayers? Who’s amen-ing now, huh? Nobody, that’s who. The train’s about as quiet and as nervous as a whore in church, to coin a phrase.
I wasn’t more peaceful, more grateful, and better connected to my spirit after that experience. In fact, it prevented me from finding peace. It left me agitated and unnerved — undoubtedly the opposite effect ol’ girl was going for.
And incidentally, my girlfriend and I were strolling through Old Town Alexandria last weekend when an obnoxious and overzealous woman stopped us with a question and a pamphlet. Before I get to that, let me explain that I typically don’t do pamphlets and various reading materials handed to me on the street. Because here’s how such situations usually pan out for me: I glance over it, and within 2 seconds realize it has nothing to do with my life or interests. From that point forward, I’m stuck with a piece of paper in hand — in hands that would be happier holding Hers, or a shopping bag, or a waffle cone. But nooooo…instead, I’m saddled with a super glossy postcard-sized advertisement for some shit I won’t use, or some place I won’t go. So my default position is “No. I don’t want it.” Whatever “it” is, I err on the side of I Don’t Want.
At any rate, the woman asked “do you go to church?” as she attempted to hand me her reading material. The surface simplicity of these questions often belies the judgement and scorn which accompanies an unapologetic “no.” This time, my no was multi-pronged, having more to do with her intrusion into my moment, than with my disdain for her missionary zeal. What I meant was: no, I don’t really go to church. And also, no, I don’t want your pamphlet. But more importantly, no, it’s not cool that you’ve interrupted my Saturday afternoon stroll.
Not to be outdone though, that sister promptly dismissed my no-church-going ass. She handed her reading material to my Lady as her mouth said “bless you,” but everything in her lil spirit signaled “fuck you” instead. I wish y’all could’ve seen the look on her face. If she alone could have sealed my fate in the afterlife, I’d be one of those folks wanting iced water for all eternity for sure.
Over the years, I’ve found that religious folks can be an audacious and absurd bunch. My Facebook news feed is littered with devotionals, proverbs, and moral judgements backed by Bible verses. It seems folks even get a kick out of playing on words, proudly proclaiming that they are “in a relationship” or “in love” with a wonderful man — named Jesus. Not Hay-Seuss or nothin, but Jesus. The cat that died, like, millennia ago.
Come on, man. Come. the fuck. on.
* * * *
One half of my family is Jehovah’s Witness, and they refer to their denomination generally as “The Truth.” That’s never sat right with me — not because they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, but because I wondered how they got to claim ownership of “The Truth.” What would the Hindus say? The Muslims? The tribal cultures in Africa or Latin America? What about the truth as they see it?
I don’t do religion precisely for this reason. I’m not comfortable with the notion that there exists only one way to God or to your Creator or to whichever higher order requires your submission. I reject the assertion that my spiritual journey must mirror someone else’s. And, I reject the assertion that I must not “know God” because I don’t relate to God in the same way religious folks do. This rigid rubric for spiritual enlightenment, to me, seems to represent the exact opposite message of God’s love.
Moreover, I don’t buy that God is a jealous God; I don’t understand what God would need to be jealous about — God is God, remember? Omniscient, all-powerful, the alpha and omega, to coin another phrase. Who else — what else — can compete with such a résumé? God’s great works, like human beings and animals, universes and galaxies, grace and peace speak for themselves, don’t they?
At Tuskegee, I took a Philosophy of Religion course and came away with a great anecdotal story: a Priest noticed that some kids had been mocking him for the way he pointed toward the sky when referring to God during his sermons. To teach them a lesson, he cut off their index fingers. The kids, by focusing on the finger instead of the message, had missed the point.
I often feel like religion, as espoused and practiced by many, misses the point. Nurturing the spirit and tapping into the God in our souls shouldn’t be held as a commodity, which the great (great as in vast…and not necessarily “good”) religions market to the world. In my view, the church — whichever church — is merely a vessel, a conduit, to facilitate our spiritual connections. In attempting to please God, we get caught up in the man-made practice of dividing and devaluing that which is unfamiliar. In other words, I believe your Buddhist rituals are devil’s work because I’m Christian. Or I’m inclined to believe your faith in Islam means you might blow up my spot if you catch wind of my Rosh Hashanah celebration. We worship the ritual, and succeed in completely missing the point.
The great @Brick_James, author of front-free.com, has said many times that religion is fine and dandy as long as it “doesn’t make you stupid.” But sadly, a good number of us have abandoned common sense and, in some cases common decency, in the secular world for the promise of 72 virgins in the afterlife. Oh, is 72 virgins not your religion’s “thing”? Then insert your religion’s “thing.” The same sentiment likely applies.
Indeed, little else seems to rifle religious folks’ feathers like issues about the gay. While Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church hate brigade are in no way representative of the core tenets of Christianity, they use Christianity as a protective cover as they spew vile remarks and perpetrate dark, ugly energy on people who died in service to their country. They picket outside of soldiers’ funerals suggesting that God allowed that individual to die because gay people exist. See what I’m sayin? Stupid.
And a few weeks ago, I found myself engaged in a debate about whether folks were born gay or chose to be gay. I’ve expressed my feelings on this subject before. I maintain that it doesn’t matter one way or the other. In whatever manner one enters the world, all folks deserve to be treated with the respect and dignity that being human accords. It really is just that simple. Hearkening back to the born gay point of reference lets folks off the hook for treating people right; It allows them to sit comfortably in judgement. You can’t be born gay because God hates gays. No way God would create you, so clearly you chose it. Or they’re the slightly more evolved, more politically correct religious types, asserting that they love you even though you’re gay, but they’ll pray for your sin. Or better still, they’re the it’s okay to be gay. You’re a sinner just like me and just like thieves and murderers. Your sin is no greater than mine types. This also doesn’t work, as being gay isn’t analogous to killing people or stealing their shit.
I know folks are naturally resistant to lengthy pieces, but this one’s been eating at me for years. I don’t begrudge anyone’s right to worship how they see fit, and that includes not worshiping at all. I may not be atheist, but you have every right to be. And I don’t begrudge anyone’s right to be abundantly happy about their spiritual health. However, I cannot stomach the hubris of religiosity — the kind of adherence to religion that leads one to answer simple questions like “how are you?” with various incarnations of “I’m blessed… highly favored…child of God…basking in His light,” etc. I always want so badly to say, Ok. But motherfucker, how are you? How you feelin? Was today a good day? You got a headache? Or did you get some money you weren’t expecting? Like, in real life — down here, on Earth, how are you?
Listen, I practice the Golden Rule. Treat me with love, kindness, and respect, and you’ll get the same from me. That’s my religion.
Ok. I’m done. Thanks for your indulgence. I needed that off my chest.
Y’all be blessed. *waves church fan*