Religion 1

Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.
–Patti Smith

I suppose I’ll always remember that night. I must have been about 14 or 15, sitting in the family room of my parents house, Virginia, 1976. It was Saturday night, so naturally I was alone, watching Saturday Night Live on TV. It was the show’s second year on the air, and I loved it. At that usual point in the show, the host – I don’t remember who – said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Patti Smith Group.”
A smattering of applause, and then the camera found her–scrawny, pale, visibly angry, with her bushy underarms and dirty white A-shirt, hanging on the microphone stand like a drunk on a lamp post. She sang the fist line, and I was floored.

That was probably the first time I witnessed a public refutation of what had always been a given to me. Of course I knew there were non-Christians, but I guess like any good Catholic I figured they were just ignorant, not openly opposed to the theology of the “one true church.” Patti opened a door for me, just cracked it open. People actually reject Christianity even after they know what it is! It’s a simple idea, but to someone young enough and ignorant enough, it’s a revolutionary one.

You can’t blame people for indoctrinating their innocent children into their faith. It’s just what people do. And I suppose most of the time it works. In fact, if I’m being honest, I’d have to say I’m one of the few lost souls among my Polish Catholic clan. I had sad occasion recently to attend a family funeral. Afterwards I said something complimentary about the priest’s homily to some aunts, and I got that unmistakable gaze that silently accused, “How would you know anything about it?”

But I would know something about it. It’s exceedingly strange, but my loss of faith in the Catholic way was a springboard to some pretty heavy theological study. If I cannot be Catholic, my reasoning was – is – then I will undertake to understand all of the religions at least somewhat. My ultimate aim was to find out what they have in common, and see if that might fit into my world view.

Like most of what I take on here, the subject is too big for a daily log. I will try then to assemble my thoughts in pieces, with today serving as introduction.

And by way of introduction, I note that I was in fact rather devout in my younger years. One effect of indoctrination into a faith is to believe, with the others, that no other faith is worth looking into. In fact I was generally convinced it was a sin to research other faiths. But once I realized that others’ beliefs were as fervently held as mine, a light went on. The immature version of this illumination is the simple idea that we cannot all be right. Christians attribute to Jesus the statement, “No one will enter the house of my father except through me,” or something to that effect. Muslims say, “There is no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet,” sort of refuting the Jesus as God claim. Jews count Jesus as “a nice young man, sure, but a Savior? I don’t think so, my friend.”

Anyway, that’s how it began. We can’t all be right, and it would be rather cruel if one of our groups happened to be right and the others wrong. We must then imagine a crafty God in his heaven, damning all those practicing the wrong religion. “You think you’re among the saved,” he laughs, “but you’ve got it all wrong. You picked the wrong one! Ha ha ha! Suckers!”

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