Monday, May 5, 2014

Jesus! They're at it again

I keep thinking I've hit the bottom of the barrel, then find something even more inexplicable. It's hard to imagine this could be satire: someone would be exaggerating just a bit, as if to say, "OK folks, you can laugh now". But they're all so earnest. I don't know if they belong to some cult, or what. The camera work alone is enough to induce vertigo.

When you look at Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar (whose wife has the lovely name of Taffi) and all those holy-roller types, the audiences are right there with them, falling over backwards into convulsions that almost seem real. Never mind that almost ALL these evangelical types eventually end up in some sort of scandal, financial, sexual, or (most likely) both. Even during the worst reputation-dragged-through-the-mud debacle, some faction of the church will choose to believe the media is spreading lies to discredit their idol. It always happens. A split, a civil war. No one wants to believe they were wrong, that they were duped. A mixture of pride and blind allegience keeps them on-board unto death.

I know all about these dynamics because I experienced it, not in some fundamentalist snake-handling setting but in the good ol' Charlie Brown of religion, the United Church of Canada. We were charmed and seduced into hiring (and WE made the decision over three or four other perfectly good candidates) someone who could not have been more unsuitable for the job, someone we knew did not have the proper credentials to lead us, and we proceeded to demonize him for a year, cornering him on some of his worst behaviour (and believe me, it was bad) while remaining oblivous to our own.

The church never recovered, and due to some personal issues both connected and not connected to the church, my old belief system fell apart. Actually, it sort of went back to the way it was before I joined. Not being so sure of things, but being VERY sure of the darkness at the core of the human heart.

I wonder at all this tribal caterwauling. I suppose it does no harm, and may do some good. Sometimes I wish I could join in, wish I wasn't so dead-bored with droning hymns that are 200 years old (and were not very interesting even then) and the blanding-out that has enabled even United Church moderators to be, basically, atheists. Let's open those doors so wide we might even be able to pay the mortgage this month.

My entire 15-year experience with the church was one of scrambling anxiety, not over the problems of the community or even faith, but one thing only: money. Every year we had an Annual Meeting that was nothing short of an exercise in despair. It might as well have been held on the deck of the Titanic. Yet if you didn't attend, you were frowned upon, excluded. If you weren't there to discuss our chronic financial dysfunction at the meeting, if you didn't have a ready solution to these insurmountable problems, you weren't allowed to state an opinion on any of it. 

After several hours of incomprehensible, often wildly inaccurate and unspeakably dreary financial reports, we always came to the same conclusion. We're in the hole, we're sinking, we can't pay the bills, we've got to get asses in seats. We were visited in our homes and interrogated about how much we were giving, and if it wasn't enough by church standards, we were guilt-tripped. This was even true of people on fixed incomes. Later, we were guilt-tripped if we wouldn't tithe. What's wrong with you people, aren't you committed to your faith?

We were shown pie charts and Venn diagrams about giving, and it was explained to us how, if each of us gave 15% of our income, we could make our mortgage and building upkeep commitments with no trouble at all. All we had to do was distribute the burden fairly. So what was the matter with us, why weren't we doing it?

This was all about maintaining a building that in essence was used once a week for a couple of hours. The rest of the time it had to be heated, repaired, tended to and endlessly fed with OUR money. Squeezed out with guilt.

I've written a lot about religion on this blog (especially lately - God, when does it stop?), in some sort of attempt to come to terms with my role in it, my need for it, and how I outgrew that need. It didn't happen gradually and painlessly, but in a violent yank that shattered my world. Meantime the church goes on chattering about commitment, and it's not to Jesus. Though much is said about homeless people, we don't associate with them and don't want to have them around (in our big, warm, dry, empty sanctuary) because "those people" are offputting, too needy and too much trouble.

So where is God in all this? I don't believe in God any more, or at least, what I do believe is so far from my original concept that you'd have to call me a non-believer now. Atheist and agnostic are terms that piss me off and offend me because they are LABELS, because people affix them and feel sure they have drawn a bead on who you really are.  I am not an "anything" except a human being, trying to figure it out as I go along. I suspect there are more of me than most of us care to realize.

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