"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Religion–Living Among Sylphs And Sprites And Not Taking The Epistles Too Seriously

“I’m parsing”, said Chloe Betancourt, “but I’ll be done in a jiffy”. Parsing was Chloe’s way of praying, but she had devised a very particular and post-modern relationship with her Lord and Savior.  “Not deconstruction exactly”, she explained.  “More like ‘disaggregation’”. Even the Biblical scholars and theologians among us couldn’t make heads nor tails of her philosophical formalism and ecstatic Christianity; for when she was finished parsing, she became ecstatic. 

Somehow she had thrown bits and pieces of The Law, eschatology, atonement, Corinthians, and salvation into her spiritual cement mixer, and out poured the foundation for her faith.  The fixtures – faucets, showerheads, garden fences, and home appliances -  came later. ‘Spiritual appurtenances’, she called them.  “One cannot do without some iconography after all.  She performed the Stations of the Cross and went to Confession, confession the most outrageously salacious sins and apostasies.

I felt that she wanted to make the priest squirm in his cassock, but she said that it was simply all about theatre. “Religion is operatic”, she said. “The sacrifice of the Mass, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and all that incense and ceremony. Don’t you just love the Pope’s cute little red slippers?”

Mainstream churches bored her, especially the secular Protestantism of the United Church of Christ and God forbid, the Unitarians.  She went only to High Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, attended services at the Holy Redeemer Baptist Church in Aberdeen, Mississippi, and observed Summer Solstice with American Druids in a reconstructed Stonehenge on the Rappahannock. Religion for Chloe was tamasha, Puccini, and Barnum & Bailey – a ride down the spiritual slide at Water World; a contest with unbelievers in bumper cars.

Parsing came only recently; for radical secularism was as much of a spiritual expression as Christian evangelism.  Race, gender, environment, and ethnicity were as much the pillars of humanist faith as forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.  In fact, the zealotry of feminists was no different from that of the Essenes – radical spiritualism, passionate belief, ressurectional politics – and meetings in crowded Brooklyn basements were as inspirational and transforming as any Chloe had heard in Mississippi.

What Chloe understood about religion – whether spiritual or secular – was that adherents always played fast and loose with the facts.  It’s core values that count. That Jesus died for our sins is all you need to know; and Paul’s torturous theology about law creating sin, dismissal of Jewish atonement as ‘false’ penance, and squaring animal sacrifice with ritual Christology, was incidental to the Truth.  Men are testosterone-driven rapists and overlords worse even than slave overseers and traders.  They are excluded from Christian redemption and salvation because of the brutality of their oppression and their innate hatred of women.  No subtleties necessary.

Global warming will result in a fiery Armageddon in our lifetime, shout environmentalists.  The One Percent are perverting the vision of the Founding Fathers, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the spirit of the Buddha.  Wall Street is as rapacious as the ‘hood.

Chloe was particularly interested in Deconstructionism – how the theories of Derrida and, Lacan were applied to the Bible, the Koran, and the Talmud.  These sacred works are no more than ‘texts’, she read, of no more or less value than the Owners Manual for the 2014 Camry LE.  Texts are meant to be parsed and deconstructed for their contextual reference.  The King James Bible is neither the Word of God nor Elizabethan verse worthy of Shakespeare; it is merely the English-from-Greek-from-Hebrew record of Palestine in the ancient world.

“How boring”, said Chloe.  “Do they really believe that? There is no mystery in Christ’s resurrection; no awe at the sturm und drang of the Old Testament? The Bible as how-to-book, DIY for your spiritual kitchen  Historical reference for your trip to Turkey.”

Chloe was a scattered, flighty woman.  How could she not be with these wildly eclectic beliefs so passionately held?  She recited the Beatitudes while doing her hair, chanted the Psalms on her way to work, rocked in atonement on her way through Farragut Square.  She stopped in every church or synagogue she passed, prayed to the Mother of God, to Christ on the Cross, revered the sacred texts behind the iconostasis the Russian Orthodox Church, and felt comforted in the severe confines of the Jewish temple. She prayed on the subway, crossed herself backwards and forwards, bowed and scraped, and at the end of the day lit the candles in her bedside shrine, made an offering to Vishnu, and went to sleep.

Chloe admitted that there was nothing profound in her religious devotion.  She knew theology and doctrine well; but was impatient with exegesis.  Did it really matter what the difference was between Jewish atonement and Christian forgiveness? Whether the events of the New Testament happened as reported in the Gospels?  It was the pomp, ceremony, and operatic excesses of religion which made it worthwhile. 

She did not believe in God, heaven, hell, or the devil; but couldn’t get enough of Milton, Dostoevsky, and the etchings of Albert Durer.  The Burning Lake of Paradise Lost, Satan’s councils of war, and the all-out war between the forces of good and evil were all she needed. 

She met a man who introduced her to Tantrism, especially the kinky sexual side of it; and their demi-spiritual erotic capers were the best she ever had. Zapotec human sacrifice, Tantric sexual kundalini energy, the campy high ceremonies of the Vatican were the very best. Sex on a stage decorated by mythical set designers couldn’t be beat.

Chloe was the daughter of two very prim and unceremonious parents – old English stock going back to Charles I and perhaps even before him.  Ancestors who landed with Raleigh on Albemarle Sound, others who made their way west on Conestoga wagons. They never knew what to make of their daughter who had the plumage of a rare bird but no sense whatsoever.  Yet, she was so delightful, carefree, and flew so far above everyone else’s petty concerns that she was a joy to be around.  While it was true that most people thought she was batty and a penance for her poor parents, they thought nothing of the kind.  They had given birth to a true free spirit.

Chloe never made much headway at all professionally.  She was too preoccupied and distracted to concentrate on spreadsheets or projections.  She did piecework, cobbled together babysitting, dog-walking, and catering in Livingston, Montana; and lived together with a kindred soul for years.  Other than her parents, Samuel was the only person who got her – who understood her very special spirituality. He said that she was a sprite living amongst sylphs and fairies.

Chloe had the right take on religion – which was no take at all or all takes together. Religion is pastime, circus, sideshow, opera, and over-the-top melodrama; but when all is said and done, the stories of Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Siva, and Moses are wild, exciting rides. Parting the waters of the Red Sea? Rising from the Dead? The Virgin Birth? The incredible saga of the Jews fighting their way out of Egypt to the Promised Land? The Monkey God fighting the evil Ravana in Sri Lanka? Wow! and Wow! again.

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