Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Most Powerful Hand

Watch your feet.

Our trip through the deep South is going to take us through a region of the country that I've always considered  religious in an Evangelical Christian kind of way. This gives me full on, middle of the night, something's tapping at the inside of the walls anxiety.

I know a lot of folks who get vitriolic when it comes to Evangelical Christianity. Well, they get vitriolic when it comes to Christianity or religion in general or any loosely organized body of human beings who believe in supernatural creator types. And I know a lot of human beings who believe in supernatural creator types that get all panties in bunches when confronted with the idea that a god or gods in whatever incarnation might not exist and that many rational people are completely all right with that fact.

I'm not like that. I don't think my anxiety has its roots in a frustration with the strict rightness of one belief in relief against another. There's more to it.

Religious identity is as defining as national identity. For some, to be a god fearing Evangelical Christian is to be a truer American than those who are not believers. And it's possible, people who choose to believe differently accept this, even as they rail against it. Evangelical Christianity is as American as apple pie, baseball, and baby beauty pageants. It lays claim to the moral imperatives of our founders and uses them as leverage or proof of its superiority.

It's not only the right way, but the best way. It's not enough that other ways are wrong: they have no value in light of the "truth." They don't belong here. It's simple and there's no give.

I guess that goes for anything that exists in the extreme, no matter what religious practice undergirds it.

Clearly, there is something about the particular religiosity of the South that bumps right up against my personal identity like stranger danger. I'm interested in examining where that feeling comes from, and I hope to have the opportunity on this journey.


Aww, Cosmos! I feel the same way about you!

What do I believe? It's very complicated. And it should be.

When I was a child, I thought God was a giant hand, and at night, before bed, when I said my prayers, I always saw myself curled up like a cat in the palm of it. I didn't think God was a man or a woman and no one ever told me I had to say prayers: I just wanted to. And the prayer was pretty much always they same:

Dear God,
Please take care of the people I know. [Then I'd name the people I knew, in order, from most important on down.]
And please take care of all the people I don't know, especially really bad people; they need love most of all. 
Amen 

Sometimes, even though my belief is more fuzzy than solid these days, I lay in bed at night and imagine myself curled up like a cat in a most powerful hand, and I say that prayer, the same words I used to say when I was five years old, and it feels nice.

Later would come all sorts of religious practices and experiences. My family was good in that way. No one path had more or less value than another. My mom would sometimes get religion and drop us off at Mass, which had a profound and positive effect on me, and my Dad practiced the earth based religion of Wicca, so we did a lot of chanting under the full moon and shit like that. There always seemed to be someone hanging around us who believed in something true, and I was always hanging on to them trying to figure out exactly what made them so sure.

As a kid, my heroes and heroines were all religious types, and no one in my family had a problem with that. I was all up in religion's business. I could not get enough of it, any of it. I picked and converted to so many different faiths when I was a young person, I think my mom stopped keeping up. The only time she raised any objections was when I decided to convert to Islam after reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a tween. Even then she just said, "You know, you have to pray like five times a day," as if it would get in the way of my other tween pursuits. I hate to admit that she was right, but it didn't work out, and after reading Siddhartha a few weeks later, I was on to something else. There have been a ton of "something else's" throughout my life. I could never say with certainty that any way or practice is right or true or better. I kind of like them all.


Caravaggio: That is one sexy former Saul is all I'm saying.

In the end, my siblings, as far as I know, turned out to be atheists, and though I'm still open to a sincere "Saul on the road to Damascus" moment, it's possible, quite probable, I am one, too. That doesn't mean I'm empty of belief or faith. I'm full up of it, all sorts of it.

Maybe that's why I'm so prickly about traveling through a place where I don't perceive belief as complex but easy and absolute. Faith is a beautiful concept. Blind faith is terrifying. Though it seems to be an unquestionably valuable thing, I see it as meaningless without doubt to temper it.

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