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RELIGION, from a Non-Functioning Literate's point-of-view

Because of my childhood experiences, I will never be able to be fooled by all the religious crap that is out there. This protects me from the Jimmy Bakkers & the Pat Robertsons of the world. I have been there & seen through it. I have been force-fed that crap from day one by my mom & her mom. I have suckled upon the teats of Christian theology and ended up severely malnourished.

My mom & Gra Gra (my grandma) were quite successful in instilling the 'fear of God' into us, especially my brother Kim & I. We were always afraid Mom was going to Heaven without us. I remember constantly checking on her to see if she was still there. I did this from as early as I can remember until my early teens.

If we were left alone and mom & dad were late getting home, I would panic. I even did this when I was around 13 or 14 when we were on vacation camping in Yellowstone. Linda was around 17 or 18 & we were at the campsite. Mom & dad went into town for supplies & were late getting back. I found myself feeling that panicky suffocation in my chest because I was afraid Jesus came back & took all his followers, mom among them, but not us.

Kim used to have to sleep in my parents' room on a cot next to mom because he was afraid God would come & take her and he would be without her. I wonder she ever realized the damage she was causing with all this religious fervor.

Some lady who lost her daughter and both of her parents in the Oklahoma City bombing was saying on the news today that if everyone got back to God, this country would be alot better off. That if we all got closer to Jesus we wouldn't have people like Timothy McVie. Well, excuse me but...wasn't he connected to some Christian militia? Hmmm. What about these Christian militias? Aaaand, what about the Inquisition? What about the crusades? What about all the child abuse that goes on in the name of God & Jesus? I speak as a victim from personal experience here. What about the Jimmy & Tammy Faye Bakkers? What about all the phony faith healers who swindle millions of dollars from their followers? What about all the religious turmoil in the Middle East? Need I go on?

I really get tired of hearing that we all need to teach the 'fear of God' to our kids. This whole 'fear of God' thing is one of my first memories. My Mom & Gra Gra started scaring the daylights out of us kids before we could crawl by constantly reminding us to be good and not sin or we will burn in Hell for an eternity, that we will scream and cry & beg to die as we fall endlessly into the bottomless pit of the lake of fire, but time will never end and we will burn burn burn FOREVER. This, folks, is child abuse.

But they didn't stop there. I remember being threatened many times with being sent to reform school if I didn't mind. "Okay, that's go to your room and stay there while I call the police and have them come get you and take you away to reform school!" And you dare ask why I'm angry?

Why would anyone want to instill such terror & panic in an innocent young, impressionable mind? This is why I have been acutely aware my whole life that I will die one day. No matter what situation I'm in, no matter how much fun I'm having at the time, there is always this solemn realization that all of this will be history when I die...and time passes all too quickly. Even in elementary school I was always thinking about death & Hell. To this day I always hear that voice in my head telling me 'What's the use? We're all gonna die.'

I really do not believe in Hell. If there is a God, a merciful, loving God, he would not create us knowing some of us would end up suffering endlessly in Hell. If He, or She, gave us the free will to choose the wrong path, that would not be an act of love and mercy. Instead, He would create creatures (yes, we are creatures too) that would all end up in Heaven. To put it bluntly, I think this whole 'fear of God' thing is load of crap. It totally fucked with my life and my point of view & I resent it tremendously.

I remember a dream I once had. I'm not sure how old I was, I'm guessing around 10. For some reason, the word got out that Jesus was coming, so everyone went outside to make the flight to Heaven easier. Our whole family assembled in our back yard . I remember everyone would run with their arms stretched out like airplane wings. The holy flew up to heaven. Mom made it to Heaven, & so did everyone else…except for my dad & I. I kept running over & over again until it was clear that I was not going. I remember how terrible I felt being left like that. I turned to my dad & asked 'Well, what are we gonna do now?' I'll never forget his reaction. He said 'I don't know about you, but I'm going back to work.' That pretty much summed him up. He & I were the only 2 people left on the planet, but he was going back to work! There was no longer anyone to work for, but he was going back to work anyway. But that is my dad, or at least that is how I saw him at the time...a man who seemed to value hard work above everything else…even when there was no longer any reason to.

We were dragged to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night & Friday night. The Friday night gig with God was held at an unordained self-proclaimed minister's house out in the country, and it was hard core. I gave him the nickname 'Brother U.' We never knew what the 'U' stood for, but we saw it on a piece of his mail one day: 'U. Franklin Ketcherside'.

Everyone at Brother U's spoke in tongues, especially my mom. No one could outdo her. She was good. She would march up & down the aisles with her eyes closed while speaking in tongues never tripping over or bumping into anything. She would suddenly stop and lay her hands on someone's head and identify them. It was impressive. To this day I don't know if she peeked or not. She came after me & my sister once. We hid behind the pot-bellied stove so she couldn't get to us, but she found us, layed her hands on our heads, identified us & babbled away in some obscure tongue. It would have been cool if she would have suddenly broke out into Unix (/jesus), but it was always the same 'hush-ta-da-da Jesus' stuff. It was never anything funny like...jive (Ebonics): 'Who be de ho? She be de bitch. Oh Lordy Jesus!'

Whenever anyone spoke in tongues it was believed to be God's words, so it was the Almighty's job to interpret what he just said into English through another member of the congregation. It was like channeling. It was always some variation of the following message: "Be prepared. I am coming soon."

It was at the Friday night place, Mr., or 'Reverend' U. Franklin Ketcherside's, that I actually got up & preached a sermon, a short one, a sermonette. Mom & Gra Gra pressured me into it. I was about 12. I just got up and rehashed the same fire & brimstone bullshit I'd been hearing all my life. It went okay. I didn't bomb. I should have passed the plate & asked for money.

Another time, at my grandma's church, they had some hotshot preacher come by and he was calling souls up to the alter to be saved. Once again, I was pressured by mom & Gra Gra to go up to the alter, so I did. They kept laying their hands on my head, shouting & praying, waiting for me to give some evidence of having received the Holy Ghost by speaking in tongues., but nothing happened. I pretended to pray. The Holy Ghost thing wasn't happening to me. I was getting nowhere. Everyone was getting frustrated, so I faked it. "Babble Babble Babble." Then I heard someone shout 'He's got it! Praise the Lord!" But I didn't have it. I just gave-in to the pressure & faked it. Then I wondered if that was what everyone else was doing all this time, especially my mom.

My grandma, Gra Gra, did everything she could to oppress us with her religion. She loved us, I suppose, in her own way, but she could be cruel. What she did to my mom was unpardonable. She controlled & dominated her until the day she died. We all believe that the bulk of my mom's problems were caused by her. She jammed whole encyclopedias of Christian guilt into my mom's head. Even though my mom hasn't been to a mental hospital for several years, I still cannot discuss religion with her.

It is unbelievable to me that so many people fall for that drivel, even more so when someone with a liberal arts degree identifies with it. Perhaps the human race is, collectively, a gullible lot. Another explanation is that we are searching for THE Truth but we are such mental sluggards that we prefer to let other people explain the unknown to us…Even people like Jimmy Swaggart and Tammy Faye Bakker and Pat Robertson! By the way, would someone please explain 'separation of church & state' to people like Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed & the Christian Coalition, & the Republicans. You'll find it in the United States Constitution.

I have offered my theories on why the entertainment industry attracts so many sleaze bags. I think the main reason the ministry attracts the same 'class' of people is because of all the tax-free dollars.

My sister used to attend an Assembly of God church where, if you were a member, you had to fill out a financial report so the church could bill you for each month for 10% of your annual income. If you were late paying it, the chuch charged you interest and a fine. If you don't find that obscene then we have little to agree on. Talk about fleecing your flock! I suspect that is why so many churches push the virtues of meekness & all that 'be like a lamb' crap into the collective minds of their congregation--so they can manipulate them so easily. Once again, think about all that tax-fee money!

While I was waiting for my car to get lubed recently, I picked up a Christian Coalition magazine in the waiting room and read alot of it to satisfy my curiosity about them. Much of the editorial, as well as the advertisements, strongly urged their readers, the 'lambs,' to govern their financial lives according to Biblical financial standards. Huh? The central messageof this was that all Christians, if they are indeed true Christians should live debt free, take on no mortgages, use no credit cards, owe nothing. Do the Republicans, the Filthy Lucre Party, do they know about this? Would they welcome their endorsement if they knew this about them? If millions of people obeyed this edict, this whole country & its economy would collapse. Their reasoning was basically that if you owe alot of money then you will have to work too many hours and you won't have enough time left in your life to serve the Lord. Translation: You won't have enough disposable, tax-free income to give to the Church.

I once heard this on one of those 'Christian' radio stations when they were appealing to their flock, their lambs, to send money to their ministry: "Go deep into your heart and ask God what He would have you do, then be obedient unto him." They were using a tool they practically invented, guilt. Morally reprehensible. Talk about taking the Lord's name in vain!

Many of my friends and colleagues who are 'born again' have tried to convert me, to no avail. They mean well, but, having once been there, I see them as somewhat naive. They are people who hit bottom, who hit a crisis point in their lives. They were extremely vulnerable and--ZAP!--someone came along to tell them about Jesus. They grabbed the rope and are hanging on for dear life. My reaction is to feel sorry for these people. They have been sold a bill of goods that severely restricts the way they think, act and vote. They feel like if they let go of their faith, even a little, the bottom will fall out of their lives, they'll let go of the rope & they'll hit bottom again. And many of them probably would. The tragedy being that life is so short, and they think they have embraced eternity. That is the rub...they 'think' or 'believe' they have embraced it. They do not actually 'know.'

They want to have everyone think and behave the way they do because they believe they have found the truth. So we have the Christian Coalition who have backed the Republican Party, branding the Democrats as evil. Ironic that the Christian Coalition has come out against welfare, branding it as a social evil. I thought the central message of Christ was brotherhood & welfare. I don't recall reading anywhere in the 'Lamb's Book of Life' (AKA The Bible) anything like 'Thou shalt not give out food stamps,' or 'Let the needy fend for themselves.' I repeat: 'Separation of church & state'…it's part of our Constitution. Apparently corporate welfare is good & social welfare is evil. Rob the poor & give to the rich--it's the Christian way.

Now we have Christian Militias in this country who arm themselves and are willing to kill anyone who speaks up for gun control legislation. Somehow--call me crazy--I just cannot picture Christ with a gun, let alone using or even advocating its use. But take a trip anywhere into the bowels of this fair land of ours & you will soon discover that most of the people who own & use guns identifiy themselves as Christians, and many of them attend church regularly. I travel alot as a comedian and anytime I leave the San Francisco Bay Area I find myself in a cesspool of this mindset.

So let me get this straight, we are one nation under God, Christians packing heat against welfare and brotherhood? Hmmm. I'm least that what my veterinarian tells me. As far as handguns go, well, it's like the good book says, 'I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere.'

An acquaintance, a so-called 'born-again' Christian, once remarked to me in a fit of self-inflicted ignorance that she couldn't vote for Clinton with a clear concscience. Clinton is pro-choice on the abortion issue and, God forbid, he advocates a national health plan, which she sees, I suppose, as evil & demonic in some bizarre way. The Clintons have practicallty become the Anti-Christ, if you listen to what the Christians are saying.

The Bible contains so much information it's dangerous. It all depends upon which parts of it you write into or edit out of your life. There is certainly some good advice, like charity, brotherhood & human welfare (and not one word about corporate welfare!). Welfare? There is a 'biblical financial standard' the Republicans & the Christian Coalition have chosen to edit out of their message. Welfare. It IS part of the Judeo-Christian tradition!

Some of the Ten Commandments make sense. "Thou shalt not kill," yes. "Honor thy father & thy mother"…maybe. Why should you honor them if they have not earned your respect? What if they were abusive to you? There are alot of unfit parents out there. What if they tried to abort you? Not an easy subject, but it happens. What if your parents were broken-down alcoholics? It's hard to respect someone when you have to scrape them off the ground. What if they beat you and robbed you of your self-respect and dignity. How do you honor that?

"Thou shalt not bear false witness." Let's explore this one. And while we're at it, let's not bear false witness unto ourselves about life's realities. Life would be enormously difficult if you never lied. Everyone lies. The virtue of not bearing false witness is probably a good value to teach our children, but the time comes in their lives, often when they are quite young, when they realize that lying is sometimes a survival tool. Kids are natural liars. They lie to keep out of trouble. Why not? If you knew that telling the truth would get you into trouble, your natural inclination would be to lie. Once again, the simple truth is everyone lies.

When you call in sick, are you really sick? We all have different degrees of dishonesty in us. Some of us strive to be honest most of the time, some do not. I believe the most important thing is to be honest with yourself. That is a virtue. In other words, don't bullshit yourself. Don't live in denial. Look at yourself in the mirror & say 'Don't lie to me, fucker!'

It is important to be as honest as you possibly can with your loved ones, but total honesty can get you into trouble, can make life unpleasant for awhile, so you lie out of necessity for survival. How do you respond when your spouse or lover or yokemate asks if you think they are getting fat? How honest are you prepared to be? The most important question here is, if you actually said 'Yes, honey, you are getting fat,' would you say it again? Did you learn anything from that experience?

We are in such denial about lying that we invented words for it to cover our asses. We don't admit that we lie about things to smooth out our lives, instead we use words like tact, marketing, sales, politics & fiction. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm saying it's necessary, a safety valve. So, how are we to live our lives without bearing false witness? We can't. We teach honesty as a value to try to instill a conscience in our kids, but then they have to learn the delicate art of undoing it some in order to survive in our society. Some. We hope only 'some.'

We also learn to withhold the truth, instead of lying.

We could always rationalize around that particular commandment since it actually says "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." 'He wasn't my neighbor.' Why doesn't it say 'Thou shalt not bullshit?' That would be more direct. Since we are lied to all the time, how are we to value honesty. I consider at least 90% of what I read and hear total bullshit. And I certainly have learned how to use tact, marketing, sales, politics & fiction, but at least I can look myself in the mirror & say 'Don't lie to me, fucker!' I am my neighbor.

When I was in my early 20's I had many discussions with my then-girlfriend about 'everything' being bullshit. I had this attitude for several years and finally concluded that even though I couldn't disprove it, life had to go on. I needed to value some things, some aspects of life in order for it to be meaningful. I also concluded I don't need some mainstream religion to tell me how to think, behave, vote, dress & cross my legs.

I have seen religion help some people, very few people, but I have to say that that I have witnessed more harm than good. Both on a personal level & on a socio-political level. On a personal level it tore our family to shreds, causing alot of resentment, anger, grief, repression and regression. Having that oppressive religious presence in our family did more harm then any other factor. The physical & verbal abuse didn't help either, but much of the abuse was in the name of Jesus. So when the lady who lost her daughter and both of her parents in the Oklahoma City bombing said if everyone got back to God, this country would be alot better off, that if we all got closer to Jesus we wouldn't have people like Timothy McVie, I cringe because I know she's wrong.

Its not that I don't believe in God. I just don't believe in the same God most Christians believe least not based on the example they provide in their words and deeds. I would like to know there is a truly merciful God out there who loves & protects us, who has our best interests in mind. However, I am not certain this God exists, nor is anyone else...if you disagree with me here by stating you are 100% positive He or She exists all I have to say to you is, 'Go directly to the closest mirror, look directly at yourself and say, "Don't lie to me, Fucker!"' If there is a God, I am connected to him or her through my son & through my association with, and memory of our beloved dog, Bojangles, who was the most spiritual being I've ever encountered.

I know there is more to this plane of existence than meets the eye because of the out-of-body experience I had in my mid 20's. Sometimes I forget it happened, then I remember it and it changes my perspective. It really happened. I was reading a book on Eckenkar, the science of soul travel & doing some of the meditation exercises a couple of weeks earlier. I came home late one night, laid face-down on the bed...the next thing I knew, I was floating face-up in the kitchen. The details of the acoustical ceiling tile were getting larger as I got closer. I was also aware of laying down on the bed, as well as the presence of my brother sleeping in his room while I was rising up toward the ceiling in the kitchen. The instant my nose touched the ceiling, I jerked back into my body and broke out into a sweat. I was totally drained of energy and couldn't move from the bed for awhile. But I didn't go out and try to change the laws of our land to coincide with my experience. I didn't try to collect tax-free money because of it. I didn't wage any wars because of it. I didn't judge other people against my experience. I told a few people about it and went on with my life. I still don't know what it meant, what it was all about, but do know it happened.

My attitude is this: If you get something out of religion, great! Congratulations. Now stay out of politics, shut the fuck up, keep it to yourself. Leave the rest of us alone & we'll be just fine. Keep out of the public school system as well. I want my son to learn about evolution. By the way, here's an interesting fact...for the 1st 6 weeks the human embryo has a tail.~ How do we know this? Abortion. Hello? Gee, where'd I lose ya?

The downside is that I do not have all the 'answers' laid out before me like the religiously identified people think they do. Being agnostic, I admit to not knowing what is going to happen when I, or we, die. What I am saying is 'I'm an agnostic, but I don't go along will all their beliefs.' I do not have an answer for my son when he asks me what happens when we die. "One word son--Worms! Let's face it--You're compost!" "God sends little worms down & they eat you." I guess I could tell him about God, but why scare him? (Heaven & Hell)

I do not take my son to church because...well, because of our credit rating, but...I want to protect him from it. I have been a victim of it and my fatherly instincts are strong on this matter. He will be exposed to all that stuff soon enough without me forcing it on him, which I would never do.

One of my fears is that one day he will come home and announce that he found Jesus. I really don't want to go through all that again. Besides, when I consider the people who are part of this belief system, I just do not identify with them. There are 1 or 2 that I have befriended and I like them, but they are an exception. Perhaps I could do some aversion therapy on him by forcing it on him so much that life becomes unbearable for him to the point that he gets shunned by his peers and he loses all respect for himself like I once did so he will grow up never wanting to have anything to do with it ever again. But I won't.

Sometimes I get the feeling that if any one of those people who incarcerate themselves in the solitary confinement of the Bible lost their faith, they would crumble into a million pieces. Perhaps deep down they know this and that's what makes them so annoying to the rest of us.

This country was founded on religious freedom. It was that goal alone that led the first explorers to the new world. We wouldn't be here were it not for that objective. Let me tell you something you may already know...the religious right ( and they are not 'right' by the way) are NOT about religious freedom...unless it's Christian religious freedom. You don't think they're lobbying for Billy Wang's right to pray to Buddha do you?

Religion pops up in our consciousness when we are forced to deal with the concept of our mortality. We start to want to believe in a life or awareness after death. This usually starts to happen when you get to your 40's--back to midlife crisis--or when a loved one passes away...or in my case, both.

So, what happens when we die? I would like to believe that I will see my loved ones when that time comes. But I don't 'know'. No one knows. I cannot have faith in only one possibility.

I was working the Sacramento, California Punchline one week when, in my motel, I had the saddest thought of my life. That even though I will probably spend several decades with my wife & son, I will eventually spend an eternity without them. I couldn't shake this thought. It was unbearable. But I couldn't think my way out of it. It kept coming back to me.

Then when I got home on Sunday night, I noticed our dog of almost 18 years was dying. We had to put him to sleep the next day. It was the saddest thing I have ever had to do. My best friend. Gone. Dead. And it was basically my decision to end his life, but I had to, didn't I? Was it not my moral obligation to end his suffering? But who am I, God? His executioner? His kidneys were shot, he was blind, deaf & incontinent. He had a severe heart murmur & was having seizures regularly. He was laying on the floor Monday morning dying. He couldn't get up, he was severely dehydrated, wasting away from not eating for several days because he couldn't hold any food down. I laid down on the floor with him, cradled his precious head in my hands and poured my heart out to him.

Losing him was much more painful than losing my grandparents. I firmly believe that he had more dignity than most humans I have come into contact with. He was bright, loyal, playful and loving. A thousand adjectives, all positive, come to mind. He didn't ask for much. A pat on the head, a walk, some food & water, our bed to sleep on. He never bit anyone, cheated anyone, overcharged anyone, evicted anyone, embezzled anything, never went on TV to ask for money so God could heal you, never waged a war, was never involved in a drive-by shooting, never joined a gang, flipped anyone off, never oppressed anyone, didn't do drugs, never slapped anyone, whipped anyone, never pulled anyone's hair (although he tolerated our son doing this to him when he was a toddler), never criticized or condemned anyone. Although he was known to chase kitties and squirrels. But if one of them happened to stop the chase and stare him down, he would back away, figuring the game was over.

He lived a full life. Almost 18 years old. Yet this kind and benevolent soul was about to leave us. We were about to spend an eternity without him. I am choking up as I write this because I know in my heart of hearts that I will never encounter anyone who has more right to remain on this planet than Bojangles. It was my time to say good-bye to him. I was about to lose my best friend for an eternity, in about an hour. I had made the appointment with the Vet. I told Bo that if there is life after death that it would be a joy to see him once again when my time came to depart this existence.

Religious fundamentalists will argue that a dog, not being human, does not have a soul. Once again, nothing of this sort can be proven, though I am inclined to believe that Bojangles had more right to one than most of the religiously identified people I have encountered. A dog is a sacred being, if there is such a thing...certainly much more so than a crucifix or a tele-evangelist.

I met my wife at the Vet's where he died in our arms. He did not resist, did not even close his eyes. No neuromotor reactions occurred after his heart stopped.

Now there is a glaring emptiness in the house. This emptiness is as much present as if he were actually here. My 5 year-old son is taking it pretty hard. He is asking about death now. "Daddy, how many days do I have left? Who is going to die next?" You? Mommy? Me?"

He is having a hard enough time contemplating losing us one day, let alone dealing with his own mortality. Five years old is too young to have that much existentialism thrust upon your delicate, impressionable mind. 'Will this turn him into another Franz Kafka?' I wonder. Last night he asked me "How many days do I have left until I die?" I wanted to joke with him saying 'It depends on how good you are.' But I didn't.

So how do we deal with it? We tell him about heaven. Not that I believe in heaven. I only believe in the possibility of heaven. But it's a reasonable alternative to telling him that Bojangles was like a radio that we turned off forever. It's better to say his spirit is still with us, and believe me, I hope it is. It's better to fill him with the hope of seeing him again one day.

I am having a hard time accepting the fact that I will never see him again, never play with him again, never pet him or hug him again, never hear him go "GUH". I will spend an eternity without him, unless, of course, he is there waiting for me when I die. I realize that sort-of constitutes a religious supposition, but it not a mainstream Christian premise since they do not believe that dogs have souls & could not therefore exist beyond death. Besides, since I once had an out-of-body experience, I am very open to the possibility of life after death, which now becomes a rather pleasant possibility since he might be there.

Copyright 1997, Mike Welch, All rights reserved

Mike Welch


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