I don’t have any religion, unless you can call loving imagination a religion. (“Nature I loved, and, next to nature, Art” —Walter Savage Landor) …Yet I don’t even love poetry and art all the time; I get irked by them a lot; I get annoyed at artists and poets and the things that they make; but I think the act of making stuff is skyscraping (think of Babel: and I mean this in the best way), so I claim to love most of the stuff and its makers because I’m convinced that that makes me look better.
Any present time is a new time and an old time at the same time. This day and age features both new and old religions. I consider Christianity an old religion, but there was a time when it was a new one. At this moment when I write, there are religions called Scientology and Mormonism, which seem new to me. Here’s what I wanted to get at: I hear a lot of people mocking these newer religions; I hear people making fun of the believers of these religions. I myself don’t like to mock or make fun of any new religions or their believers. Of course if you hear about someone getting abused by any group, as you often hear happen inside of cults; THAT is bad: abuse is bad, not necessarily religion itself. (Or is it?) I mean, it’s not like there is a religion that recommends overtly for its followers to abuse people. (Is there? Maybe I’m naive.) Abuse is something that occurs unfortunately between people in GROUPS of all kinds. Government is a type of group; corporations are groups; churches and cults are groups… Is Catholicism bad because so many priests abuse children? I want to say yes, to condemn Catholicism itself; but something feels wrong about that way of thinking: it’s too brutish to blame a whole system for the behavior of its purported members, especially when those abusers’ actions go against the teaching of the system in question. (But even when the abusers dominate that system’s leadership? And what if the abusers comprise the majority?) I’d rather blame the individual evildoers themselves; also, we all should remain extremely suspicious of tight-knit assemblies and authority, in general. Be cautious around any group that claims to represent some aspect of morality.
I don’t like how the above ended up. I wanted to go in a different direction, or to have a different tone and emphasis, but the ideas and words slumped around in a displeasing way. (It is their fault, not mine.) I really just wanted to cite (yet again) Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie The Master (2012), because I love how the character of Lancaster Dodd is portrayed respectfully and his religion is neither disparaged exactly nor condoned by the film. Dodd is presented as a charismatic human who has earnest aspirations and troubles. Some of his troubles are easy for me to relate to, and some seem unusual. His charisma I understand well: I have that in spades. Dodd’s character makes me wonder about the people who founded the other religions: What were they really like? What was the apostle Paul like? Or Joseph Smith? Or Sarai?
A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as, Monachism, of the Hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called “the height of Rome”; and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.
Those words are from Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.” There are aspects of the USA that I love, and aspects I loathe. Often I think of the most well-loved portion of my country as the lengthened shadow of Ralph Waldo Emerson. But the reason I mentioned Sarai above is that she intrigues me. (It’s not quite fair to blame the creation of any religion on her.) She was married to Abram, in the biblical book of Genesis. Sarah and Abraham. Here’s a bit from chapter 18 (12–15):
Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not, for she was afraid.
And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.
To be fair, Abraham fell down and laughed and doubted the LORD also, earlier (17:17); but I like how Sarah laughs inwardly and then denies it to the LORD’s face, out of fear of this crazy immortal. And against my better nature, I must admit that I like the LORD’s antics, too – the way he can’t resist the urge to rub it in: I know that you laughed because I just read your mind. This attitude – is it more like a spoiled child or a cranky old miser? (And does it really count as a laugh if it’s purely inward – so silent you don’t even crack a smile?) I believe this is why Job murmurs, in his final speech to the LORD (Book of Job, chapter 42; Jack Miles’ translation): “You know you can do anything; nothing can stop you,” and
Word of you had reached my ears, but now that my eyes have seen you, I shudder with sorrow for mortal clay.
As I’ve said before, I admire Jesus, especially St. Mark’s Jesus, for different reasons; but Jesus does not strike me as the son of the LORD. The LORD seems much more likely to be the father of Puck.
The LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them. [Exodus 19:21-22]
It’s like: hide those chocolates; I don’t trust myself, I might eat the whole box. Keep so-and-so away from me; I’m afraid I can’t control myself, I might “break forth upon them.” (Why would it kill you to gaze upon the LORD?) Now again I get to quote this line from my favorite film Wrong Cops (2013) – Julia Kieffer’s reaction to Officer De Luca: “Why are you being so mysterious?”
I think the ancient poets shared something of the devious motive that director Quentin Dupiuex had in creating his movie’s police officers, when composing their holy scriptures’ wrong gods.
Keep the people away from Jehovah, and innocent bystanders away from Officer Duke.
[Duke opens the trunk of his police car.]
OFFICER SUNSHINE: “Oh my God. Who is that guy?”
OFFICER DUKE: “Nobody. Just some guy.”
SUNSHINE: “What happened, did you run him over?”
DUKE: “No. I shot him by mistake.”
Then the movie flashes back to an earlier moment: in the front yard at his mother’s house, Officer Duke is wrapping up “the guy”:
DUKE’S MOTHER: “This is not how we’re going to fit in with the neighbors… Why’d you do that?”
OFFICER DUKE: “Shut up, mommy. Everything is fine – no one saw anything. Fate wanted this, not me…”
Mortals blame Fate, which is to say, the LORD, while Fate the LORD blames Mortals for fill-in-the-blank. Here’s what I find interesting: The two share a world that neither can wholly control.