Freaking Out Squares

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know Part 2

I've been doing a little digging into my mom's family's religious background of late. My mom's family is, for the most part, from Lancaster County, PA, which everyone knows as ground zero for the Amish. My great-grandmother Olga was from a small town called Falmouth, right on the Susquehanna River, just south of Three Mile Island, which you'll recall as the nuclear power plant that almost blew up in 1979. (You wouldn't believe how many people try to tell me that's the nuclear plant up the Hudson River. Do you think I can't tell the difference between TMI and Indian Point? Someone also tried to tell me once that TMI was in San Francisco.)

I've always assumed that Olga was raised in a strict Dunkard or Evangelical United Brethren home. A little Internet research told me that this was impossible, because these sects weren't established until 1928 and 1946, respectively. So I asked my grandfather the heretic what sect Olga belonged to as a child, and his answer was "None, really." Whoa! "That whole thing about how religious Olga was is mostly a myth," he continued, explaining that her collection of crucifixes and Jesus needlepoints was mainly "to impress people." That sounds like Olga. She was immensely proud of my grandpa, her rich son-in-law, when he made a small fortune in insurance in the early 1960s--never mind that she'd call my grandma every day when they were first married and tell him to leave the bum. So I guess Olga was a bit of a moral relativist, to put it kindly.

My grandpa is a passionate believer in God who is equally as passionate in his nonbelief in organized religion. He used to take a whatever-gets-you-through-the-night kind of approach, but the emergence of the Tim and Beverly LaHayes and their ilk in the past decade or so has morphed this into something perilously close to antipathy. (Hey, if George W. Bush could make Grandpa leave the Republican party, anything is possible. Not that he didn't vote for that stool sample, mind you.) I suspect the last time he set foot in a church was when my parents got married thirty-six years ago. Although Jesus is his favorite prophet, I've discovered (and borrowed) several books of his on Eastern religion. His, I think, is exactly what the fundamentalists go batshit over--a salad-bar approach to theology, with a firm belief of the power of the Almighty in nature. His solo journey toward this recognition is a bit too Ayn Rand for my taste, but I respect the hell out of it. It makes sense to me in a way that accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior do not. (As AF put it, "What does that mean, anyway? That you believe that stupid story?" In case you're wondering which one, AF is talking about the resurrection. I'm sure my grandpa can explain that metaphor for you.)

As for me, I guess I'm what you'd call a foxhole agnostic. Meaning, if I'm ever in a foxhole in Belgium, with Bing Crosby singing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" on the Victrola in my mind, I'm not going to get religion just because the Nazis are dropping missiles on my head. I'm particularly amused by the instructions on the back of the Jack Chick tracts that instruct you on how to become a Christian. They're so vague, and yet so repressive. "Talk to God in prayer every day"? "Tell others about Jesus Christ"? "Read your Bible every day to get to know Jesus Christ better"? Look, I talk to people about Jesus Christ. I've also read bits and pieces of the Bible (and bits and pieces of what other folks have said about the Bible), and from what I can glean about Dear Mr. Jesus, he was a Commie! Imagine that--the only born son of God a Commie Jew. If you've read Al Franken's book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, you'll probably remember the chapter in which the evil Jew Franken talks about how, when he was in rehab, George W. Bush favored passages from Acts. You'll also remember that portions of Acts were ripped, word for word, by one Karl Marx. I believe it was the part about "each according to his ability to each according to his needs." Hmmm. Somehow I don't think this is what Mr. Chick has in mind...

Nor is it the faith of most of the Harrisburgers I knew. The prevailing relgious dogma in Harrisburg seems to be "I've got my seat on God's train; tough titty toenails for you." Oh, I think they're required to witness their faith in front of three people or something like that--sort of like Amway--but it's still all about them and securing that place on the bus to Heaven. (When I was maybe three, I asked my mom how my great-grandpa Karl got to Heaven and she replied with a distracted, "I don't know...I guess he took a bus.") I don't recall Jesus ever bringing solace to most of the people around me. To me, Jesus seemed like a big dick--someone who hated me for my "sins" that I was, nonetheless, supposed to love and worship. Being a Christian seemed to give folks a license to be nasty--to me, that is. Because we didn't go to church, because I lived alone with my dad in a rented tract house on the wrong side of town, because we kept to ourselves. The Christian adults around me seemed to demand that I protect them from the awful thing I was, from the horrible things that had happened to me when I was a kid, because they were Decent Christians who simply couldn't be tainted by such filthy information. (Did you people skip over the part in the Bible about Lot's daughters getting him drunk and seducing him to preserve his seed? That there is some filthy information, if you ask me.)

It's been only in the past few years that I've been able to realize that what I experienced was not pure Christianity, but a bunch of emotionally immature adults enacting precisely that which they purport to condemn, the salad-bar approach to theology, and using it to abuse their authority, like Stalin did with Marxism. What I'm not entirely sure about is if this was calculated on their part or if it was something with which they'd been raised, something they'd heard for years and unconsciously translated into a gut response. And while I'd like to think I adhere to the whatever-gets-you-through-the-night approach, I'm emotionally immature myself, and too often I fall back on the idea that if it doesn't get me through the night, it's probably not working for you, either. But at least I can admit that I have no way of knowing that for sure, just as I can admit that I have no way of knowing if there is a God or not. But I can't simply believe.

Now go in peace.


Blogger Sean Dietrich said...

My thoughts exactly.
Keep up the good blogging.
"All my music is free."

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Blogger Karla said...

Thanks, Sean!

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