Yesterday I was walking the dog when I was approached by a man and two women in the park. They were Jesus pushers. As a nominal Jehovah’s Witness, I am not supposed to have anything at all to do with such folks. They admired the little four-legged poop factory that I was walking. They listened patiently to the story of how we rescued her as a puppy in the middle of the street as cars zoomed past. They wanted to know what breed she was, and how we came to own her and love her. And then, they wanted to pray for me.
Jesus pushers! Just like the door-to-door work the Witnesses do, they want you to learn to pray their way and believe their truths.
I shared with them that I was a Christian Existentialist, and that could easily be interpreted as saying that I was an atheist who believes in God. And I admitted to them that I have a personal relationship with God and talk to him constantly. I admitted that in hard times I don’t merely rely on science for comfort. I do know what grace really means. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” says the Psalmist David. (The shepherd uses the rod to guide the flock and the shepherd’s crook to rescue the stranded and endangered one.)
It is not in me to turn away true believers, even if I cannot accept the tenets of their faith. I let the Witnesses down. But I am no more a Witness anymore than I am one of whatever flavor of fundamentalist Christian they are.
So, they prayed for me… my poor health, my financial difficulties, and my little dog too. Their prayers touched me. Though I believe they needed the prayers more than I did. They were proving their faith to their God after all.
My own faith, my own spirituality is fundamentally simpler than theirs.
I am a part of the universe, and the universe is all that is relevant, all that there is. The universe is God. And I know my place in the universe. It is as simple as that. When I die, I will still be a part of the universe. I don’t need to live forever. Death is not the end. But it is not the end because when you finish reading and close a book, the book does not cease to exist. Past, present, and future are all one. The book can be opened again.
I appreciate that they wanted to offer me “the good news” and give me comfort. But I don’t need the forgiveness of sins they offer. I have forgiven myself, just as I have forgiven all who have ever sinned against me. I am at peace. Life is good while I have it. I thanked them and wished them well.
It is a difficult thing to be an atheist who believes in God. Sometimes it takes an oxymoron to find the Truth. And you often have to go heavily on the “moron” portion of the word.
The thing I find most distressing about faith is the fact that those who have it are absolutely convinced that if you don’t agree with them and whatever book of fairy tales they believe in and interpret for you, then you are not a True Believer and you do not have real Faith.
I remember being told by a Mormon girl in one of my classes that I was her all-time favorite teacher, but she was deeply distressed that, because of my religion (I professed to be a Jehovah’s Witness at the time) I was doomed to burn in Hell forever.
Hey, I was raised in Iowa. I have experienced minus 100 degree Fahrenheit windchill. I am among those who think a nice warm afterlife wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
But I am no longer actually a Jehovah’s Witness. So I guess that helps with the whole Hell-burning thing. The Witnesses are a religion that claims to understand the Bible is full of metaphorical truth, and yet insist that it is literally true. They don’t believe in Hell, which, honestly, is not actually mentioned or explained in the Bible as we have it now. But they do believe your prospects for eternal life on a paradise Earth are totally contingent on knocking on doors and telling other people that they must believe what you believe or experience eternal destruction. I have stopped being an active Witness and knocking on doors because I got old and sick, and all the caring brothers and sisters in the congregation stopped coming around to visit because number one son joined the Marines, and the military is somehow evil hoodoo that cancels out any good you have done in the past. Being a Jehovah’s Witness was really hard work with all the meetings (5 per week), Bible reading (I have read the entire Bible two and a half times), door-knocking, and praying, and you apparently can lose it all for saying, thinking, or doing one wrong thing.
According to the Baptist preachers, Jehovah’s Witness elders, religious zealots, and other opinionated religious people I have known and dealt with in my life, if I do not believe what they believe and agree with them in every detail, then I do not know God and am therefore an atheist. So, okay, I guess I am. If I have to be an atheist to believe whole-heartedly that everyone is entitled to sincerely believe whatever the hell they want to believe, then I’ll wear that label.
On a personal note, my favorite verse of the Bible has always been 1 John 4:8, “He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love.” That is why I claim to be an atheist who believes in God. I know love. I love all men, women, children, animals, sunrises, artwork, paintings of angels by Bouguereau… everything that is. And I even love you if you exercise your freedom to tell me, “Your ideas are totally wrong, and you are going to burn in Hell, Mickey, you bad guy, you!” Mark Twain always said, “I would choose Heaven for climate, but I would prefer Hell for company.” I am not going to worry about it. I will be in good company. Some things are just bigger than me. And trying to control things like that is nonsense. Sorta like this post.
Yes, the universe was not formed in a big bang. It hatched from an egg. And God is the Ultimate Mallard.
Anatidaephobia (pronounced anna-tidy-phobia) is a pervasive and irrational fear that you are being watched by a duck. A person with this rare phobia fears that somehow, somewhere a duck is watching their every move.
This phobia about being watched by a duck may seem like a strange basis for forming a new religion. But I may have had an epiphany as a child when a goose at Deer Farm Zoo stuck his neck, head, and beak of retribution out through a hole in his chicken-wire cage and nearly nipped me in my five-year-old neck. That epiphany led to recurring nightmares about being chased by a duck with large white teeth that looked like he had bad human dentures in his bill.
This I tended to interpret as a sign that I was facing a big decision about what I would attempt to do with my young life, and would do it wrong.
Ducks in the farmyard, you see, are temperamental, often impulsive, and randomly violent. They will punish you for sins you did not know you were committing.
So, in this Quackatoon faith in judgmental ducks who are constantly watching our every move, thought, and deed, we should be taking Saint Donald Duck as our role-model and guide. When we see sin and wrongness in the world we are watching, we must dissolve in incoherent rage. Point your finger. Shout things that no one understands. Get the world’s attention. Confuse them completely. And get them to wonder what they did to make you so rage-filled and dangerously aggravated.
Then, hopefully, they will realize their sin and immediately mend their ways. Or at least, rearrange their feathers.
Or we can rely on the incompetent vengeful wrath of Saint Daffy Duck to see the unrighteousness in the rabbits of the world around us, posting Rabbit Season signs everywhere, and getting his duckbill blown off via the shotgun of a nearby Elmer who has been tricked into thinking ducks are rabbits.
Well, that might not be the most efficient prosecution of God’s will on Earth. But at least it will leave us laughing. And who can sin who is laughing that hard?
At this point in trying to establish this new religion, I should probably be talking about financial matters. Where you can send donations to the Church of Perpetual Quackers? Will there be t-shirts with religious slogans like, “You’re Driving Me Quackers!?” Do we still bring deviled eggs to church socials?
But I can’t talk about that right now… a duck is probably watching.
Today’s sermon is a further attempt by Mickey to say something coherent about religion. I am trying to be a humor writer, and religion is a difficult topic to commit acts of humor against. People do not take it well when you put the heat of thoughtful questions to the personal mythology that they adhere to. They are afraid it might all burn away and leave them with nothing. It is the main reason nobody plays George Carlin’s comedy albums in church. And my atheist friends and acquaintances always get upset when I slip and make a statement like, “Atheism is a religion too. After all, it is a difficult act of sincere faith to believe in nothing.”
But religion is important enough to being human that it merits some daily and, at the minimum, weekly attendance to the fundamental ideas of it. After all, what is the reason we always have had and still have some form of religion?
Religion serves an important function in the lives of human beings. It is the guiding principal that keeps us from wigging out, being self-destructive, or going on a killing spree. Religion sniffs out the borders of our behavior. It gives us a sense of where the lines are that you should not cross. Of course, by itself, religion is not enough to save us from ourselves. It only provides the warning. The girl who hears the admonition from the pastor to not have sex before getting married can still go ahead and have four children before reaching the age of eighteen. Religion does not (or rather, it should not) provide the punishment for crossing the line. It just gives us the warning about the consequences.
I like the metaphor that Joseph Campbell always used in his insightful books about mythology. He suggests that if our lives are the hardware, our shared myths are like the software that makes it operate properly.
Our religious software has to be used with caution, however. Because, just as George Carlin so often used to gleefully shout, “Religion can be stupid enough to really hurt you.” It is hard to deny the truth of that statement with things like the Westboro Baptist Church, the Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials, and the Methodist Church Ladies who saw your kid running around naked in the yard.
But there is a reason that some religious extremes are dangerous and counter to the basic purposes of religion. There is reason why more atheists are generated by the Catholics, Baptists, and other fundamentalist religions than by more tolerant sects like the Midwestern Methodists and the New-Age Crystal-wavers. Intolerance. If you are too insistent that your religious way is the only path, and all others burn in Hell, then you have taken religion too far into its own dark corners and scary, deep crevices.
There are many acceptable forms of religion that have many good things to offer. I have never been bullied by a true believer of the Buddhist faith. Christians, if they are tolerant, believe in a religion founded on love and forgiveness. Nudists are sun-worshipers who believe in positive body images, communion with nature, and freedom of self-expression. Quackatoons believe in the power of Donald-Duck cartoons to make you wise and capable of laughing at anything. Okay, I haven’t actually established that last religion in the real world. But it could happen, in the very near future. We are going to need it if Donald Trump (not Donald Duck) gets reelected in November.
But the simple point of all this is simply that… we need religion. There is a spiritual aspect to all human thinking, and especially when interacting with others. We need to keep it simple enough for even the most simple people among us to guide their lives and their children’s lives with it. And yet, we need to also be tolerant enough to suffer fools like me to think they are atheists who believe in God.
So, to put it in simple terms, “Here endeth the lesson.”
I discovered a new artist today. I was reading posts in the Facebook writer’s group, 1000 Voices for Compassion. And there in a post by Corinne Rodrigues was a YouTube video by Andrew Peterson. And it was a miracle. I clicked on the video and he sang my soul. Here is the original blog post. And here is the video.
Yesterday I posted a self-reflected goopy bit of nonsense about how I write and draw. Today, I realized I haven’t explained whyI write and draw.
You can capture it in words. You can capture it in pictures. Like Andrew Peterson did, you can capture it in music. It is deep and profound and eternal… and you can’t really explain it, but it is the singularity… the right word… the way to caress the very face of God.
This music from Andrew Peterson is musical poetry that expresses love in terms of romance and religion. Love of the significant other is equal to and intertwined with the love of God. There is a truth in that, and a fundamental reason why despite how religion has let me down, I will never be an atheist again. Through the right words I have come to know God. I speak to him daily. I spent twenty years as a Jehovah’s Witness, even to the point of knocking on doors and sharing the little pamphlets that are supposed to contain the capital “T” Truth. I can’t do that any more, though. The thing is, they believe the chosen of God, the only people who can reach paradise, are the people who all say and do and believe the very same thing, the very same words. Anyone else is left to destruction. No paradise. No life after death. And they clearly tell you what the words are, and you must repeat them like a magic spell. Peterson’s music is forbidden. JW’s don’t want you to listen to anyone’s words but their own. So, since this is Christian music, but not JW Christianity, it is the work of the devil, trying to lead you to destruction. What kind of selfishness is this? And yes, I have repeatedly been shown the words in the Bible that say that this is so. But I have stopped believing that all words in the Bible are the right words. When the Bible speaks of love… those are the right words. When the Bible speaks about what you must hate and who is condemned… those are not.
You may have noticed that I have obsessively searched out and shared this Andrew Peterson music. I do that when I find the right words… good words… I obsessively want to find more and more. I did that once with butterflies. When I was a boy, I chased them down with nets and collected them. But you have to put butterflies in killing jars and then mount them on pins and Styrofoam boards to collect them. I realized too late that this was not the right way to treat them. You have to let them flutter in the sunshine and float on the breeze. You have to let them live. And so must you do with the right words when you find them. You must use them and share them and let them live.
Yes, the reason I write is because my life has been lived and it is coming to an end. But it is a good life. A life filled with wisdom and love and the very best of those words I have collected in butterfly nets over time. And I must share those very right words… and let them live because they are beautiful and true… and it is simply who I have to be.
I have always had an inquiring mind. That is a curse instead of a plus if your main goal in life is to be happy and unbothered by anything. But it has proved to be of benefit to me as I have become an old coot who actually cares about what is true. Yes, I am willing to personally suffer to bring to light that which is actually true and that which must be disbelieved before it truly hurts us.
Don’t judge me yet based on this next question;
“Did you know that the Democratic party is funded by billionaires who want to use the “Deep State” to promote their Satanic rituals involving the murder and cannibalistic consumption of human children?”
I hope you know that I would never promote such a thing as being true. I am even careful of posting this pernicious lie in a question rather than a statement, because that’s one of the tactics the malign promoters of this religious belief use, not actually stating something that will be contradicted immediately, but taken merely as something to be considered and discussed simply because it is offered in question form.
So, how do you tackle such dangerous nonsense?
I prefer the scientific method which provides the structure for your thinking that will keep you on the most likely paths that lead you to what is true and what is not.
Facts should be confirmed by multiple verifiable sources.
We don’t talk much about cold fusion nowadays because when it was discovered in 1989 by a pair of electrochemists whose single experiment produced more heat than what should result from the energy put into the tabletop experiment. But, as is required by the entire scientific community, it couldn’t be reproduced in more repeats of the experiment than those that turned out negative. So, even though Pons and Fleischman did an experiment that answered the dreams of science-fiction nerds like me, they are mostly ignored by now. Cold fusion? Only one flawed source, studied in 1989 and proved still basically untrue in 2004 by a multitude of scientists who wanted it to be true.
Consider the source for Q-Anon conspiracies. One (or possibly more) anonymous government whistle-blowers whose credentials have never been presented or identities revealed, and mind-blowing statements appearing on places like 4-Chan, 8-Chan, and Parlor to be picked up and amplified on such reliable sources of scientifically proven knowledge as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Q-Anon is not the only conspiracy religion out there. My friend Giorgi above has a more benign, but no less ridiculous religion that chooses to replace God Jehovah, Zeus, Odin, Buddha, and other religious figures and deities with Ancient Aliens.
Here’s a second and third test offered by Carl Sagan to use against their ideas;
2. Encourage debate from knowledgeable people from all identifiable perspectives.
3. Do not accept arguments only from positions of authority.
Q-Anon arguments only have the authority of repetition because social media endlessly asks the same “questions” over and over. There is no debate from any recognizable “authority,” just a plethora of unsubstantiated statements and commandments.
In a way, the Ancient-Aliens crowd is guilty of the same thing. They never have skeptics and debunkers on their History-Channel show. You never see Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society, offering his opinions of their conclusions on that show. Neither do they allow Christian theologians or Buddhist scholars to offer their take on what probably really happened. They do employ physicists, engineers, and historians on their show, but never the ones that don’t agree with their radical theories and conclusions. Since there is no real debate on that show and no identifiable peer review, that show does not qualify as History, let alone Science.
4. Don’t get overly attached to your own ideas.
If you are going to investigate any conspiracy that holds thrall a number of “true believers,” approach everything with a truly open mind. I actually believe alien beings from “out there” have visited Earth. That is based on things, science, and testimony I haven’t even begun to go into here. But I reserve my right to be skeptical about everything, especially my own prejudices, theories, and beliefs. Otherwise I could too easily get trapped into believing in the truth of something that I otherwise would recognize as false. This is the factor that has pulled so many of my otherwise sensible Republican friends onto the flypaper of spurious Q-Anon claims.
5. Use numbers wherever possible. Math is quantifiable information that can “prove” the facts better than most ideas expressed in mere language. It is more precise, and reveals truth in verifiable ways that no poet ever could.
I am known to some in my family (here you could read wife and sisters) as the family conspiracy nut and generally crazy old coot.
But I am not so crazy that I don’t recognize the dangers inherent in some the ideas I am talking about here. As an English teacher I have learned some effective thinking skills that protect me and mine. I can honestly tell you that these thinking skills explained here will help you too. I learned them from a friend who pointed me to Carl Sagan as the source of these thinking skills.
And to any of my friends who might read this post and be offended, I apologize. But you were wrong about Pizzagate, and you are on the wrong side of this too. Aliens probably did NOT build the pyramids.
I have been a Methodist, a Jehovah’s Witness, an Atheist, an Agnostic, and a fool who read the I-Ching, Book of Changes, thinking he is smart enough to understand more than a word or two.
At least one of those religions rejected me before I rejected it.
So, it’s not as if I am shopping for a new religion.
What is a religion anyway?
If I understand anything at all about religion, it would have to be this; A religion is merely a prescription for how you should live your life prescribed by a doctor who can’t prove any more of it than you can, but thinks he can because he’s recognized a magical spark inside himself, a tiny piece of the imperceptible Devine, and thinks he is then qualified to tell you what it should mean to you when you recogmize it in yourself.
And if I know anything at all about Comedy, other than the instinctive knowledge of how to laugh, it is also only because I have recognized a Devine spark in it and now have to be humble enough to admit that I don’t have anywhere near enough malpractice insurance to get away with prescribing it to you as a cure for the ailments of your own little life-force in the vast, star-filled universe provided by a laughing Deity.
But it does provide the answers and the cures we seek for the unhappy twistings in our souls.
Comedy, as practiced by the greats, doesn’t provide a cure for death, as other religions do, or claim to. But it does deal with the malady of mortality by helping us be less serious, and laughing in the face of ultimate disaster.
And have you ever noticed that those who might be Jesus in this religion of the chuckle, those who sacrifice their life totally to try and take away our troubles by making us laugh, those like Charlie Chaplin, Emmitt Kelly, Groucho Marx, Robin Williams… are really fundamentally sad people who suffered greatly in life to bring us the forgiveness of our sins in the form of mirth?
So, Comedy is my new religion. I will practice it as piously and as reverently as anyone can practice such an inherently impious and irreverent thing. I have not led a perfectly happy life. But I have found healing for my happiness in the laughter of others, and so I seek to create more of it. And laugh some myself as well.
If there is a Church of Sacred Landscapes then Bob Ross is its Jesus Christ. That is not a sacrilegious statement of bizarre cult-mindedness. Painting is a religion that has its tenets. And Bob Ross explained to us the will of God on his painting show on PBS. All the illustrations used in this post come from the Facebook page Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. All the wisdom comes from things the Master said on the show.
Bob Ross was the prophet of the paintbrush. He would present us with a lightly prepared canvas at the beginning of the show and then proceed on camera to take his brush and palette knife, and all his paints, and create a piece of the world before our very eyes. And he was not Picasso or Van Gogh or even Norman Rockwell. He was not a talented artist, but rather a very practiced one who knew all the tricks and shortcuts to sofa painting, the art of knocking out scene after scene after scene. He could make his little piece of the world in only half an hour, and he made it obvious how we could do the same. His work was not gallery quality… but his teachings were Jesus-worthy.
His work was natural, flowing, and realistic in the random complexity it presented. He took standard paintbrush strokes and pallet knife tricks and made them dance across the canvas to make happy little trees.
His painting methods presented us with a philosophy of life and a method of dealing with whatever mistakes we might make.
And of course, any good religion must take into account the existence of evil.
Bob Ross tells us that evil is necessary as a contrast to what is good and what is true. We need the dark. But we don’t have to embrace it. Bob’s paintings were never about the dark bits. He always gravitated towards the light.
Of course, sometimes you have to beat back the darkness. A good artist takes care of his tools.
Bob Ross admonishes us to look and to learn and love what we see. The man radiated a calm, gentle nature that makes him a natural leader. His simple, countrified wisdom resonates because we need calm and pastoral peace in our lives. It is one of the main reasons mankind needs religion.
So I definitely think we ought to consider building a Bob-Rossian Church of the Sacred Landscapes. We have our prophet. The man has passed away, yet he is risen to paint again endlessly on YouTube.
And if you are willing to try… Bob Ross will smile upon you.
If you could choose the time and manner of your death, exactly how would you meet the closing sentences in the story of your life? I don’t mean by suicide. That notion would disqualify you from this thought experiment. But if you could suggest to the angel of death how you would like to pass from this life, how would you ask her to manage it?
I myself was born in a blizzard in middle November. As Mark Twain came in and went out with Halley’s Comet, I would prefer to leave during the falling of snow. I believe it will be caused by a health crisis, probably heart related. It might happen in a hospital, but in the dream I believe to be prophetic, the angel enters by the front door of the house and simply announces, “Michael, it is over. You must come with me.” In the dream it was in the front room of Grandma Beyer’s house. But I have noticed over time how much the dream also resembles the front room of the house we live in now. No struggle, no violence, no more pain than I experience daily now.
I know it is weird to think about my own death like this. But I find it comforting to imagine I could write the final sentences in the book of my life. I am feeling ill today, and there are some reasons why I have been thinking about dying by heart problems. Yet, the last time I had my heart checked, it wasn’t that, and the expense of that emergency hospitalization helped tip me into bankruptcy. So, if the angel comes calling now, I will not try to avoid her. And is there snow in the forecast? Who knows for sure? And now I have told her what is in my heart about this matter, so the fact that I am a Christian agnostic should have no bearing on her decision.
Yesterday I posted one of my patented conspiracy-theory posts which was intended primarily to give my three kids more practice at using their Eye-fu skills. You know, that ancient Chinese martial art of using the dramatic eye-roll to combat the embarrassing way elderly parents have of saying what they actually think for the sole purpose of humiliating their much-more sensible offspring. So, today I need to humbly contemplate the many reasons I will not get any Christmas presents this year and begin to generate some holiday spirit to lighten the mood of what is likely to be a rather lonely Christmas season.
So, here’s a selfie from old Grumpy Klaus, wearing the aggravated countenance of the Jolly One looking at the Naughty List to determine who gets the bricks and who gets the lumps of coal… and who gets referred to Old Krampus.
Ho ho ho… kinda…
Having married a Jehovah’s Witness twenty-six years ago, I have gotten mostly out of the habit of celebrating Christmas. The Witnesses believe that holidays with pagan origins are from Satan, and bad for you. But it has been almost seven years now since they decided I was from Satan too, and so I stopped believing in knocking on doors and trying to get homeowners to reject their own form of Christianity because we are somehow more right than they are, and if they don’t swear off celebrating Christmas they are doomed. Among the many other things you have to swear off of for that religion. Like swearing.
Don’t get me wrong… Jehovah’s Witnesses are wonderful, loving people who care about others and whose religious teachings are more helpful than harmful over all… just like all other Christians who aren’t ISIS-level radicals. (The Westboro Baptists leap to mind for some reason.) If you really need religion, it is a good one to have. But even though my wife still needs to be one, I have begun to feel like I do not.
I personally cherish the holiday traditions I grew up with, and I really wish I could have shared those with my children. (This is another point for practicing Eye-fu right here.) I fear however. that like most devoutly religious parents, we managed to raise three devout agnostics and atheists. I have trained them in the last four years to like the tradition of making and eating gingerbread houses and gingerbread men. That’s probably of pagan origin too, but it’s too late now to save my sorry old soul from gingerbread.
Anyway, I am trying to look forward to the season of Peace on Earth once again. And though I will be celebrating mostly alone and ill and condemned by gingerbread, I do have pleasant memories. I can still reach my sisters and my mother by phone. They share some of those memories. And my kids will be around enough to eat the gingerbread castle I bought for this year.