I made a bad decision the other night. Like most of my bad decisions, I was very tired when I made it—and probably a little drunk.
I was tired from a long week at work; worn down by a routine that, for the next 40 years, will stand between me, a brief retirement, and my inevitable death (Strap in, everybody!); and I was utterly bewildered by a conversation I’d had earlier in the day regarding cults—specifically, Scientology—with a devoutly Catholic coworker.
On top of this, pile the latest Republican presidential debate that was waiting for me when I got home. So while I can’t be sure exactly what tipped the scales and led me to fix a drink that fateful Wednesday night, I blame Ted Cruz.
Suffice it to say, I was in a very weird place when I decided, against my better judgment, to make the following post on Facebook:
By now, I’m sure most critical thinkers who are informed on the subject know that Scientology makes absolutely no sense. But I always find it funny when I hear my Catholic friends (all of whom I love dearly) making fun of Scientologists. Just ask a Catholic to really lay out what they believe, and I promise, Thetan levels and the Overlord Xenu sound relatively sane. I was brought up Catholic and I was deeply involved in the church for a few solid years, so I feel somewhat qualified to give you the cliff notes:
Two thousand years ago, a woman who never had sex was impregnated by a Holy Ghost. She gave birth to the only son of the all-powerful creator of the universe. While he was on earth, he made some pretty good points on the merits of self-sacrifice and asked many questions like, “Why can’t every one just be cool to one another for a change?” He also used his divine super powers to walk on water, raise the dead, and defy other various laws of physics and biology. Then one day he was brutally murdered by the government, because, let’s face it, claiming to be the one true son of God can get the wrong kind of attention. But apparently, this was his plan all along because he came back to life after being stone cold dead for three days, so now we get together once a week to sing songs, make “charitable” donations to the single wealthiest institution in the history of humanity, and distribute crackers and wine. Except a man in a dress says some words over the crackers and wine and they become the flesh and blood of that undead guy I was just telling you about. (And I don’t mean figuratively. I mean they literally become his body and blood through a process called Transubstantiation. Google it.) So naturally, we eat and drink that shit, because how else can we expect to live in paradise for eternity (John 6:51)? No gays (Leviticus 18:22), no condoms (Genesis 1:28), vote Republican (citation needed). Because ‘the least of my brothers and sisters’ (Matthew 25:40) does not apply to Mexicans or people on social programs.
I guess I’ll go do the New York Times crossword puzzle, donate to Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and languish under the burden of my superior, left wing intellect. Because Xenu H. Christ, do I feel like a condescending, elitist asshole right about now. Or maybe I’ll go to confession and open a Twitter account so there’ll be a character limit on my rants.
If you’ve made it all the way to this point, thanks for being a good sport. If you’re upset with me, just remember, I’m nothing more than a silly boy with a Facebook account. What I think really doesn’t matter, but sometimes I just like to get if off my chest anyway.
I’ve spent enough time on Facebook to know exactly how well this would go over, last-ditch attempts at humility notwithstanding. I was fully aware that my father, my aunts and uncles, my many cousins, and a few ex-girlfriends are all on Facebook, all very Catholic, and all very bored with the adolescent antagonism they were hoping I would’ve outgrown by now. Despite knowing all of this, I still willingly, and with great malice, made my post.
At this point, Your Honor, I’d like to state for the record that I love my family very much. They are hard working, beautiful people, who place nothing above one another. This is a rare and special thing in this world for which I am eternally grateful. Over the years, they must’ve repeatedly voted (at secret meetings, I assume) not to revoke my club membership and to support me, despite, among many other things, my explosive tirades and my unwavering determination to make an unlikely career for myself in music.
So, before I go any further, I would like to offer up an apology for my behavior in the form of a much more concise, hopefully more respectful translation of my original post:
Can we all agree that most religious beliefs, by their very nature, are a little weird—no matter what your particular creed may be? When faced with our own mortality, all of us (myself included) have at one point or another said, “that makes perfect sense” in response to some craziness that most certainly did not.
I really do hope that this second draft of sorts will smooth things over—even if only just a little bit—because, in the spirit of mutual understanding, I’d like to move on to the point of this post: to tell the story of what has happened since I immortalized my opinions on Facebook.
To my surprise, the comment section never devolved into a shouting match. In fact, it was just the opposite. My post gained a little traction. My liberal contingent showed their support in the form of a few dozen “likes” and one or two “shares,” and my dissenters—and I know there were many—proved that they had more tact than the rest of us by remaining silent.
But I did get a few private messages. Some were worth responding to, most were not, but only one is worth mentioning here. It was from Steve, one of my dearest and oldest friends, and it read:
One can talk about any subject condescendingly and make it sound ridiculous. So what is that you DO believe in?
I know a deep thinker like you has an answer to that question.
It’s worth noting that Steve understands me very well and that we have a long history of late night conversations during which we have solved most of the world’s problems. So he knows the formula for getting a response out of me: (1) appeal to my need to be perceived as “cerebral” and (2) ask a tough question.
But I think what I really appreciated in this particular instance was Steve’s search for balance. If I am going to criticize the deeply held religious beliefs of others, it is only fair that I make my beliefs known and open them up to the same level of scrutiny.
So here we are.
Immediately after reading his message, the classic 1988 film, Bull Durham, came to mind. On the surface, this is a movie about baseball, but I think the real reason people are still talking about it almost 30 years later is its underlining tones of humanism, established as early as the opening credits.
Those who are familiar with the film1 will remember the scene in which the free-spirited mystic and avid baseball enthusiast, Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) asks the outwardly confident but inwardly insecure catcher, Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), just what it is he believes. He recites a list of clever, but deliberately non-committal beliefs, as if to say: “What does it matter what I believe? Instead, here is a list of (mostly) tangible things that make sense to me.”
Annie Savoy: What do you believe in, then?
Crash Davis: Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.
So without further ado, I present what I am now referring to as my list of “I Believes” (because calling it a creed seemed a little too permanent). I tried to channel my inner Crash Davis when writing them, even if I am a little more long-winded than he was.
Do your worst:
I believe in the freedom of speech, the Golden Rule, and the right to a fair trial.
I believe in the healing power of sleeping in on Sunday mornings.
I believe whole-heartedly that women are superior to men, but I still wouldn’t trade the ability to pee standing up for a menstrual cycle.
I believe that pre-marital sex is just good, common sense and that condoms are a necessary evil.
I believe in evolution, climate change, and the hard sciences—but I believe that living well takes an artist.
There are no true artists in the suburbs.
I believe that, in my lifetime, global population growth will become the single greatest threat to humanity. My views on gay marriage and abortion are consistent this belief. My views on the death penalty and gun control, admittedly, are not.
I believe that Prohibition, “trickle down” economics, slavery, Hiroshima, Plessy v. Ferguson, Nagasaki, and Operation Iraqi Freedom are the worst crimes ever perpetrated by the American government—but probably not in that order.
I believe the Electoral College and Vietnam should probably be in there somewhere and that I’m still forgetting a few.
I believe that morning people are not to be trusted.
I believe that I should probably stop drinking because I’m getting too good at it.
I realize the last two are related.
I believe that vintage country is the most honest form of music; that pizza and fried chicken are better cold the next day; that mixers ruin good Bourbon; that the hair-of-the-dog has truly magical properties; and that drunks make the best writers (fingers crossed).
I believe that music is the soul trying to get out.
I believe that The Beatles were the better band, but I still prefer The Stones.
I believe that it is important to be honest, even when it hurts, and that Kanye West is actually pretty talented.
I believe that Billy Ray Cyrus had good intentions.
I believe that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations, is filled with beautifully terrifying prose, but it is ultimately an exercise in blatant contradiction and cavernous plot holes.
I’d like to believe that if I were tasked with writing the one true word of God, I’d double-check my work.
I believe that Sharia Law, the Old Testament, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Dianetics, and the Three Laws of Robotics are more similar than they are different.
I believe that organized religion is an easy target for good reason.
Yet, even I could be convinced that Republican front-runner Donald Trump is the False Prophet and that we are living in the End Times.
I believe in a good book and that e-readers will never fully supplant hardcovers because bookstores smell too damn good.
I believe that if beer isn’t a drug, neither is weed; and that if Ted Cruz is an American, so is Obama.
Now, can we please fix Social Security?
And I believe I have the right to change my mind when I re-read this list in twenty years—if I’m lucky enough to make it that long.
Because one day I will die.
I believe I have a soul, but I don’t expect it to go anywhere good or bad when my body quits.
The universe existed billions of years before my birth, yet I remember none of them. The universe will go on for billions of years after my death, and I will remember none of them.
I believe that this thought is more animating than it is terrifying, and that life is only worth a damn because it will end.
I believe that this thought is more honest than anything the Ayatollah, the Dalai Lama, John Calvin, or His Infallible Holiness, Pope “who-am-I-to-judge” Francis has ever said.
If you disagree, I’m not evangelizing. Believe whatever you can to get out of this world alive.
But I will leave you with this:
I believe that humanity has a purpose even if we will never know what it is or understand it fully; but if people would take their beliefs less seriously, focus more on making this life better for one another, and stop worrying, arguing, and dying over what may or may not happen in the next one, maybe this world would become a much kinder, safer, and less divisive place.
Because I believe that this short life—this ugly world full of potential—is all we get.
One day, even the universe will end, and with it, God.
And that’s okay.
Because deep down, I think we all know nothing lasts forever.
Despite what we’d like to believe.
Image courtesy of Geoff Livingston. Some rights reserved.