Which religion is right?

Good question! But first a joke.

Cammy: Isn’t Rob being a pain in the gneck about these reports?
Josh: Don’t you mean neck?
Cammy: Yeah. What’d I say?
[Cubist prostitutes clap]

Now to the big question, WHICH RELIGION IS RIGHT? 

One answer to this important question is: Mine. Have a pamphlet.

Another way to answer it is by answering the question, WHAT YEAR IS IT? (Thanks, disgraced comedian Louis CK, for this observation.) Obviously Christianity is the winner, since it’s determining how we mark time, for Christ’s sake! There are thousands of religions, many of them dead (RIP, Zoroastrianism), so whichever is currently in the lead must be right, RIGHT? Of course that means that devourer of children and born-again Christian JEFFREY DAHMER can look forward to paradise, while Hindu heathen GHANDI burns in hell for all time, but hey, 2.5 billion people can’t be wrong. Just look at the calendar. Case closed.

Marx famously stated that religion is the SODA POP of the masses. (Was that Groucho or Harpo? I always forget.) They’re cheap, refreshing and addictive, and Christianity is the most popular one. It’s COLA, OK?

But here is the thing, you have lots of different kinds of cola/Christianity—Coke is Catholicism, Pepsi is Protestantism, RC is Rasta, and so on—how do you know which one of them is right? I mean, you might be drinking a Pepsi on your death bed, thinking you’re aces, but then surprise! You end up in the lake of fire for all eternity, because it turns out sugar-free Tab was the right one, AND THEY DON’T EVEN MAKE IT ANYMORE! Cosmic bummer, man!

When I was a kid growing up drinking Pepsi, I was actually under the impression that Coke wasn’t the real thing©, and lots of others weren’t even cola at all. (By the way, if you didn’t click the link there, do it now. It’s totally worth it. We’ll wait for you.)

And you thought I was just being clever with the cola/Christianity connection.

My dad was a Pepsi Pastor. He and everyone around me in the Pepsi-verse would talk in foreboding tones about “false soda”, and the dangers of dabbling in it. Satan would like nothing more than to catch you enjoying a nice bottle of “Coca-Colla”, friends! I didn’t even know until recently that RC, Bubba and OK were just different kinds of cola. (Rastafarianism, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course.) I thought they were different gates to hell.

As it turns out, though, my cola analogy is LAUGHABLY INADEQUATE. My Infallible Invisible Friend, the Internet tells me that there are three main beverage companies[1] producing roughly 990 types of ALL SOFT DRINKS. Compare that with six major Christian brands[2] (with Catholicism enjoying a cool 50% market share) and roughly 45,000 denominations[3]. Even if you assume that the majority of those have only like two members, that still indicates a lot of fundamental disagreement for a group that supposedly all have the same CEO and mission statement. But keep on fightin’ the good fight, Stevedorians! Someday the world will see that you guys are right.[4]

Apparently this ISM SCHISM thing has been a problem all the way back since the beginning, with both Jesus and Paul urging followers to be “perfectly united in mind and thought”[5]. I guess they glossed over  the first rule of New Religion Management, entitled Herding Cats.

Forget about denominations, though. There wasn’t even consistency within one church when I was growing up. Drinking, drugs and fornication put you on the fast track to the burny place, but so did going to the movies, listening to popular music, and dancing (“Just a vertical expression of a horizontal desire, friends”). Yet my church pals’ parents were always taking them to the latest Star Wars flick, and in sixth grade they actually taught us to dance—with girls—in PE! I even heard church adults let the F-, D-, and Sh-word slip from time to time. It was confusing. I mean everybody knows how bad hell is, but there go Rob and Cammy, bopping around to Duran Duran, and nobody’s even saying anything. Later in life I met Christians who drank or cursed or had attitudes like, Yeah I am a Christian, but I respect other beliefs, ya know? Cool, but pretty unchristian really, if you read the Bible and all. I guess?

I thought there was one playbook. Why does the right religion have A MILLION FRICKIN’ PLAYBOOKS?!

Fortunately, noted Christian apologist and Narnia guy, CS Lewis came along two millennia after Christ to clear up this embarrassing problem. The solution? Don’t call it a problem! Sure, you all over here believe FAITH is the way into heaven, and you all over there are sure GOOD WORKS will get you in, and y’all over yonder insist that playing with snakes is the ticket. What we need to focus on is our shared beliefs—mere Christianity, he coyishly called it. God, Jesus, Resurrection and Final Judgment. Heaven and hell. Maybe purgatory. Most likely the Trinity. All the rest is window dressing, see? It ain’t so hard! Oh yeah, the miracles. Gotta believe in those. Most of them. Everyone agree which ones? No? Damn.  

I have strong evidence that Christians themselves don’t actually believe in their own beliefs. Not PROOF, mind you, but evidence:

Not one single Christian I know has shown even mild concern that I’m headed to hell right now, like imminently! That includes the fundamentalist ones, too! They obviously don’t think it’s a big deal. Why the hell is no one trying to stop me from going to hell??? It’s perplexing, not to mention it hurts my feelings. It’d be super annoying if they did, but at least I’d know they cared.

Allow me to illustrate with a colorful analogy.  

Farfles is your meth-head neighbor’s starved, rabid pit bull. You’ve never seen Farfles, but your other neighbors warned you, she attacks on sight; she actually tore off the leg of a mail carrier one time! Sometimes you feel her chilling presence just beyond the blackberry brambles on the other side of the fence, and at night you swear you can hear her growls of hunger, pain and insanity.

So one day you and Josh are in the back yard shooting some skeet or whatever, and Josh goes, Hey I’ma hop over the fence and go pet Farfles! Even though you haven’t actually seen this maniac dog, you firmly believe it’s there and will tear Josh’s leg off. Or worse!

You say, Well, OK.

Remotely realistic? Even if it wasn’t Josh, just some stranger, you’d be getting him in an arm bar and saying, Whoa, buddy. Can’t let you do that. Farfles will mess you UP! You would do everything in your power to stop Josh. But no. You just let him hop into hell. It’s like you don’t really believe hell even exists.

BUT! Maybe there is a simple explanation.

Pit bulls and neighbors and meth-head neighbors with pit bulls are all things that almost no one in the world would need to see to believe; they require no explanation. No one is coming to blows arguing over the definition of these things. They are universally acknowledged regardless of religious affiliation. God, hell and all that, not so much. Even among Christians.

So where does that leave us in our quest to find the right religion? Well, during my digging I came upon this interesting factoid from the Pew Research Center, which studies stinky church benches:

About 90% of Christians live in countries where Christians are in the majority; only about 10% of Christians worldwide live as minorities.[6]

No shit, Pew! On the one hand that seems like a no-brainer; I’m sure a lot of things are like that. It’s like going into a packed restaurant where you can either have the buffet or order off the menu, but everyone is having the buffet and loving it. They won’t shut up about how great the damned buffet is. The buffet probably seems like the right thing to you, too. The right thing is just what everybody else is having.

What makes it interesting is that even though Christianity is currently winning, and therefore the right thing to have, it’s mostly winning where people are already Christian (and gaining where people are poorest and least educated, but I’ll steer clear of that fun detail for now). That means it’s closely tied to geography. Truth is tied to geography, not, you know, just BEING TRUE. Like gravity is a thing in Nigeria and Mississippi, but the Japanese aren’t really buying it. Something’s not right about that.

Next in Religious>>

NOTES

[1] Coke, Pepsi and… Dr. Pepper?!?

[2] Or three. Or four or five, plus “other”. It’s too complicated to be funny, so I simplified. Get all the deets from my peeps at Pew.

[3] Line 45 of this chart, which has some other fun stats, such as “Non-Christians who know a Christian”, and my favorite, “Ecclesiastical crime”. Dibs on that band name!

[4] A minor Protestant denomination founded in New Jersey in 1976 by Steve Dorian and his friend Josh, which holds that the story of Jesus’s humble beginnings as a carpenter somewhat misses the mark. Jesus was actually a stevedore known for his skill at quickly constructing elaborate crates for the shipping industry around the Sea of Galilee. This is what attracted people’s attention, particularly the local fishermen, who began to swap tales of Jesus’s feats until he had attained cult status among them. It’s all chronicled in the sacred Stevedorian text, Jesus Christ, Stevedore, which allegedly came to Mr. Dorian in a series of visions he had while under the influence of “The Sacrament” (weed). [Citation needed]

[5] It’s somewhere in there.

[6] PEEEEEW!

Self improvement

I’m thinking of having my nose removed. It’s nothing but trouble anyway. Always itching or tickling or runny, and of course there’s nothing I can do about it in my condition. I could do it for free, too. I meet my deductible in like January, thanks to this medication I’m on that’s like ten thousand a month. That’s how I got my free vasectomy. Pretty sweet deal, since those usually go for a thousand if you want a decent one. (Eight bucks on Amazon, if you’re shopping around.)

Read More »

Cease and desist

If my faithful readers are perplexed by my most recent post, Volga P, it’s because I got my first Cease and Desist! Sort of. Let me explain.

A little while back a disgruntled reader sent me correspondence to the effect that she did not at all like having information about herself “in the public domain”, and demanded that all references to her be removed immediately. Apparently she felt that a series of stories I had posted were about her.

This put me in quite a bind, as, although I hate to disgruntle anyone, the stories in question formed the backbone of an arc spanning several years of my younger days. Without them other stories would make no sense. Removing them would leave a giant gap and—how shall I put it—fuck everything up. Not only that, but I would be throwing away months of hard work typing with my eyes.

In the end though, I grudgingly deleted the offending posts. The plaintiff’s shrill emotional tone (while attempting to sound as lawyer-y as possible) led me to conclude that I don’t have time for this shit. I hit DELETE.

Once my anger wore off, I got to work on a little “patch” of a post, the almost entirely fictitious account of Volga P. I ended up having much more fun writing it than I did the earlier posts even, and I sincerely hope it entertains, if not outright gruntles you.

Thank you for your continued support.

Mark

Portland II: The Hell Cows house

Winter 1991

Eddie and Annie’s House of Flying Toasters had been a slice, and I had learned valuable lessons about humanity there. But I needed to regroup after the zaniness, and also I looked forward to living with people closer to my own age. Fortunately, there was attic space available at The Hell Cows house.Read More »

Should I pray?

Good question! But first a joke.

Q: What do you call a paralyzed shark?
A: A quadri-pelagic.
[sardines applaud]

So there you are, plunging off a thousand-foot cliff, and miraculously you have the presence of mind to text me this important question. Not that impressive as far as miracles go, since by now you are either a comical you-shaped pancake lying on the canyon floor, or you just went ahead and prayed and your life was spared. Hosanna! In any case, I’m flattered that you thought of me. Maybe not flatter than you though. (Get it?)Read More »

Portland I: 47th & Flanders

Fall, 1990

Portland, Oregon was both a big town and a small city, and that made the move easier. On the one hand, I couldn’t wait to get the F out of the grimy little town I was from. On the other hand, I’d been in a few big cities during my travels, and while they were fun places to visit, I never wanted to live in one. Portland felt just right. Soggy maybe, but I thought I could get used to that. Plus, my older brother Nathan lived there, so I figured the transition would be a snap.Read More »