Religion or Not

John W. Pinkerton

I never imagined that I would feel compelled to speak on the subject of religion.  Ministers and priests and rabbis have been hawking this product for way over two thousand years.  I’ve often been tempted to say in response to these folks, “We get it.  Please hush now.”  But of late, I’ve noticed a lot of the East and West Coast folks have begun to brag about being atheist.  I have no particular problem with atheists or, for that matter, agnostics, but I’m not sure why they feel it’s appropriate to make light of the folks who are not.  I know that believing in an unseen God may seem unreasonable, but it does help fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of the universe and is a useful reminder to us to be a little humble being that we did not create the world but only occupy it.

When I was a kid, I went to a Methodist church on Sunday morning, a Baptist church, within a bicycle ride from home, on Sunday evening and again on Wednesday evening.  In the summer I attended vacation Bible school at the Baptist church.  Frankly, I preferred the Methodists because they were not so touchy-feely; they preferred a little sprinkle of water to the full immersions of the Baptists.  However, I have to admit that baptisms in creeks have a certain charm if one can block from one’s mind watermocassins.  The Baptist ministers seemed to sweat more than the Methodist ministers who seemed to have better tailors and whose hair seemed to require fewer oil changes.

After some years of being involved with churches, I began to realize that there was a socioeconomic element to the various churches.  At the bottom of the barrel, I thought, were the Baptists, until I learned about the Pentecostals.  Next were the Methodists who seemed to drive mid range cars like Buicks or Oldsmobiles.  The Lutherans, the original protestants, were a mixed bag.  Not too many of these birds in Louisiana because the Germans mainly settled in Texas, not Louisiana.  At the top of the heap were the Presbyterians and Episcopalians.  They seemed to breathe a purer, finer air than most of us.  The Catholics were also a mixed bag economically; in Louisiana almost all Italians and French were Catholics.  Although formal in their services, they seemed to have a lot of fun in the social aspects of their churches.  The Jews drove Cadillacs.  At one time Alexandria dealers sold more Cadillacs per capita than any other town in America.  Most of the protestants didn’t know what to make of them.  But the protestants did know that the Jews didn’t believe that Jesus was the son of God; however, I never heard an unkind word from the pulpit about Jews: after all Christ was one.  Now the Papists were a different matter: they seemed to be fair game to the Baptists who, God only knows why, seemed to regard them as less than Christian.

Although I was sprinkled as a Methodist, I really didn’t seem to make much distinction between the Baptists and the Methodists.  Not until I heard a Baptist preacher in a major church preach a sermon which gloried in the death of Marilyn Monroe.  I was a fan of Marilyn’s as most boys my age were.  I know she exuded sex, but I really didn’t believe attaching the name of Jezebel to poor old Marilyn was appropriate.  Shoot,  as the song goes, a girl can’t help it.  I felt that the preacher’s remarks on Marilyn, one of God’s children, were way out of line.  So that weakened my association with the Baptist church.

I hung in with the Methodist church during my teen years.  Many of my high school friends were regulars at the Methodist church.  I recall one evening when I was sitting with a good friend of mine in the sanctuary for the evening service, the minister was speaking of Paul and his troubles in Crete.  I don’t recall which one of us whispered to the other, “I guess you might say he was up a Crete without a paddle,” but we both laughed, giggled, snorted, and gagged until we disturbed the congregation and the minister.  Not our finest moment.

One evening another friend and I showed up for choir practice.  I guess the minister, who was also the choir master, suspected we were there just for the girls,  and I suspect he was right, but we were sober and prepared to participate.  He was pretty rude and made it clear that we should move on.  He seemed to lack Christian charity in our case.

My church participation petered out when I went on to LSU.  It was not that I had forgotten about my religion.  I just felt I needed a break from being preached at, and no one was around to tell me I needed to be preached at.  As a matter of fact, I thought about religion a lot.  I had a lot of unanswered questions.  I recall one evening when I was giving these questions a lot of thought, it occurred to me that Christ and God might have some objections to all my questions about them.  Well, I decided that until they struck me down, they would have to put up with my questions: so far so good.

One of those questions has only been recently resolved by my long suffering thought process: were the heathens in Africa, and Asia, and the Middle East doomed to Hell?  I hated to just throw them away, and it was clear to me that all those missionaries were never going to manage to convert all those heathens.  What I finally realized is that all religions are a way to try to get closer to the creator, to understand his or her nature and his or her desires for Man.  They are all honest efforts in this endeavor.  However they are all flawed: they all need tweaking.  Flawed? Yeah, take Job for instance.  I had no problem with God making Job suffer to test his faith, but sacrificing all those servants and relatives and livestock to make Job suffer seemed totally unnecessary.  And what about their souls.  It made me wonder if I would be in Job’s category or merely a bit player to be sacrificed for Job’s sake.

Speaking of religions that need tweaking, Islam, the second largest religion in the world, seems to need a major makeover.  Islamists believe that infidels, those who do not believe in Allah, must be killed.  Maybe it’s just me, but that seems a little hardline.  As a Christian, I would hate to find it necessary to revise their thinking via capital punishment.

This is not to say that I have ever lost my faith.  But my faith is in a personal God: one who knows I exist and is not totally satisfied with my existence: but one who hears my humble prayers, not to say he’ll answer them, but at least he’ll give them a reasonable hearing.

It seems that the protestant churches went nuts a few years ago.  I know Tammy Faye and Jim Baker is an extreme example of a church gone wrong, but it’s not far from many other examples.  I remember when we only received one television station on my poor old 19 inch black and white Zenith TV, and Tammy Faye and Jim came on at about one in the morning as I recall: those were my drinking days.  I was fascinated that anyone would follow these two and give their hard earned money to their causes.  I started watching the show just to see if God was mentioned more often than money.  Money was the clear winner in this little charade.  Reverend Jimmy Swaggert, holy moly, what a head case.  He’s made the life of his cousin Jerry Lee Lewis seem saintly.  The roll call for these pastoral nut cases is long.

The Catholics obviously do not get a pass in this area.  When you have a church that insists that only unmarried men can be priests, don’t be surprised when you recruit a group that includes those who prefer little boys.

Many denominations along with the Catholic church still don’t allow women to be ministers of their churches.  Come on now, women deserve a chance to screw up just as much as the men.

The Jews too seem to have a little trouble holding it all together with their various versions of their church: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. There seems to be some disagreements among the flock.

I haven’t totally written off formal religions: they are really good at a few things.  One, their Sunday schools are good for putting a little fear of God into little heathens.  I don’t adhere to the belief that we are born good.  We are born as little selfish jackrabbits who without a little guilt about bad behavior remain selfish little jackrabbits.  Two, they do a good job of marrying people.  It seems to me that a union formed in a church before one’s neighbors, relatives, and, don’t forget, God, is more likely to last than a union formed at a court house before a bureaucrat or one formed out of laziness which is common law marriage.  Three, burying folks.  Although many times it is difficult to recognize the deceased from the minister’s eulogy, sometimes they get it right which is a great solace to the beloved or at least relatives of the departed one.  My brother’s funeral is an example of a home run hit by the chosen minister.  He was chosen on the recommendation of the funeral home lady, a friend of mine.  We, his son and I, chose a mature Baptist preacher, someone who had been around long enough not to judge folks too harshly.  In our description to the minister of my brother, his son, after a moment’s hesitation, described him as a man who “lived large.”  An oblique way of saying that he lied, cheated, was mean and little, and in summation, was an unhappy soul, a life filled with fighting, fornicating, and fixing flats.  However many people loved him for these very qualities, and many of his fellow travelers showed up for the funeral.  At any rate, the mature minister caught the drift and without giving him a halo, allowed that he was one of God’s children although he may have been adopted.

In summation, the formal churches still have some uses, but, for me, its a personal God that I look to.  As for the atheists and agnostics, I assure you that you’re welcome to your beliefs or lack of them just as the rest of us go on our merry ways. 

The scriptures tell us that God created the Earth in six days and rested on the seventh.  I suspect that the seventh day was the day he signed his creation by creating the duckbilled platypus: quite a John Hancock!


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