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Why You Can't Go Home Again

By Carl S ~

My wife asked me to accompany her to an after-church party for her pastor's wedding anniversary. I have avoided telling her I don't respect the man in the first place, but it's only one of many reasons I won’t go. It's this way, if anyone is out of place there, it's me. I am an alien to that alien environment. I’ve had to go into the building before. It's unsettling to be the only free person in the place. No room there except for small talk or another unctuous utterings that begin with, "Sometimes the Lord." You feel like saying if faith is so important to you, you should be ready and willing for big talk about it.

Oh sure, the church attendees are tolerant, "as long as he stays in his place." Long ago, I was made aware of how African-Americans reacted to this tolerance. Church-goers are nice and "charitable" when talking to me. It's policy. And I do talk to individuals there. Individuals are okay. It's when they become members of group-think, which is non-think, that they become different. (But, since they're individuals under the influence, they couldn't understand my feeling, for example, the non-presence of their God.) "Home" will never be a place where my thoughts are not permitted, for my thoughts are me. And then there's the problem of pretending to believe: by doing so I'd be a phony.

Some things, like formerly enforced beliefs and habits, are itches we've had to bear but were forbidden to scratch, and now we're over-compensating, so to speak. Now scratching feels so good! Those who scratch where it itches are honest. I've always had problems with phoniness. For instance, when I was young, my family would sometimes visit my father's sister at her convent. Her conversations were all sweetness and light; she never had a complaint about the place, nor negative word to say about anyone. Unreal. (After 25 years, she left. It would have been good to hear why she left.) I've become intolerant of phoniness. I want straight talk, even if it's hostile and hateful to me. Yet phoniness is habitual with pastor and congregation alike.

There are things I long to say to my wife's church people, but can't. These would embarrass my wife, by association with me. I would say: "See that painting of Noah's ark with the animals? That story never, ever, happened. Personally, I couldn't live with myself if I claimed to believe something which contradicts all the evidence. I'd be fooling no one else but myself." (Even this some might find offensive, because it can be interpreted as applying to them.) Or: "One reason I don't accept the bible is because genocide, especially righteous genocide, makes me want to puke." Would I be permitted to read from the bible, any verses non-approved by a church council, verses all claimed to be "inerrant words of God? Why should it make any difference who reads them, if they are inerrant, right?" You can imagine the answers to them. I can't deal with their denials of anyone's freedom of speech, a right I swore to and defended after enlisting in the U.S. army.

If you take a poll, I'm sure you'd find many congregation members come from other denominations. That's freedom of religion. You can belong to one sect this week, another next week, a different one after that, ad infinitum. Now, Christianity claims they are all "the body of Christ” as per St. Paul. If they are, that body is unfit for the Special Olympics and the geriatric dancing trials. A more apt comparison: the Christian church is like unto a tree started from the smallest of sects, which has many branches. It is just one of the thousands of trees of the knowledge of good and evil, promising that those who eat its fruits will become god-wise. (And indeed, many of those consumers behave as if they already have God-wisdom from having eaten its fruits.)

Now some of those "fruits" taste like apples, and some like pears; others have bitter, ultra-sweet, and strange fruits. Many are rotten, while many, many others have become fermented and intoxicate those eating them. You may have found them tasteless. If you should taste each one of them, you might find one suitable for your "spiritual" taste buds. If you keep going, you'll find the tree to be just one more hope-searching hoax that keeps receding even as you reach further to grasp the fruits. Even having freedom of religion, you can't get no satisfaction. You might as well be changing seats on the roller coaster, or horses on a carousel ride. They're both man-made closed loops.

Changing horses on any faith carousel still keeps you on the carousel, so you don't make any progress in life, which inevitably changes in spite of what anyone prefers to believe. Meanwhile, you just kept going round and round. When you're off it, you see just how vast life is, how constraining it was on that carousel, and you want to go forward from there, not back, don't desire to look back, even as you listen to its cheerful music. Life is change.

It is comforting and hopeful to realize that all the cells in my body, once spent in the service of religion, have been replaced by new ones.

One year, my beloved and I went to an indoor yard sale at a Catholic church. On one wall was a sign, urging those attending to "come home again." When I wrote to the monastery on the 50th anniversary of leaving there, I thanked them for throwing me out. The unexpected reply came from someone who wasn’t there when I was, naturally. His response was cordial, telling me that those who leave take their experiences-convictions learned there, indelibly, for life! Was it their official way of interpreting that old saying about country boys: "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy?" There's no way in hell I could explain, or they would be able to understand, just how unrealistic their hope is.

Along with religions waiting for drop-outs to "come home," are others taking advantage of the most needy and desperate of humans. Still other "spiritual" movements promise we will find "meaning" by blindly following their programs. Is there a greed I'm unfamiliar with, this seeking and wanting much more than life is capable of giving us? Am I jaded in accepting a belief that I can and do find happiness, if not contentment, in merely living life? I would not want the contentment of a lama, priest, rabbi, pope, etc. For me, it would be a selfish goal, to be content.

Well, somehow, I'm going to tell my wife, "No thanks." I will have to avoid telling her any of these things I've written. I have priorities. Maybe I could ask her how she would feel in a meeting of atheists, or attending Catholic services again. Could she imagine the reactions of 16th century Protestants when they were told to return to Catholicism? Maybe my eyes would say more than my mouth. (You must admit: This is a helluva response to a little request.)

Most of what we say are appeals to minds and reasoning when it comes to talking against religions. Believers argue using their feelings as if they are uncontroversial evidence for truth. These are my feelings based on personal experience and observations. Home is where I am, not where I've been. And there’s no place like it.