Skip to main content

The Breaking Point

By Carl S ~

Is holiness sustainable? Those who really truly believe it is and therefore, really, really, try to live a holy life, are in for one hell of a lot of disappointments. The demands are too high, the road too narrow, the rewards keep backing away as one gets closer to them. We've all reaped the benefits of delayed gratification, but waiting a lifetime for rewards after we die is just asking too much, and absolutely frustrating with every bump in the roller coaster ride of our existences. The reason holiness is ignored and outright rejected is because it is anti-human. I think holiness must have a breaking point, and that if it doesn't break, something about the personality of the holy person is a strangeness nature normally aborts. I'm thinking: Just as the only type of personality which can sustain the horrors of wartime combat indefinitely without cracking up is a psychopath, so the "holy" person is also able to sustain the unending stresses of living according to religiously imposed codes of beliefs.

If there is one person who was the example of a holy person, it was my niece. Ask anyone who knew her. Self-sacrificing, generous, uncomplaining, praying and believing: the whole package. Her church must have salivated over her dedication while collecting money from her as she scrimped and saved. She found out she had the worst form of leukemia, and started going to Mass three times a day. At the time, I was myself a Catholic. Were I not, I would have recommended her remaining days be spent, just one time each day, with a lover who would give her sexual delight, rather than wasted on the bum of a husband she remained faithful to according to her faith's doctrine. She was a pretty woman who deserved loving.

After less than a year (if we are to follow her church's doctrine), she died from the disease her savior gave her. She was 44 years old. In her lifetime, any pedophile priests who she confessed her "sins" to so that she could receive Jesus in the communion wafer with a clean conscience, were anally penetrating little children. Her Catholic friends will tell you she's receiving her heavenly reward; I say the hell with that b.s. No offense meant, but martyrs bore me. As a famous psychologist once noted, "Saints belong in heaven; no one on earth can stand them."

Still, I confess, I almost became one of those sacrificial living martyrs myself. I was a teen who bought into that "give up all and follow me" propaganda. I "loved Jesus.'' Gradually, I wised up, and it really hurt. The best way I can describe this is by quoting from one of my favorite movies, "Dodsworth." I identified with the title character, whose marital situation came to mirror my own. I repeated his words to my then-wife of nearly three decades, after I found out about her sleep overs at her boyfriend's place, and came to realize she no longer cared about me. He said that love has to stop before it becomes suicide. She was not the person I always thought she was, and that made me mature faster than I ever expected to.

I should have learned from my prior experience, my "relationship with Jesus." It was about the time my oldest brother raved about a book called "This Tremendous Lover," namely, Jesus. Now I wonder about that: my brother was gay. Did those priests who created and encouraged my relationship with this "person" know it was all make-believe? I think they did, and when my abandonment by this "person" became all too obvious, they had to cold-shoulder me rather than confront that their years of dedication to "him" was wishful thinking and hope.

Hope, promoted in sentimental pop culture, is "the thing with wings." But hope is also the thing that makes chains bearable. If history teaches one lesson, it is that humans are willing to tolerate tremendous amounts of intolerance and injustice if they are constantly told what they want to hear. Slaves were told their heavenly rewards would be great. Peasants were promised the same. Humans do tolerate adulterous pastors, high clergy who exploit their worst fears, clergy who their take away their children and back-breaking labors, not only out of fear of confronting them, but because they want to hear what they want to believe. Those who rebelled found the hope promised by religion isn't just wishful thinking. Religious hope is a slow-acting poison.

Frederick Douglas wrote:
"Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you will have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them."

Revolutions, whether social or personal, are breaking points. The poison of hope and the illusion of change have limits. No amount of hearing what they wanted to hear would keep the disillusioned from rebelling, would stop the amount of water the dam could no longer hold. Organized religion holds its power over the masses, or individuals like you, by telling them what they want to believe and what they must hope for. Like a beautiful spouse or a promising savior, it tears your heart out when its adulterous betrayals are discovered, and hope dies when the promises are revealed as lies. Sentimental pop culture tells you what you want to hear: it says, "Love, forever." Reality teaches that love too, can die. This includes love for God or Jesus, or any of the other equally imaginary gods. If you still believe in them, well then you're believing in what you prefer to believe in your mind.

But when it's over, it's over. You can pretend otherwise, but then it's like carrying around a dead fetus inside you. The rest of the world may not see the difference in your appearance or daily manners, but you know it, and it's unhealthy. I never thought about how it would be when my illusions about the love of God would die inside me, and then it happened to me. All that effort expended in loving the unseen, only to have it end in a spontaneous abortion! When it happens in a woman's pregnancy, people say, "That means it was never meant to be." They say pretty much the same about an aborted love relationship. The death of illusions is part of life experiences, useful lessons urging you to be more careful who you love the next time. I found a replacement for the one I loved, the one who disillusioned me so thoroughly, and love happened to us together. And I refuse to pretend to carry within me the stillborn god I am told exists.

Relationships change. I read a magazine article about wives discussing their husbands. What they found is that the positive "attributes" that attracted them to marry those men had become, over time, deficits, even negatives. The originally "ambitious" were described as, "He has no time for me. All he wants to do is work." The originally "attentive" is now, "A nuisance. He drives me crazy waiting on me." Over time, "Assertive" has become, "Demanding. Pushy. Selfish." Of course we're all familiar with, "he made me laugh so much...", which becomes, "If I hear that joke one more time..." And holy men are such a bore that you wonder how their spouses deal with them. (Maybe it's one reason some clerics’ wives let's them be unfaithful: it proves he's at least capable of passion.)

So, I'm going to say that the golden glow of Jesus, which attracts so many to Jesus in the first place, fades fast when there's no response from him, and one finds out what a cad he really was by reading the scriptures. Just like love dying short of suicide, keeping up even the appearance of loving him becomes an onerous burden. And listening to others praising him is such a bore after you've lived with the real him for a while. After all, you can't even rationalize that the sex is good, because there isn't any, and he isn't leaving you anything in the upcoming divorce settlement.

As a husband or wife becomes more involved with religion, does that person invest less emotionally in his or her spouse? What if this is possible? A novel by Joyce Carole Oates, "Son of the Morning," is about a couple with one son who becomes an evangelical celebrity and the effect this has on his parent's marriage. As the mother gets increasing wrapped up in her son's mission, the commitment to her husband fades away. There is almost an element of incest humming underneath it. I don't know if any studies have been done about how marital relationships are affected by high religiosity. It would be interesting if spouses would be aware of this; those spouses who don't want to play second fiddle to "God" or "Jesus."

Holiness was such a bore. And I had it pretty bad. Now I have a wife who I adore. It's even a pleasure, with her, to be sad. To love and be loved by a real flesh and blood person - that’s a relationship.