Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In God's Face

This post was inspired by Bobby and Lori Lightfoot. If you haven't read his latest, and you don't have a lot of time today, skip me and go read this and the comment section as well.

In spite of my bogus title, I’m not French. I’m an American of 100% Sicilian decent. My grandparents came from the same small subsistence farming town in Sicily. They were rough and rugged people.

I never met my paternal grandfather, but I heard the stories growing up. He was an atheist amongst the devout crying Catholics. My father said he used to fart and then say in their Sicilian dialect “In God’s face.” He didn’t tell me that story until I was an adult, because my mother was a believer – to a point. She had her own version of Catholicism where God was a very reasonable man. For instance, anyone could go to heaven, not just Catholics. The Pope had no business telling women that they must be baby factories.

Like that.

My mother believed if you were a good and decent person, you got to go to heaven. If you were like Karl Rove – you went to hell. My father was a cynic more than anything – he’d seen some horrific things in his life. Twenty years in the Navy. WWII. He turned down the purple heart. I don’t know what really happened there, but apparently his destroyer was under heavy fire and he did something that needed to be done on deck and while he was doing it, as he put it, “I fell on my ass. After it was over the captain offered to put me in for the Purple Heart but I told him to save it for someone else.”

I believed him.

Anyway, I think he was an agnostic. I know he didn’t believe in the whole Catholic mumbo-jumbo. Still, he dutifully went to church with my mother every Sunday until he got too old to go. He told me that when his father was a boy and his father was on his deathbed – the priests came to the house to give him the last rites. While he wasn’t rich, he had some land, some livestock and some money. The priests told him that he was going to hell, but he could escape that fate if he signed his estate over to them.

And he did.

In spite of all of that, I have to say that my Catholic upbringing wasn’t so bad. I went to public school and received my religious instruction at the church on Wednesday afternoons. I didn’t pay too much attention. My mother didn’t talk about hell. She told me that if I said my prayers and I was a good boy I’d go to heaven when I died, and I believed her. I didn’t want to be bad anyway, but it was sort of an extra incentive.

I don’t need to do a laundry list here of the evils of Catholicism. I’ve said it all before, and I’ll leave some links that the end of this post if anyone is interested. What I will say is this: At least they preached that you had to be good to be saved. God was watching you – keeping score. If you wanted to go to heaven, just saying you believed in Jesus wasn’t going to get you there. You had to be good. Not exactly a healthy philosophy, but at least if you bought the premise it made some sort of sense.

In my early twenties, I could no longer live with all the contradictions of any organized religion, and I became an agnostic leaning toward atheism. I believe in the natural world. I like to tell people, "I don't claim to know what IS going on, but I do know what ISN'T going on."

I moved to Atlanta in the 90's and I met the infamous Southern Baptists. The SoBaps. I was not ready for them. The word hypocrite is too kind. These people are wild, driving around in their Lexus SUV’s, their Hummers, their Denalis, their Mercedes. Supporting our troops with their yellow ribbons. Despising everyone. Doing the exact opposite of what Jesus preached and all the while not just certain, but arrogantly certain in their own righteousness. Certain that they are saved and the likes of not just me, Lori and Bobby, and The Viscountess – but also Jonas Salk, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, pretty much anyone and everyone regardless of their goodness, kindness and compassion – every damn one of us who isn’t them is going to burn for eternity. And, they are absolutely thrilled at the prospect! The last thing they want is The Viscount living down the street from them for eternity. They want to look down into hell and gloat.

It took me some time to grasp this. I kept thinking, these people don’t act Christ like. Surely I’m missing something? There just has to be some big pieces of this puzzle hiding under the couch someplace. I mean, The Gospels are pretty straightforward, aren’t they? The rest of The Bible might be difficult, but Jesus was pretty clear. You can’t judge people, can't hold poor people in contempt, can't support war for financial gain and can't screw people to get rich AND be a Christian at the same time. Or was that some other guy in robes and a beard?

Except down here, you can. It was explained to me. There’s a guy at my office who loves to call himself “A Conservative Christian.” He starts out sentences by saying “Being a Conservative Christian…” One day he was talking to me, and I told him, “I think Christ was great, but I have some fundamental problems with the whole story.” He said, “Like what?” I told him the idea that someone who had the "misfortune" of being born into a different faith but otherwise lived a life of compassion and generosity would be tortured for eternity if they didn’t turn their back on that faith, their family and their culture and become a Christian. On the other hand, someone who lived a life of greed and avarice, on their deathbed in their pain and their fear suddenly sees the light and accepts Jesus in his last gasp can be spared the eternal fire and live amongst the angels and the harps petting tigers and eating grapes for eternity. That just doesn’t seem fair. He could hardly contain his glee. He said to me, “Of course you believe that! You’re a JEW!” I explained to him that I only looked Jewish, but that in fact I was an ex-Catholic, and he said to me, “That’s GREAT! You can be saved! All you have to do is say you accept Jesus!”

And, he meant it.

*** Related Posts ***

Deliverance From Evil

Just Another Heartwarming Story

Thoughts on Religion

Never Trust Them Bible Thumpers

10 Comments:

Blogger Soundsurfr said...

Dude, you need to get out of the South. Having a guy start out a sentence with "As a Conservative Christian..." would just cause me to barf my Frosted Mini-Wheats all over his James Dobson lapel pin.

By the way, I looked up "pompatice". Websters had this:

Pompatice - stupid-ass non-word used by talentless songwriters with no concept of how to write lyrics.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

I'd last about five minutes among the SoBaps, but maybe I could take a few to Hell with me before they cut me down.

8:28 AM  
Blogger fgfdsg said...

Petty people with empty lives who will waste the lives they've been given in the vain hope of being able to have the satisfaction of feeling superior and looking down on us as we burn, with glee at the fact, rather than horror of seeing others suffer.

I always loved that REM song 'Cuyahoga' as a kid, for the 'Let's put our heads together / and start a new country up' knowing we could learn from the mistakes of the past 'Our father's father's fathers tried / erased the parts they didnt' like'.

Why can't those of us who *see clearly* and feel compassion just wander off together and start off our own nation?

Sometimes I just *long* to escape all this.

5:24 PM  
Blogger fgfdsg said...

You won't believe this.

1:41 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:28 AM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Damn, Simon. If I didn't know better, I'd a thought you got that from here. But then I googled and found them.

6:38 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

The best commentary on religious hypocrisy can be found at:

http://driftglass.blogspot.com/

11:56 AM  
Blogger Mumbo said...

I pretty much enjoyed reading this piece. And yes, anybody who starts
a conversation with...'As a [whatever]...' doesn't deserve to be listened to.
Take care, though, not to lump all of us Papists together. As in any
organisation, there are those who give us a bad name, including those who think they have authority...just be aware of what the founder said. Christ's words about 'loving one another'/'loving your enemies' still haven't been bettered. Those Southern so-called Christian neo-cons would do well to remember the
Rabbi-Messiah's words uttered 2000 years ago.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

Yup, yup. Nice. And I hear you, mumbo. These days good old catholics are almost a comfort to me.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Viscount,

It really bothers me as well when people are so judgemental and I am sorry to hear that you have had some bad experiences. Our tendency as humans is to always compare ourselves with others but the bible does have something to say about that. Romans 3:23 says that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The standard by which God judges us is His standard not ours and none of us are able to reach that standard on our own because of our fallen human nature. It really doesn't matter how many good works we do or how many times a week we go to church, we still sin and that prevents us from being in the presence of a holy God. Our situation is almost like going in front of a judge for a speeding violation after being caught driving 30 mph over the speed limit. We can tell the judge how much we give to the poor and how we have carefully read the "Rules of the Road" every day for a year but It really doesn't matter, does it? If we have broken the law we must pay a fine. In fact, we would not consider a judge to be very just if he let lawbreakers go without a punishment. If we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that we are all capable of the worst of sins. Jesus said that if a man lusts in his heart he has already commited adultry. How many of us have not murdered in our thoughts. That is why the gospel is called the "Good News". It is like Jesus walked into the courtroom and payed the fine for us. The difference is that this fine is one that we are not capable of paying on our own. Once we realize our need for a savior and what Jesus has done for us our response should be thankfulness and our good works are done in response to the good work He has done in us, not as a means to get to heaven. We have no reason or right to judge others because we are no better than they are. If you truly are a seeker of truth (as I believe you are) read the book of Romans and give these things some thought. God's word never gives us the right to criticise others. It is the story of God's love for mankind and the means He has provided for us to be with Him through His son even though none of us deserve it. That's also a little hard for us to accept because we always want to do it our way. Blessings in your quest.

George

3:23 PM  

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