Who Will Save Your Soul?
Less Than Pulp 55
A high school teacher of mine once said that all religions boil down to three basic questions:
How did we get here?
What happens when we die?
How much sex do we get to have in between?
Of course, he’d hoped to make the classroom laugh, but he wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t see some truth to it.
He was an interesting guy. Not only did he use his World Literature class as a front for teaching Comparative Religion in a Catholic school setting, but he also taught a class called Cinematic Studies where we examined movies as if they were pieces of literature and not simply mindless entertainment for the masses. I’d always known movies were special, different somehow from television in the time before prestige TV, but it wasn’t until I took his class that I realized just how special they were.
Cinematic Studies didn’t have any horror movies on the syllabus, but during the last week, I was allowed to screen Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn for the class. When it was over, all this teacher had to say was, “Where did the knights come from?”
Cinematic Studies was a treat, but it was that World Literature (aka crypto-Comparative Religion) class that helped shift my perspective on things beyond the media I consumed.
Having come to this particular school feeling wounded and betrayed by the fundamentalism I’d clung to in the wake of having my life upended, I needed a course like this with a teacher like him. Seeing how all these world religions overlapped, differing only in the dogmatic details, showed me two crucial truths I’ve carried with me for the past twenty years.
First, it showed me that the details of these faiths were not as important as I’d been led to believe; these were only subjectively important, having only the meanings we choose to give them and not bearing some inherent meaning from on high. Second, I learned that there was an underlying truth to all of this, an energy that flowed through life, the universe, and everything—something strange and wonderful but also terrible that whispered and screamed in every room and hallway in the houses of all faiths. I used to half-jokingly call this “The Force” because I was a Star Wars fan, but the Disney-fication of that franchise in the previous decade has given me a bad taste every time I think of it. Now I just say “God,” even though I don’t particularly love that word either.
The problem with “God” is that for a lot of us it conjures a cosmic Santa Claus who puts you on the naughty list for things like touching yourself. I can’t think of a better word, though, so that’s what I use.
Having a nebulous, intangible but still very real spirituality is nice. I find it personally fulfilling, especially in private—which is where I believe faith is best engaged with—and it doesn’t come with the baggage you find with Religion. The challenge comes with putting those beliefs into words for others.
That didn’t used to matter. As spirituality is a deeply personal thing, why should I care if my trust in a cosmic consciousness, one that is both purposeful and chaotic, seems tenuous to people who need clear-cut, black-and-white answers when it comes to what someone else believes? That’s their problem, not mine.
Such an attitude is all well and good until you have children. Unlike the adults who give me a quizzical look when I throw out phrases like “spiritual, not religious” or “I believe in something, just not something that can ever be easily put into words,” I am the parent to these kiddos. I can’t say, “I’m not your daddy, figure it out” when I am indeed the father. I suspect that this quandary is why adults often return to the faiths of their childhoods when they have children of their own. They long for clear answers because it’s terrifying to tell someone who depends on you that you don’t have all the answers.
I think part of my reservations at giving my son a straight answer when he asks something like, “Is God real?” comes from a fear of him latching onto dogmatic details. While there isn’t always something inherently wrong with the details, we all too often get caught up in them. We start thinking reality ought to be a certain way. That other people ought to behave a certain way. And hey, maybe the government ought to do something about it.
See where I’m going here? It can all get dark very quickly. And that’s just the surface-level, sociological ramifications, not diving fully into the psychological or the spiritual effects. I don’t want my kid to develop backwards, bigoted beliefs all because I told him, “Yes, God is real,” sure. But more than that? I don’t want him to suffer the turmoil I did, always feeling like I didn’t measure up to a being who was supposed to be all-loving, or always worrying that loved ones who didn’t believe the same as me would end up suffering in hell for all eternity.
Here’s the thing: he’s (almost) seven. The issues I faced as an adolescent are not his issues; they may never be. I can tell him “Yes, God’s real,” and then he can then figure out his own ideas of what that means. If I feel him getting indoctrinated or adopting harmful beliefs, I can have a conversation with him about that. I can also tell him, “A lot of people believe in God, but a lot of other people don’t, and that’s okay.” With that answer, he will learn that a lot of people have different beliefs. Even if you put two fundamentalists of any religion in the same room, they’ll very quickly find that their beliefs differ in several ways. I can also tell him “I don’t know,” and maybe that will teach him it’s important to humbly acknowledge that no one can know everything.
I have given him all three of those answers at different times. The consciousness of the cosmos is ever shifting but also constant, just like us.
I’m fascinated by what people believe, even when it sometimes horrifies me. I hunger for meaning, even knowing I’ll never perceive it fully. Writing is meditative and deeply spiritual—yes, even when I’m writing dark web cosmic horror or about horrifically abused women who join a cult. It was said by the American Romantics that when attempting to depict the divine in all its beauty and horror, words will always fail you, but it didn’t stop them from trying, and it won’t stop me. So, with that in mind:
How did we get here? We evolved, but maybe that was by design.
What happens when we die? Energy doesn’t disappear; it simply changes form. Maybe the same is true for consciousness.
How much sex do we get to have in between? I don’t know, man. However much you’re comfortable with. I love my traditional, monogamous marriage, but your mileage may vary, and that’s cool.
Currently Reading: Devil’s Creek by Todd Kiesling
Currently Watching: 1923
Currently Listening: “Baby Shark” by Pink Fong (It’s always Pink Fong in this house.)
It’s come to my attention that some of you may have been unable to listen to some of the more recent episodes of Make Your Own Damn Podcast. One of our feeds isn’t letting me upload, and unfortunately, it’s the one that was connected to Apple Podcasts and Overcast. We’re aware of the issue, and I’m hoping to properly troubleshoot this week.
In the meantime…