January 16, 2018

Venus Fly Trap for the Religiously Unwary

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While it is clear to those who form the small enclave of agnostics on Doodlebug Island that Christianity is the means by which middle-eastern confusion was introduced to the western world, that same insight hasn’t disturbed the thinking of any of the many denominations to be found here.

But something happened recently which did disturb their thinking, and the rippling effect is only now beginning to subside.

It seems that an ecumenical spirit, flushed with success among Muslims and Hebrews, found its way here, and it prompted the dog-gondest outpouring of conviviality to be witnessed anywhere. All at once, and for no reason reason itself could fathom, folks who would not have credited other people’s churches as being other than insane asylum wards began a movement to unite around the palpability of simple, common belief–and this translated into an agreement to visit each other’s sanctuaries for the twin purposes of developing understanding and appreciation.

The accepted goal was for each member of each denomination to visit at least three other churches in a two-month period. Now, I wish I could tell you that the effusion described above achieved a happy or even a meritorious result, but it didn’t. And not for the reasons you might suspect. Oh, some refused to participate out of a dedicated sense of obstinacy, while with some of those who did visit, it served only to deepen the trenches of biased thought already in place. And, in those same people, it intensified feelings of distrust, and brought those feelings to public notice.

The question they generally asked was, “How can those people believe that?” Of course, as with all rhetorical questions, no answer was forthcoming, and it’s questionable whether the wounded indignation with which the question was framed could have countenanced an answer even if there had been one.

But with the majority, the questions had to do with, “Why don’t we have something like that?” And the “that” could refer to such Catholic practices as genuflecting and/or lighting candles or to such Mormon practices as baptism for the dead or eternal marriage. It wasn’t that people wanted to change churches so much as it was each wanted his or her church to adopt what each had come to consider good ideas and practices.

“Would it betray my Methodist heritage to accept ideas regarding transcendentalism?” asked one lady who had visited among the Buddhists and Religious Science people.

Several of those who had been raised to believe that their good works–assuming they had any–would be the means of their salvation rather liked the idea of “grace” they heard about. It was ever so much simpler and expeditious. They thought it improved their chances exponentially. By the same token, many of those who formerly depended on “grace” rather began to keep books on their behavior, apparently in the belief it wouldn’t do any harm to do good works, especially if those works achieved the notoriety of public attention.

Well it’s been two months, and the whole matter is almost forgotten. People have gone back to being comfortable. There appears to be only one lasting bitterness and, interestingly, it is among the ministers. With all the visiting back and forth, offerings fell dramatically, and this impacted the life styles of those clergymen the success of whose message could be and still can be measured by the size of the take. This, in itself, suggested to them they should squelch any newly-born spirit of ecumenism, and many of them were forced to the conclusion that it was a sad day their practitioners learned that some churches don’t have a paid ministry.

There were those of us who could have given warning to the effect that uniting around “simple” and “common” belief is a venus fly trap for the religiously unwary, for distinctions are often more a matter of words. Words have the tangibility of soap bubbles, the iridescence of which makes them beautiful. Their beauty is ephemeral, however, for as with the ideas they purport to describe, they are only the illusion of reality. Still, they do lead folks to form definite opinions about things.

If you have doubts, ask the readers of the Doodlebug Run-On, an annual newspaper which I publish. Based on their perceptions, subscribers are pretty evenly divided between lynching me or running me for Congress. Faced with but the two choices, and considering Congress’s penchant for solving problems with hot air, I rather lean to the idea of being hung.

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