Personal Voices: The Irritation
When did religion become so public? Weren't religion and politics topics we were supposed to keep quiet about? OK, maybe keeping quiet about politics is going too far. But I am longing for the good old days when it was impolite to talk about religion. I do not want to know about your religion, and I am certainly not going to tell you about mine -- I won't even tell you if I have a religion. And if I hear one more newscaster talk about that Mel Gibson movie, I am going to scream!
I was raised Catholic in a small town. Every Sunday morning, my father and I got up at 5 a.m., or thereabouts, to go to 6 a.m. mass. We went early because we weren't allowed to eat before we had communion. The sooner we went to church and had communion, the sooner we got to eat. Usually, we ended up outside where I puked in the bushes. I have never been able to fast. Afterwards we went to my grandmother's house. She fed us eggs, sausages, pancakes, potatoes, toast, and orange juice while she talked about what everyone was wearing in church and who had come in late. That was the closest my grandmother and I ever came to talking about religion. It just wasn't done.
When my older sister was in high school her best friend was Baptist. She told my sister because we were Catholic we were idol worshipers. We had no idea what she was talking about. "She also said we're sinners because we dance," my sister said. "Huh," I said, shrugging. We turned up the radio and danced around the room to Aretha Franklin singing, "Respect." That was the closest my sister and I ever came to talking about religion.
OK. I guess when I was studying for confirmation I may have talked about religion with the nuns. Maybe in catechism we may have discussed a thing or two about religion. What I remember is that the nuns told us great stories. Parables I think they called them. I thought it would be wonderful to be able to tell stories the way they did. It never occurred to me, however, to talk to anyone outside of our church about religion. My relationship (or non-relationship) with God was an extremely intimate thing. It was not something we talked about.
When I was in high school, I read Exodus by Leon Uris. It was over 1,300 pages long. I told my English teacher, who happened to be Jewish, that I wanted to convert and move to Israel and live on a kibbutz. "Why?" she asked. "There was such a cool sense of community in the book," I said. "You'd have to go into the military," she reminded me. "Hmmm." I didn't convert, and that was the closest I ever came to talking with a teacher about religion.
Later, I grew up. I formed my own religious or non-religious views. I watched the rise of fundamentalism in this country and grew extremely uncomfortable with their public declarations of faith -- and by their assumption that I shared their beliefs. I noticed all the presidents started talking about God and expounding on their Christian beliefs. I cringed. It was worse than listening to someone talk about their most intimate sexual relations, because you knew when someone was talking about sex they weren't trying to convert you. I knew these people talking about their religion were trying to convert me and everyone else.
Now Mel Gibson has made this movie that the television news people can't seem to stop talking about. The Christian talking heads go on and on about how the movie is absolutely accurate. I talk back to the TV. "You know, they did not have video cameras back then; who says it's accurate?" The talking heads say this movie will inspire millions. I see only seconds of it and I'm reminded of my Sunday mornings spent puking in the bushes.
But then the clincher comes. The great Christian ministers sit there on camera and say, "This is an accurate depiction of the passion. Jesus Christ suffered and died for my sins -- and for yours."
Now that is taking it too far. Now I will discuss religion. Now I will talk publicly about religion. This is what I say to the ministers and other spokespersons for Christianity: First, how arrogant of you all to assume that everyone listening to you shares your beliefs. I, for one, do not. Two, don't you dare tell me this man died for my sins. No one died for my sins. I don't even acknowledge that I have ever sinned. I don't even believe in sins. So don't tell me some stranger died for me 2,000 years ago. If it gives you comfort to believe that some poor Jewish man was beaten, had his skin flayed, and then was crucified for you, then you go for it. But don't make me part of this crime. Don't try and make me a character in your story. It ain't my story.
Now that's it. I don't want to talk about it any more.