Steve Chatterton
Will Write for Food
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Religion: Undeclared

May 21st, 2014 by Steve
Photo by Gareth Weeks

Photo by Gareth Weeks

When I first attempted university (it didn’t take, no matter how many times I tried), I left my major undeclared as long as possible. I guess I was afraid of commitment, of being locked down, and possibly getting stuck in a boring career (like there are other kinds of careers).

Finally, on the last possible day, my faculty adviser pulled me aside and gave me the ‘now or never’ speech (now also known as the ‘s*** or get off the pot’ speech), and I resigned myself to my fate.

“Okay,” I said, “how about something that leaves a lot of doors open for me when I graduate, something like… philosophy.”

He replied with bemused silence, soon drowned out by chirping crickets. Talk about a hard room.

What’s God Got to Do with It?

Just as I did with my major, I’m putting off declaring a religion for as long as I possibly can. I just haven’t found the right one yet, and I’ll be damned (possibly quite literally) if I’m going to just settle.

I’m Anglican by baptism (Grandma wouldn’t have had it any other way) but I was raised agnostic. For some strange reason, though, I love the stories surrounding religion. They’re great stories, but I’ve never been able to buy into them. We’re talking about the ineffable mystery of the divine here. Any mortal who tells you they’ve got it all figured out is trying to sell you something.

I started putting it all together in grade three when we did a unit on Greek mythology. Our teacher (a woman who used every opportunity to break out her ukulele and lead the class through songs like “Kumbaya” and “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”) defined myth as the stories ancient cultures told themselves to help make sense of the wonders of the universe.

“That sounds a lot like religion,” I foolishly said aloud.

Sensing I was straying from the flock, she said, “It was religion to them. But now we know that they were wrong and we were right.”

“So every culture had ideas about religion, but we were the only ones who didn’t have myth?”

“That’s right,” she said, the self-satisfied smugness of a victorious crusader breaking across her face.

I knew something was deeply flawed in her logic, but since I was only eight I didn’t have the debating skills necessary to pursue the matter further.

The Big J.C.

Jesus was an alright guy, I figured. We never talked about religion at home, and we never went to church, but in the stories I had gleaned from my supposedly secular education, he struck me as a proto-Houdini, and that was wicked cool. Walking across the sea, changing water into wine, enduring crucifixion and then rising from the dead, he performed feats modern-day conjurers could only dream of. Take that, David Blaine! Let’s see you cast out leprosy.

Christ was a rebel, which I found intriguing. He was more likely to use words than a sword to engage opponents, like an eloquent Fonzie in sandals, or one of those ever-rare coherent hippies.

Christ also seemed to have a pretty good handle on comedy. He preached radical concepts about the nature of the universe and the meaning of life to strict, Orthodox Jews in the old, old country, so he had to have some jokes flying to help hold their attention if he ever hoped to win the crowd over to his way of thinking.

Whenever I think of his witty parables, like the one about the carpenters looking for sawdust in each others eyes, I hear them delivered with much better timing than most priests and ministers are capable of. And that time he tells John he could see his house from up on the cross – hilarious! I’m not sure which Gospel that one’s from, but it always kills me.

Also, being Jewish himself, Christ would’ve been able to pepper his sermons with Yiddish, which everyone knows is the funniest language on earth. Take away words like shelp, shmuck and shnorrer and Mel Brooks would just sound like a grumpy old man, but in the hands of a skilled orator like Jesus, these words could be used humorously to easily defuse any tense situation. I can just hear Christ now, being betrayed in the garden of Gethsemane: “Oy, are you meshugeh, Judas? Why would you want to put the kibosh on the Kingdom of Heaven, you putz?”

In my head, Jesus sounds a lot like Jackie Mason. I also imagine he said lots of funny things that were edited out of the Bible to save room, like this zippy one-liner possibly delivered from the cross: “Centurion, come quick, there’s been a terrible mistake! When I booked these accommodations I was promised an ocean view. An ocean view!”

The Obligatory Gun-to-my-Head Scenario

I have this recurring nightmare where my faculty adviser tracks me down again and forces me to finally pick a religion. I guess if that ever happens in real life, I’d have to go with Judaism. I have no idea if that’s even possible without a family connection, but if someone has a gun to my head, that’s what I’ll pick.

One plus would be that their Sabbath is on Saturday, so I could still enjoy the lighter shopping traffic on Sunday mornings that the atheists, agnostics, undeclared, lapsed and lazy already take advantage of while devout Christians are busy in worship.

Another plus would be that Jewish services are in Hebrew, a language I don’t know, so I could just let the words spill over me without having to really pay attention or feel like I was being lectured to. Also, the service is mostly sung, so if we had a really good cantor it would like a free concert every week.

I’m not sure how long I’d have to wait before I could start using Yiddish myself, though. Perhaps I’d need a Bar Mitzvah first.

Now the downside of my conversion, of course, would be keeping kosher. Giving up pork and seafood would be tough. I loves me some abominations! Why is it that the food of the hell-bound is the tastiest?

Fortunately, I know there’s an underground movement of Jews who dig on swine and shellfish from time to time. I’ve dined in their homes, and I’ve heard them exclaim with glee, between mouthfuls of baby back ribs, faces smeared with barbecue sauce: “We have got to have you gentiles over more often!”

And, as luck would have it, I’m already circumcised. I’m old, and that’s just what people did back in those days; they mutilated their children’s genitals without any consideration for how the kids would feel about it once they were old enough to possibly give informed consent, which they would never give because apparently the foreskin in a hyper-sensitive amusement park of pleasure of which I’ll never have first-hand knowledge. But hey, I digress, so let’s let bygones be bygones.

I’ve had a foreskinectomy, but it’s not a kosher cut, so maybe I’d need a rabbi to bless my shwantz or something; I don’t know. Just so long as no one comes at me with a knife, I’m cool with pretty much anything. As I’ve said before, I’m still making my peace with the last time someone did that. Honestly, if you want your newborn son to grow up with trust issues, just wait three days and pass him off to some old guy in a mask with a scalpel. That’ll do the trick.

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