Sunday, April 8, 2012


     As a child I was obsessed with life’s great questions. Why are we here? What is our purpose? There are no concrete answers. Mankind looks to the heavens to fill a void that knowledge cannot traverse. Herein lays the basis of all religion.               
     I was eight years old when I asked my devoutly catholic grandmother what became of the souls who did not know of Jesus. After all, Christianity had only been around for two thousand years. Surely there were pious men and women who lived before Christ. Should they all be sent to hell for not worshipping a God they’d never met?               
     She struggled with an answer, but assured me that good people always go to heaven regardless of their beliefs. I should note that my preciousness did not make me her favorite grandchild. Faith requires absolute certainty. Believers do not like to be confronted with issues that require flexibility.
     When I grew older I learned as much as I could about the different religions of the world. I am not an expert on any of them. I have a passing knowledge not a scholarly degree. What I have been able to gather is that at some very basic points they all preach the same thing and hold the same purpose.                
     Since the dawn of time religion has been mythology, nationalism, and codified law. We use the stories to explain away our fears and weave elaborate fables about our origins. We identify ourselves by our beliefs as separate from other people. We use it as the basis for how we treat each other and behave in an organized society.               
     Religion is a concept created by humans, derived to fulfill human need. As such it cannot help but be corrupted by human pettiness. For the same reasons my grandmother would not attend my uncle’s wedding to a Baptist, wars have been fought, people have been subjugated, and tyranny has been allowed to fester.               
     This is why am convinced that all religion is baseless and all Gods are false as we know them. This is not to say that I do not have a moral compass and cannot differentiate between right and wrong. I take these things very seriously. The difference is that I do not honor justice because I fear for my soul. I do so because the concept of justice is the most noble of all human inventions. If I have a religion then it is based in the value of humanity.               
     If there is a God and there is a heaven, I do not know what they are. If my soul is in danger of being put on trial I cannot conceive of a judge. What I do know is that in this world of living people my actions carry weight and provide consequences. I am beholden to my fellow people to behave in a righteous manner. In a world where we are so close as to one another that even geography is not an obstacle the idea that all lives our intertwined and we live for the benefit of each other is not fantasy.               
     There is however great merit in these fables, even if in practice their spirituality is waning. Judaism is a chronicle of perseverance. Christianity provides us with the golden rule. Islam teaches structure. Hinduism is a quest for moral certainty. Buddhism seeks personal enlightenment. Each of these concepts is valid and none should be in contrast with another. They stand as a testament to the greatness of the human species.               
     I believe that for us to survive on this planet we must embrace the fact that none of us know what is the true religion. We cannot afford to be resolute about that for which we are all of us unsure. There is no man or woman alive who knows with any certitude what lies beyond the veil of life. Therefore, we should worship the life we know is real and find merit within it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 33

     Most bombs go off without a warning. There is no countdown. You don’t hear a burning fuse. There is no anonymous call to warn the innocent. There is just a loud bang and it’s over. If you pay close attention though, you can see the warning signs. Some are obvious. Some are not.
     When Sunday afternoon turned into Sunday evening and Heather had still not returned home you became concerned. You did not feel any panic. You were just curious. You called her phone. It rang, but there was no answer. You left a message on her voicemail. You shrugged it off and began to make diner for yourself. Then while hunched over the sink a bolt of electricity shot down your spine and made you stand straight up.
     You grabbed the phone and called again. This time it rang once and went to voicemail. She had declined your call. You immediately called back. This time it rang until you got the voicemail again. You were looking for her mother’s number when you got a call from Heather.
     The first words out of your mouth were, “What’s going on?”
     “What do you mean?” She replied in a hushed tone.
     “I called three times.”
     “I know. Mother is sleeping. I didn’t want to wake her.”
     “Aren’t you coming home? You have work in the morning.”
     “I took Monday off. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
     “You didn’t tell me.”
     “I forgot.”
     This confused you. Heather never forgot anything and she never missed work. “Is everything alright?” It all sounded like a lie. You strained to listen for any noise in the background that would expose it as such.
     “Yes, everything is fine.” She continued to speak in a soft voice. “I can’t really talk. I’ll be home soon. Love you.”
     She rushed off before you could reply. You could feel your heart beat fast in your chest. None of this made sense. You sat at the table and stared at the phone in your hands. You wanted to call her mother. You wanted to make sure she was really asleep and Heather was really there.
     If you were wrong Heather would think you didn’t trust her. Just thinking that she is betraying you is a breach of faith. Your mind wanted to go places you did not want to tread. You decided to believe her, but trust cannot be manufactured. You either have it or you ignore that it’s gone. You chose to be oblivious.
     That didn’t help you sleep any better. You lied in bed listening to the ticking clock. The click-clack grew louder and louder. It drowned out the sounds in your head and you counted along, one, two, one, two, until the alarm rang.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 32

     The distance between two people is hard to measure when you can’t use a map. You and Heather are still very much together, and there are moments of passion and closeness, but they are only moments. Sometimes you wonder if she is there, or if you are there, or if it would make any difference if you weren’t.
     You are spending a lot less time together. You are working earlier and staying later. She is spending more nights out with her friends. You are spending more at home with your father. Sometimes, she is the last to bed and the last to rise and the two of you will spend a whole day without passing a single word back and forth.
     One day when you are home alone together you decide to see how long it will take before she initiates a conversation. Between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. you circle each other. Not once does she make a sound. Finally you crack because it is painful to miss someone who is standing in front of you.
     Over diner you quip that Milo has a blood lust for squirrels and how you’re worried the dog might be the reincarnation of a serial killer. She ignores your funny aside and instead talks about herself, her friends, and her job. When you try to steer the conversation to the two of you she seems uninterested and returns to her food.
     The next Saturday you take Heather on a drive out to the suburbs. She spends much of the time on the phone with her girlfriends and is speaking to one of them when you drive down a remote tree enveloped road. You pull into the driveway of a little house, all by itself, carved out of the forest, and turn off the car.
     “Hang up the phone.” You whisper to her.
     She does and asks, “Where are we?”
     “What do you think?”
     “About what?”
     “This house.” You are restrained in your excitement. “In six months I can afford this house. I talked to the owner and he wants to sell. He doesn’t even live there anymore and he is willing to let it go cheap.”
     She scrunches up her face and squints. “It is so small.”
     “The first house is always small. It’s two bedrooms, one and a half baths, nice kitchen, and has a porch out back. It’s bigger than our apartment. There’s plenty of room for you, me, and the dog. There is even enough space for one regular sized child or two little ones if we have them back to back.”
     She sighs and says, “I don’t know, Mark.”
     “You said we needed a house before we could get married. This is a house. It’s clean. It’s relatively new. We have the woods. It reminds me of your parent’s house. Well, maybe their garage, but we can live here for a couple of years and trade up.”
     “It’s so far away from the city.”
     “It’s twenty two miles. I can commute. You can commute. Or, you can get a job closer to the house.”
     “I can’t quit my job. I love my job.” She is not interested in the house at all and tries to rationalize her decision. “Besides, I’d go stir crazy out here. There is no one around. It’s so isolated.”
     “I thought that is what you would like most about it.” You are crushed and finding it difficult to conceal. “I just want to get married. We have been engaged for a year. We have been together for a lot longer than that. It feels like we are stuck in a holding pattern and I want to land the plane. I’m afraid we’re going to run out of gas and crash if we don’t.”
     She strokes the back of your hair and comforts you. “It’s okay. I love you. I just think we need more options. Who knows what else will be out there in six months. We can look again then.”
     On the ride back you are alone with your thoughts. Heather spends the entire time with her face buried in her phone, texting her friends. The seed of paranoia that you have been keeping in the dark is starting to see daylight. You want to know what she is saying to them. Is she ridiculing you? You plead with yourself to not overreact.
     You have been so desperate to conform to the idea of what she wanted. You wonder what else you can do or if there is anything you can do. You had your hopes so high. You thought she would be overjoyed not underwhelmed.
     The next weekend Heather went to see her parents. You stayed home. She wanted some alone time with her mother. She said you’d be bored because her father was out of town on business and you’d have no one to talk too. You agreed halfheartedly.
     While walking the dog you took the time to figure the mileage to her parent’s house. Then you factored in the pace you and Milo kept on an average jaunt. You combined the two in your head to conclude exactly how long it would take the two of you to reach her. There is no way you could make it. She is too far away.