Sunday, February 1, 2009
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:28-32
The photo is me in 1970, looking rather Edgar Allan Poe-ish. It's the same picture as on the last post, only reversed and not doctored. This was me on the outside; that other was me on the inside like the Picture of Dorian Gray reflecting all my sins. I was becoming a monster.
The world I inhabited was changing. I had found the 60's invigorating, inventive; art and music and literature all evolving to a higher plane. We hung with the Hippies, wearing salvation army clothes or Nehru jackets, flowers in the hair, love beads about the neck, Tim Buckley concerts at the Trauma Coffeehouse.
We lived in an apartment in what was called University City. We shared the building with college students, prostitutes, drug addicts, Black Panthers, who held meetings in the lobby, and roaches in the sink at night. We had a pet iguana. I had quit my job where I had worked since high school and was freelance writing for local papers, the Underground Press and international horror magazines.
But the ugly side of the 'sixties was catching up and taking over. The 1967 Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury crashed outside the Chicago Republican Convention in 1968 at the Festival of Love. The Beatles had broke-up in January 1969. A period dedicated to "coming together" and "flower power" had really been marked by violence. It had kicked off with the murder of Medgar Evers in June 1963 and the November 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. The period from 1964 through 1967, that portion of the so-called "decade of love" was fraught with civil rights riots in our major cities and National Guard troops and tanks in our streets. And in 1968 reality sunk in to everyone. Martin Luther King, Jr. gunned down in April at age 39; Robert F. Kennedy gunned down in June at age 43. It was now more the age of the Yippies than the Hippies.
By 1970 there was no more delusion that "all you need is love". In May, National Guard troops at Kent State, there to keep order, opened fire and four students were left dead. The icons of the era were passing away from their habits and self-abuse. Jim Morrison in July. Jimi Hendrix in September. Janis Joplin in October. All dead at age 27.
I turned 29 in June.
I was taking on the world.
In 1968, the Republican Party attempted to take away my right to vote and I had to go to court to stop them. I was angry at all political parties. I was registered Democrat, but I voted for third party candidates like Dick Gregory. I didn't like the business world either. I was writing letters to the CEOs of major companies. They were not polite letters. But what I really went after was the church.
What set me off?
My wife and I had visited my parents on Easter and went to church with them. Fine. But then I received a letter from the pastor, Reverend R. He told me I had hurt my mother. How?
Apparently some woman in the church had complained to him about our appearance, he had passed this along to my mother and it upset her. He suggested I should come and apologize and ask forgiveness.
Me? Why Me? How dare that women and this preacher judge me. And the church was a bunch of hypocrites anyway, whose only interest was money. I had not attended that church for a decade and yet the only concern they had was money. The only communication they ever sent me was an annual letter asking for donations. In fact, one such letter had come the same week as Reverend R.'s missive.
I set up a meeting to confront this man. I told him I didn't appreciate him sticking up for this woman and they shouldn't have put it on my mother. They should have told me to my face. I told him what I considered that woman to be. He said she was trying to lead me back to the Lord by pointing out my sins. I told him there were plenty of sinners in his church, tell her to point out to the usher who always smelled of booze his sin and then listed some others whose flaws I knew. He told me I needed to forgive those people and threw the story of the Adulterous Woman at me, the whole "casting the first stone" bit and that Jesus forgave the woman and that was the lesson, that I should forgive this woman and these others. I told him Jesus also told the woman to "go and sin no more". Repentance comes with forgiveness, I said, tell that woman to repent and that usher to stop getting drunk on Saturday night and then I'll forgive them. Oh, I thought, score one for me!
We had other such debates both in person and in letters. Here are some of the milder passages of the letters.
After considerable thought, I have come to a decision about your question of my spiritual comfort and to which church or religious interpretation I entrust my allegiance. I conclude none; that is; if I don’t claim out and out atheism, I certainly admit to a deep-seated agnosticism.
There is another, perhaps tenuous, reason to give you an explanation. Because you are a man of God, it must be your duty to concern yourself when anyone strays from the religious establishment. If you would not ask why, would not care, would not debate such a profession by a fellow human, then you would be guilty of dereliction of your faith and calling. Whereas I reject the legendary and mythological ideal of Judeo-Christianity and am free to show no concern for anyone but myself (taking here the more common opinion of the non-believer), you by tradition and expectation must be immediately involved with your fellow man. If this was not so, then you would do far more damage to your church and faith than any atheist or critic can ever do.
The most interesting fact I ever learned in Sunday school was one of the teachers had a dog that was over twenty years old. Don’t you find that remarkable?
I was on a roll now. I wasn’t stopping with one preacher. Bring them on. Here are excerpts from another debate with another minister, Reverend D
Dear Mister D.,
They have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid him…
And here we have the crux perhaps of the problem. No church, none, meets the requirements of the Bible. Where the Catholics stress certain lines, they miss others, and so it is the same with the protestant.
Who has my Lord?
I am afraid I believe each man has his own Lord; and nobody has him. Who has exclusive rights to God?
I have rolled about our conversation in my mind and read further and rummaged in my own conscience and these are the thoughts I have dredged up from doing so.
Yet does not one in a heap if ruins
stretch out his hand,
And in his disaster cry for help?
Did I not weep for him whose day was
Was not my soul grieved for the poor?
But when I looked for good, evil came;
and when I waited for light, darkness
came. (Job 30: 24-26)
You are certainly right in saying you find it hard to accept I would lean toward Catholicism. That was a passing island that I clung to as I attempted to claim some finger hold on religion. But like the other shaky grasps I have held in the past, a man of the cloth stepped upon my hand and loosened me.
As the churches rejected me, I am rejecting them you see. It is deeper than that, of course, but that is what most people will adopt as my reasoning, and so be it. I was forgotten by Bethel, ignored by the Lutherans, Episcopalians and Catholics and repulsed by the Ethics. Besides I no longer believe any man knows anything about God. If we did know once, then it was before weak churches or their opposite who subverted God. Anyway, I think, like the scripture indicates, God will give support to he who supports himself.
I don’t think God is dead: I think he is sealed in some church pledge envelope somewhere buried beneath the gold and silver.
I guess I’m incurable. But, oh God, I am not alone in my illness.
If those verses in Romans 1 meant God gave up when you resisted enough and left you go your own way, then I was lost for sure. There was no way back to God from here, not that I was looking for a way. Or was I? Or was God looking for me?
I could explain away the Bible as legends written by men. I could explain away God because I couldn't see him. I could explain away ministers as hypocrits.
But I still couldn't quite explain that cross the appeared on my bedroom wall.
To be continued: Peace and Depravity