Warning: naughty language ahead.
“In the beginning there was nothing. God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light. There was still nothing, but you could see it a whole lot better. ”
~ Ellen Degeneres
Because as it stands, we’re kind of fucked.
Religion, morality, and pervasive God concepts are eclipsing potential joy like a giant airship blimp sailing twelve feet high.
Why? Because squeezing “God” inside our human capacity for imagination is like pushing a 300 lb dude into a doghouse. Except even tighter. And I’m talking about a pretty small doghouse too, you guys. You know what, seriously—forget the whole doghouse entirely. It’s more like trying to fit a 300, no, let’s make it a 375 pound guy inside a sneaker. A kid’s sneaker.
We’ve got it wrong. (And this is coming from a guy not pretending to know what right would look like.) And Standup Comedians are the best critics of a system in deep failure. Let’s watch ’em slay a few sacred dragons.
Shalom Auslander distilled our contemporary sate of being:
“Expecting hell, we’re ill-prepared for heaven.”
The word “God” has been usurped by some shady types. There are people and entire institutions, who claim to know this unknowable entity. They assure us that their take on God is not only right, but also the only right one.
But they’re wrong, you guys. You can’t know the unknowable. Like, intellectually. Of course you might maybe experience God, have experiential knowledge of God. Of course.
But knowing it? Understanding the mind of God? Comprehending God? Fiction.
I was born into one of those difficult, pervasive institutions. I was raised Catholic. It hurt. I walked away. But belief in “God” seems to be in the cards for me. I’m stuck with it.
Woody Allen said:
“To you I’m an atheist; to God, I’m the Loyal Opposition.”
So open up that cranium. Think of me as an old friend of God’s, if you will, just whaling away at some of the bullshit that people are imposing on the dude.
Was it Rumi, or Hafiz, who said that you can only point toward the moon? I can’t remember. Religions are pointing toward the manhole cover. We are products of environments. They are riddled with religion. To get ourselves unstuck about this God thing, we are well served in examining the water we currently swim in.
We are informed by our environment. We have as much choice in this as we had in our skin pigment and height at birth.
Religions do provide one good thing. A place for examining these (our!) bankrupt God concepts. A storehouse of misconceptions. A huge rook full of lies. Carlin had a good handle on that:
“When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!”
Not that funny, in fact. Carlin did that more and more, the whole “I’m angry, and that will have to do” school of standup comedy. But the quote is poignant; it affords a glimpse into the madness of it. The insanity of modern mass-market superstition. Comics can come through as luminaries. Laughter points toward divinity more accurately than somber, candle-lit, kneeling ritual.
Our man Bill Hicks took a look under the hood of what he was offered:
“…I just want to be free of the fears and anxieties and the superstitions of religion. An ‘avenging GOD’? One who created Hell for those who don’t believe? I thought we were the perfect and holy children of GOD? How could any limits possibly be put upon us? Hell.. really? I’m sorry, but… no. Wrong. You’re wrong. That’s an insane GOD and therefore not mine. Because, see, GOD would be very sane, don’t you get it?”
Hicks wrote an honest response to a very real puzzle. The faith he was offered by our culture was insane.
Remember Jethro Tull? Ian Anderson singing:
“I don’t believe you, you have the whole damn thing all wrong. He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.”
I heard that a hundred times on my record player when I was twelve. I tried to get my dad to let me stop going to church on strength I borrowed from the passion in that song. It didn’t fly. We’ve all had one flavor of dilemma or another.
David Sedaris remembers:
“God was someone I wound up turning over and over in my mind each night…. Was He punishing me with this meal or was He rewarding me? Did He actively watch me or take me for granted like a fish you don’t notice until it’s floating on the surface of the tank?”
A perfect depiction of the child in spiritual dilemma. (Want more? Read “Foreskin’s Lament” By Shalom Auslander. Whoa.) Religious weirdness colored our whole generation, but not everyone had to go through it.
There are people, I assume, who fathom a God, today, now, for this moment, which has no personality, no agenda for us.
A creative force unknowable, which having created life, has either moved on or is simply enjoying. In this construct, behavioral guidelines are missing. There is no eternal reward or punishment. The gift of life is all that is offered. Can we get to that egg, from the fucking omelette of contemporary religion?
Penn Gilette said:
“I’m not greedy. I have love, blue skies, and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world—and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more.”
And there we do have something. A potential. The possible idea that there is plenty right around us to delight in. A glimmer of life beyond the compulsion to acquire: bliss available, or in fact given. And this matters: no holier states of being for which to strive.
So let’s go to left field and look at how Sarah Silverman sees it:
“I don’t believe in Jesus or God. But I do believe that fundamentalists in religion or anything else are bad, and that they have more hate than love. Jesus’ words have become so perverted over time—it’s been like a game of telephone. If he existed, Jesus would fuckin’ kill himself.”
Ricky Gervis said:
“Next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say ‘Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra?…’ If they say ‘Just God. I only believe in the one God,’ I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2,869.”
I mean really. Let’s look at that. 2,870. That’s a shit ton of gods. Anything over five is. A truckload of gods. If you look at the context, the vast storehouses of gods no longer in fashion, it can become readily apparent that mass-produced Gods come and go. And go they should!
Louis CK encapsulated the modern god perfectly:
“God is like a shitty girlfriend.”
I cant find any argument with that. The God of our current religions is so petty, punitive and unkind, it’s a wonder we can make it to the temple without tripping on our collective unworthiness. Am I offering criticism without proposing a solution? Is this piece too ambivalent? Maybe, maybe not. But before we go toward high-minded positive finish notes, let’s go deeper into the woods. Labels. Agnostic. Atheist. Buddhist.
This just in from our man Steven Colbert:
“Isn’t an agnostic just an atheist without balls?”
Agnostics and atheists of late have been hitting around the idea of changing their label to something different: less defined. “Brights” was mercifully discarded not long ago as too insulting. Jesus, that was a break. The idea of creating a new word is good, though. The world could use a word for people who are not having the bullshit attempts to define God heretofore provided. People who see God as undefined. Mysterians?
God is a mystery. We are part of the mystery.
We are God, Goddamn it, and we have no idea who we are, much less anything beyond that.
Not accepting God as defined up until today should not force you to wear the label “Atheist” of “Agnostic.” Those are too pre-defined in our current lexicon.
Playing with the label “Agnostic,” let’s fish a little in Buddhist waters. He was no stand-up, but our man Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says it so good here. This is right out of his book “Spiritual Materialism.” Its a sweet critique of belief in God from a crutch mentality. Too common, still.
“The wrong way to take refuge involves seeking shelter—worshipping mountains, sun gods, moon gods, deities of any kind simply because they would seem to be greater than we. This kind of refuge taking is similar to the response of the little child who says, “If you beat me, I’ll tell my mommy,” thinking that his mother is a great, archetypically powerful person. If he is attacked, his automatic recourse is to his mother, an invincible and all-knowing, all-powerful personality. The child believes his mother can protect him, in fact that she is the only person who can save him. Taking refuge in a mother or father-principle is truly self-defeating; the refuge-seeker has no real basic strength at all, no true inspiration. He is constantly busy assessing greater and smaller powers. If we are small, then someone greater can crush us. We seek refuge because we cannot afford to be small and without protection. We tend to be apologetic: “I am such a small thing, but I acknowledge your great quality. I would like to worship and join your greatness, so will you please protect me?”
And while we’re still at the glass mandala table, the proverbial straw of interesting choices in our hands, let’s inhale a line or two from Russel Brand:
“It’s difficult to believe in yourself because the idea of self is an artificial construction. You are, in fact, part of the glorious oneness of the universe. Everything beautiful in the world is within you.”
Fair enough, Russel. I can dance to that shit.
But what is Buddhism? Hell for that matter, what is Quackerism? Who are the Universalists? Those guys seem cool, on the surface. These labels also end up constricting us, though. You know?
“But I’m real conscious about what I do. I don’t care what the label is. I’m looking at the outcome of it.”
~ Mike Epps
Can we ditch some labels? Let’s throw labels like these in the bin where we put stuff that no longer serves us:
agnostic, atheist, believer, non-believer,
Let’s chuck ’em all. Focus on the outcomes. Does your “faith” include more people than it alienates? How about non-human beings? Are you kinder, for your practice? Cause here’s the thing. We are not so much believing in, disbelieving in, talking to or shunning “God.”
We are praying to labels we’ve put on God.
And while we’re ditching stuff—bankrupt god concepts, misleading labels and religious superstition—let’s throw away the tendency to regard spirituality as self improvement. Dear God, please save me from the compulsion to pretend to become better.
Where is any of this going? Nowhere fast, in an elevator all the way down.
And yes, I know that was more like 11 than seven, and a few non-comics thrown in as well. So what the hell, let’s cut away from the guidelines and into the heart of it. Maybe John can throw us a lifeline with this one:
“You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are!”
I have nothing to add to that, but that won’t stop me from typing.
You are so fucking holy and beautiful and amazing: your life here is the balls.
I love you guys so much more than you deserve.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: elephant journal archives