Friday, August 28, 2009

There but for the grace of God...

...go I.

Today, we leave for our Presbyterian church's annual retreat. I cannot wait. The kids love it. Charlie and I love it. There's good food and friends and canoe races and a big blobby thing you can bounce on in the center of a lake. What's not to like? And I'm all brushed up on my world view and belief system, because I just had a nice, long chat with a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to my door.

The last time they came by, Charlie had a nice, long chat with them. And then accepted their leaflets. We’re never going to get off their route, are we?

But we just can’t resist a juicy theological debate. I suppose, in part, this is because we grow weary of arguing religion only with each other. Or at least, Charlie’s probably grown weary of arguing it with me. (I, on the other hand, could go All. Day. Long.) Once on a cross-country flight, Charlie was delighted to find himself seated next to a young Mormon man who was all too happy to wile away the time debating the merits of the eternal family (while I was busy scooping up discarded sippy cups and pulling play doh out of my hair courtesy of our mortal family, no doubt).

When I first embraced vegetarianism, the only place to find soy products in bulk was the food pantry of the Seventh Day Adventists. I endured many a spiel on the path to heaven just to get my hands on their veggie sausage links. Wow. That sounds even worse typed out in black and white. But see, the nice thing about Seventh Day Adventists is that they are always certain the world is about to end. When it doesn’t…and doesn’t and doesn’t…they reluctantly sell off their crates of canned goods set aside for Armageddon and start all over again. Which is just so convenient. But then Fred Meyer began stocking the very same brands, and I fell away from the flock.

But back to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I'm open minded about religion and love learning what other people think, but in short? I’m not buying what they’re selling. Or at least what they were selling today, which, in essence, amounted to the unexpected news that we have a re-do on the Garden of Eden coming our way. Our conversation went roughly like this:

Jehovah’s Witness Lady: So you see, the Bible teaches us that the Kingdom of Heaven will someday be here on Earth.

Calvin (listening behind me): So what will they use heaven for?

I was so glad he asked, because I immediately wondered the same thing. I bet Cal was hoping for a Chuck E. Cheese. Me, I was thinking: Trader Joe’s, Trader Joe‘s, please God, let it be a Trader Joe‘s.

JWL does not have an answer to this. She settles for smiling indulgently at Calvin.

JWL: What this means is, nothing can destroy God’s magnificent creation.

Me: So Al Gore is a lying sack of shit? (Ok, that may have been internal dialogue.) What I really said: Really? Not even God’s creation can destroy God’s creation? Because we seem to be making quite the dent. I smile conspiratorially, as if to convey something along the lines of kids these days.

JWL does not join me in lamenting the shenanigans of human-kind: But imagine a world with no sin! No destruction. No crime. Just imagine living forever on earth!

Me: (aghast) Ack! No! (Internal dialogue: Hell, no.) Who would want to live forever?

JWL: (seems at a loss) But you’ll be living in a perfect world! No sin. No wickedness!

Me: But, if you had to live forever, wouldn’t you welcome just a little bit of wickedness? Just to pass the time? (I try another smile to show I‘m speaking at least partially in jest, but she’s having none of it. I look to Calvin for support. He’s deep in thought.)

JWL: (staring at me like I‘m crazy) But wickedness leads to death, disease, suffering--

Me: Exactly! (Blank stare.) Because isn’t it an error to want it any other way? After all, God saw the value in the concept of free will. I try to explain myself, without much hope that it will go well. How can we appreciate eternity without mortality? I hoped Calvin was still paying attention, because I was really warming up to my subject matter now. You have to have contrast, right? Darkness to counter light. She’s looking disapproving, but I carry on stoically. Without evil, is there goodness? Without Hell, is there Heaven? And then I may have gotten so excited I quoted Homer’s Iliad: The gods envy us because we’re mortal…. Yeah, I was on a roll. There's a reason I avoid discussing religion with people I like.

I’m pretty sure she was sorry she stopped by. But seriously…everyone knows this. Contrast is at the crux of creation. Look at the spectrum of light. Look at magnetism, the poles of the earth repelling and attracting. Look at…well, now I’ll need someone with more than Ecology 101 under their belt to take over. But you see my point. Religion packaged as a crutch really annoys me. It’s this sort of idealized-fluffy-teddy-bear-comfort-food-pink-frosting-faith that gives Christianity in general a bad name. Faith in God is not a down pillow. Religion is not a free pass to rainbows and unicorns (although, unicorns are a little frightening). Sometimes, it’s a double-edged sword. Often, it’s a hard truth. And if we’re created by an all-powerful Supreme Being, then surely we can rise to the occasion.

And heaven on earth? No thank you.

To be frank, for an attention-deficient product of the information age such as myself, eternity in heaven seems daunting enough.
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