Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Blog About How Religion is Bullshit

Sam I Am: Swimsuit edition
I'm having trouble connecting to Peruvian Wi-Fi and I’m trying not to be a diva about it. Especially because I passed tin house lean-tos on my cab ride into Lima and my lack of Wi-Fi connectivity pales in comparison to the fact that while some Peruvians try to figure out if they have enough money to eat tonight, I just want to see what the more affable locals look like on Tinder.

I flew down to South America about a week ago with my ongoing band gig, landing in Santiago, Chile with a final destination of Panama City with stops in Peru and Ecuador along the way. And all along the way I had seen the same thing: brilliant city centers of colonial vintage skirted by slums of tin-forged housing inhabited by the ruddy-skinned natives.

I had seen it before in other places I had been lucky enough to travel to for work: American Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, the Caribbean, southern Spain, and other places where I had ventured off on my own accord, mainly Eastern Europe. But there was a stark difference between the poverty of those nations and their New World counterparts: every city I ventured into in South America had a huge crucifix planted ostentatiously on the highest hillside above it to cast its glare on the city below like the Eye of Sauron.

Of course traveling to these crucifixes was one of the more low-cost ventures to do for a traveling musician, so I visited all these designated holy sites more for a view of the outlying area than any sort of Haj. Since my break-up with my last girlfriend, Carissa, I had come to terms with the fact that despite the good it could occasionally offer, organized religion is for the most part utter bullshit. And it’s not for want of religious opportunity: my mother was raised Jewish by her father and mother, but her mother was raised Southern Baptist and was also the granddaughter of a Cherokee shaman, while my father was a recovering Catholic, leading to my raising in Presbyterianism then my dabbling in Judaism, Buddhism, and ultimately, agnosticism.

Carissa and I had attended a Pentecostal Manhattan church together, her because she was outwardly professedly Christian, and me because I have a deep admiration for liturgical music thanks to my attending a Methodist university. It was a great relationship for us on that front; except for the fact Carissa was also a major female dog. But then again I was blinded by the fact that she was an ex-NFL cheerleader and a current NBA dancer and I thought that was a pretty cool pin to wear. And for her, you'd think for a Christian who worships a Jew she would have treated me better. I'm probably related to Jesus somewhere down my line.

But I remember the exact church service Carissa and I attended where after enjoying a
Dog-bro I befriended.
long set of worship tunes, the pastor informed us that he was so thankful for the band because they all volunteered their time, effort, and talents. And it obviously wasn't for lack of church funding: the church we attended was a hip and trendy midtown Manhattan one that lauded over its famous athlete congregants and whose clergy always looked like they were dressed for New York Fashion Week while in queue for their next tattoo session. As a person who spent four years of his life studying music, hearing an Adam Levine lookalike praise these obviously professional musicians for donating their time, effort, and talents while wearing the official outfit of a Williamsburgian douche made me want to punch him in the throat. My dusty Oklahoma, salt of the earth congregation could scrape together at least $125 a month for a broke ass college baritone, why couldn't these New York elite?

It was the same here in South America, except with more dire results. I knew that the New York musicians were not starving. Rent may sometimes prove difficult for them, but that was part of the New York experience. Here in Chile and Peru, there was no rent; there was Darwinism and there was the church. And the church vehemently denied that the former existed.
As I walked through the shanties towards the top of the hill in Coquimbo, befriending a stray dog along the way like Saint Francis of Assisi, I reached the peak and was ironically greeted by copper statues of Jesus preaching to the poor. Inside the church at the base of the crucifix, inside thick glass cases, were vestments and sacraments of gold and silver undoubtedly recycled from plundered Inca gold.

A quote came to my mind that I had read in Universal Unitarian preacher Eric Butterworth’s book Discover the Power Within You. It reads: “Every man is innately good. Every man is a potential Christ. But only a few know this, and an even fewer number succeed in expressing any marked degree of the perfection of Christ indwelling.” I walked out of the church and gathered the dog that had followed me all the way to the hilltop, poured out some water in a bowl I found for him, and realized that the further I walked away from the cross, the more Christ-like I felt.

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