Meadows near Columbia River

Image by palestrina55 via Flickr

Being that we were on holiday in the Columbia River Valley in British Columbia if the world had actually ended Saturday, we’d have seen it coming. As one of the last time zones to hit 6 P.M., we should have been greeted with tales of mass vanishings and mayhem with our breakfast, but God, it seems, had not received the text or if he did, stubbornly decided to stick with his own random scheduling because the world was the world – same as usual.

Oh, there were earthquakes. Normal, apparently, for their global addresses. Flooding frustrations continue as do raging forest and grass fires. Tornadoes killed people. And I imagine the very usual death and destruction of multiple Middle East wars – civil or not – made a few more marks on the universe’s karma, the earth’s landscape and people’s lives.

On the drive home we passed at least two churches with jam-packed parking lots with nary a decorated limo in sight, and I wondered how those people could persist in a faith clearly unfounded and how they would rationalize the non-coming of Christ when May 22nd arrived.

But I knew they would. If you are so unhappy with your life that you long for the deaths of not just strangers but people you might really know and love, coming up with a new story to explain why The Rapture didn’t occur would be relatively easy for you.

Let’s face it. For some folks, life sucks. It might be tangible suckiness like home foreclosure, unemployment, physical affliction or emotional fulfillment, or it might be some slanted view of reality that doesn’t allow them to see that life is about choice and they aren’t doing such a hot job of making good ones. Whatever the reason, there are people for whom the hope of a God snatching them out of their clothes and planting them in paradise is appealing. The fact that others suffer and are victimized in effect by a supposedly caring deity doesn’t appear contradictory to them which just confirms – in my mind – the whole idea that “quiet lives of desperation” isn’t just a nicely written descriptor in a work of fiction.

Today is another day, as Scarlet once said. And though a 12 mile high volcanic plume over Iceland threatens European air travel and decent summer temperatures again, I feel that we can safely call the ball on this last end of times prediction a big miss.

Ah well, we still have the Mayans, 2012 and a rapidly descending United States, don’t we?

Ary Scheffer: The Temptation of Christ, 1854

Image via Wikipedia

A friend’s Facebook status reminded me that today is Easter’s infamous vigil. It’s the Christian equvilant of the Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva”, which is the mourning period for the dead. Instead of a person, however, Christians today mourn/anticipatory celebrate Jesus’s death and descent into hell.

I am not versed in how this day goes in any other religion except my natal one, Catholicism. My friend is of the Eastern persuasion, and her recollections on Easter differ from my own as they spin Holy Week in a more positive way than the gore, guilt and unworthiness focus of my Catholic youth.

But as I remember the lesson from my Catholic schoolgirl days, Jesus died on Good Friday and descended into hell. There, he rallied the souls of the faithful departed and led them to heaven. It’s a zombie version of The Rapture. The gates of heaven were locked against humanity after some snit God had in the Old Testament. Christianity, as a whole, makes a lot less sense when the Old Testament is examined too closely, and the nonsensical idea that God is anything other than capricious and scary as … um … hell, can be found all over the bible’s earliest books.

I bring this up because of a conversation I overheard Dee having with a friend who stayed over the other night.

Her little friend is Catholic and Dee herself was baptized in the faith back when I still entertained ideas of leaving her belief system up to the tutelage of others. I didn’t catch the opener but as I walked by her bedroom, I heard an audible gasp and then,

“But you have to believe in Jesus!”

I cracked the door a bit and observed Dee’s friend staring at her as though she was possessed and spewing green bile.

“I don’t believe in Jesus,” Dee assured her with a calm and determination that made me proud and a bit awestruck.

Later as we were driving the friend home, I caught a whispered conversation as the little girl tried to convince Dee of the consequences of not believing.

“If you don’t believe in Jesus, there is this place you go to after you die that’s not nice,” she said, quite earnest and clearly concerned for Dee’s afterlife.

“I don’t believe in this,” Dee said, again with an assurance that seemed a bit too large for her tiny 8 year old self. “I believe that when we die, we go to the underworld and our souls are weighed with the feather of truth.” (she did not add the part about the hippodoodel that eats the wicked who wasted their lives and then try to lie about it – and it’s interesting to note the Egyptian that has crept into her Greek mythology).

“How does she square this with her idea that her grandfather and Daddy Will are in heaven?” Rob asked me as I related the story to him later.

“I have no clue,” I said, “but it’s not any worse spin than most Christians employ trying to reconcile the inconsistencies in their beliefs.”

There is a tiny residual bit of Catholic in me that worries about what I have wrought, but mostly, I was really proud of her. She wasn’t the least bit worried about what her friend would think of her beliefs. They were her beliefs and she held fast.

Rob and I are doing a far more awesome job than I realized with this raising a kid thing.

… to enlighten the rest of us damned to the eternal hellfire types.

It’s easiest just to dismiss this little girl as a callous whack-job who’s been so thoroughly indoctrinated in what passes for Christianity in the United States these days that she will likely never see the hypocrisy in her words or her own insensitivity in posting her witnessing to a social media site.

When I was teaching in Des Moines, I ran across this shallow vindictive type of Chrisitianism (as Andrew Sullivan as aptly termed it) quite frequently, so while I would like to be shocked, I’m not.

It doesn’t even make me sad or disgusted.

It does make me wonder why, if there is really a God, he doesn’t smote the world and be done with the sorry, stupid, ungrateful, blind as the three mice and nearly as irredeemable as Hannibal Lector species that he bothered to create in the first place.

I am reminded, slightly out of context, of an exchange between Scrooge and The Ghost of Christmas Present about the worth of humans and who should really arbitrate on the matter.

Ebenezer Scrooge: [on Tiny Tim] Tell me, Spirit… Will he live?
Ghost of Christmas Present: I see an empty place at this table. I see a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the future, the child will die.
Ebenezer Scrooge: No. Say he’ll be spared.
Ghost of Christmas Present: If these shadows remain unaltered by the future, none other of my species will find him here. But if he is to die, then let him die…! “AND DECREASE THE SURPLUS POPULATION!”
Ebenezer Scrooge: You use my own words against me?
Ghost of Christmas Present: Yes! So perhaps, in the future, you will hold your tongue until you have discovered where the surplus population is, and WHO it is. It may well be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than MILLIONS like this poor man’s child.