By Gene Twaronite
It’s not like going into a store and selecting a new sofa or mattress, though, come to think of it, you should look for something comfortable and durable. Most of us never get a chance to choose a god we can live with. We grow up with the religion we’re assigned at childhood, and, by the time we reach adulthood, it’s too late.
Some of us ignore or eventually grow out of it. Others suffer a wrenching existential crisis when they discover that the religion that once sustained them no longer provides answers. And some decide to just go with the flow and settle into a comforting complacency of lukewarm faith.
Too bad we’re not provided at childhood with intensive training on all the many options available in choosing a religion or god. Instead of being brainwashed into the religion of their parents, kids would take comprehensive comparative religion courses, beginning with basic pre-school stuff about the actual meaning of the word “god” and what that entails. As they advance, they would learn what to look for in a god, and how to recognize a good deal when they see it.
To start with, just what is a god supposed to be? An all-powerful being, some would say. But that’s hardly a sufficient answer, not even for a 3-year-old. How powerful? Can it do tricks? Can it make things, like the Earth and stars and planets? At the very least, you want a god that can create everything.
Durability is important. You want a god that goes the distance and won’t crap out on you after five years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. Some gods do offer a lifetime warranty, though the price can be steep.
A factor not often discussed is portability. Say you decide to change your religion. Can you take your chosen god with you to your new religion? Sad to say, this is not the case. You’re pretty much stuck with the religion’s own brand of god. Suppose you really dig the Egyptian god Hathor, otherwise known as the Cow Goddess, who is sometimes depicted as having a woman’s body and a cow’s head. You can’t just take her with you if you suddenly convert to Islam or Christianity. It’s a pity, since allowing followers to bring along as many gods as they please would certainly help to liven up religions and make worship more fun.
And how tough is this god? Can it beat the crap out of other gods in a fight? You don’t want a wimpy god. Take the Hebrew god Yahweh of the Old Testament. He doesn’t like what people are doing, so he makes a big flood and wipes out every creature on Earth except for those onboard an ark. Now there’s a tough god!
But I wonder just how tough Yahweh would be if he had to go a round or two with the Hindu god Shiva the Destroyer. Supposedly, he goes around destroying not only all life, but the whole universe just so it can be re-created. He is said to have a third eye, the source of all his wild energy. He wears a cobra necklace and animal skins, and wields a mean-looking trident. Yahweh, on the other hand, appears as a burning bush.
This brings up another problem. Once you have chosen and accepted a god, you can’t help trying to visualize this god. That might work for Greek gods, who are viewed as merely glorified versions of humans. But if yours is a Christian god, it is generally believed to be transcendent, totally incomprehensible, and incorporeal. So just how the hell are you supposed to visualize it?
Raised as a Catholic, I had to take the god I was given, the one true Catholic one, or so my catechism said. I was told that god (in fairness to other gods, I am not using capitals) was infinite, mysterious and beyond anything I could possibly imagine. That didn’t stop me from trying.
Fortunately, there were plenty of visual aids. Catholics are big on icons, which can include crosses, statues, carvings, pictures and even little plastic figurines you mount on the dashboard to keep you safe.
As a kid, I would look at a statue or picture of Jesus and imagine that he was actually a long-haired, bearded, white hippie in sandals, like some cool guy at Woodstock. But he always seemed kind of wimpy to me. I couldn’t imagine him chasing the money changers out of the temple. And he had always had a sorrowful face. Didn’t he ever laugh? Paintings of god the father showed an old, gray-haired and fleshier version of a white guy, as if Jesus had just grown up. Who decided that god was white? And it was always a man, not a woman. As for the Holy Ghost, what’s with that? Sounds like Halloween. At least put a sheet on him and show him as a ghost, not some silly white dove.
And while I was stuck with these limited male images of god, other religions had all kinds of cool deities. I especially loved Hinduism, where you have Ganesha, with an elephant’s head and round human body. And it has female gods, too! There’s that divine female known as Devi, and fair-skinned Sarasvati, all dressed in white. Better yet, there’s full-bosomed Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, with her broad hips and warm smile. I can just hear her saying, “Why don’t you come up some time and see me?” Gods don’t have to be limited in their attributes.
You also want a god who doesn’t require too much of you. It’s all right for a god to expect a little acknowledgement and maybe an occasional thanks now and again, when things are going well. But I would definitely draw the line at those Mayan gods who require regular human sacrifice. Now, some people might find this has a certain cachet. Not me. If I have to kill someone to worship you, well, that’s unacceptable. Even a god who says such a thing, but doesn’t really mean it, is not to be trusted.
Whenever I heard that story in the Old Testament about god telling Abraham to kill his only son, I thought, “What kind of god would even suggest such a thing?” It totally creeped me out. Supposedly this was symbolic foreshadowing of the promised son of god to come, who would be sacrificed for the good of humanity, but for me, the damage was done. Then god tells Abraham to just go kill a poor ram instead, and everything’s fine. Well, it ain’t. Killing animals shouldn’t be a requisite, either. As for the son of god metaphor, you’d think an infinitely powerful god would find a better way to communicate with his subjects than staging such a sophomoric act. Downright sloppy.
So, what kind of requirements should you look for? At one end of the spectrum, you have gods who are content with a little chanting and dancing, general detachment, and just going with the flow, with maybe a little meditation thrown in. You can easily fit that in after work and still have the whole weekend free for less divine pursuits.
Watch out, though, for the Mormon god, who demands that you abstain from alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea, and must marry for eternity (marrying for life is hard enough). The Rastafarian god may insist you wear dreadlocks. The Nation of Islam god requires you to pray five times a day. He also requires that you respect all laws, don’t make war, and not bear arms, the last which some Second Amendment folks might find hard to obey. The Gnostic god requires strict celibacy and asceticism, since all matter is considered evil. This might explain the fact that this religion is pretty much extinct.
For minimal obligation, nothing beats the Deist god who, being totally uninterested in the world, doesn’t require you to do a goddamn thing. He doesn’t want to hear about your whiny needs, either, so don’t bother praying to him.
One final thing to look for. You definitely want a god who is cool. I always had trouble thinking of Jesus as cool. Yeah, he was supposed to have performed all those miracles, like turning water into wine — a neat trick, I must admit. But his mother had to beg him to do it, to which he replied, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus Christ! You’re talking to your mother, dude. I just couldn’t relate to him.
So, here are a couple of imaging suggestions for a cool god. Imagine her as Lady God, in the form of Billie Holiday, at the top of her fame, singing her divine, jazzy songs “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.” All she would require of us is that we sing to one another. A case could also be made for Frank Sinatra or Queen’s Freddie Mercury, either of whom would be a lot more fun and inspirational than some wimpy, goody-goody hippie in robe and sandals or that fat old guy on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Personally, I can’t think of a better image than that of Louis Armstrong, or Lord Satchmo, as his followers call him. Just imagine him creating the world with a blow of his sweet trumpet, then singing softly to himself, “What a Wonderful World.”
This is an excerpt from FFRF Member Gene Twaronite’s new collection of essays, My Life as a Sperm: Essays from the Absurd Side.