My best friend’s mother died last Monday, and the memorial service was today. During the past week it’s been a pleasure for me to be there for her, just being supportive, and driving her the 40 minutes from Austin (a couple of times actually) to Seguin to be with her family.
My friend isn’t Christian, nor is she atheist. She’s kind of in that waffly in-between area, but it doesn’t come between us. (Indeed, she asks me lots of questions and agrees with most of my criticisms of religion.) But her uncle is a Baptist minister, and the memorial service was held at his church. It was probably the first time I’ve walked into a church in about ten years, and I couldn’t avoid a little of the feeling of being a sheep among wolves. But mainly I could chuckle at that, as I was, once again, just there to support my friend. I don’t think anybody noticed or cared that I was the only guy remaining seated during prayers.
Apart from a nicely-assembled slideshow at the beginning, and my friend’s own eulogy, I was surprised to find myself as appalled and offended by the memorial service as I was. I expected, of course, a formal eulogy, some songs, prayers, and that sort of thing. You know, the funerary routine; touching, sweet, and above all, respectful. But the pastor also saw fit to offer what amounted to a standard-issue church sermon. This had the effect — which I’m sure only I noticed, since I wasn’t viewing the whole thing through the veil of faith — of disrespecting my friend’s mother on a couple of levels, not the least of which was that the whole affair suddenly stopped being about her and started being about God. When a quartet sang “Amazing Grace,” and the pastor followed it up with an obligatory, “Praise God!” I wanted to blurt out, “Oh, silly me. I thought we were here to praise Carol.”
Part of the reason I find Christianity so vile is that, no matter in what context it decides to inject itself — a funeral, a tragic accident, even just a bunch of right-wing families at a high school football game in the deep south — it ultimately boils down to spiritual used-car salesmanship, hawking the invisible space daddy and his catalogue of false hope to the punters. Never mind all the cracks and seams we’ve Bondoed over.
The stupidest part of the sermon came when the pastor veered into a misology theme. We were reminded that while all the most brilliant scientists and philosophers in the world have been pretty doggone smart guys, figuring out a bunch of useful stuff, ultimately all their knowledge hasn’t worked out what we were told is the most important issue, which is, according to the pastor, what happens to us when we die. I thought that issue was pretty well worked out: our bodies organically decompose. But of course, the pastor was talking about “souls,” I suppose, and so we were cheerfully reminded that Christianity did provide that answer that has eluded the great minds of our time. And what’s best is that you don’t have to be some brilliant intellectual giant to understand it! The Bible makes it simple!
How handy is that? Yes, keep it simple, above all. I mean, most people can’t figure out how to set the clocks on their video players, so doesn’t it make sense that the answers to life’s most penetrating questions ought to be even simpler than that? Just take all of those profound conundrums about the nature of life and the universe to which scientists and philosophers have dedicated their entire lives over the past several millennia, and boil it down to “Goddidit!” See? Simple!
Okay, this is all just boilerplate Christian anti-intellectual silliness. But when you realize that people by the millions are getting slammed with this moronic message every Sunday — “Hey, education is okay and all, but it hasn’t got the real answers, and you’ll get those today, and the best thing is they’re as easy as pickin’ your nose while sittin’ down!” — then is it any wonder that we live in a country where something as retarded as the Creation “Museum” can actually be built? When religion hands ignorant people a bunch of wish fulfillment fantasies and then tells them they’re smarter than “brilliant scientists and philosophers,” it’s an act as essentially cruel as the drug dealer giving a third-grader the “first one’s free, kid” spiel.
But the worst part of this sermon is that my friend’s mother was a schoolteacher, working with learning-disabled children, and was deeply dedicated to her vocation, even spending her own money on teaching materials when whatever school she was at was too cheap (or, to be fair, underfunded perhaps) to provide. And here’s this jerk giving a sermon that completely devalues education, thereby devaluing my friend’s mother’s life, and pronouncing that old delusion, “faith,” as infinitely preferable and more valuable than knowledge.
I’m pleased I was able to be there for my friend in her time of mourning. But it saddens me that all I got out of the service was a bleak reminder of why religion is such poison. What should have been a tribute to her mom’s life turned into another gross sales pitch for Christianity, and a stomach-turning exercise in misology that demeaned the legacy of the woman it should have honored.