Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

“What was that?”

”I don’t know. I was too busy talking to Bignose.”

”I think it was ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.’”

”Ah, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?”

”Well, obviously, it’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

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Good God Almighty! What in the name of Shlabotnik have we gotten ourselves into?

We’ve currently got more people at war around the world over petty religious differences than there were during those golden days of Papist brigandry, the Crusades. How is it, might I be so impertinent to ask, that in the year 2003 we are still pulling the same dumb-ass shit that we pulled when we were carving bison on cave walls? Many things in this life astound and appall me, but the pointlessness of religious wars hovers right up there near the top of the list, right alongside “trickle down” economics, the drug war, and the utterly inexplicable persistence of Cathy Lee Gifford’s career.

If they can’t learn to play nice with their avatars, messiahs, gurus, and bodhisattvas, then they shan’t be allowed to have them.

Y’know, I don’t want to come off as some sort of atheist here or anything, but is it at all possible for everyone to stop waving their godforsaken Holy Tomes for two flippin’ seconds and take a look in the mirror? If there is some sort of Higher Power (I like to call it Ms. Jeebus H. Jehoosephat Jr.), it’s high time for it to call time-out and let the human race know in no uncertain terms that if they can’t learn to play nice with their avatars, messiahs, gurus, and bodhisattvas, then they shan’t be allowed to have them.

Life is uncertain at best, and for some folks that uncertainty can be terrifying. I understand, I feel it myself often, and I can see why some people might look to various religious tales in order to feel like there’s some overarching plan of which they are a part. It’s when the world degenerates into some Singapore back-alley cock-fight between True Believers of one imaginary parental figure and those of another that it all starts to get unnecessarily weird.

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Of course, much of this problem comes from the fact that many people are conditioned from a very young age to believe these stories as though they were historical fact, largely to keep them frightened enough to keep going to church and filling up those collection plates. I myself narrowly escaped being programmed by a demented, menopausal penguin as a child. My parents decided to send me to first grade at a parochial school rather than a public school, and I wound up in the clutches of a nun who clearly took great pleasure in terrifying the living shit out of young children. First thing she did day one was to take roll. Second thing she did day one was to drag us into the church (complete with the requisite towering sculpture of a man nailed to two chunks of wood, writhing in mortal pain — a classic source of spiritual comfort and illumination if ever there was one) and proceed to give us the most lurid, violent, horrifying, “Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper Couldn’t Have Topped This Shit on a Vial of Nightmarishly Bad Acid Apiece” description of the Devil and Hell that I’ve heard to this very day, telling us that we were all going there if we did anything bad.

Now, bear in mind, I was a little six year-old kid who had absolutely no bullshit filter, who was eminently trusting and devoid of cynicism, and who had parents that weren’t particularly religious people in the first place, so at this point “Hell” was nothing more than a word I wasn’t supposed to say. So, this emotionally-stunted sadist in a black-and-white potato sack tells me that if I step one toe out of line this stinking, horned, evil man is going to skewer me on a pitchfork and take me down under the ground to a lake of fire and burning rock (where, according to Chuckles the Nun, there’s no water and absolutely nothing to eat) to burn me, torture me, beat me, and flay me alive for the rest of eternity, and keep me from ever seeing my parents again, and on and on and on ... well, let’s just say that heavily-medicated fish in a shallow barrel have a far better fighting chance than I had here.

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Luckily, my parents quickly realized their mistake when their kid was suddenly keeping them awake the entire night with nightmares about being kidnapped and tortured for coloring outside the lines in his Phonics book. I think it took maybe three days or so before my folks decided to spring me from this loony bin and put me in public school — with another middle-aged nutcase of a teacher who would actually slam kids against the blackboard for getting math problems wrong, true enough, but at least I got to keep my soul. When my father confronted Sister Psycho about what had happened that first day of parochial school, her justification was “Well, with all the problems with young people today [note: this was about 1973] we’ve decided to emphasize the Devil and Hell a lot more.”

“Not with MY kid, you don’t!”

I ended up becoming exactly the sort of fornicating, dope-smoking iconoclast that the Catholic Church was so insistent that I not become.

And that was that. I scooted out of there relatively intact (though with some definite emotional twitchiness and sourness that probably still informs my feelings on organized religion and flightless water fowl to a noticeable degree) because my parents had the good sense to realize how destructive this sort of thing could be to a kid. And, of course, I ended up becoming exactly the sort of fornicating, dope-smoking iconoclast that the Catholic Church was so insistent that I not become (but that I find to be infinitely more fun to be than their intended alternative — which in recent years has come to appear to involve, among other things, the groping of young boys, which ... well, don’t knock the way the other cat swings and all, but I personally just don’t see the appeal, nor do I see the spiritual upliftingness of the whole thing).

What’s bizarre to me about this is the fact that in any other circumstance the sort of early indoctrination via the targeted introduction of neuroses engaged in by the aforementioned nun would be considered emotional abuse by the vast majority of people, but as long as you add God into the mix, it’s somehow okay. The idea, clearly, is to program kids to take these scare stories as being something real, thereby ensuring that they spend the rest of their lives funneling their energy and money to the church, never once stopping to realize that the church intentionally inflicted mental and emotional damage upon them in the first place in order to get that energy and money.

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And, of course, the madness doesn’t stop there. The history of mankind is, of course, littered with examples of people flat-out killing one another over the oh-so-vitally-important issue of “My imaginary friend can kick your imaginary friend’s imaginary ass!” It always seems that the human race as a whole is just a little too immature to be able to handle the matter of spiritual enlightenment, taking what is essentially a good idea and fucking it up beyond recognition. Yes, there are plenty of individual people who can take it for what it is and run beautifully with it — it’s groups of people who often cleave to a more pathological approach to the whole thing. Maybe that’s it ... maybe it’s nothing more or less than the classic mob mentality slobbering all over something simple and pure. The power trips and paranoia start to color it, and before long they’re so concerned with scapegoats and father figures that the whole beautiful thing goes kerblooie. Hell, not even kerblooie ... it just disappears silently under a mountain of self-serving bullshit.

I can’t find any basic fault with the idea of believing in some aspect of being that exists beyond what we can see, hear, and touch, especially if it’s something that by definition would tend to bring people together, to give them more of a reason to do right by one another, etc. It’s like raindrops suddenly remembering the sea. It’s an awareness that there is an energy out there that will give us back whatever we put into it, and that by definition things will just go a hell of a lot better if we put our best into it and allow everyone else the space to put their best into it, so that it responds by reflecting something positive, creative, and fun, and ultimately beneficial. But the second somebody gets it into their heads to use a spiritual path as a tool for getting a leg up on everyone else, or to obscure their own personal excesses behind a veneer of piety and righteousness, the whole damned thing ends up turning sour. It’s the ultimate illustration of the old saying “Garbage in, garbage out.” Folks take to running around in robes and big, twinky-ass looking hats, or in polyester suits and disturbingly coiffed hair, or in turbans and ratty ol’ beards, and setting other folks afire, nailing them to fences, flattening them with rocks, crashing airplanes into them, propping their eyes open and forcing them to watch “reality TV” programs, refusing to supersize their UberBelly Burgers, knocking on their front doors at the crack of dawn to prattle on and on about how Jesus was actually a Navajo Indian with superhero powers and a snazzy cape and a penchant for marrying women by the half-dozen, chucking them in the pokey for smiling on a cloudy day, and so on and so forth.

All because they took a cool idea like “Don’t fuck with people”, attached it to some Almighty Grand Wahzoo on High that they conveniently dreamed up, and then ... proceeded to use it as an excuse to fuck with people! WHAAAAAAA????

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I mean, let’s go whole hog and look at one of the most patently psychotic examples of this. We currently have a president who has taken it upon himself to send hundreds of thousands of young men and women to shithole deserts clear on the other side of the world to wage some misguided War Against Evil, because he claims that ol’ Jeebus has been whispering sweet ecumenical nothings in his ear in the dead of night and that one of these messages from the ol’ disembodied carpenter is that he, George W. Bush, has been anointed as the Chosen One to lead our nation into battle against the Forces of Darkness. (And, if he can put a shitload of coin in his buddies’ pockets along the way, so much the better.)

In other words, we were attacked by a bunch of fundamentalist Islamic lunatics a couple years ago, and we’ve got a bunch of fundamentalist Christian lunatics essentially agreeing to the terms of that game and, from a philosophical/theological standpoint, responding in kind. The main cosmetic difference here appears to be that when Bush’s crusaders bomb the shit out of a residential area, they publicly “regret” it, and dismiss further discussion of the issue with the trusty-rusty little ol’ phrase “collateral damage”. Can’t cook a Freedom Omelet without breaking a few civilians, after all. Gotta git them thar “evil doers” before they do more evil. Problem with this is, of course, that the “evil doers” who attacked us in September 2001 came from a whole different country than the one we’ve since invaded and occupied. And, of course, there’s the small nagging matter of the president of the United States more or less basing his foreign policy (such as it is) on the assertion that “We’re on a mission from God.” It’s one thing for the Blues Brothers to claim this as they’re driving an old police cruiser through a crowded shopping mall at about 65 mph, but ... er ... well, now that I think of it and consider the utter shambles we’ve left Iraq and Afghanistan, maybe it’s the same thing in Bush’s case, only without the comedy and without the music.

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But hey, if The Lord whispered into the President’s ear late one night (and of course a dry drunk like Bush would never hear voices that weren’t there, now would he?) that he was to smite the Evil Ones in the Mesopotamian deserts, then who are we to question him? In fact, there are plenty of those who seem to regard Bush himself as some sort of benign avatar, and by extension anyone who questions him must be treated as some sort of wild-eyed heretic. Criticize the war? You’re a terrorist. Criticize Bush’s feed-the-rich tax giveaways? You’re a communist. Point out that, despite endless Republican claims to the contrary, the economy remains in the shitter and the job market is about as thriving as the village of Guernica on the morning after the Luftwaffe used it for target practice? You’ll be lucky to not find a flaming cross stuck in your kid’s wading pool in the front yard tonight.

And here again we come back to the problem of bowing down mindlessly and unquestioningly before some Almighty God ... this unswerving devotion far too easily transfers over to those whom people believe to somehow be in communication with God. It’s bad enough that George W. Bush is afflicted with a messianic complex and is willing to start wars based on it, but it’s far worse that the people of this country are acting as enablers for this sort of madness. To elevate this disturbed little man to be some sort of star-spangled imam ... well, it would be uproariously funny if it weren’t so damned dangerous. After all, this is the same president who has ordered government researchers to develop new, more easily-used nuclear weapons for use in his little crusade against Evil. This is the same president who is on a very cozy basis with the leaders of Uzbekhistan, who have been known to boil political dissidents alive. This is the same president who lied out his born-again ass to convince the world and the American people that he ought to be allowed to order an unprovoked invasion of Iraq. This is the same president who has Reserve troops fighting the war in Iraq, while he himself used the Reserves to get out of going to war in Vietnam, and then ended up deserting altogether once he got bored with it. And yet, he’s somehow supposed to be an anointed channel for The Almighty? Right, and Latrell Sprewell is the friggin’ Maitreya Buddha.

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Because, see, somehow the words of a peacenik healer from Judea have been twisted and bastardized over the centuries to justify wars and other atrocities, and this bastardization seems to be largely based on this ridiculous notion that somewhere someplace there’s a God who must be bowed down before. The golden rule and the importance of connecting with everyone else so as to move beyond the primordial need to bop one another on the noggin with sticks have been paved over in favor of blind subservience to some higher authority, be it God or somebody who claims to be a conduit to God. The same can be said for virtually every other major world religion, particularly those that sprang out of the Middle Eastern deserts over the millennia.

Folks, we’ve got to stop making God in our own image, particularly if we’ve got a natural bent towards unbridled violence, or we’re just going to keep escalating these asinine holy wars until there’s nobody left to disagree. Near as I can figure, from what I’ve heard from the “faithful”, this “God” fellow embodies every weak, petty, unevolved emotion, neurosis, and delusion known to man. Vindictiveness, narcissism, bloodthirstiness, bigotry, homophobia, pyromania, halitosis ... you name it, and some damned fool (and usually a few million of his or her peers) has ascribed it to “God” and probably beaten somebody blind over it as well. It just makes no sense whatsoever. Whatever God is, it’s not a flaw-ridden person sitting in judgment on a throne beyond the clouds somewhere. It’s not some demented puppet-master that gets its jollies by telling people to degrade, oppress, and kill each other, then sitting back and watching the show. That’s a fucking Star Trek episode. Not that I have anything against a good Star Trek episode, but come on, let’s not go basing our entire cosmology around one or nobody is ever gonna get laid again.

Seems to me that the way out of this might well be to shitcan the whole idea of an anthropomorphic God Almighty Whose Feet We Would Gladly Lick Clean Until Massive Holes Wore Through Our Tongues, and just strip it down to something simple, allegorical, and personal as opposed to the complex, literal, universal-even-if-we-have-to- kill-everyone-in-the-world-to-make-it-universal mess that it is now. As it stands, it reminds me of times when I’ve had a significant other and she’s gotten pissed at me for something she says I did in a DREAM she had. Holy fucknik, lady! I didn’t do a damned thing, you just dreamed that shit up and decided to holler at me for it! By that same token, I am in no way responsible for whatever God you decide to dream up, nor do the religious laws that you dreamed up along with that God apply to me in any way. Because they’re not my trip, they’re somebody else’s.

Dreams are fine, as long as you respect others’ rights to have their own dreams and don’t expect them to adhere to the rules of your dreams. In fact, it’s usually when different people’s dreams are put together that new ideas form, so in that sense it seems to me that rather than forcing spiritual homogenization at gunpoint, as so many folks seem unable to get past the need to do, the key is to learn more about your own spiritual path by listening to the dreams of others. As the song says, “Believe it if you need it, and if you don’t, just pass it on.” We all seem to be climbing the same ol’ mountain anyway, so why get bogged down and hung up on details? Okay, fine, there are little pine trees and grassy patches on the side of the hill you’re climbing up. I’m climbing over a lot of fossil-laden rocks and boulders on my side. Don’t get all up in my shit because I’m not seeing little pine trees — just dig what you’re seeing, use the footholds that are available to you, and enjoy the climb. I’ll do the same on my side of the mountain. And if we want to entertain each other with stories about what we’re seeing, fine. But why beat the shit out of each other over it?

Well, God told me that if you keep on being an utter dickhead to everyone and then pointing the finger at him for it, he’s gonna come down here and launch his fist into your friggin’ ball-bag. Thrice.

I mean, even if one admits the possibility of the existence of a person-like God, doesn’t it strike anyone else as pretty fucking rude to pound the shit out of somebody and then blame it on God? Bomb the piss out of a residential neighborhood looking for “evil-doers” and then shrug and say “God told me to”? Oh yeah? Well, God told me that if you keep on being an utter dickhead to everyone and then pointing the finger at him for it, he’s gonna come down here and launch his fist into your friggin’ ball-bag. Thrice.

How d’ya like them apples there, jacknik? Ever been slugged in the nutsack by a pissed-off deity? I think not. Let’s put it this way, when your ex-girlfriend kneed you in the balls for shooting your mouth off about her sister’s ever-widening kiester, was it accompanied by a massive thunderclap? Gonna put my neck on the chopping block here and say “Probably not.”

But then again, what do I know? I’m just a heretical longhair who colors outside the lines and asks questions. I don’t know from bipolar gods and holy cock-punches. Do I ever hear voices in my head? Yeah, when I get stoned a green, weedy little voice in my head tells me to order a shitload of Chinese food from Wing Hoe, throw The Big Lebowski in the DVD player, and pack another bowl because it’s Friday night and I don’t have to be up early in the morning. The difference is, I’m not out there trying to beat on people until they validate those voices for me and further enable my delusions of grandeur by treating me as a holy messenger from The Almighty Cannabisius. See, I KNOW I’m just stoned and talking to myself ...

Now if I could only get these goddamned penguins to stop following me everywhere I go.

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