There's a great scene in Pulp Fiction (one of many), where Vincent Vega is trying to convince Jules Winnfield that an incident that they survived earlier in the day was not divine intervention--not a miracle. Vincent defines a miracle as when "God makes the impossible possible" and says more or less that this particular case doesn't count as impossible.
On the surface, he's right. If the history of firearms has taught us anything, the results of firing a gun at someone's head aren't nearly as predictable as you might think. There are cases of soldiers charging nest full of blazing machine guns and not only living to brag about it, but also walking away without a scratch.
Jules objects to this definition, saying that the actual possibility or impossibility of what happens is immaterial. What does matter is that Jules "felt the touch of God. God got involved."
He's absolutely right, and I have a similar story.
On my last year of high school, I skipped an assembly to go do some banking. For one reason or another that I can't remember, I actually wanted to go back after skipping. To do so, I went off the beaten path and cut through an uncleared field. If you grew up in the suburbs, you've seen a million of them. They're fields that haven't been built on yet, but will one day. The grass is overgrown and vegetation is at least up to your knees. There's usually some really ugly trees here and there, and discarded furniture and auto parts.
As I walked through this field, I stumbled on a mother cat and her newborn kitten.
The kitten was so young it could hardly stand. It was, as most babies are, completely adorable. I didn't touch it...the mother had already retreated to a safe distance. I looked at the kitten for a moment. Then I slowly went around the little hideaway the mother cat had made under a discarded sofa and car door. Later, I went back to make sure the mother hadn't abandoned the kitten. Fortunately, she hadn't.
What happened to me was not impossible. Unlikely, sure, but stranger things happen all the time and I don't give them a second thought. But this was different. Because I felt something. For a brief second, it was if something said to me "Come this way. I want to show you something. Look. Don't touch, just watch. And see."
For one instance, I was looking at a bigger picture. Something larger and greater than myself. While I was skipping high school no less. Which, incidentally, was a Roman Catholic school. Now, admittedly the experience of having a gun fired at you and seeing a kitten are not quite the same thing, but once again, it doesn't matter. I felt the touch.
That few seconds looking at a newborn cat taught me more about religion than all my years in the Peel Roman Catholic School system. To recap, I had skipped school, the thing I was supposed to be at may even have been some kind of mass. I had a religious experience anyway. That day I was convinced that there is a kind of superior intelligence, a guiding force in the universe, and it thinks a little like me.
For anyone who knows me, there's a sobering thought. Quite terrifying actually.
But this isn't some huge ego trip for me, or a sales pitch for my groovy new religion. I would urge you to treat this whole thing with skepticism. Skepticism is great, it saves lives. This incident sums up all my religious beliefs. For everyone else, it is meaningless and that's okay. For me, religion really is a personal thing, which is why I treat other people who try to sell their religion to me suspiciously.
I, like several other people I know, actually look forward to answering my door and finding Jehovah's Witnesses smiling prozac-like at me. I'm part of a club of Recreational Jehovah's Witnesses Baiters, actually. One of my fellow members is a Roman Catholic priest. He likes to quiz them on their Bible knowledge. Now, the Bible has been revised more times than Webster's Dictionary. You don't study the Bible, you study versions of it. The King James. The Guttenberg. Some of them differ subtly, others drastically. Some contradict each other entirely. The priest I knew liked to get them wound up explaining contradictions. Me, I don't know that much about Bible history, so I just like to fuck with their heads. When asked if I was Protestant or Roman Catholic, I once told a "Joho" I was Buddhist.
That really messed her up. She had to look me up in her Jehovah's Witnesses Giant Fun Colouring and Activity Book. I scratched my upper lip to hide my smirk as she read out "Buddhism is a monotheistic Eastern religion started by Siddartha Guatama, also known as the Buddha, or 'enlightened one'. There are three main kinds of Buddhism." As she began to ask me which kind I was, I struggled to remember what I had learned in World Religions.
"There's Zen, the trendy one," I thought, "Theravadan, a more traditional and fundamentalist religion (fundamental as Buddhism goes, anyway), and one that begins with M, which is more moderate and is probably the one I'd be if I was Buddhist."
I mumbled an M world. She then read to the end of her little entry, which said that overall Buddhists have a positive view of the future. She asked me if I had a positive view of the future.
I had just finished reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, but before I could get very far into English Student mode with a literary comparison of that and 1984 by George Orwell, I finally snapped her patience (no mean feat), and she politely excused herself.
I could say that I have no problem with religions of any kind as most people do, but that would be a lie. I have a real problem with some of them. I hold the ones that want to sacrifice me to some god in a really dim view. I don't care really what other people believe--it's their business and I'm happy to let the mind it alone. It's the ones that want to inflict their religion on other people that piss me off. And I'm not talking about the obvious stuff, like forcible conversion or holy wars. I'm talking about people who talk about it without being asked. Endlessly. Or go door to door trying to convert people. "Convert" is actually the wrong word. It's recruiting.
I suppose you could say I'm guilty of the same behavior by writing about this, but I urge you to stop reading if you don't want to hear this. I'm also not trying to convert people. In fact, what I'm trying to say that my religion is no good for you, and if you see it, run in the other direction.
You know the recruiting religions. Jehovah's Witnesses. B'hais (is that how you spell it?). Scientology. Scientology is a particularly sore spot for me, since they not only actively recruit, they selectively recruit. They go after people with prestige and money. By the way, would you really want to join a religion that saved Kirstie Alley's life...twice? Gee, and thanks to Scientology, we now have great films like Look Who's Talking and For Rich or For Poorer. And let us not forget the amazing TV show Victoria's Secret. Gee, thanks Scientology. Thank you so fucking much.
Once I was on the bus to work, and I bumped into a guy named George. George worked not far from me, and I noticed him a few times in the ride. George decided to introduce himself to me. God, I hate friendly people. I like the surly ones. More character. And, they don't ask you what George asked me...I'll get to that in a minute.
After some small chit chat about what we did for a living, George asked me if I was a spiritual person.
Woo hoo, here we go.
"In my own way," I told him. I hoped he would get the hint. Of course, he didn't. George invited me to his church. Just to see it, of course. No pressure. I told George I wasn't interested. George must have sensed that he had overstepped his bounds (we'd known each other a total of five minutes), and said that when he was growing up his parents tried to shove religion down his throat and he resented it. I guess he was trying to imply that he wasn't trying to shove religion down my throat. Meanwhile, I was envisioning Georgy getting religion shoved into another bodily orifice all together.
It's suspicious. Partly I think of that old Woody Allen bit about not wanting to join a club that would have me for a member. The Roman Catholic Church didn't recruit me. I was born into it. People like to complain that you don't really get a say in what religion you grow up with, but the RC church didn't get much of say in how its new member turned out, either. They baptized me and let me take Communion, and all along, they had no idea what they were getting into until it was far too late.
Now, these turkeys, they're actively head-hunting me. That's a dead giveaway. Any religion that would take me as a member has to be up to no good. Part of being in this religion is to recruit your friends (actually, a good way to lose your friends) and anyone else you can get a hold of. That's not right.
George Orwell once wrote this great essay on Patriotism versus Nationalism. Orwell defined patriotism as a love for one's own country or culture, but a comfortable love. An Orwell patriot sees no need to go around forcing his or her way of life on someone else and are not threatened by other approaches to life. The door is always open to those who want to participate or join, but no-one is over pushed through. Nationalists, on the other hand, see their group only in terms of conflict, always against one or more conflicting forces. Nationalists always seek to convert someone to their side, insult the competition, bolster their own victories, in a never-ending struggle. Most Nationalists don't get the chance to force their opponents into anything, but there's nothing a nationalist likes better than seeing an opponent humiliated and beaten.
It's almost like an insecurity. The religion is failing because its numbers are down. Or that Protestants are up two point on the Exchange and we're down three. Never mind the comfort or meaning it gives to its members' lives.
It can have a few ironic twists though. I was told of one incident from a friend out in Saskatoon about a room full of B'hais and Jehovah's Witnesses trying to recruit each other. Hopefully, each found the other to be full of self-righteous, brainwashed bores and were glad they weren't like that.
This article may have had a point at some time, but now that we're near the end, I seem to have forgotten it. That's all for the best really. People who make points about religions start inquests and holy wars. And the only thing worse than war is people singing "Give Peace a Chance." I wouldn't want to be responsible for that. There's always some idiot in every crowd who completely misinterprets what someone says, and thinks I'm trying to take people away from other religions to join my own. Nah. I'd make a lousy Pope/Messiah/Avatar/Whatever.
I do make a mean batch of fajitas, though.