Tuesday, December 29, 2015

This Post May Change Your Life (Or Bore You To Death)

Hello, people of Earth. 

My name is Kenn Beck.

I'm an American artist in my 40's, and I'm here today because I felt driven to share something with you. 

I'm warning some of you you right now, what I have to say will shock, anger, or offend you. If you are the type of person who gets shocked, angered and offended by someone speaking their opinion on touchy subjects, then I'll wait a few seconds for you to close your browser window or click on a link to a video of cute fluffy kittens or something. Because no one likes being told they are wrong about a central tenet of their life, especially by some dorky guy on the internet. 

I mean, look at me: what's up with my hairline? Why does it look like I just ate a crate full of Pop Tarts? Did I shave with a dull spoon? 

I get it. I just do not look like the type of person that's about to bust into your brain-scape and challenge your preconceptions about matters that have dominated your way of thinking since the day you were conceived.

Nevertheless, here I am, and here we go.

Religion. You're doing it wrong.

Wait. I sense a great disturbance in the Force. It's as if a million souls clucked their tongues, rolled their eyes, and shook their heads disapprovingly all at once.

Let me explain where I'm coming from.

I was born into a Catholic family, but I am a bad Catholic. I drink. I cuss. I covet. I have anger management issues, an irreverent sense of humor, and hate and question many of God's creatures (Like slugs. Why, God, Why?)

I am as lapsed as Artie Lange's gym membership. I was still hazy about the differences between Catholic and Christian until I just Google/Binged them for the purposes of this discussion. I only go to the Catholic Church for baptisms, communions, weddings and funerals. 

I was dragged as a child to a few Latin Masses, where I was forced to kneel on concrete floors in a poorly ventilated basement and pray for my soul. In retrospect, my dad may have been trying to make us appreciate regular, above-ground churches with their carpets and padded kneeling benches and windows and fresh air.

I became an ordained minister over the internet as a joke and my first act was to bless the drinks of my friends at a local pub that night.

I have a very logic-oriented mind. I am great at spatial relationships, puzzling things out, and putting together the pieces of any puzzle. I fancy myself to have a keen detective's mind, much like Batman, without the spandex body armor, olympic level athletic prowess or billionaire lifestyle. I love me some science. 

The problem I have faced for much of my life is that what I have been taught academically and what I have been taught religiously never seemed to be able to get along with each other. 

The Bible (yes, I've read it) says that the Earth was created in six days, yet science tells us that it's billions of years old, and that mankind has only been around for a fraction of it. I believe the evidence I've seen of the existence of dinosaurs, yet there was no verse in Genesis where the Lord created the velociraptor. 

There are some that have tried to deny that dinosaurs ever existed. They, according to these folks (some of which I may or may not be related to), are a creation of those seeking to discredit the Bible. Why do I believe in scientific fact, they ask? Because I was told to, by scientists, they say.

If I had a job sitting down and looking at black jelly beans all day, then I will very likely come up with theories and hypotheses and calculations supporting why the study of black jelly beans is important, and you should trust me on it, because I am the foremost expert on the study of black jelly beans, seeing as how I have devoted my life to the study of black jelly beans. 

Of COURSE science tells us to take science as science. Because science! But they're doing it because they don't know the truth about God. At least, that's what these certain people have to say about it. 

I have a hard time with that. Because, ultimately, they are telling me that these people, who's theories are backed up by consistent results in countless tests over hundreds of years, are wrong, because other people, who have held certain beliefs for hundreds of years, BELIEVE that they're wrong. 

My logical mind refuses to accept the OPINION, the BELIEF, that black jelly beans do not exist when I am presented with evidence of their delicious existence (their deliciousness being another controversial topic, sadly).

I lack that ability to just accept something as fact without seeing some kind of concrete quantifiable evidence that can be repeated under controlled conditions. I believe those in the know call it "faith."

I lack faith. And the sad part is, I pity myself for that, because I know faith makes so many people around the world happy. I envy people for their faith. For their trust in a force that cannot be quantified, cannot be commanded, examined, or analyzed. I wish I could shut off the part of my brain that screams "prove it."

Since the moment I was able to look sideways at someone for trying to convince me that a guy with a beard could turn water into wine and come back from the dead because a book said he could, I have identified myself to any who should inquire as an Agnostic. Definition: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable, or more broadly, one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god. (Thank you, Merriam Webster.)

I do not object to the concept of religion, mind you. I have dated girls of several religions and spiritual alignments, and I've never shied away from a deep conversation about how their beliefs differ from what I've been told my beliefs were. I LOVE hearing about all the wondrous things that religions promise. And I secretly wish I could suck a little of their faith form them and keep it for myself.

The problem I have is that I have not seen any religion to date that doesn't have at least one rule or credo or commandment that makes me say "wait, WHAT?!"

Killing in the name of whatever god you believe in, first and foremost, is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard of. If your god exists, and he's as all powerful as you claim he is, I think he can handle his own smiting, and he'll be far more efficient than you ever could be, meat-suit. He won't take innocents as collateral damage. 

Blowing up marketplaces, burning witches, torturing people until they claim they believe in the same invisible man that you do, shooting people in a subway, flying airplanes into buildings, nailing people to wooden structures and leaving them to die, murdering people who try to draw a picture of the star of one of your holy stories... you're really just an embarrassment. It would be like telling a six year old to drive down to McDonalds and get you a Big Mac. If your god wants them dead, he'll kill them. I'd think he'd be more pissed at your assuming that he couldn't do the job himself.

Denying people the same freedoms you yourself enjoy based on their gender, the color of their skin, the place that they were born, the people they choose to spend their lives with or who they choose to talk to when they look into the sky is pathetic and elitist. If your god didn't want women to be able to read, he wouldn't have allowed them to evolve eyes (or bothered shaping them from Adam's rib, or whatever your sacred creation myths tell you). 

If you cling to a book nineteen hundred years old, and use it to defend your crusade against homosexuals being allowed to marry or even engage in their lifestyle of choice, while ignoring the fact that the same book also tells us that selling one's daughter into indentured servitude is acceptable, you are a hypocrite. And frankly, if you DO believe selling your daughter into indentured servitude is acceptable, you're an asshole, and probably shouldn't be allowed to have a daughter in the first place.

"Love thy neighbor as you would love thyself, unless he's too poor to afford insurance and you'd have to buy a smaller, off-brand TV because part of your paycheck is going to socialized medicine to help pay for his cancer treatments, in which case, fuck him," do I have that right? Every life is sacred from the moment of conception right up until the moment it would cost you an extra 1% of your six figure salary to help keep it from being homeless. 

Or the other end of the street, where the rights of a child too young to even draw breath on it's own are less important than the rights of a three time sex offender to get a college education for free. The sentinels of liberty who make it possible for a person, injured while attempting to make a quick escape after stealing from your house, to be the plaintiff in a personal injury case against their victims. 

The champions of free speech, who will fight endlessly for your right to say anything you want, as long as it's not on the list of words that people don't want to hear because it makes someone feel less special than everyone else. The ones who fight for the right to believe in any god they choose, but forbid people from praying in schools and government buildings because someone might disagree with which invisible man they're talking to.

We live in a world where people firebomb abortion clinics, then complain about paying for assistance programs for the children they were trying to save, and then profit from the process of trying to get these children into loving homes.

Look, I understand why people feel the need to analyze and interpret the scriptures of their given religion, in an attempt to understand the will of their god. What I don't get is why many of those people feel the need to try to impose their interpretation of their god's will on others. You disagree with my choice to listen to thrash metal? Oh well. You're going to pray for my sinful soul? Hey, thanks! I don't know if an all-powerful deity who can create an entire cosmos farther than humanity can even conceive needs advice from you on whether or not I am a good person, but I appreciate you putting in the extra effort in my name. I owe you one; let me know next time you need a party invitation designed or something, I'll try to hook you up gratis. 

Oh, wait, you're telling me I am going to Hell and your god hates me? Gee, that's not very nice. Are you sure your god wants you yelling at people and damning them to Hell? I though he was more about the love and forgiveness. Are you sure you're not just falsely representing your own fear and ignorance as the feelings of your chosen lord? Seems like the kind of thing a powerful man might look down upon.

I'm tired of it. I have finally come to the point where I realized I'm jealous of people who spend their days trying to make people feel bad because they don't believe in the same invisible man. I've been enviously chasing people who live by the words of documents written hundreds of years after their documented sources have died. I've been wishing for the ability to abandon the ability to think for myself.

No more.

Because I think I might have stumbled upon the secret. 

As an artist, I have often created pieces of artwork that make no logical sense to me. Slapped paint on a canvas and watched it drip, fascinated by the shapes it created as it traced its way down the canvas. Pushed brushes through it in no logical direction save for a vague idea in my head about a certain formation or effect I might want to see. I created that art, not to gain notoriety or fame, but because I saw something I could not grasp and wanted proof it existed. I made my own proof. I brought it into existence.

And I see that in the universe as well.

Nebulae, galaxies, sunsets and sunrises, mountains, streams, oceans, fields of colorful flowers, narrow paths through dense forests. I see beautiful patterns, most seemingly random, that fill me with feelings of awe and tranquility, a soothing stillness in my core. Who created these? Who is the artist on whose canvas I wander? Obviously it is someone who can work on a much larger scale than any artist I know. And his palette kicks some serious ass.

Someone created this. They may not be an actual person; they may just be a collection of forces and energies that guided chemical reactions. 

Social convention dictates that we assign names to topics of discussion to keep things brief and avoid confusion, and when you name something there is always the likelihood that someone is going to anthropomorphize it into a human-like being. So I'm going to concede that this creator, this force, is commonly referred to as a being, and for the sake of brevity, I'll just borrow a name from what my parents tried to instill within me. I'll call him God, this being that I'm choosing to acknowledge, just so we have a common frame of reference. 

And because until the end of time itself, some people are going to cling to their beliefs, even should they be proven wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt to everyone else, I'll further concede that there will never be a universal consensus as to which version of God is the right one, and therefore refer to the god I am speaking of as "my" God, even though I hold no claim on his creation and expect no credit for his works.

I also make no claim that "my" God and YOUR god are not the same person; they may well be, though I will leave that judgment to the judgmental. 

The God I envision, "my" God, is a painter who has created a canvas beyond vast, and has offered it up to any who would look and enjoy what they might find in it.

"My" God wants people to understand that beauty is everywhere, in everyone, and that that is to be celebrated. Accept compliments. Recognize beauty, in all its forms, be it physical, intellectual, spiritual, even if that recognition is a simple sincere smile. If you see someone smile at you, smile back. 

"My" God doesn't need us to go to daily prayer meetings, or weekly masses, or to genuflect at a specific time of day. He has no single sacred place or time. His church is the universe, his holy day is today, and tomorrow, and yesterday. He doesn't take attendance, and he doesn't require you to wear anything special or expensive. When you see a mountain and gaze in wonder, you are praying to him. When you smile at someone on the streets, that's his amen.

"My" God isn't limited by the human condition. He can be whatever he decides to be. He knows that this may be confusing to those of us who base a person's worth on their gender, race, color, geographic location, or income, but appreciates that there are some of us willing to recognize that as both our father and mother, he can be a she. He certainly doesn't get mad when someone refers to him as a her, and certainly doesn't need you correcting people about it.

"My" God doesn't want people to lie about important things, to be genuine about themselves, appreciate when others are genuine about themselves, know that none of us are perfect, and wants us to accept that about ourselves and others.

"My" God has a sense of humor. He cherishes laughter and happiness. If you're making someone laugh, you're making someone happy. He especially likes it when people are willing to laugh at themselves. Being the willing butt of a joke is a gift to all those who get a laugh from that joke.

"My" God views us all as equals. We're all beautiful. We're all brilliant souls that burn like stars for a short time before flickering out, and should be viewed with awe and wonder.

"My" God wants people to be happy, but not at the expense of happiness of others. If you're happy and you have the ability to make someone else happy, do it. If making someone else happy is what makes you happy, so much the better. But don't go through life banking on the suffering of others. If you're happiness comes from the fact that others cannot be happy, then you're doing it wrong. If you profit from the suffering of others, you're doing it wrong.

"My" God loves random acts of kindness. He loves when people tape a dollar to a vending machine for the next person to use, or pay for the coffee of the person behind them in line. He loves it when a struggling single mother still puts a few pennies in a charity box. He loves it when someone gives up their coat to a shivering person. He is saddened by those who continue to amass wealth beyond their needs when others lie in the streets suffering, simply because they can.

"My" God chuckles when we mention "karma." He likes the name, but doesn't see how we don't get it, that when we enjoy the suffering of others, even if they call it upon themselves, we too are finding joy in the misery of others. Recognize it, yes, but don't roll around in it. 

"My" God is not in charge of when and why every single person dies. He doesn't have have a "divine plan" for every soul. He doesn't take children away from their parents, and he doesn't strike people down with disease to teach lessons. He's just as shocked and saddened by sudden, senseless killings as we all are. He's just as saddened by those who linger and suffer as those who love them. But he does welcome those innocents who died by violence and tragedy into his home and gives them shelter, and he does welcome those who have finally passed from suffering and eases their pain. He knows our hearts, and doesn't base his decisions on who he welcomes on how long it has been since they've eaten a wafer or whether or not they've dunked their heads in a river (or had it forced upon them).

"My" God understands the human attachment we feel for those in our immediate circles, and the grief we experience with their passing. But he wants us to celebrate their life as well, and not be afraid to share happy times and memories about that person, even in the process of mourning their physical passing. 

"My" God wants people to cherish every life, not just their own. He is saddened by people getting abortions when there are others unable to bring children into this world, and compares it to a thirsty man watching someone let water pour into the ground because carrying it is inconvenient. He is also saddened that there are those who would let this happen because the cost of bringing those people together to solve each other's problems is too high, or threatens their own pocketbook, and views that as someone who is too self-centered to just give the thirsty man a bottle of water without needing to make a profit.

"My" God doesn't want anyone to want to kill anyone. He also understands that some people demonstrate depraved indifference towards the life of others, and that we may need to kill them so that others might not suffer. We should not enjoy their deaths, we should mourn them as we mourn the lives they took.

"My" God certainly doesn't want you killing anyone in his name, especially for using his name, painting his portrait, or describing him. He likes to see what kind of creative images and stories people come up with. Every parent cherishes their children's artwork. And if he wants someone dead in his name, he can handle that himself. But he doesn't enjoy it, and we shouldn't either.

That's "my" God. He might be yours, too, and you just don't know it. He's a pretty neat guy, the Creator Of Life. Col, to his friends (and we're all his friends, if we want to be (he's kinda chill like that)).

When I finally die, whatever constitutes my soul will be met by Col. I like to think he'll look at me and what I've done in my life, the kind of man I've tried to be, and nod. 

"I could have been better," I'll lament. 

"Of course you could have," he'll reply, "but you were good enough. Come on in. We have black jelly beans."