Religious Reconnoitering

Yesterday I told the story of composing my first full-length play, Speak No Evil, explaining that I have tended to write my long plays from frustration (anger) with falsehoods rampant in the world. If you read that little essay, anger wasnʼt really the flint that sparked that first dramatic endeavor into existence but the wonderful uplift of science (thank you, Carl Sagan).

Feel free to put these crosshairs on the bilious hypocrite(s) of your choice.

My second play, however, arose directly from anger at the reactionary and ignorant religious right and put hate-mongering televangelists dead in the center of my literary gunsights (hey, itʼs not just the wacko/Palin Right that can utilize figurative weaponry). I donʼt know why as the Eighties dawned I started taking so personally the scamming and con-artistry so blatant on the televangelista circuit. Perhaps it was growing up; perhaps, later, it was growing together (with Janet) and getting married — both indications conjuring maturity. But the money-grubbing, false-as-sin-we-donʼt-admit hypocrisy and cant got my ire up. And my dander, too.

In order to get married, Janet and I had to endure/survive/experience Pre-Cana classes. She was raised Catholic, attending Catholic elementary school and the whole gambit, so she wanted to get married in the church. I agreed, being of no firm faith, naturally (and at that particular era, drawn powerfully toward Judaism from my reading and nonfiction studies — frightening my mother that I might actually convert, unfortunately; but naturally I lacked the full conviction, although on our honeymoon in Minneapolis, I dragged The Lovely One along as I sought Jewish bookstores for purchases.)

My own religious background was more mixed (-up). My family was United Methodist, to which my older sister Margaret and minister brother Paul (going full-time at it once he retires from teaching this spring/summer) adhere now. Younger brother Stephen also finds comfort in his religious values, mostly confined to Bible study, I believe, these days. Youngest sibling David has sought solace in the UCC, whose generous spirit of liberality he finds welcoming (as do I, differently).

I was confirmed a Methodist in sixth grade in Rock Island. It was a hot June day. We wee believers were clad in our best church clothes (including wool jacket and shirt with tie for me) and then covered in choir robes, so we were dropping like flies in the awful heat, including me. I only have vague recollections of the minister putting his hands upon my head as someone held me up, lifted from my unconscious state on the carpet, and then being rushed off to a recovery room nearby. Maybe my semi-conscious condition explains why the experience hasnʼt taken.

The next summer the family moved to Olivet, Michigan, where my father took his only college teaching job. With no Methodist church in town, we became for the two years we remained in Michigan Congregationalists (perhaps helping to explain Davidʼs choice?), and I was confirmed yet again (I think that next spring, as an eighth grader) into the bosom of that New England faith. But then my father wearied of college faculty politics, and with him going back into high school teaching, we moved again to Mt. Pleasant, where there was a strong Methodist congregation that confirmed young people as sophomores in high school. So I went through the confirmation classes for a third time (and each experience, disregarding the subtle theological distinctions of two different brands of Protestantism, was different from the others) and got the official sanction for a third time, too.

One time in Olivet I even got “saved,” having gone to watch a magician at the next-door Assembly of God building. His show was so inspiring that I felt the spirit in me move (something), went to the front during the Call and got reborn, I guess (or something). I went directly home, into the garage where I had hidden a pack of cigarettes, and destroyed them all in my blissful, heart-so-light reinstalled innocence. Iʼm not sure how much more than three days that exaltation persisted, but I guess I share a little something with the pea-brained Bimbo from Alaska, however briefly in my case. (I shall have to reserve the sorry tale of my youthful evil — and it is a sad story — for another post.)

More complexly, I went Presbyterian without the formal rituals for nearly five years in Mt.Pleasant, drawn thither by the allure of romance (the then-girlfriend was of that persuasion) and friendship — a lot of my peers attended there as well, drawn by the warmth and even radicalism of the pastor, whom we all called “Rev” (thatʼs how cool he was, although he once lost it with me during adult discussion group — no mere Bible-studying Sunday school for them! — when I wouldnʼt admit I was terrified to die/unaware of my incipient and eventually certain demise). The more-than-liberal Rev even made national news (and Time magazine) for sheltering illegal Salvadorans in the later Seventies and early Eighties once he had moved off to the Southwest, having become a strong mover in the Sanctuary movement. I liked that church a lot, although I also recall committing some less than holy actions there. As most of this period was  college for me, I believe my parents (who were both very sincerely devout) were just glad I was going to a church of any kind.

More twistedly, I continued to attend the Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church at least once a year through college… in order to qualify for a UMC scholarship that covered a good deal of my tuition at Iowa Wesleyan College (yep, that good old religious connection again).

But after commencing from college summa cum laude, the church stuff pretty much withered away, although like most Americans I would still attend with the family for Christmas and Easter if I went back to my folks for that holiday. Withered away, I guess, unless you count those years in the late Seventies when I was gobbling up every Talmudic and Kabbalistic volume I could acquire (and in the process worrying my poor mother that I was headed straight to conversion perdition). My Dante studies were equally drenched in theology — Christian this time, of course, and Roman Catholic, as I steeped myself in medieval scholarship, scholasticism and Thomas Aquinas (and possibly more comforting to my mother).

So there you have it: thrice confirmed, once saved, and having dabbled in lots of beliefs, probably damned eternally.

Which brings us back where we began… Janet and I attending pre-Cana in Dubuque to get married in her hometown Catholic Church, after six weeks of soul-searching and counseling with the local priest in Andrew, Father Maichen — a really excellent gentleman who sincerely tried to help me understand that my own sense of what he called “doubt” was a perfectly acceptable aspect of oneʼs serious, tortuous road to Catholic faith. Although I had no intention of taking the plunge for a fourth (or fifth) time, he and I had some good discussion about church fathers and theology in general (matched or superseded only by visits with my late brother-in-law Brian Sullivan, he of the “I thought I heard a joyful noise” incident).

—But I have greatly exceeded my thousand-word limit for posts without even getting back to televangelical shenanigans and deceptions and the rocky road to Magick. So thereʼs got to be more to come. Soon.

(And let us not forget to mention Bertrand Russell, key philosopher in my spiritual development. And Spinoza, arising from Judaical studies and Shelley, too… And Gandhi… )

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

One thought on “Religious Reconnoitering

  1. Very interesting post John. Always worth reading..shame on me for being so far behind on your blog. Good work.

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