“You”

An essay on religion.
By Zachary Kyle Elmblad For The New Scum, et al. Spread the word, but don't be a jerkscrew plagiarism, and fuck censorship. You. I wanted to start with that word. You- you clicked on this. You have found this intentionally arranged series of words as a result of your own volition- an act; be it a click of a link, a view of a website, a Google search, maybe a Google ad, the subscription to some mass E-Mail, an alert from an RSS aggregator, or even just a whim- and we know what you've done. Somebody, somewhere, owns a server that logged the details of where, when, and why you've read these words. To some, that might instill a fear of some Orwellian over-lord, some oppression-minded mechanism that brought you here. To the easily mystified, a god. Maybe, to you (you), Orwell is just an author, and oppression just a function of psychology and sociology, maybe even of anthropology. A function of humankind itself, a function of our own psyche. Like gods. And, yeah, you might be right. Someone told me to write to you about religion. I'm qualified to dish you a goodly-portioned dose of the straight facts. That might, even to your distaste, require a brief review of my own religious background. I'll give it to you straight, fast, and hard. I was born in 1985, A.D., that's Anno Domini – which realistic Latin scholars would transliterate as Year of the Master. Master. Slave-owner. Dominus is what slaves called the man of the house- Pater Familias. That's, literally, father of family. Religion surrounds us. Thursday- change one letter, add a space and apostrophe – Thor's Day. I was born in 1985 A.D., baptized Catholic that same year without much choice in the matter. My mother works as a secretary at a Catholic Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the United States of America, North America, Earth. My father volunteers a minimum of twelve hours to that same church every week; fifty-two of them a year. That church owned an elementary and middle school which I attended from 1992, when I moved South from another stupid town in Michigan named “Grand Rapids,” until 1999 when I became a “Confirmed” Catholic. I had no choice in that matter, either. I was not eighteen, and I could not say no. Aside from their staunch belief in the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church; my parents are nice people. They genuinely care about me and my wellbeing, they are intelligent, and rational. They are normal. They believe in God because their other son, Steven, died in 1987. From that moment on, and probably before that, they needed a way to legitimize the tragic death of their biological output. They found that legitimization in the concept of “Heaven,” a wonderful place where all the dead people go to live in peace and harmony for the rest of eternity. That's a good way to introduce the anthropological function of religion. To me, religion isn't a quest for answers or a system of explaining metaphysical existences beyond my comprehension. It affects us deeply, as humans. From birth to death we are surrounded by religion in one facet or another. It is an anthropological function, and deals with human existence as an entirety. In 1998, when I was in the seventh grade, my best friend's brother died in a never really fully-explained car crash. As I frantically pedaled my bicycle to his house, the only tangible means of transportation at the time, I remember the first time I denounced my faith in god. Screaming at the sky in spiritual anguish, as the other neighborhood children played innocently in their parent's yards. “How dare you kill him? No god I want to believe in would ever do this!”

Continuing the brief autobiography, after 1999, I spent another two years at a Catholic High School, finally able to convince my parents through logic and philosophy that I needed a public education free from credit hours wasted on a fruitless attempt to indoctrinate me. Truthfully, I was exploring Buddhism as an alternative to Catholicism. At that point, religion was still a permanent fixture in my life- a veritable foundation of my existence. God was a part of my life, a concept I had known since intellectual actualization. There was a strict moral code, dogmatic and unerring, proscribed by god almighty, creator of heaven and Earth. Et cetera. Intellectual actualization, let me talk about that for just a second. Intellectual- you're probably familiar with that word. That's a person that thinks. A state of mind, and a way to be. A verb, a noun, and an adjective. A true-as-gravity concept. So that's half of it- what about the other? Actualization, well that's another word. Words, as you might know, are vocal representations of concepts. These concepts are aligned to an ethnicity or cultural identity. They are expressed as language, of which there are many worldwide. That's the funny thing about religion, it's just a language-based set of traditions and moral codes that precede our very record of our existence. Digestible explanations of fundamental and unanswerable questions: “Why are we here?', “Who are we?”, “What are we?”, “What is time and space?”, “Who/What is our creator?”, “How did we come to be?”, “What is our purpose?”, “What is our heritage?”, “What is the meaning of life?” We have, as a cumulative whole of historically-verifiable existence, spent untold lifetimes of language-driven postulation of these questions. Through our ponderings, we adopt rituals and traditions bearing little connection with the intellectual pursuit. After I graduated from high school, I went on to college and moved into an apartment with a Shiite Muslim. Five times a day, like clockwork, his computer speakers belched out an Adhan and he dropped to his knees on a rug facing East to pray to a new iteration of the same god of the Christians, the same god of the Hebrews. A monotheistic god. Mono, meaning “one.” Theistic, from Theos, “god.” Language is a beautiful function of anthropology, as well. If I challenge you to remember your Geography and World History, you will remember that the Mediterranean Sea is an aptly named ocean in the middle of the land-mass known as the entirety of existence until Columbus, in 1492, fatefully sailed the ocean blue. I won't get started on the Chinese, the vikings, or even the native occupants of the land before then. Throughout several hegemonic iterations on all shores of the Mediterranean Sea, culture flourished for thousands of years before anyone got it in their mind to drop on their knees and bow to Mecca. In 2003 I went, in tow of my Shiite roommate, to Egypt- land of the pharaohs. I left Kalamazoo an ex-Catholic Buddhist with an open mind and a year of secular college under my belt spent studying philosophy and religion. I woke up every morning to the sound of a thousand muezzin screaming from minarets in adjunct haunting harmonies. I walked among the hieroglyphs and pyramids, and I pondered what old gods might have been forgotten in the shifting desert sands of the Nile river basin. I, a model student, scoured the bazaar looking for one thing in specific: a papyrus copy of a scene from the Egyptian book of the dead where the departed is judged before Osiris. The ancient Egyptians believed that, upon death, your heart would be weighed in symbolic comparison to a feather. Pending your sin-heavy heart sunk the balance, your soul would be devoured by Ahmet, devourer of souls. Not as bad as eternal punishment in Hell at the hands of the great Satan, you might think. I also purchased in that same bazaar a statue of Horus, the falcon god of the sky, who will serve as a beautiful introduction to the function of a god inside a pantheon. There's another good word for you. Pan, “all,” and “Theon,” again from Theos. All-gods. The word pantheon is a way for a religious historian to describe a set of gods from a culture. The Egyptian pantheon existed thousands of years ago, long before Jesus, Mohammad, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, or any of those figures. It still persists to this day, as I'm sure you know at least something about the ancient Egyptian gods. They permeate our very understanding of what we are as humans. Open a history book about Western

Civilization and you'll find Egypt and it's gods within the first three chapters. So as I drove from the Pyramids at Giza, past a Muslim Graveyard, past a Coptic church turned into a Mosque, past thousand year old buildings housing Pizza Huts, and past ancient statues interceding on street corners and traffic circles like stone sore thumbs and inattentive intruders. I drove past thousands of years of history, I drove along the Nile river itself, and I decided that religion was something to be studied. A social science, a part of our cultural anthropology. Religion wasn't simply a means to an end, it was an intensely human experience. One filled with myths, historical truths and untruths, digestible dogmas and moral codes, vivid imagery and brilliant writing, and a thickly-painted visage of cultural tradition stemming all the way back from primordial languages long since forgotten by the time we learned how to write it down on clay tablets or papyrus. The gods of Egypt reiterated into the gods of Mesopotamia, the gods of Greece, of Rome, and of the Norse. The mythologies varied, but the means to the end remained the same. How did we get here? Where are we going? What created the mountains, the animals, the rivers and the trees? Why do the seasons change, why does the sun light the sky only half the time? What causes things to rot and decay? All these questions, and thousands upon thousands of other questions have been answered both directly and in-directly by religion. I flew out of Cairo a fundamentally changed human being. I had no faith. I lost it somewhere between pouring shots of Jack Daniel's down my throat on the shores of the red sea and smoking hash in the sarcophagus inside the Great Pyramid. When I got back to Kalamazoo, I moved in with another roommate who was something altogether religiously different. He was a devout LaVeyan Satanist. Now, before you get all goose-bumply and freaked-out, let me give you a few quotes from Anton Lavey's Satanic Bible. “It is a popular misconception that the Satanist does not believe in God. The concept of 'God,' as interpreted by man, has been so varied throughout the ages, that the Satanist Simply accepts the definition which suits him best.” “If man insists on externalizing his true self in the form of 'God,' then why fear his true self, in fearing 'God,' - why praise his true self in praising 'God' in order to engage in ritual and religious ceremony in his name?” Does this look like it was written by a horrible maniac? I mean, it seems almost logical. Think about it. God is a concept, like all gods before the one we insist on capitalizing as ours, the real one. God exists only in the minds of humans. We created god in our own image, then spat that right back into the bible by saying he created us in his own image. Speaking of the bible, the Christian bible, we can take a few quotes from there as well. “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” Deuteronomy 12: 32 Basically, do what god wants when he wants it done. “And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our Father.” Genesis 19:34 Yeah, you read that right. Basically, she said “Last night I totally fucked our dad! Get him drunk again and you can fuck him, too- that way we can keep it all in the family!” Here's another one: “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” Psalms 2:1

What the fuck does that mean? I know I'm taking all these quotes out of context and all that, but the bible is just a book. A collection of words that were written down years after the birth of a historical Jesus, contingent upon his existence. There's a thousand different ways to interpret any bible passage, because it was written that way. It's written as a book meant to contain all the knowledge you need to be a person, and if that is its self-prescribed function, I feel it falls horribly short. You want some more quotes? I'll quote you some Ovid, that's just as bad. All out of context, just like the bible quotes, here you go: “Depart from here, and with veiled heads and loosened robes throw behind you as you go the bones of your great mother” Metamorphoses Book I “But lo! Comes Niobe, thronged about with a numerous following, a notable figure in Phrygian robes wrought with threads of gold” Book VI Ovid was a roman poet in the same historical context as a theoretically historical Jesus. Unlike this Jesus, Ovid was a bestseller. He was well known throughout the empire, which was a newlyminted empire at the time. Caesar Augustus had only become the princeps a mere thirty-five years before Ovid's poem was written. As a matter of fact, Augustus loathed it. The Metamorphoses was published in the year eight. That's eight. Not Eighteen-Eighty-Eight, just eight. That was two thousand and two years ago. The bible as it exists today is an amalgam of robbed Hebrew texts predating it by another thousand years, and a mixed grouping of contradictory books by several authors called “the new testament.” So what about written words, what about actual realistic beliefs? I had mentioned Buddhism earlier, and I'll be on to that. Buddhism is as rich in ridiculous literary garbage as any other religion. I could take some Gong-an quotes out of context and they would stand as equally stupid monoliths to compare with old testament drunken incest. Buddhism takes a different stand on the whole spirituality thing. In Buddhism, the goal is mental harmony and peaceful coexistence with the natural forces of the world. That was a bit more reasonable to me. It stressed an individualized moral code that depended upon introspect and balance. Still, however, I felt no need to sit for hours in useless meditation for the cosmic-oneness or whatever. By the time I came back from Egypt I was an atheist, plain and simple. Even atheism seems a bit outlandish to me, though, pretentious even. Not only does an atheist discount historical gods, but it discounts the possibility of a metaphysical connection as well. It's an -ism. A mode of thinking. That's what I'm trying to escape here. We're people, on Earth. Real people, telling made up stories as some sort of realistic account of things that deal primarily with the forces of the universe, things we can't understand, or what happens to us when we die. All preponderances, not even theories. Most requiring faith, a vapid insistence that what you are right even though you can't prove it. Religion, to me, like I've said is a means to an end. What I mean by that, exactly, is that religion takes a culture, a moral code, and a version of history and molds it into a digestible set of beliefs that create boundaries on what is ultimately controllable by logic and science. Way back in the days of Mediterranean dominance, which lasted quite a long time, there was no Internet. There was no television, no radio, no news, no post. No blogs, no podcasts, no E-Mail, no RSS. There was no refrigeration, no railroads, no cars, no trucks, no mass production. There were people, still, and they had all the questions and dreams that we have today, as people- still. There was a special functionality to religion that was abandoned with polytheistic pantheons. The function of using gods to explain the minor intricacies of life on Earth to those with the least intent of determining the scientific inter-relations of the natural world. Why do the fields lie fallow an entire season? Simple. The grain god is being held captive in the underworld, hence, no grain. Why

question that? There was no other explanation at the time. They knew nothing of the relative position of the sun on the Earth due to a tilted axis. They knew the fields lay fallow. Winter. It happened, and they explained it. It was a means to an end. The end being the question “Why fallow, do lie our fields?” The means being the simple mythological explanation. Around the time of the Greeks, secular questions began to hold equal weight to religious ones. As we grew in our cumulative understanding of the world around us, we began to notice similarities and connections therein. Other cultural functions began to make logical explanations of what had previously been in the realm of the god's understanding only. From these basic notions of what would become the sciences, the cataloging and naming of natural systems and organisms, we would develop a legacy of concrete knowledge about the world around us. Knowledge about how to speak well, how to persuade others, how to govern a civilization, about how to construct buildings, and about how to properly cook food was no longer required to be explained as dictations of metaphysical beings. Philosophy was able to externalize the gods, make them into an anthropomorphic and distant effigies of human frailty and decadence. The gods served a secondary function of allegorical knowledge of human interaction. Stories that reminded us how strange and unpredictable life can be. Wholly, religion isn't a bad thing. It can, however, lead us to do strange things like commit acts of terrorism and genocide based on our faithful belief that what we are doing is right. This is another aspect of what makes religion an Anthropological function of human existence. To the academic, the readers of great books, religion can be an externalized notion. A person who studies all religions simultaneously as an outsider looking in, can begin to see the commonalities and distinct functions that religion serves. A quote: “There are many ways up a mountain.” Zen Gong-an That's a no-bullshit way of saying “it all goes to the same place,” or “all roads lead to Rome.” Religions, and there have been a great many throughout our historical existence on this planet, all tend to tell you basically the same things: Don't kill each other unless it's absolutely necessary, try to improve yourself as a person and as an individual in a society, be nice to other people, and live your life without fearing what you don't understand. To me, sitting in my bedroom listening to TED talks in the year two thousand ten, religion is a piece of history. A source of hundreds of good books that are all worth reading, all yet falling tragically short of serving their intended purpose of dictating the ideal existence. Why do we need this useless historical skeleton in our closet? Why keep these ludicrous stories held so close to our hearts? Why should we sacrifice ourselves in this life for a theoretical reward in a theoretical next life? Arguing for the existence of “god,” is Pascal's wager. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Pascal's wager: “Pascal's Wager (or Pascal's Gambit) is a suggestion posed by the French Philosopher Blaise Pascal that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose. ” To paraphrase; imagine screaming all your life that god wasn't real only to find out upon your death that he was indeed very real, and indeed very angry with you. Eternal bummer. Pascal tries to use logic to convince you in some detached and pragmatic way that you might as well just stop asking questions and settle for those which religion prescribes you. You simply aren't smart enough to deal with it. Have a little more faith in yourself, Pascal! Pascal's wager serves as the utmost limit of rational inquiry into the faith-based acceptance of a metaphysical, omniscient, omnipotent, and existent monotheistic “god.” This is a scientific attempt to

pigeonhole a faith in a grand arbiter of the unknowable, a consequence of post-Christian Reformation quandaries pointed at the scientific possibility of a real “God, master and creator of the universe.” We progressed through years upon years of scientific and philosophical advances, overcoming oppression, witch burnings, civil wars, religious wars, secular wars, ideological wars, moon landings, and civil rights movements as a collective group of people on Earth. As a self-contained world of people with individual belief structures grasping at wisps of ancient wisdoms for the strength to march ever onward, religion serves as a thread in the great tapestry that is our very humanity- our cumulative existence. You, with a story of your own and a mind of your own to contemplate it with, have no reason or need for god to bring you guidance. In this world we have nothing but ourselves and the people around us, and we've never needed anything else. All the heady intellectual conversations in the world can't dim the dazzling complexity of the world we live in, and the cultural need for an explanation predates the concept of the gods themselves, let alone the god-du-jour of the last two thousand years. Gods have always been a part of our culture, of our humanity, of our anthropology. It's time to treat religion as means to an end; as part of the story, but not the whole story. With all the world around us to experience, and billions of people to meet; what do you need gods for? You are endowed with the power to make your own decisions, and that makes you god. You. ZKE 01-01-10

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