Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why So Serious?

Yes, this was the signature line Heath Ledger hissed in his role as the murderous, psychopathic Joker in the latest Batman film (The Dark Knight).

And why would I be using it to introduce a post on Easter Sunday, the holiest day in the Christian calendar?

As you know, I have mixed feelings (bordering on a love-hate relationship) with organized religion. I think that as humans who are aware of ourselves, our surroundings, and the eventuality of our own death, we need to be able to think of some larger purpose for our lives, and the possibility that something exists beyond the end of our too-few years. Religious beliefs give us that. But a good case can also be made that religion has caused enormous amounts of pain and misery over the centuries. For every Pope John XXIII who preached a message of love and inclusivity, there's some bearded and beturbaned monster encouraging impressionable young people to kill themselves in the act of murdering others, guaranteeing that for their action they'll enjoy the eternal attentions of virgins in an imagined paradise.

Why so serious?

Why do so many different religions exist, each one claiming to be The One True Way, each one claiming that adherence to any other is a guarantee of eternal damnation, and many of them preaching a life of austere misery on earth as a guarantee of an imagined paradise in some promised eternity?

Does a God capable of creating the endless majesty of the universe really need to direct every aspect of the lives of humans on just one of the countless billions of worlds in that universe? Why would a God who can create the wonder of a living, breathing baby also demand a system that requires belief in Him down to specific sets of rituals and a mandated hatred of those who believe anything else?

Why so serious?

On this Easter morning, the beginning of what promises to be a gorgeous spring day here in The Old Dominion, it may not be a bad thing to ask ourselves that question.

I came to know Father James Martin (not personally, but through his writings and his appearances as a commentator on NPR) as a thoughtful and interesting person. Earlier this month, Father Martin aired a commentary titled, "God to Man: Get Over Yourself" which I thought was one of the most marvelous pieces of gently religious encouragement I've ever heard. Take a few minutes to listen to it. In it, Father Martin explains why he enjoys telling jokes about Catholics, Jesuits, and priests ("since I'm all three") ... he writes,

"Why is it important to tell jokes about yourself? It reminds you that you don't know everything, you can't do everything, and that you're not God. Humility underlines your place in the universe."

Why so serious? One of the things I always try not to do is take myself too seriously, to remind myself that I'm not always as witty and intelligent, suave and handsome, and adored by women everywhere (well, except for my granddaughters, and then only most of the time) as I might like to think. And perhaps it would be a good thing if that were shared by those who aspire to religious leadership. As Father Martin says with elegant simplicity, You're not God. What gives you the authority to command in his name? Where do you get off preaching hatred and intolerance rather than love and compassion? What have you done to make the world a better place, rather than one of death and misery and fear?

On this Easter Morning, as Christian believers stream to churches around the world (except in Saudi Arabia where, of course, it is a crime to be anything but a Sunni Muslim), let's ask ourselves why so serious? A little humility before the vastness and grandeur of creation isn't a bad thing.

And so is loving your neighbor, rather than killing him because he doesn't think the same way you do.

Happy Easter to all of my friends out there in the blogosphere, regardless of your choice of faith. Decide to ask yourself for once why so joyful?

It can't hurt.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Amanda said...

Bilbo, This is a wonderful post with a fantastic Easter message. Happy Easter to you and Agnes!

Mike said...

This is a sermon in itself. Good job Mr. Bilbo!

Did you do this whole post to point out that I misspelled religous in my post?

anOCgirl said...

You're not God. What gives you the authority to command in his name? Where do you get off preaching hatred and intolerance rather than love and compassion? What have you done to make the world a better place, rather than one of death and misery and fear?

omg! EXACTLY! this is the perfect post for easter.

while i do not celebrate this holiday anymore, i hope you have a wonderful easter!

fiona said...

Well said sir ;-)
Happy Easter to you and the family!

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Amen to that. All religions are good as long as the participants don't become fanatical.

Religion should bring you peace regardless of which one it is and that's all that matters.

A blessed easter to you :)

From sunny and bright PA

SusieQ said...

Easter Blessings one and all. May everyone's plastic Easter eggs be filled with something sweet!!

Leslie David said...

You have just described why I stopped practicing Judaism years ago and turned to neopaganism, specifically Wicca--because I believe all paths to the divine are valid. We celebrated Ostara (the equinox) named after the goddess (also known as Eostre, hmmm, starting to wonder where the eggs and rabbits which are symbols of fertility come from?) last month.

I was out and about in DC yesterday and saw all the people enjoying the beautiful day--too nice of a day to hate anyone. I've never understood how Christianity could preach hate and intolerance when celebrating the resurrection of God's son (their belief, not mine) who preached peace and tolerance.

Well, I don't know, I think you're pretty handsome and debonaire, but then that's because you dance with me and I read your blog. :)