Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t dream about starting another religion. That would just add to the confusion. But, I would like to make a few personal observations about human faith at the turn of the millennium. Mine has been waxing and waning during my life time, twisting and turning, coming and going. I never displayed an ounce of it in school or on government premises. I have followed the guidance of those intuitive interpreters of our Constitution who say we should separate all church activities from all state activities. Consequently, in secular matters I try hard to ignore all my Judeo-Christian up-bringing.
Instead I devoutly practice what is lawful, but what may be considered immoral or unethical by some. This isn’t being hypocritical because our country’s Constitution usually takes precedence over religious law, and a loyal citizen must be concerned about strictly obeying the temporal law of his/her country. Civil disobedience wreaks havoc on domestic tranquility. Democratic governments need all the peaceful support they can muster from their diverse base of disgruntled citizens.
I think it is time for preachers to throw out the term “sinner.” As more and more rules and regulations, laws and restrictions, taboos and bans are being introduced into society, it becomes impossible to avoid breaking or violating one of them. “To err is human” goes the old saw, and the frightful term of “sinner” affixed to anyone induces no fear today for those of us who cannot hope to be perfect, who don’t have time to become familiar with all the legal and sacred texts, or who don’t expect salvation from all those “evils that flesh is heir to.”
Mortal life is a challenge as it is – to keep rotating on this planet without getting dizzy – with our feet firmly on the ground, and our heads below the clouds. We have little time to consider the terror of what might come to us years down the road. Besides, contemplating some kind of “life” after death might be as fruitful as speculating about what kind of existence we endured before we arrived on Earth. Supposedly, we have “survived” that “experience” in “workable” condition or we wouldn’t be here! Right?
Worrying about being a sinner, born into sin, and doomed to sin at every turn, takes the fun out of every modern amusement, I think. It would be much easier (and better?) to apply the term “human” instead of “sinner” to a person. We are what we are: confused members of the Homo Sapiens species. We may not be the glorious “image of God,” (whatever that entails), but we certainly are not the disgusting, half-ribbed, hopelessly lost, shameful, buck-passing, naked descendant of some hominid with little chance of redemption that was vaguely described in the first book of the Old Testament.
Of course, I’m not excusing any of our varied, depraved human propensities. I would be the last person to pretend to have achieved religious unction and spiritual insight. I was never baptized, nor confirmed, and must admit to breaking several Commandments more than once in my life. So, I am not the person to preach to the choir, but I’m sure many of you, who are not part of the choir, feel the same way as I do. And doesn’t the silent, immoral majority have a right to a shared opinion? We’re not disgusting, sinful mortals, just common folk working to support our families and to satisfy our personal desires.
Since the most honored leaders, kings, and emperors throughout history have never displayed a preference for hiring noble “saints,” what other role could we assume? Only the human one that promises us food, shelter, and the other paltry economic rewards for serving those rich enough to pay for our sacrifices.
If we have truly sinned against Heaven by carrying out assigned menial tasks with our dirty hands (like building weapons and using them in war) while harboring filthy thoughts that plan some despicable, mutinous act against the rich and powerful members of our race, shame on us! There wasn’t anyone else around seeking our labor nor offering to give us the basic necessities for human survival. Not that all those intelligent leaders were unaware of our dismal plight. They had to take care of all their buddies first who supported them and helped them maintain the power structure.
I have found no commonly accepted criteria for a “saint.” Nor do I propose to define one. What I have noticed is that those designated as such are usually people who have performed some very difficult mission superbly, beyond what can be expected from the rest of humankind. However, whoever is a great lackey for one ruler, may not be so honored by another. Those recognized as saints by a church or as heroes by a certain government, are rarely so honored by opposing churches or enemy governments.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that we have no independent feed-back or confirmation as to whom the Creator may have designated as His saint, if any. Consequently, since there have been so few saints identified up to now (and those so acclaimed are disputed by other religious hierarchies), I prefer to ignore these noble souls and address my comments to the rest of you folks formerly called “sinners,” whom I shall address as the “confused speculators” in the title of this musing.
We are all in competition to “get the most” out of our limited resources: physical, intellectual, artistic, and spiritual. Because there are so many of us and such a deviation of talents and successes, we begin our lives copying ideas from others close to us whom we admire and respect. Some of these ideas are imperfect copies, interpreted through our personal prisms that we use to witness everything.
Since our times, locations, relationships, and circumstances are all different from our mentors, our prisms also differ from theirs. We grapple daily with the failure their ideas produce when our copies have not been properly up-dated or altered to fit the evolution of “modern times.” We become confused about the correct path to follow to an unknown destination followed by a certain death. As condemned prisoners awaiting their execution, we sit around our own cozy individual “cells” wondering what the end will bring us: pain, relief, oblivion, or some version of Dante’s projected underworld.
Fortunately, we no longer believe we have to cross the River Styx, bow down there in the underworld, and worship Pluto. Yet, we do have to replace that illusion with another one that satisfies our basic longing for a specific, hopefully attractive, alternative. One that provides some comfort to us as we near the anticipated date of our departure from this chapter of the Divine Comedy.
Any such projection is merely a humanly reasoned speculation about what our future will present to us. None of us can be sure that the future will bring us prosperity, health, success, and acceptance wherever we end up. At best, we can only guess that what eventually happens to us will probably erase all current history from our memories. Just as we recall nothing today about our prior existence, if there actually was one.
So, it seems to me that we shall not remember what transpired here, either. And that’s not all bad, especially if your life has been less than materially rewarding and you suffered a great deal physically and mentally.
I’d rather not dwell on being a “sinner” despised by the Almighty’s angel jury. If I acknowledge that I have done what my limited talents allowed and tried to minimize my weaknesses and failures, then I feel that the concept of redemption is unnecessary. “Go and sin no more,” (if you can) is all we can be expected to follow. If our Creator really had expected much more from us, He could have designed a better vessel or robot for His work, one that was more resistant to temptation and the manipulation of power hungry, unscrupulous leaders.
Yes, here I sit on Death Row, “free to move about the cabin,” but not free to deplane just yet! I have to feed myself, clean my clothes, and pay all the costs of dwelling amongst my human peers. No thought by anyone that I know of is given to pardoning me, nor commuting my death sentence. I committed no capital crime except to be born when I was.
My taxes are paid, my monetary debts are cleared, and my obligations to others have been taken care of – except for those due very special, close friends and relatives who hopefully will outlive me. No amount of pleading for Divine intervention and compassion would change my fate. I know I don’t deserve any reprieve. Still, I hope that my future is no more difficult than what any other average Joe will experience, and possibly as good as the past I’ve had during this short lifetime on Earth.
An optimist I’m not, nor a “damned” sinner. As a undistinguished member of the Confused Speculators on Death Row, I impatiently await my promised comeuppance, while I carelessly waste my meager retirement pension and blow my childrens small inheritance. A saint certainly would do better, I suppose, but it’s too hard to qualify!
Well, see you on the other side, maybe.