TMI About Religion

LANTANA, FL — A few years ago, it was my misfortune to work under a supervisor who on Monday mornings often thought it appropriate to mention as casually as if discussing the weather what the pastor of his church had said the day before. I don’t know if it was good news or bad, thoughtful insight or pedantic drivel; the roaring in my ears following: “My pastor said yesterday . . .” always drowned out the rest.

It made me fantasize about saying (while we were on personal matters): “That reminds me, the main squeeze and I were having sex the other day, and we . . . ” which, I hoped, would have been cut off there, because I’m actually no more anxious to share the details of my love life than I am to hear the details of this work-shirking, hard-drinking, elitist buffoon’s spiritual life. But the similarity of the inappropriateness of the two thankfully unrelated topics seemed lost on him.

I found myself remembering that awful time that I had to hear (at least the beginnings of) what went on at the local Episcopal church, because I was talking this evening about Christopher Hitchens and the impetus he felt to declare the righteousness of his atheism to the very end.

I was talking to a relative who shared with me the isolating experience of being raised orthodox Atheist, and who felt that Hitchens had taken a stance that needed to be taken, in times when religious belief seems as mandatory a qualifier for public office as lack of a violent criminal record or dependence on antipsychotic medication. Hitchens’s contribution to our culture came up because this is the season when the losses of the last year are tabulated in obituary reviews — the one undeniable afterlife. And I think Hitchens got a break on the stridency of his atheism, which seemed to me to defeat the entire point: that what is sacred and spiritual, or not, to each of us is, by nature, personal.

And I can’t help it. Whether its the former supervisor or Hitchens, I find myself wishing them, in the figurative afterlife, confronting some fearful figure with an accounting ledger, telling each of them, for the exact same reason: “Big mistake.”

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