They seem more aggressive now, those pleasant young men in ties. Or else they propagated en masse in secret. Their modest parade has dotted my porch these last few years, distributing salvation through doorways in the form of glossy placards you daren’t fold for fear of creasing an apostle. I patiently drop the heartbreaking news: “I’m sorry, but I’m not interested.” They understand just as politely as they sold, yet they inevitably return with no memory of our previous encounter.
Just yesterday, in fact, I crossed a street to avoid an advancing pair, but it was too late. Our eyes met and their loafers followed mine until we were face-to-face traveling companions for the next four blocks. After the requisite handshake and apology, we parted, I with another pocketful of handbills courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. When I was but a squirt they seemed satisfied interrupting my midday cartoons with their insistent message. Now they prowl the cul-de-sacs, flesh-and-bone agents of divinity.
I’ve no truck with religion. Whatever carries your day is swell by me. It was just never that important in my own life, going all the way back to the beginning, when my parents, their minds brined Aquarian, declined to dab my tater head with the waters of any denomination. “We wanted you to make that decision for yourself,” Mom explained years later. I’ve been a blissful free agent ever since.
Not that I never sampled from the plate. Despite my folks’ then-liberal bent, I was enrolled in largely religious private schools until roughly the second grade. I retain only the tiniest blur of a Jewish peewee academy, specifically my yarmulke’s ongoing beef with Southern California’s natural humidity and its effects on my taxed little scalp. After a secular kindergarten, I was moved to a WASP-y Lutheran joint where I purchased a toy Scooby van for the baby Jesus on Christmas (it actually went to a local charity — why they couldn’t tell us tykes that to begin with, who knows?) and wriggled nervously through Monday morning roll when the teacher droned, “Service or Sunday school?” and I had no idea what the hell she was talking about. See, aside from public functions or weddings, my family didn’t attend church. As far as I was concerned, church was that gaudy gargoyle perch on campus with the air-conditioned playground inside, an echoing chasm of cross and organ. But that was back in the ’70s. Whatever dogma I absorbed died with disco.
I fear I haven’t improved much since. My uncle’s a minister, a charismatic and gifted orator I’ve loved dearly all my life. Pops, who’s tightened his own faith over the last 30 years, has asked me to join him for worship on occasion, and sometimes I oblige for holidays or for, y’know, what the hey; I get to hang out with my dad. I go, watch a dapper stick of silvered sweat pace a stage, listen to a fistful of well-scrubbed lungs caress devotionals known to everyone but me, and pass the plate as required, but honestly, I don’t find the experience enriching or rewarding — it’s just a Sunday spent among some generally nice people.
I don’t consider myself above the congregation or its belief system; I just don’t share it. Despite the furrowed tut-tuts I sometimes endure, I don’t feel empty or lost; whatever I choose to observe comes from an ever-evolving spirituality that works for and comforts me. A dab of Buddhism, a nod o’ agnostic, a snuff of sci-fi, and a cauldron of boiling rock ‘n’ roll. I require no Bible or hilltop cathedral. I have me. Do I believe in God? Not in an omniscient, tangible Supreme Being as fashioned by the limitations of human thought. (A wise man once opined, “God is a concept/by which we measure our pain.” Said sage still resides within the family vinyl.) Yet something — or, more likely, a series of somethings — is responsible for our presence, and, hey, man, I’m just glad to be here, hope to be back again someday. My philosophy is disgustingly simple: Live well, love hard. Basic human decency. Who needs church for that? I’m reminded somewhat of the old (like “back when he was relevant” old) Dennis Miller dig at born-again Christians: “Pardon me for getting it right the first time.”
So when next I’m beseiged by the clean-cut merchants and their Book of Mormon, I’ll pass on a sermon of my own, which demands not my tongue but their ears for all of five minutes, 30 seconds. It’s one of my favorite Rush tunes from their 2007 effort, Snakes & Arrows, with a credo outlined in the sweeping mountaintop chorus:
I don’t have faith in faith
I don’t believe in belief
You can call me faithless
You can call me faithless
But I still cling to hope
And I believe in love
And that’s faith enough for me
Amen and hallelujah.