The Cure For CancerbyHeathen Hemmingway©
You will no doubt notice that certain words are intentionally left in lower case. It's for the same reason that Hannibal Lecter ate his victims; to show my contempt for them.*
Oh, religion. What a tangled web if there ever was one. I was born in the heart of the old South, where hellfire and brimstone preachers were as common as 57 T-birds and Sunday chicken dinners. Needless to say I was exposed to the church at an early age. I can remember the sound of dozens of children running down the hallway in the Calvary Baptist Church, the report of their footfalls resounding off of the wooden floors like hollow gunshots. The rooms were big and dim, and they smelled of untreated wood and fabric. The heavy, oily aroma of Murphy's Oil Soap was always in the air. There was always a big table somewhere in the room, stacked high with books or hymnals and big pieces of purple fabric. And there was the ever-present little old lady with the requisite powder-white hair, reading aloud to us from the grandest of all the grand books, the bible. While the other kids sat there seemingly rapt with attention at her stories, I was sitting there thinking to myself 'I don't believe it. Something about all this just don't seem right'. When she read to us about a man walking on water, I raised my hand asked 'What about gravity?' The other kids looked at me as if I had asked the most perplexing question known to Man. The little old lady's face suddenly got all screwed up looking, and she told me something passive and uneducated like 'The Lord (pronounced lowered) doesn't need gravity'... Wait a minute -- the lord doesn't need gravity? What the fuck? That didn't answer my question at all.
Oh well, that was the way it went. I was always the kid she avoided, and at the end of summer when vacation bible school let out she gave me a passive hug and a baleful glare as I left. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had committed a mortal sin -- I had questioned the authority of the church. Young minds, you see, are supposed to believe anything the church tells them. Don't learn or ask questions children, just believe what we tell you to believe. I simply wasn't willing to buy that. I was an avid reader, which was a bit odd for my age. I consumed National Geographic and Scientific American magazines like they were popcorn. I was smarter than most kids my age, and much smarter than most Southern baptists twice my age.
I never frequented church regularly until I was a teenager, and when I would attend it was mostly to pacify relatives who wanted me to go. I thought at the time that it was out of a need to be close to me, close to a part of our family. I soon learned otherwise. It was an attempt to make me a part of the church at an early age, just like vacation bible school. When my distant cousin Shane died I attended his funeral, and I noticed an odd thing at the end. The preacher man told a story of how, before his death, Shane had an intimate conversation with the preacher, days before his entirely unexpected and untimely death, and asked the preacher man to help him ask the lord to come into his heart as his personal savior. Hmm, that's funny. A 14 year old kid seeks out a preacher man who has a permanent whiskey blossom and smells of Vitalis, and asked him to help him find the lord. A 14 year old kid, who was preoccupied with BMX bikes and pussy. I didn't buy it.
Being the polite kid that I was, I kept quiet. The preacher man stopped talking about Shane, and started extolling all of the virtues of the lord, and how every man, woman, and child -- even me ladies and gentlemen, could find everlasting salvation and secure a place in heaven at his side, if we only turn our life over to him and ask for him to forgive us of our sins. Once again, I didn't buy it. There was an element of fakery all about it. The air seemed thick with it, like when you watch a cheap sci-fi movie. There's no realism to the special effects because it was made on a shitty budget. Every word seemed scripted. A few years and several funerals later, I saw the same thing happen over and over again. Each funeral was followed by a commercial for the church. I decided it was in my best interest to put some distance between me and the church.
Thanks to the charms of a girl named Michelle, all of that changed.
Michelle had a big, genuine smile and tits that would stop a freight train in its tracks. She was also a devout (or claimed to be) Southern baptist. She invited me to church, and under the premise of getting a handful of her blessings, I went to church with her. The preacher, much to my surprise, was a very mellow and soft spoken character. He was gifted with the ability of speech, and within one sermon I was consumed with a desire to hear more. He didn't seem to lecture, he seemed to converse. And the fact that I got her bra off that night on the way home didn't hurt either. I noticed that all of the older members of the church seemed to be taken with me. I was by all means an entirely unremarkable teenager. Awkward and shy, never been anywhere or done anything. I thought they really liked me, which for a teenager is tantamount to being worshipped. So before I knew it, I had been a member of the church for months. I noticed certain trends develop. People would be 'saved', then time would pass, then they would be 'saved' again.
Rumors were always rampant, and gossip was the currency and status quo. Several times I was approached by senior members of the church and quietly asked if I had 'accepted the lord into my heart as my person savior'. The truth was that even though I had read the scriptures and learned a great deal about the bible, I had never felt anything in my heart. I prayed, honestly and openly, and yet I never felt anything other than a vacant sensation of talking to myself. So when asked the same inevitable question again, I would tell them the unspeakable -- I told them the truth. I told them that when I felt I truly believed and felt the lord's presence in my life, I would humbly ask of him to accept me and I would be saved, but that at the time I truly didn't feel his presence in my life. There had to be a reason for it, I thought. I felt I was telling them exactly what I should have. Wrong, kiddo.
The expressions on their faces were a mixture of horror and pure disgust. Some of them looked as if they wanted to shake me. I was quite baffled by it all. According to every scripture I read and every sermon I had listened to (listened intently, I might add) god lies in a person's heart, and when the time is right the person will be able to accept him into his heart and be 'saved'. Yet the elders -- oldheads we called them -- seemed to be preoccupied with me being 'saved' as soon as possible, as if there was an expiration date on my salvation. That element of fakery slowly crept back in. Suddenly Michelle and those big ol' funbags of hers didn't have much time to spend with me any more.
I didn't quite put two plus two together until months later when I was in the basement kitchen of the church helping with a wedding reception dinner. I had been working in kitchens for years at that point so my help was welcome, and if there's one thing the church welcomes, it's free labor. There was a big dry erase board next to the kitchen. It was covered with various items of church related business, and to one side was a prayer list. Much to my surprise, my name was written in red at the top of the list, and beside it was the word 'lost'. Written below my name were several names of church members, presumable people who had signed up to pray for me. I recognized Michelle's handwriting. I left church that day, throwing my bible down on the church steps. I could hear the old church ladies gasp. I never looked back. Just who the fuck did they think they were? I thought. How dare they call me 'lost'? I was a polite, respectful young man. I was active in church functions; I was courteous of my friends and family and honored those close to me. Just who the fuck did they think they were? They violated every principle they claim to stand for. Just because I didn't drop to my knees and tell some lie about how I felt and who I was, I was lost? I didn't want to claim I was saved just so I could repeat the same sins over and over again with some type of self-proclaimed impunity.
While I was member at their church, I saw the same people who claimed to be 'saved' commit every sin they denounced. The leader of the youth group got his girlfriend's sister pregnant. They were both conveniently 'saved'. His girlfriend overdosed, and after she left rehab she came back and was conveniently 'saved' (only to relapse and go back to rehab). Brother Baker was mysteriously absent from church for several weeks, and then the newspaper broke the story of his incarceration for raping his daughter Amy, who was then pregnant with his child. (She had gone mysteriously amiss too; rumor having it that she was at 'camp') And yes, Brother Baker came back to church and was 'saved' also. And eventually a very scared and frail looking Amy came back to church, and yep -- you got it. She was 'saved'. She was without her child, and she looked as if she were walking on broken light bulbs. Her eyes were sunken and dark, and she would jump when someone spoke aloud. She had been a friend of mine, so I approached her and said hello. She looked at me, and her eyes reminded me of a dog that was close to death. There was a blind, thoughtless glare in her eyes, like an animal dying by the roadside. All cognitive thought seemed to be gone. She had clearly been traumatized.
Pardon me ladies and gentlemen, but I say fuck that. These fuckers were living the life of a street walking whore, but I was lost because I wouldn't tell a lie? Not today Motherfuckers. Not today.
I never set foot in that church again.
Years later I was working for my Uncle at his small restaurant. He had fallen ill with diabetes and leukemia. The local baptist church was right over the hill to our right. Never had the church expressed an interest in our boring little restaurant, until the day after my Uncle died. At first I thought it was genuine good nature, people reaching out to those in their community who had experienced a tragedy. Then the reality of the situation kicked in. First it was an offer to help out here and there. Then a suggestion that a church member who happened to keep their books could help out with paying the bills. My Aunt was in such a distraught state that she bought into it wholesale. I softly entered my objections, and I was instantly the object of derision. Then the final hammer stroke fell. The church decided that it would be a grand idea if my Uncle's restaurant were to be open for church functions. We could hire people from within the church to operate the restaurant, and of course church members could receive a hefty discount praise god and pass the peas.
Within six weeks of my Uncle's death the church held the keys to the door and had free reign of my Uncle's restaurant. And of course -- of course -- they were only taking ten percent to give to -- you guessed it -- the church in the name of our lord jaysus Christ. When I caught the lady who was keeping the books writing herself a fat check, I flew into a rage and ran the whole bunch out of my Uncle's kitchen, and for the first and last time in my life I raised my voice at my Aunt and gave her my own gospel. The church had descended on her like jackals. They were so concerned with her salvation, you see. Oddly enough, they were never concerned with her salvation when my Uncle was alive, but when they saw an opportunity for the church and its members to benefit from my Uncle's death; they developed a sudden vested interest in the salvation of her immortal soul. Praise god.
Oh, and by the way, my Uncle wouldn't give up a thin dime to the church -- a bunch of 'Jew-jockeying bastards' he called them -- but miraculously enough the preacher who gave his eulogy told this heartwarming story of how my Uncle had asked the preacher on his death bed to help him ask the lord to come into his heart and to help him accept the lord as his personal savior. Praise the lord, forever and ever amen. Then the preacher man told us how we, too, could be 'saved' by the righteousness of the lord. I wanted to fucking puke. My Uncle would have wrung that man's neck like a chicken, and that bastard stood there telling lie upon lie to sell his church any way he could. I know, I was there when he died.
Those fuckers. They use every funeral as a commercial for the church.
Days after my Uncle's funeral my Aunt asked my Mother and I if we would attend a new church with her. There was no way I would have told her no. She needed me, so despite my discomfort with the church I went, out a sense of duty to her. My Mother and I went with her to this little three room building that was more shanty than church, to comfort my Aunt in her time of need. The preacher man was this banty little prick who strutted about like a rooster with his hackles up. As we seated ourselves, a weathered looking gentleman passed around a collection plate. I barely noticed it, dropping a five in. The preacher started his sermon, interjected with a touching story of how his wife and daughter were currently on their way to Florida in her new car, adding a brief prayer for their safety. After about ten minutes of the sermon a few more people came in, and the leathery old guy once again passed the plate around. I held the plate with some contention, begrudgingly dropping a dollar in.
The preacher man ranted on and on about the lord and his wonders, and told us of how he was trying to start a supper club for his followers. An hour into the ceremony -- session -- whatever you choose to call it, and a few more people rambled in. The preacher looked at the old guy and nodded, and within seconds the collection plate was makings its way around again. When it got to me I stood up and handed it back to the old guy. "Three times is enough Mister" I told him. He gave me a look of shocked disbelief. "This is for the lord!" he exclaimed softly, them ambled away grumbling. My Mother looked at me and rolled her eyes. "This little runt's getting a good start on his supper club, isn't he?" she quipped. Almost two hours into the sermon a last group of stragglers came in, and without hesitation the collection plate made its way round again. The old guy came back to our row, giving me a looked like a kicked dog. My Mother tapped my Aunt on the shoulder and whispered something in her ear, and the two of them stood up. I stood and we all headed for the door. My Mother - the sweetest, most gentle, caring and generous person in the world, looked at the old guy and said "Mister you're a sad case, doing his dirty work like that."
As we were leaving I overheard my Mother apologizing to my Aunt, and to my surprise my Aunt cut her short and told her there was no need to -- she was as unhappy as we were at this little worm bilking his congregation -- his new congregation, mind you -- for all they were worth. And what would happen if this cocky little shit were to cultivate a congregation full of devout followers? Why, we all know the answer to that, don't we? The bilking would quickly become outright financial rape, ladies and gentlemen. And as some people always do, some poor suckers would fall for it, believing that they were genuinely receiving something in return. That is, in many ways, the greatest lie behind the truth; the constant suggestion that by attending a church that you will gain something tangible and useful in return. I admit that I fell for it, found myself convinced of it even, like so many others. I know now that there is no good nature, no charity, no greatness of wisdom or strength in a church or hidden within the words of any sermon that a person can't achieve without religion.
There is nothing to be found within the walls of a church that a decent person can't find within themselves. I realized that I was already a good person with honest and genuine intent to be a good person and do good things with my life, and I cannot live with the thought of supporting an organization that operates on a mostly tax-free basis while soliciting donations from a tax-paying common class. I cannot be a part of an organization with many senior members who get filthy rich beyond their wildest dreams without ever having worked an honest day in their lives. It is hard to describe, the relief I feel by categorically rejecting the hypocrisy and greed of religion from my life.
However, in fairness I must say that I am aware that there are some great people who work within the church, with the honest intention of doing good deeds for other people. I applaud their efforts, but it does not give any validity to the lie of religion. Good people are going to do good things, no matter where their allegiances lie.
In the years that followed my Uncle's death, the cancer of religion has maligned my family at random to one degree or another. One of my relatives became consumed with the holy fire in her late thirties and was intent (hell-bent, pardon the pun) to save or convert anyone in the family who was not a bona-fide bible-waving lunatic. At first came the polite invites, then the cards in the mail followed by the emails and the subtle polite jabs during family gatherings. When none of those tactics produced any results, she resorted to what has arguably become the most classical approach the church approves of its member deploying; the religious shit attitude. Oh, let's not play shy or coy here, Ladies and Gentlemen. You know precisely what I mean, and if you don't then you are a very fortunate person, my friend. The religious shit attitude can take many forms, and is quite handy if you're a babbling idiot with nothing of importance to say. Let me grace you with a few examples; someone asks you if you go to church and you say no, and they immediately look at you like you're a speckled pup about to be run over by a car. "Oh that's a shame." or "Well we'd love to have you in church." they tend to say, which translated literally means "Well fuck I can't validate myself around you, so I have to put on airs to pretend I am somehow better than you. It's a defense mechanism, see?!?"
The same relative who was eaten alive with holy fever once invited the preacher man from her church to a family get-together, and like any self-respecting Southern family, when we get together we make a collective effort to put together a grand meal. The preacher man was an unimpressive looking fellow, in a slack-fitting suit and a tie that was tied all wrong. Instead of a neat, crisp Windsor knot he was sporting a tight bundle of fabric that would make a Shibari enthusiast envious. He sat there, staring at me from across the table. He was a guest, an unexpected addition to our family dinner. Since he came as a guest of one of my relatives I was amiable about it, and furthermore since we were all there as a family I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings or cause a disruption. I do love my family dearly. No doubt, thanks to my relative he knew I am an atheist, and as a Southern baptist preacher man, full of pride and arrogance, he did exactly as I expected him to do. Once my family was all seated, he spoke to me.
"Would you like to say the blessing?" He asked me, with a wry smile.
I knew what that smile meant. He was trying to put me on the spot, a feeble, ignorant attempt at punishing me for being an atheist.
"I most certainly would." I told him, and returned his smile. I saw a brief glint of worry in his eyes. There are two things, you see, that strike fear in the hearts of Southern baptist preacher men in a particularly startling way: one is exposing them as hypocrites, but there is another that is far worse for them, and that is upstaging them.