Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Napkin Religion

Lucy and I had dinner with a friend from UUPP this evening. It was a fairwell dinner. The friend, whom I'll call Shawn, had been on academic probation since he confessed to his bishop that he was regularly using his mutant power. Shawn is a telepath and it's really hard for him to turn his power off--he just hears people's thoughts, without trying. So over the past two months he's had to keep going back to his bishop and keep admitting that he's still "acting out." The Honor Code Office has warned him several times that if he doesn't get his behavior under control, he'll be kicked out of BYU. Finally, Shawn had enough and said, "Forget that." (He actually used much stronger language, which I won't repeat here.)

"It's all a load of B.S.," Shawn told me and Lucy tonight over Thai food. (And yes, I'm still censoring.) "The Honor Code Office, BYU, Bishop Rawlins, the whole effing church. They're all just trying to brainwash us, to keep us down. You know why? They're afraid of us. They're afraid of our power. Effing afraid."

I have to admit, I'm something of a swear wussy. I winced every time Shawn cussed. He seemed to notice my discomfort--or perhaps he read it in my mind--and he grinned at me. "See how brainwashed you are? They even control what language you can and cannot use."

Lucy reached across the table to squeeze Shawn's hand. "I can understand why you're angry, Shawn. You've been at BYU for two and a half years. You put a lot into your studies here, and now all of a sudden you have to uproot yourself and start over. And all because of some people in the church who don't understand that your power is a beautiful part of who you are. But don't let the people distract you from what the church really is. This isn't man's church. It's God's church. He'll make everything right."

"Forget God."

Even Lucy, with all her empathy, flinched at that one. She jerked back, pulling her hand away from Shawn.

Shawn looked to me and grinned again. His grin was unnerving, like it knew things about me I didn't know myself. "Ben knows what I'm talking about, don't you, Ben?"

I didn't respond. I didn't know how to respond. Honestly, I didn't know what he was talking about. But I feared that I did.

"Ben sees it too," Shawn said to Lucy. "He sees how the hierarchical structure of the church empowers a select few while keeping the masses down. He sees how all that 'testimony' B.S. they feed you in Sunday school is really just circular logic and self-fulfilling prophesies. Honestly, Lucy, think about it. Let's say I tell you..." He searched around the table for a moment, then picked up a napkin. "Let's say I tell you this napkin is a magic napkin, that all the truth you need to know about God and the universe is in this napkin. And you say, 'Why should I believe that?' And I give you my best salesman smile--" He demonstrated a convincing impression of a car salesman. "--and I tell you, 'It's simple. God will tell you himself. Just ask. But I know this napkin is true, Lucy. I know it. And I know that God will tell you it's true if you ask him sincerely and with a pure heart.' So you take the napkin, and you pray about it."

Lucy, always a good sport, took the napkin from Shawn and thanked him politely.

(And how awesome is it that this image exists? I searched for "holy napkin" and didn't expect to find anything this perfect to go with Shawn's little diatribe.)

"Now," Shawn said, "one of two things will happen: One, you pray about it and my sales pitch was so convincing and you saw how happy the napkin made me, so you want it to be true. And, because that's how the human brain works, you convince yourself that God has answered your prayer and told you the napkin is true. Or two, you're maybe not 100% sold on my pitch, or maybe you're a little more logical than the average Joe, so you don't get an answer. Or maybe you convince yourself the answer is 'no.' Either way, is my faith threatened? If I were applying the scientific method it would be. The scientific method requires experiments to be repeatable, with the same results every time. But I'm not using the scientific method; I'm using magical thinking. And in my magical world, promises from God come with a caveat: They only work if you're faithful. So if you didn't get an answer, or you got the wrong answer, then it's because you're unworthy. Or you were deceived by an evil spirit. It's never because the whole effing system is B.S. But that's exactly what it is--effing B.S."

Undaunted, Lucy smiled. "So if I only believe because I want to believe, because it makes me happy, then what's the problem? You know, like they say, if it makes you happy, then how can it be so bad?"

Shawn shrugged. "Until it doesn't."

I focused on my mussaman curry. Shawn was right about me--I had had those thoughts before. I do have those doubts. But I'm not about to go apostate, join the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and start dropping F-bombs all over the place. Doubt your doubts, right?

No comments:

Post a Comment