“So why do you need religion to be baptized or married or buried?” My long-time buddy and I had just come up a strenuous trail – make that 45-minute strenuous – make that 45-minute-uphill-all-the-way strenuous – to a mountain bald which, according to the guidebook offered a “spectacular view.”
“Can we hold on the religio stuff,” I gasped, “till my heart rate slows from flamenco to waltz?” The guidebook critique of the view must have been made by a shiny -faced young man on a dazzlingly bright day with a new lover in tow. This dreary overcast vista, however, looked more like the face of an 80 year-old chain-smoker on Valium. You could almost hear the ponderous clouds warning, “Don’t mess with us. We can soak your butt.”
We scanned the bleak panorama, allowed our breathing to drop from wheeze to whew, pondered the possibility of getting drenched by the cocky clouds and both agreed that no heart-warming poetic tributes to nature would be written today. Mary Oliver, you gots nuthin’ to worry about.
Being true to its name, the mountain bald had nary a tree nor bush nor even standing rock to rest against. So we flopped ourselves flat-butted on the ground, pulled out a flask, beef jerky plus a bag of 1) Jalapeno Cheddar and 2) Intense Pickle Doritos. “At least we’re eating well,” my friend mused.
We jerked, chipped and sipped in silence for a while. “So, tell me, why do we need organized religion?” my friend asked with half of his tongue, the other half busy with jerky. “If we want to think holy thoughts, we can read a holy book. It we want to contemplate the existence of God, nothing’s stopping us. If we want to get together and sing songs or light candles or pray or whatever, why do we need professionals in big expensive buildings to help us? Do ministers, priests and rabbis have some sort of inside track? In seminary, do they teach you the secret handshake?”
“We two-leggeds have been doing religious stuff ever since we climbed out of the slime,” I offered after washing down a particularly pickly chip. “May-be it’s built into our genes to ponder the unponderable. Anyone with even a mouse fart’s worth of intelligence realizes that all of life a mystery. Unknown and unknowable. And maybe religion was born out of our desire to understand – or at least dabble in – that mystery.”
“It just seems to me,” my beginning-to-talk-tipsy companion suggested, “that the world would still be a whole lot better off without all the religious rules, doctrine, cathedrals, mosques, mumbo jumbo and wars. Especially the wars.”
He paused. We sat in silence for a bit. And, as if on cue to keep the action going, tiny cold pellets of rain began to splatter on hand, shoulder, head and Dorito bags. Fully aware that we had a 45 minute (thankfully downhill) promenade ahead of us, we began stuffing the remains of our gourmet spread into bag and backpack. “Check this out,” he said. “Here I am dissing all things religious and we’re getting baptized. The Divine must have a grand sense of humor.”
“And,” I added, “it happened right in the middle of our Dorito, jerky and whiskey communion.”
“You know what?” he said as we recessed down the path/aisle from the high altar, “I think there’s something to that. I think maybe we just did some holy stuff up there – some religious stuff – and didn’t even know it.”
We stopped, looked up at the roiling gray-black clouds and allowed our faces to be thoroughly washed. “Hoooooeeeee!” he bellowed. “Now that’s what I call a revival!” We got in the car soaked to the skin, grinned at each other and hugged. “But,” he said, as a benediction, “I still don’t have any use for the rules, doctrine and wars.”