Dave Barry On Religion

The problem with writing about religion is that you run the risk of offending sincerely religious people, and then they come after you with machetes. So I am going to be very sensitive, here, which is not easy, because the thing about religion is that everybody else's always appears stupid.

For example, if you read about some religious sect in India that believes God wants people to drink their own urine, you don't say to yourself, "Isn't it amazing, the diversity of belief systems man has developed in his never-ending quest to understand and cope with the intricate moral dilemmas posed by a complex and uncertain world?" No, what you say to yourself is, "These people have the brains of a trout."

Meanwhile, over in India, the sect members are getting a major chuckle over the fact that some American basketball players cross themselves before they take foul shots. "As if God cares about foul shots!" the sect members howl, tears streaming down their faces. "Say, is this my urine or yours?"

That's the basic problem, of course: figuring out what God wants us to do. I will admit right up front here that I don't have the vaguest idea. All my religious training was in Sunday School, maybe 25 years ago, and the main thing I remember was that God was always smiting the Pharisees. At least I think it was the Pharisees. it seemed that hardly a day went by when they didn't get the tar smitten out of them, which is probably why you see so few of them around anymore.

My wife, who has had bales of religious training, tells me that this was the Old Testament God, who was very strict, whereas the New Testament God is a genuinely mellow deity, the kind of deity who would never smite anybody or order you to smear goat's blood on your first-born son, which is the kind of thing the Old Testament God was always doing.

Note: the preceeding paragraph is in no way intended to suggest that there is anything wrong with smearing goat's blood on your first-born son. As far as I'm concerned, this is an excellent ri- tual, and I would do it myself if not for the fact that my son might tell the school authorities. Please put away your machetes. Thank you.
It used to be much worse. Back in ancient Greece and Rome, they had gods all over the place, and it was no fun at all being a mortal, as you know if you ever read any myths:

"One day two young lovers, Vector and Prolix, were walking in a garden. This angered Bruno, the god of gardens, so he turned Vector into a toad. Saddened, Prolix picked up her lover and squeezed him to her bosom, which caused him to soil her garment. This angered Vito, the god of fabric, who turned Prolix into an exceedingly unattractive insect. Saddened, Vector hopped to his lover, which angered Denise, who was the goddess of municipal wa- ter supply and just happened to be in the neighborhood, so she hit them both with a rock."

And so on. So things are better now. Today most of us believe in just the one God, and He never turns people into toads or anything, unless you count Spiro Agnew. All He wants us to do is what He wants us to do, which is clearly revealed in the Bible (sound of machetes being unsheated) and the Talmud and the Koran and the Book of Mormon and the works of L. Ron Hubbard. These holy writings tell us what God wants us to do, often in the form of revealing anecdotes:

"And Bezel saideth unto Sham: 'Sham,' he saideth, 'Thou shalt goest unto the town of Begorrah, and there thou shalt fetcheth unto thine bosom 35 talents, and also shalt thou fetcheth a like number of cubits, provideth that they are nice and fresh."

The problem is that many of us don't have the vaguest idea what these anecdotes reveal. This is why we have broadcast preachers, who can take a religious anecdote and explain it over the course of a half-hour in such a manner that if you listened all the way through you would have no questions at all:

Broadcast preacher: And so we can see that it was Bezel who told Sham to go to Begorrah. It was not Sham who told Bezel: It was Bezel who told Sham. Now people ask me, they say, "Brother Ray Bob Tom, what do you mean, it was Bezel who told Sham?" and I say, "What I mean is that when we're talking about who told who to go to Begorrah, we must understand that it was Bezel who told..."

And so on. It can take upwards of a week to get through an entire sentence, which is why you often have to send in a love offering so you can get cassettes so you'll remember what is is that God wants you to do. This sometimes seems too complicated, as a lot of people have switched over to the more relaxed style of the Merv Griffin-type of broadcast preachers, who have bands and potted plants and sofas and everything. ("Our next guest is not only one of the top Christians in the business but also a close personal friend of mine.")

So we have a number of ways of finding out what God wants us to do, and each of us must decide what the answer is in this wonderful country where we are free to believe as we choose, and where there are strict laws against assaulting people just because we don't like something they wrote.

Submitted By: Unknown
Jul 16, 1997 20:27

This joke is rated: PG