I try to avoid talking about my views on religion because this is a political blog and, in the political realm, I respect all people’s religious beliefs and want to give them the maximum space to exercise them. If I talk about religion it is almost always because someone is not showing that same respect for others. But I will share this.
When I was a young boy being introduced to the basic tenets of Christianity (in its mainline Episcopalian form), I could not understand why Good Friday was good. The name kind of offended me. A supposedly blameless man was executed. How was this a good thing?
And I really never got over that hump. Because the answer was that this execution was the greatest and most important thing to ever happen in the history of the world.
There was never any chance that I was going to agree to that. So, it was really Good Friday and not Easter that prevented me from signing on to the whole program. Easter was part and parcel of the miracle thing, which I never took seriously for a single moment. Telling me that there was one man who could walk on water and heal the sick and bring the dead back to life, and then there were no more men like that for 2,000 years? Even at eight years-old I was like, “Do you think I’m stupid?”
Really, the only thing that gave me pause was that there were millions of adults who believed this story, including, for the most part, my parents. How could so many adults believe this stuff? It really was important to me that grown-ups bought into it, and so I didn’t just write it off completely.
What was probably decisive, however, was that I had absolutely no psychological need for the doctrines of Christianity. I had a normal, healthy fear of death based in the simple idea that I liked living and wanted to continue living. But I did not have the slightest belief in afterlife, nor do I wish for an afterlife. Long before anyone taught me about evolution and biology, I intuitively knew that I was the same basic creature as the bugs I crushed underfoot. No one talked about their afterlives. The prospect of annihilation never particularly bothered me.
I also never had much use for the concept of forgiveness. I made my mistakes and let my friends and family down, as all of us do from time to time. But I was never wracked with guilt. I had no inner need to confess any sins, nor to seek any forgiveness for them. If I felt bad about my behavior, I apologized. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of it, and the idea that I might need someone to be executed so that my mistakes would be erased simply had no resonance with me whatsoever.
Finally, the concept of a Sky God never made sense to me. I learned about Greek mythology in the third grade, and Zeus seemed no more plausible to me than Poseidon. I understood that millions of people used to believe in gods that did not really exist. Why were people clinging to just one of them?
I did pray once. My cat disappeared and I prayed that he would come back. He didn’t. And I didn’t bother asking for special favors again after that. I felt kind of stupid and slightly guilty the one time that I did pray. And I wasn’t at all surprised that it didn’t work.
For a while, as a young man, I was kind of obsessed with the fact that millions of people believed these things and it really bothered me. But, as I grew older, I came to understand that many people live in completely different psychological worlds. Some people are petrified of annihilation. Some people desperately need to believe that they will be reunited with loved ones who have passed away. Some people are overwhelmed with all-consuming guilt and cannot function without some forgiveness. People who have become addicted to drugs or alcohol often need to have their sins washed away and to turn their lives over to a higher power so they can have the strength to get better. The basic concepts of the Christian religion are believed by millions because millions need those concepts to get through the day.
So, then, I went through a process of reevaluation where the things I valued the most (logic, truth, science) were no longer right for everyone. Adults are not know-it-alls; they’re frail and flawed and fragile. It was stupid to think everyone should think like me because most people weren’t like me. Just because I didn’t have these inner struggles didn’t mean that others didn’t, and they needed remedies for their suffering.
So, I got over being resentful that people aren’t logical because I learned that people are imperfect and that’s never going to change. And I stopped caring what people believed as long as they didn’t try to impose those beliefs on others.
And, somewhere along the way, I finally understood why Good Friday is important and why so many people think it is good.