Bulletin From Bethlehem
My sister-in-law emailed me that my little band of world travelers made it to Bethlehem and saw the bronze star in the Grotto of the Nativity with the famous words in Latin: "HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST". Security was extremely tight, so they skipped the Midnight Mass and headed back to Jerusalem, which I completely understand. The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was going to attend that service which should have pegged the security levels so far into red you can't even see them anymore. It's tiring when you're in a crowd wondering if something will explode.
I made this trip as a youngster in January of 1967. Of course, since then our violent religious clashes have given way to peace and understanding....NOT! In fact, some of the things we saw back then were destroyed in the 6 Day War later that year. I was also spit on by an Arab man riding a donkey. There's a lot of anger in the Middle East, in case you haven't been keeping up.
I try and refrain from discussing organized religion. I have family who are devout Catholics so why go there? I even attend Midnight Mass with them out of a sense of duty and the compromise that is marriage. So any comments I make now may be caused by acute sleep deprivation and the lingering effects of incense poisoning.
I get it about faith. I understand. I only raise concern about certain religions when they talk about the end of the world. I believe such talk - in the wrong hands - could lead to action. I love humanity enough that I firmly believe we should go on, and I hate this defeatist talk, especially when those who are saying such things, could make it happen. Personally, I think we should be moving out into space. We should already be living on the moon, and we should have had some astronauts on Mars by now. It's a true shame. We landed on the moon in 1969. That's almost 40 years ago. What gives?
I also believe in the Santa Claus doctrine: Be good for goodness sake. Not because you are being threatened with eternal damnation. That's not sincere - it's coercion. Be good because it's a nice thing to be. Now I will admit I'm against Santa Claus for the list. Frankly, it sounds too much like the NSA.
Enough. Be lighthearted. Laugh. Go forth and celebrate. I believe faith is one of those things that is going to happen. Personally, I enjoy the mystery of it all and the quest to figure it out. I appreciate the quiet serenity of believing that you know, but it often takes forms that are neither quiet nor serene. Part of thinking you know - but not really knowing - is the need to challenge anyone who doesn't see it your way. That can escalate quickly.
If you really knew, it wouldn't be a problem. You'd just laugh off any challenges to your version of what is going on. That doesn't happen. Taken lightly it is a disappointed stare from the mother-in-law. Taken to extremes it is a full scale jihad. I do resent the fact that religious people won't let others be. They think they are doing you a favor by pressuring you, and they are often asked to recruit more people, but you should be allowed to decide on your own.
Let's look at faith versus knowing. Take the equation, "One and one equals two." If some guy doesn't believe that you don't get all hostile to him. You don't debate him for hours, much less storm his village and slaughter his cattle. It's something you really know so you just chuckle when the guy makes his case, and say, "Whatever, dude." Religion isn't like that. Challenging someone's faith brings out the pit bull because the person trying to believe doesn't want to go there either.
So what is really going on? I'm not sure, but I have an analogy for the mystery of the universe. We all want to know what the deal is, don't we? Okay, many of you are sure you already know, and that's fine, but play along. Here's the analogy:
There is a game show called "Deal or No Deal". I haven't watched it, but I sense there is one amount in a briefcase and you must gamble to get more from another. If that is not how it works, I apologize to the devout followers of game shows out there. I respect your right to believe in the game show of your choice. Don't I sound gun-shy? Wow, all this tolerance and diplomacy have clearly gotten the best of me.
The point: I think accepting an ancient belief is like settling quickly in life. It is like taking the first briefcase. The one you were exposed to as a child. My theory is that you should hold out for more. Assume that the universe is a vast puzzle and try an attain the ultimate briefcase. The one with the real truth in it. Who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be the first one you received in life. It's possible. It could be Christianity. Of course, there are different types of that. (See Northern Ireland.)
I know most of you reading this don't believe Islam is the way, but billions do. I bet most of you think it's definitely not Scientology. Wouldn't that be just awful? A big "I told you so" from Tom Cruise? The Sacred Shrine of the Sofa Jumping Incident? Perish the thought, but you can't definitively prove he isn't right just as you can't prove your way is correct. Tom Cruise has faith in his way and you have faith in yours.
Me? I think what resides in that ultimate briefcase is different from anything anyone on this planet has even contemplated yet. My idea of heaven would be to find that out. Maybe there will just be one word to explain the universe: Because. I ask myself why all the time. Why all these billions of galaxies? Light takes 100 thousand years to cross our galaxy and there are billions more out there. Yet, people see the light from these distant galaxies and say that the light had to arrive from them in 6000 years. Fine. Run with it. Choose that briefcase if you want. If it makes you happy, take it. Call me greedy, but I want to continue searching.
P.S. If you find any of this offensive, I apologize. If you are truly confident in your faith you will forgive me, and love me all the more. I think it is a historical fact that a child was born in the Middle East who went on to have a huge impact on the world. The message of peace and love is absolutely beautiful and brilliant. I wish more of his followers followed it. If we are all God's children, then we should show the same love and protection for a child born in the Middle East this morning. Even if its parents don't share your religion. And - once again - if you take offense at any of this, I apologize. It's just the incense talking.