I live in Salem now, so try with me to imagine a place where Halloween is just as celebrated as Christmas. I have never seen so many evil clowns, giant spiders, or misplaced hatchets in my life. The blood-spattered Pennywise look-alike down the street served as the platform for this line of thought.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
This is a verse about religion and where religion gets you. This is not a verse about the bad people over there. It is not a verse about “not you”. If Jesus is talking about the failings of the religious and you find yourself believing in something (or even devoutly believing in nothing), you are in the club sunshine.
In order to clarify I need to talk about vampires a bit….
I’ve noticed a curious adjustment occurring in your typical vampire-lore movie. In older vampire lore (1980s) a cross had the capability to keep a vampire at bay. Sure they would hiss at you and flap, but a cross was just as potent as a beam of sunlight. However as the nation has become more populated with nones crosses don’t seem to do the trick any more. If you’ve got a silver sword you are in good shape. If it’s a nice clear summer day you are in the clear. If you have a cross you are vampire food. As our beliefs change or shift, our monsters shift to fit them. We write our monsters in the same way that we write ourselves. If a cross is a lower-case t thingy to us, it is a lower-case t thingy to monsters. In the end vampires are not monsters so much as they are a personification of the worst things in ourselves. Our monsters are the worst reflection of ourselves. It’s a fairly common practice in horror for the sheer presence of a monster to bring out the worst in another character that just seemed benignly harmless before. The desire for self-preservation can make the khaki-wearing friendly dad into a hatchet wielding psychopath in minutes. If horror movies aren’t really your thing, you will have to trust me on this point.
So let’s talk about heaven instead. You see if you believe the right things and stand in line patiently while never swearing, talking to outsiders, constantly trying to improve yourself with various tactics, and remaining constantly and blindly positive you are in. It’s another self-preservation strategy, albeit one that is so universally accepted in the church that it is invisible. It’s the kahki-wearing psychopath all over again. He just has a blood-spattered Bible in his back pocket, but he has that same twinkle in his eye.
Oh and that terrible person…he is me sometimes.
Only I work the game in reverse. If somebody says something absentmindedly snarky I write them off permanently and they are known only by that incident which I have carefully filed into the asshole folder. It’s still moralism. It’s just the more acceptable variation. It’s more hip to be skeptical of authority, but it can be weaponized to the same extent that the heaven idea can because it’s a goddamned idea.
Ideas and correct beliefs are not love. They do not hope or even look for for the best in others because they are focused on some kind of ass backwards attainment process or qualifying round.
I am full of dead man’s bones.
Having contempt for another human being is a quieter and cleaner form of murder. If I am to take the sermon on the mount literally, I have gallons of blood on my hands. I have a red swimming pool tossing around silently in my wake. I’m not kidding, I fueled part of a run recently with thoughts about punching a guy that I barely know and will probably never see again. I suppose that I could suffocate in the guilt, but I don’t think that God called us on our shit to make us slouch around with shame coated sad faces. That strikes me as both boring and counter-productive.
So that lowercase t thingy over the buildings that I try to attend? It’s a symbolic representation of what I cannot do for myself. It is a beacon that allows me to see myself realistically rather than painting my self image over with puppies and rainbows or vapid dream-attainment ideas. It might not ward off vampires, but it certainly will not abide with my calculated and rational justifications for discarding hurting human beings. If God died for all than all are in need of love. I am simply called to live freely and to give freely because I have been given freely.
The gospel was never meant to be a horror movie about the winners who get to heaven (but only if they try really really hard). No matter how you tell that story I just hear it as miserable news because I know myself pretty well and “winner” is not a title that I am carrying home, even if there have been a few victories here and there. The gospel was supposed to be lived extension of the mercy of God. Mercy thrives to the extent that “deserving” is allowed to die.
That being said I actually kind of like that Pennywise-looking clown down the street. It’s good to be reminded of my potential for terrifying monstrosity from time to time.