Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fun Experiment: Take an Atheist. Get Him High. Place Atheist Inside Church.

Wow, I thought, bracing myself against the freezing cold wind as I exited the car, I'm really doing this. I'm going to church. Church. I walked in to the same Catholic church that I attended (on a very infrequent basis) as a youth (but never before with the ol mj in the system) and as I passed from the hall to the main part of the church itself, skipping the 'holy' water anointing station and hoping I didn't look like an extra on the set of Half Baked I entered what felt like an entirely new dimension- a sense of deja-vu mixed with a rather strong feeling of I don't belong here and they will know it immediately. I mean, for one thing, the place was packed and so trying my hardest to not feel completely out of place standing in front of what looked like 200 people, all of whom I was certain were all thinking the same thing (*hiss* an interloper *hiss*).

....And then there's the fact that I was stoned. Not exactly the most comfortable place to be when you're high but man did it amplify the experience. I'll get to that in a bit though. My cohorts and I took a seat. I hadn't sat in one of those seats for years, and it was a church of all places, but I did experience a small sense of a faint whiff of welcoming. My ass recoiled and sighed with familiarity at the same time, but I digress.

We were a few minutes early so I took the time to look around and take in the scene. Like most catholic churches, the place is a strange mix of welcoming and foreboding. The architectural design is aesthetically pleasing and it's clear that the workmanship was solid and finely detailed, but I cannot deny the fact that it did strike me as also being intentionally designed in such a grandiose fashion that it ventured beyond "look how grand this is" to perhaps a small (and possibly imagined on my part, sure) hint of "and look how small you are." It could be simple cynicism on my part, but as you will soon read, the mass itself also seemed to be designed with the intention of engendering in those in attendance a sense of less than. There certainly was a lot of prostrating oneself involved in the actual mass itself.

First and foremost, there's the postural control. Sit. Stand. Kneel. All on command. All I could think to myself as I watched this unfold around me was what exactly is the point of all of that and why were people so quick to go along with it? It seems to me that it worked in tandem with the design of the place, the dress employed by those administering the mass, etc. The pageantry of it all obviously celebrates the importance, in their minds, of the message and of their actions, but I can't help but think that a clear message is also (not so) subtly being sent: You are less than and you will kneel before me.

Like the aforementioned postural control, there is the perhaps less offensive but more ominous groupspeak, as I thought of it. The priest would say something and then ask for it to be repeated back to him and the entire room, in unison, all murmured in these reverent, hushed tones the same words back to him. It was during these moments that I would think this would be a risky place to be in some other time periods and/or some other places. A person like me wouldn't fare so well in some other spots such as the one I was in on this night. A religious version of Children of the Corn played out in my mind as I listened to the murmurings all around me.

*Before I continue, I really have to stress just how utterly surreal this experience was. I'm sitting there literally surrounded by a group of people prostrating themselves in front of a seemingly 147 year old man wearing a cape-dress thing while they murmur in unison as they prepare to cannibalize a 2000 year old dead magician. It was bananas. Oh, and I won't be getting into the message of the service itself as I have beaten that topic to death on this blog (and elsewhere) over the years and I think we're all sick of it by now. *

As the members of the church lined up to take communion I wondered how many of them a) knew about the fact that the church states that they really are eating Jesus' flesh and b) actually believed that themselves. And if they did, um.....did they not know that cannibalism is illegal? Do they really think they would be allowed to cannibalize someone week after week, right out in the open, when the law states that eating people is not allowed? How did they reconcile the fact that Jesus still tasted, looked and felt exactly like a cracker? Did they ever wonder how the guy never ran out of flesh? Even the best biggest bodybuilder couldn't feed entire congregations worldwide for 2,000 years. Was Jesus on dat dere cell tech?

As far as things being said to me, or anything happening to me, as a result of my not partaking in all of the activities around me, I had one person sitting behind me hit my shoulders to tell me to stand up the first time the priest said to stand (not a stranger, someone I know) and I caught a few dirty looks. One from a woman across the aisle and one from a mother a maybe two rows up whose kid pointed to me and then clearly whispered something about how I was sitting when everyone else was standing. It's amazing how clearly the lines between unacceptable and acceptable people are drawn and then how vigilantly they are adhered to. All it takes is for you to sit when others stand and suddenly you're the other.

I felt a pervasive sense of wonder mixed with sadness and a touch of despair throughout this whole thing. I know most people would say I was crazy and all that was taking place there was a nice community gathering, but I could not help but see it for its much darker undertones (and really, I think they are only under if you don't bother to look- or don't want to) and be reminded of the ashes of fallen, war torn empires upon which this place of subversion and prostration was built.

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