Flopping on the couch, after careful rearranging the cats, I’ve been flipping through the hundreds of cable channels I have at my disposal and I’ve settled on Wes Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’. I don’t love every movie that Wes Anderson has made, but the guy gets huge props for bringing out the very best in Bill Murray. I love Murray’s classics like Ghostbusters, Stripes, and even Kingpin, but for the most part he’s had a spotty history on the big screen.
Before settling on Life Aquatic, I watched a few minutes of a feature on the History Channel that detailed the introduction of soda pop in the United States. It was a lot more interesting then you might imagine. During a commercial break there was a four or five minute commercial for one of those “Feed the children’ corporations. Years ago, Sally Struthers from the television series “All in the Family” used to narrate those commercials, but these days I don’t think anyone knows who she is/was anymore.
The current commercials are narrated by a very earnest looking, bald and bearded gent. He wanders through the mud caked streets of a village which is filled to the brim with starving children. Not listening to every word he says I catch something about thousands of children dying of hunger yesterday, with the same thing destined to happen today and tomorrow.
If I were a caring, conscientious person, this information would probably bring me to tears and send me running for my checkbook, but I guess because this horrible atrocity isn't happening in my backyard or even in my neighborhood, it’s easy enough to change the channel and ignore the problem.
Back in the day, when a cup of joe cost around fifty cents, Sally Struthers used to say that for the price of a cup of coffee you could feed a child for a week. This was before the Starbucks phenomena and the four-dollar cup of coffee. Who knows what four bucks a week could buy in your average starving nation.
The bald and bearded, thoughtful looking man says that if I sponsor a child I will get regular photos and notes from him/her.
How in the world do you imagine this works? If I sign up for sponsorship and send in my fifteen dollars a month, what happens to the child I’m assigned? Does he get uprooted and shipped to a different part of the town or country—to a place that has running water, feeds him two or three bowls of rice a day, and maybe a Peace Corps volunteer to teach him the three R’s?
Or, does the sponsored kid stay in the same mud hut he lived in before, only he’s given special treatment on the sly. He eats while those around him go hungry, he gets new clothes and shoes while his brothers and sisters run around mostly naked, and he gets a toothbrush—the only one in the entire town.
I wonder if the children who are lucky enough to get sponsored and who receive monthly letters from their host families in Terra Haute, Indiana and Crystal Springs, California here in the US of A, are ostracized and get endless beatings by the others in their village? Perhaps they are able to buy protection from the daily beat downs by offering up the Gummi worms and Wacky Taffy their host family sends them each month.
Maybe it gets so bad after a while that sponsored kids request to be taken off the sponsored kids list? What are the sponsor families back in Terra Haute told? Are they automatically given the next kid on the list? Would they even notice, or care that the kid in their pictures has changed? Perhaps the whole notion of sponsor families getting regular photos and notes from the kids is a scam. Maybe hundreds of families get the same photos and ‘hand written’ notes from the sponsored kids. What if the notes are produced in backroom sweatshop somewhere in the Honduras?
I guess it could be legit. And maybe ninety-nine cents of every dollar donated goes to helping the children. I worry that I might be getting cynical in my old age, but I think I’ve always been this cynical. I think it comes from being raised a Catholic and being required to attend Catechism classes every week.
The whole notion of Catholicism only really works if you’re willing to buy into the concept from the start. It’s like someone trying to tell you a joke and you totally miss out on the punch line because you’re still back at the start, trying to figure out why a priest, a rabbi, and a Shetland pony would be lost in the desert together, and how the pony, who can’t talk, could make his three wishes from the magic genie after the trio finds a dusty lamp and they give it a good rubbing. If you don’t buy into the set-up there’s no way you’re going to get the punch line. I never bought into the whole notion of Christ and the subsequent Christianity, so what the nuns were trying to teach me in Catechism came across as downright confounding and mostly silly.
I wanted to understand. I had a ton of questions that I wanted the answers for, but when I asked the priests or nuns they looked at me like I was speaking Esperanto and sent me back to my seat. For starters, I never got the whole “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” thing. So, the Father is God, right? And the son must be Jesus. But who the heck is the Holy Ghost? And why even bring ghosts into the mix. You’ve got some pretty titanic concepts for people to chew on, with God sending his son down to earth to die for our sins, and stuff like that, so why bring ghosts into the mix?
I had a bunch of questions about Jesus that I never got the answer to. So, there’s God up in heaven, keeping an eye on this little earth project he’s cooked up. From the getgo Adam and Eve showed their true colors and demonstrated that mankind is flawed. God could have wiped the slate clean at this point and started over again, but maybe he created humans to be weak and prone to doing the wrong thing at the wrong time in most cases. So the human race grows too large for Eden and they start branching out around the world—all the while acting like the biggest bunch of sinners you ever saw in your life.
God comes to the conclusion that the only way he’s going to get everyone back on track and living the way they should be is to send a little sliver of himself down to live among the humans. This sort of makes sense to me, but the way he cooked up Jesus is kind of weird. God could have easily sent down a fully-grown man, complete with sandals, robe and hippy beard, to do the job. But instead, he impregnates a virgin to carry his son. This concept doesn’t appear to affect the soon-to-be mom, or her husband. If something like this happened today, two thousand years later, it would cause quite a stir—so I really can’t see it being casually accepted back in the day.
Did Mary know that she was carrying a little bundle of divinity in her belly? Immaculate conception aside, did Mary and Joseph know they had a ‘super’ baby on their hands once he was born? At some point was Joseph nearly crushed while changing the wheel on an oxen cart? Once he realizes he hasn’t been crushed flat does he look up and see that little baby Jesus is holding the fallen cart up in the air with a single finger?
Years later, young adult Jesus is making a living as a carpenter. He’s got no real competition, as he seems to be able to do the most difficult projects overnight. In fact, he probably completes most orders the same day they’re placed, but then leaves the finished product sitting around his shop for a week or two to avoid suspicion.
While he isn’t busy building quality wood furniture, Jesus starts preaching about how great his dad is. This doesn’t sit very well with those in power and before long Jesus finds himself perched up on a cross. After a while of hanging around up there, holding uncomfortably long conversations with whoever passes by, he’s eventually stabbed in the ribs with the Spear of Destiny. This pretty much kills Jesus who is then tossed into a cave (the entrance to which is blocked by a big heavy stone to keep the neighborhood kids out of there) and then on Easter morning he moves the big rock out of the way and wanders to look up his old friends. Possibly the fellow with the Spear of Destiny.
His resurrection lasts a week or so, during which time he puts on a show of his powers to win back his followers. Something happens and he dies again, only this time for good. I don’t recall what got him the second time, his father was probably involved, but it really did the job.
So, with his work complete down on earth, Jesus comes back to heaven. To do what? I had a nun tell me that he was sort of absorbed back into God, his father, like a sponge absorbs a puddle of water it left earlier on the counter.
This notion bugged the hell out of me. You can’t put someone down on earth for over thirty years, during which time he’s probably made a lot of good friends and has some fun memories, and then simply absorb him up like you're a Shamwow. Is this what all of us have to look forward to in heaven? All individuality gone. We just get sucked back into the mass of energy we were born from?
I guess we can forget about floating around on the clouds, playing the lyre for the babes, and making sure your halo is tilted at a jaunty angle. Is the afterlife we have to look forward to comprised of becoming the tiniest fraction of a gargantuan whole, with all traces of individuality to be stripped away? No memories of great books we’ve read, movies we’ve seen, people we’ve loved, exotic foods we’ve tasted? All that is gone?
I don’t know about you, but this sounds pretty crappy to me.
But who knows? Maybe religion was explained to me incorrectly. People talk about Jesus like he still exists. The religion is called Christianity, after all. I was always confused when I was young because the names 'God' and 'Jesus Christ' seemed pretty much interchangeable. People pray to 'Jesus' just as often as they pray to 'God. Adding to the confusion is the 'Lord'. Is Lord another name for Jesus or for God—or are all three one in the same, with the Holy Ghost tossed in for good luck? Will a shout out to any of the four get you the same response?
The sleep that had been eluding me now beckons me. I should go. Perhaps a religious epiphany awaits me.