Warning to people of faith: The following will offend you. Sorry. (Sort of.)
I finally tucked in the other night and watched Religulous, Bill Maher's scathing look at organized religion; it was well worth the 3.99 on pay-per-view. And then I read Frank Rich's column in the Sunday Times, in which he commented--hopefully--on the waning of the Religious Way of American Life; there are more people claiming 'no religious affiliation' than ever before. Nevertheless, we're still a nation of remarkably faithful church/temple/mosque/yoga yurt-goers. Much more so than other industrialized nations.
What the hell is with us? Maher incisively and hilariously skewers all the silliness of believing in some giant, invisible, all powerful "sky-man" (as John Oliver cheekily put it on The Daily Show) who has the time to manipulate the outcome of football games but leaves Darfur littered with corpses. Not to mention the general absurdity of the bible ("a talking snake? really?"). And the insanity (okay: stupidity) of taking said book literally. With a few clever montages and some bracing on-screen factoids, the movie limns all the hypocrisy, all the flimsy justification, all the general wackjob-itude of believing whole-heartedly in these thousand year old fairy tales. I mean, really: no one believes Rumpelstiltskin spun gold from straw, so why do people believe a Jewish carpenter turned water into wine?
But here's the thing: seems to me religion--sadly--isn't the only farcical, invisible thing we've decided to believe in. The "faith" we put in things we can't see or touch or smell or quantify in any way at all is rampant. I think we've been caught--for a while now (eight years? maaybee...)--in a kind of collective, willful ignorance. We've been having a hoe-down and doing a dumb, happy dance to a tune we can't even hear.
For people with anti-biotics and computers and statistics we believe in a lot of invisible stuff. We put our faith in invisible stuff. We get unbridled joy and a feeling of safety and entertainment value and sense of import and urgency out of Invisible Stuff. Like, for instance, just for starters:
--Money in your 401(k)
--Love and/or "a real connection" on any dating reality show
--All sorts of Byzantine financial transactions that don't make sense to anyone
--The value of your house
--Anything that 'reduces the look of fine lines and wrinkles'
--That Patrick Dempsey's hair just looks that way
What do we get out of all this? Ever-lasting childhood, that's what. We're not just chumps, we're children, living out not even an extended adolescence (fuck, adolescents do nothing but question the status quo; I wish we were adolescents) but an extended toddler-hood. We are actually slobbering, sticky three-year-olds who believe anything someone taller, older, cooler, richer, prettier or On TV tells us to believe. Regardless of fact, regardless of evidence. We might as well assume we'll get rich by putting errant teeth under our pillows.
Maher ends his movie by saying, among other things: Grow up. And despite the fact that most of the time I feel like a 12 year old weepily singling along to Janis Ian songs, I've got to agree. Maybe it's time we stopped believing in voodoo and magic in place of science, and smoke and mirrors light shows in the place of actual balances in actual brick and mortar banks. It's time we stopped think 'reality shows' are really...real. It's time we looked at something like the cold hard truth and lived our lives and fashioned our economy and developed products based on fact and empirical evidence, instead of wisps of pretty twinkling lights. It might not be fun, it might not be comforting, it might not be easy. But at least it'll be grown-up. At least it'll be real. Cause here's the thing about invisible stuff; when you need it most, it might turn out not to just be invisible. It might turn out to be non-existent.