“How Do We Know There’s No God?”

A different cartoon version of Lena–this time courtesy of BuzzFeed–and an attempt to answer her aforementioned question. (Click on the image to get to the piece. )

BuzzFeed Lena

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Car Ride with Lena

Continuing adventures with The Washington Post, thanks to Senior Graphics Editor (and wonderful collaborator) Samuel Granados. (Click on the image to get to the piece.)

Car Ride with Lena

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Against My Religion

Irish referendumOnce a week, to earn my member discount, I chop vegetables in the kitchen at the Coop. My co-workers are mostly professional cooks, all of whom work insanely fast compared to me. They are also young and hip, in a wholesome sort of way. To my right works a cook with buzzed-short hair and a fisherman’s cap who, every week after she unrolls her knife pouch, shows us pictures of her new baby. She is a determined breast-feeder and disappears to pump after an hour or two.

As I wrestled with root vegetables on Wednesday, she told us she gave up dairy and eggs to try to relieve the baby’s colic. “The funny thing is,” she said, “Now I’m a vegan, except for, you know, things like pork.”

“Ugh,” said the bearded cook to my left. “Pork is the worst.”

“Why?” I asked him. “You mean it’s ethically the worst?” He must have something damning to say about factory farming of pigs. I think of myself as well informed, but I’m ready to defer to a bespectacled 24-year-old part-time music teacher who can break down 50 pounds of onions without breaking a sweat.

“Well,” he shrugged, “it’s against my religion, so . . .”

I nearly dropped a beet. I assumed these youngsters were all super liberal and, if not atheists, then at least among the 22 percent of Americans who consider their religion to be “none.”

But, you know, I’m cool. I can roll with it. I said, “Do you keep all the kosher laws or just the pork one?”

“Not kosher—halal” he said, at which point I decided to keep my mouth shut for a spell.

I had thought . . . What had I thought? I considered the question while pursuing the ego-crushing task of cutting round vegetables into ¾-inch dice.

I had thought “against my religion” might be going out of fashion. (Except for, you know, in Indiana.)

Just the week before, the Irish voted 62 percent in favor of changing their constitution to permit same-sex marriage, which is forbidden in the church to which 84 percent of them belong. Whether or not they personally disagree with the Pope on the subject, they evidently concluded that “against my religion” isn’t a good enough reason to deny others their civil rights.

Closer to home, there was my recent experience with the Episcopal Diocese of Albany. After a rigorous audition in the acoustically magnificent interior of All Saints Cathedral, my son Jesse was invited to join the Choir of Men and Boys. And boy, did he want to: the music was as demanding and the director was as exacting as a young musical perfectionist could wish. But he told me he wouldn’t join if they didn’t perform same-sex marriage. I looked it up; they don’t.

You can read the diocesan canon for yourself:

Members of the Clergy Resident in or Licensed to Serve in this Diocese shall neither officiate at, nor facilitate, nor participate in any service, whether public or private, for the Celebration or Blessing of a Marriage or any other union except between one man and one woman. Unions other than those of one man and one woman in Holy Matrimony, even if they be recognized in other jurisdictions shall be neither recognized nor blessed in this Diocese.

It turns out Albany is the only one of the five Episcopal dioceses in the state that doesn’t bless same-sex marriages, and the bishop of this diocese (Bishop Love, of all things) has a national reputation as a conservative who opposes the ordination of gay priests.

So I wrote to the choir director and I explained on what grounds Jesse declined to work for his institution. And then the choir director called me up to let me know that there was a strong progressive community in the diocese working from within toward a change in canon law. In other words, although their spiritual leader had decided that same-sex marriage was “against their religion,” they begged to differ.

Jesse still wouldn’t join the choir. As an atheist, he wasn’t among those who could effect change from within an Episcopal congregation. He would, for the length of his tenure in that white robe simply have been a jewel in the crown of an organization that (for now) behaves unethically.

But the whole episode was a moving reminder that it’s not just atheists and “nones” who think for themselves, that church congregants are not, in fact, sheep. It left me with a great sense of hope in people of faith.

In the Coop kitchen the conversation had moved on; everybody but me appeared to take “against my religion” in stride, as if the bearded cook had said “I’m Paleo” or “I’m gluten-free.” These cooks spend their days working around people’s dietary requirements; they don’t appear to judge or to feel judged by personal food issues.

Maybe “personal” is exactly how they see it. I don’t want to presume too much about this man’s beliefs. I don’t know him!  But certainly it’s possible—as recent news from Ireland would suggest—to embrace one’s religion while rejecting some of its more dated ethical precepts, especially as they affect others. Maybe what’s becoming fashionable is using “against my religion” less to promote restrictions on women or discrimination against homosexuals, and more to explain strictly personal matters like food and clothing and facial hair.

Facial hair! Oh, good grief . . . I had thought it was a hipster beard.

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