Around 600 B.C., in the region now known as Iran, Zarathustra Spitāma, a herdsman who sidelined as a priest, was inspired to write poetry and to preach his vision to anybody who would listen and, apparently, to some people who didn’t want to hear which got him run out of town on a rail, which seems a bit preferable to crucifixion. Zarathustra did not invent the religion that was named after him and my source, Mircea Eliade’s A History Of Religious Ideas Volume 1, does not explain why that religion is Zoroastrianism instead of Zarathustranism, but he did reinterpret, reinvigorate and add some new elements to it. The gist of Zarathustra’s revelation is that people are free to choose to do good or evil. The creator, Ahura Mazdā, is good. His heavenly court, six divine beings known collectively as the Amesha Spentas, are good. His offspring, Asha, Vohu Manah, Ārmaiti and Spenta Mainyu, are good. But Spenta Mainyu, the Beneficent Spirit, is a twin and his brother, who must therefore also be the offspring of Ahura Mazdā, is Angra Mainyu, the Destroying Spirit.
At the beginning of time, Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu chose good and evil respectively and, by so doing, set a precedent. Human beings, behaving on earth as the gods do in Heaven, are free to choose to do good or to do evil. Ultimately, of course, good, or rather, Good will triumph over Evil, the dead will be judged and, yes, those who chose to do good will be admitted to the House of Song, while the evil-doers will be consigned to the House of Evil. The whole cosmic battle between Good and Evil is pretty much old-hat to us, because we’ve been hearing about it for centuries, but it was pretty radical when Zarathustra started preaching it. Of course, Zarathustra and the rest of the folks worshiping Ahura Mazdā got to feel really special and quite a bit holier than those wicked Āryans worshiping Teshup down the street. Zarathustra wasn’t afraid to name names. Bandva and Vaēpa were people who had personally offended him and you can guess which House those dudes were headed for.
I’ve never been able to get down with that Heaven and Hell thing. Actually, I don’t mind the Heaven part; it’s the Hell side of that I don’t like. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as spiteful and vindictive as I can stand to be, but my revenge fantasies usually end when I shoot the asshole, or hack them to pieces with a machete, or when I order my Mongol hordes to raze their cities. I don’t have any desire to imagine the meter maid who gave me a parking ticket burning and writhing and screaming in pain and anguish forever and ever and ever and ever and ever, while I sit on a cloud eating candied ginger, getting my dick sucked by forty’leven virgins. The whole eternal punishment for temporal behavior idea is what finally got me to renounce the religion I was raised with, which was a version of Protestant Christianity. I realized, one day many years ago, that I couldn’t even hate Adolf Hitler enough to want him to be damned for all time, so I quit believing in Hell and Heaven went with it. Now, I don’t pretend to have any idea what happens to people’s souls after they die. Maybe nothing happens, or maybe something does. Buddhism has many heavens and many hells, all of which are temporary, all of which are just places the monad passes through according to its karma. I can get behind reincarnation; I recycle. Mostly, I’m too busy with the business of living to spend much time on afterliving. But I definitely and whole-heartedly reject the idea that anybody is going to suffer eternally because they fucked on Sunday or took a Lord’s name in vain. That’s just crazy talk.
Around the Spotted Opossum’s third birthday, she started asking me questions about churches. “What’s that building with the pointy roof? What happens there?” My parenting style is child-directed. I let her tell me what she needs. When she started asking about church, I gave her a basic description – church is where people go to learn about God – and asked if she wanted to go to church. She said she did, so I had to look around for a church that I didn’t totally disagree with and the first one I thought of was the Unitarian-Universalists, who have no doctrine, no creed, no real convictions in any serious sorta way. I mean, they advocate for social justice and sign petitions and shit, but if I was in any kinda hard fight I wouldn’t want a bunch of U-U’s backing me up. I’ve met a lot of good people at the U-U church and I like them, but I don’t see them being able to smack somebody upside the head with a hammer. Which is fine. What I want for the grrrl is a spiritual community that will encourage her to grow and learn and find her own way spiritually. I absolutely do not want anybody telling her that Jesus cries when she touches her yoni or that she’ll go to Hell if she picks her nose. That’s just crazy talk.
Back in the 19th century, the Unitarians and the Universalists were separate denominations. The Unitarians were more urban and upperclass; the Universalists were more rural and workingclass. Both were socially active, but the Universalists were more so – they were second to the Quakers in officially denouncing slavery, at a time when the Catholics were still citing Genesis 9:25 as evidence that God approved of it. Furthermore, the Universalist answer to the question, “If God loves me, why would He send me to Hell?” was – and is – “He won’t”. Universalists believe in universal salvation. Nobody, no matter how wicked or depraved or Republican they might be, no one is condemned. Everyone is saved. Salvation is the result of God’s love and God loves everybody.
That was a radical and crazy concept in the 19th century. Universalists were not allowed to hold certain offices or testify in court. Everybody assumed that without the fear of eternal damnation, there was no reason whatsoever for anyone to tell the truth or behave morally. There were no atheists then, at least not the way we think of atheists. Everybody was attached to a church somehow or they were social pariahs. It’s still a radical concept, but there are so many stupid religions now (Scientology?), that nobody notices much anymore.
The Unitarians were similar to the Universalists in many ways and the two denominations merged in 1963 or so to become Unitarian-Universalist and because that’s a long and awkward name, most people just call then “Unitarians”. I just call them/us “Unitarians”, though it’s probably obvious that I’m really more on the Universalist side of the hyphen.
So, I started taking the Spotted Opossum out to the little red U-U church on the Sundays when she’s with me. She’s gone back to the Sunday school class a few times, but mostly she likes to stay with me and color in the Order of Service. They do a lot of singing at the local U-U, which is unfortunate. Congregational singing is awesome when it’s a Smithsonian Folkways recording of black Southern Baptists or white Southern Baptists, who know the words and melody. I’ll listen to that stuff all damned day. A bunch of gluten-sensitive, touchy-feely white people with liberal arts degrees flatly fumbling through a poorly-written New Age hymn to Nobody In Particular which fucking changes from 4/4 to 3/4 in the middle of the chorus is another thing altogether and I find myself wishing they’d all just shut up. The girl likes it, though, and I’m sure I can benefit from learning to be a little gentler.
I’m kinda rough around the edges. Numerous girlfriends have mentioned it. There was one who requested that I shave every time I knew she was coming over because my stubble was abrasive on her inner thighs. My attitude at the time was along the lines of “Well, I guess you need to toughen up”, which wasn’t exactly sensitive. I know I cuss and spit and sometimes offend people without intending to and I’m pretty much okay with that, but ya know, I’m not unwilling to soften a little. And the U-U Sunday morning service and snacks afterwards is not my only avenue of spirituality. I sacrifice puppies to Hecate when the girl is at her mommy’s house.
It’s weird sometimes. I’ll be standing around with some other dads on the front porch of the church, eating muffins, watching the kids play, and I have to remember to be on good behavior. Maybe I’m imagining it. I dunno. I’m still sort of new to the congregation and they have welcomed me and my little whelp with open arms and I certainly appreciate that. That’s how the U-U is. Everybody’s welcome. Everybody’s going to Heaven.
So, why do good? Why bother to live morally if it doesn’t matter, if everybody’s going to the same place anyway?
Well, I’ll tell ya. I’ve been immoral. I’ve broken nine of the Ten Commandments and I would’ve broken them all except somebody dislocated one of my fingers and made me let go of that guy’s throat. I have wallowed in iniquity and sin. I have fully embraced decadence, corruption, teenage girls and wickedness. If I didn’t do something that was immoral or illegal, it’s because I didn’t have the opportunity, didn’t think of it, or just didn’t want to – like gambling, which I never thought sounded like fun . Wrong living was what I was into.
Ya know what? It wasn’t that much fun. Seriously. I enjoy everything I do now that I’m living right, including the few harmless little vices that I still engage in. I’ve come to think of the Ten Commandments as the Ten Pretty Good Ideas If Ya Wanna Get Along With People. The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism says pretty much the same thing. I’m kinda loose in my interpretations. Some people think that “Thou shalt not commit adultery” means you can’t have sex with anybody you’re not married to. I take that to mean that I shouldn’t have sex with women who are married to someone else, which is a policy I can agree with. It’s really just common courtesy and good sense.
I’m honest, but not stupidly so. I don’t remember the last time I stole something. I try to do things that will make the world a better place. Whenever I can, I look at other people as fellow travelers as opposed to assholes who are in my way. I do the best I can and I have fun.
When I started writing this, I was thinking I was going to use Zarathustra’s idea that people can choose to do Good or Evil as a set-up to rant about bands that don’t play benefit shows. BDSR plays benefit shows. Actually, BDSR plays benefit shows because I organize benefit shows, which is how I know how hard it is to get bands to agree to play benefit shows. It’s funny – sweet, little pop-punk bands come across all sensitive and caring and they won’t show up to raise money for sexually abused children, but the corpse-painted goons doing Danzig covers will. I was gonna go off about how anybody who’s in a band obviously has disposable income and free time and how fucking hard is it to give a little back? Then I started feeling like an asshole. And a hypocrite. After I wrote that sentence about Zarathustra feeling holier than the Āryans, I realized I couldn’t go that route without doing the exact same thing.
Maybe the U-U’s are making me soft already.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.