Other gods and goddesses

Ready to grab the third rail? Religion. Yep, I said it. Having been raised culturally as a WASP (closer to poor-white-trash than Rockefeller on the Mater’s side of the family), I found during my youth that I was somewhat removed from my fellow WASPs by my lack of any basic understanding of religion. This is because I was born into a religion-free family. No church, temple, mosque or Magic Circle for us. We didn’t even have Santa Claus – a fact some people found very sad, though since we got presents I was never sure what I was supposed to be missing.gladys1

This is difficult for people with a religion to comprehend, but please understand that it is just as hard for me to understand what it would be like to HAVE a religion. I’m still not sure I entirely understand what’s going on, but having a religion does seem to be useful in certain cases. It also seems that acquiring a first religion is best done during a short developmental window in childhood, just like acquiring a first language. Having passed that window, you could probably still acquire a religion, but it wouldn’t be as easily done.

My sister (also grew up religion-free) and I have had many philosophical discussions about growing up without a religion in a predominantly religious community (to whit, Southern California). We never could understand the basic premise of generic Christianity, although I always maintained that the Catholics had, hands down, the best music, the best ceremonies, the best composers (Verdi! Mozart!) and the best incense. My sister was more impressed with the saints. The downside was the whole guilt thing and not getting a heliocentric solar system until 1992.

very zen
Very Zen, but will it get me out of Brooklyn?

Next up, the Jews. Sis and I agree that the deeply ingrained respect for knowledge and learning align with our own values. And, after being buffeted by the winds of fundamentalism and door-to-door proselytizers, the fact that the Jews don’t try to convert you is a refreshing change. We admire the fact that you really have to put in some effort if you want to convert. It’s not just Hello Charlie – you have to take a test.

For some reason, many of my friends and family consider Mormonism to be just a hair less shocking than Scientology. This is the type of attitude that gave rise to “A Study in Scarlet” (first Sherlock Holmes book). When my oldest daughter was whisked off to a week in a Mormon summer camp by a neighborhood pal,  I had to field calls from far and wide warning me of the dire

Study in Scarlet?  Never read it.

consequences. Since I don’t have a religion, I consider it everyone’s right to choose for themselves, and this includes my kids. I’d already sent the girls to Jewish summer camp for 4 years running, where they got to swim twice a day, eat kosher doggies at the Friday cookout, and learn canoeing and the Hebrew alphabet. Didn’t seem to affect them adversely, so after my eldest came home from a week with the Mormons, where she learned canoeing, prayer for all occasions, how to defer to a husband, and survival skills (hint – a drop of hydrogen peroxide will sanitize your lake water after the apocalypse), I asked her if she thought she’d like to become a full-time Mormon. “Mom!” (groan, eyes rolling) “You KNOW if I had to pick a religion it would be Jewish!”  Good job, Camp Yo-Ma-Wa!

Me, I think I would have gone for Ancient Greek / Rome. Don’t get me wrong – Zen is nice (“it’s all an illusion – end of story”), but there’s not a lot you can do with that in your daily life. My sister has always maintained that the ancient Greek system of warring gods is much closer to how life really

Poseidon on the warpath.

works on this planet anyway. You may think you’re in tight with Zeus because, after your burnt sacrifices, your olives are growing great and your sheep are plentiful, but then bam! Poseidon gets pissed off for some reason, and you get killed by an octopus. That’s real life. If two of the gods are fighting over something, well, you’re screwed because you can’t really please them both. “Menelaus? or Paris of Troy? Hmmmm. Think I’ll sit this one out.” Nope. They may hate each other, but they hate wusses more, so you’re toast.

Even without having a religion, though, I feel perfectly justified in having my own superstitions. Black cats are not a problem for me, but what would happen if I DON’T knock on wood? Sometimes, you just want to talk to the universe, and having a religion (or a psychosis – or both) makes that easier. Since I can’t comfortably fit into any of the established Big Three, I jumped at the news of a set of modern deities geared for urban dwelling.

It all startno parkinged with Gladys, the goddess of quality parking. I didn’t make her up, but I’ve been an acolyte ever since I heard of her. Here’s how she works. You’re circling the block, desperate to park. Since you’re circling Times Square, you have no hope. “Hail Gladys, full of grace, help me find a QUALITY parking space!” Say it three times, and Gladys will come to your aid. I have friends in California who SWEAR by Gladys.

Gladys turned out to be such a useful deity, that I’ve accumulated a few more. Feel free to use them as well, but don’t blame me if they turn on you.

Dennis, God of the Underground. Dennis lords it over his vast underground kingdom with Persephone, Queen of the Damned, at his side  (sidenote: the damned include anyone looking for the next G train out of Brooklyn). Dennis generally keeps things running fairly well down there, but every now and then you may be cursed with Bad Subway Karma. You

Portal to the underworld.

notice that four uptown trains go by while you’re on the downtown side. You waited forever for the Express, only to find it turned without warning into a Local. The D inexplicably winds up being an M. Every time you pull into 96th Street on the downtown Number One, the Number Three which was waiting right there fer cryin’ out loud! closes its doors and takes off before the doors on your train open.  Jerks!

In these cases, you must purchase an Unlimited Ride Metrocard, then use it once and only once to enter the subway at Times Square. Then, you must present the card to Pizza Rat  as a sacrifice while saying “Forgive me Dennis, Dread Lord of the Underground, please restore my subway karma to good standing, I beg thee.”

Phyllis is not happy….

Phyllis, Goddess of Traffic and Transit. Make sure you listen to her druid priests foretell the future on 1010Wins Traffic-On-The-Tens. If not, you will feel her wrath. She holds her most terrible power over those on bridges and in tunnels. If you merge onto the Deegan without looking over your shoulder her punishment is swift.

Doris, Dryad of The Elevators. Doris is generally quite benign and helpful, but she does have a vicious streak. Just ask the guy who got

elevator stuck
…and Doris is flat-out pissed.

stuck for 48 hours in the McGraw Hill building. She rarely kills outright, but when she does, it makes all the headlines. Usually, though, everything is peachy unless you press your luck. Doris does not recommend overcrowding or holding the doors.


  1. So where are you on the “cleanliness is next to godliness” spectrum? Does being godless interfere with your sanitary habits?

    On another note, you left out the goddess Apartamenta, patron saint of rent stabilised dwellings.

  2. My apologies to Apartamenta, and I will gladly sacrifice over half of my after-tax salary to her.

    Good qq about cleanliness — I would say that I mentally substitute something like “being a good member of society” for godliness. So, no correlation between sanitary habits and personal religious beliefs. Sounds like it could be a study project for someone, though!

  3. Dear Jane,

    How do you feel about the gods Evolution and Gravity?

    I’m of the opinion that religions spring up from collective ‘agreements’ explaining the world we live in. Agreements in the sense of at least accepting certain concepts to be true in order to have cohesion within a group; to have a baseline of thought to collectively work from.

    I think the human mind hungers for a few things that result in the formation of belief systems: understanding and peace of mind, meaning and pleasure, community and inclusion.

    Why am I here?
    How come she’s angry with me?
    Where do we go when we die?
    Why keep on living?
    Where’s the party?

    Belief systems answer these questions. Ergo, religions answer these questions.

    Formalized religions also encapsulate cultural elements, right? Those suave Italians dress up their churches, their clergy, and themselves in fine cuts and fabrics. Waspy Protestants and Anglicans are more demure, straight-laced and formal. Southern Baptists are vibrant, aromatic and boisterous in song…

    We’ve found the parties! They’re usually on Sundays, and you can find all the folks like you there.

    I’ve heard the opinion that Science is our modern religion. In the light of “belief systems”, I can agree with that. It’s not true for people who haven’t really internalized formal education though – I find it easy to lose people when explaining things scientifically because they’re not used to thinking like scientists. So, at best, Science is a religion to another limited group; not an exclusive group, but a group that’s accepted science’s perspectives.

    It offers us the answers. I’m not sure it offers us places to meet each other and hang out, though? I guess that makes it informal, and not organized. That’s groovy, it’s an underground thing!

    That being said… judging from your column on climate change ( https://janeexplains.com/2015/12/31/and-now-the-weather-report/ ), I’d say that you might actually HAVE a religion. Let’s consider your wording from paragraph eleven of “And Now the Weather Report”:

    “At this point, people get frustrated. Why can’t science just tell us exactly what is going to happen, where it will happen, and when? There are three good reasons why science can’t do that. First: [WE] don’t have all the information, and [WE’RE] dealing with a big, complex system (sky, sea, world, etc.) Second: science deals in probabilities and statistics, while you and I ([WELL, YOU ANYWAY]) don’t like statistics, and think there’s a good chance of hitting Powerball. ”

    I’ve added the emphases on the two “we”s and the “you anyway”, Jane, to point out why I believe you identify with the scientists; that would’ve been worded differently if you considered them as “them”, right?

    You’re an acolyte of Science, Jane.

    Welcome to Science Camp!

    How does it feel to HAVE a religion?

    :^ )

    • The big difference between science and religion is that one is based on evidence and the other on faith. If you give me enough solid evidence, I’m willing to change my beliefs. For example, Einstein showed that Newton wasn’t the whole story on gravity. I changed my belief. If you catch Bigfoot and get a team of doctors to do an examination to make sure it’s not a man in a furry suit, I’d start believing in Bigfoot. As far as I’ve been told, religion doesn’t work like that. You’re supposed to believe without any physical evidence.

      • Okay, I get it: your difficulty of understanding isn’t that some people adhere to a religion, it’s more precisely that they accept a belief system that’s based on improbable concepts – right?

        You accept and defend a system of thought that’s based on reason and evidence, but feel incapable of understanding why many people feel more satisfied with systems based on seemingly impossible events and entities – right?

        Faith versus reason – right?

        I think what’s eating at me about your column is that you’re not meeting other people head-on in the discussion; I believe that you actually support a non-theistic belief system that’s comparable to religion in many ways but aren’t tabling it. It skirts the title of your article which deals with the topic of God.

        If you’d winnowed this down to, “I don’t believe in gods and don’t understand how anybody could believe that without proof”, then we’d have your true thoughts, methinks. I’d be standing on your side, too, because my thinking patterns have been formed on the seeing-is-believing pattern as well. Mind you, I can’t see Gravity, Evolution, or The Big Bang; and I’m aware that I’m cheerfully going on with my life with an =unquestioned= faith that the Big Thinkers are on the right path with their deductions, their beliefs, in those ideas.

        For the fun of it, considering I recently read a convincingly good scientific paper written by a creationist, I started to wonder what Scientific Creationists might be thinking. I was surprised when I originally found out that writer believed in a spontaneous creation event – mind you, The Big Bang is spontaneous too, isn’t it.
        I’m surprised again that there’s actually a school of thought that marries science with creation – mind you, Science marries science with evolution, doesn’t it.

        It looks like the only viable, discerning question is, “is there a God or not?”. I’m not sure Science can disprove God, can it? I’m just as uncertain that it can support it. So both sides are ignorant on the crux, and this relates to your feelings of proof versus faith to some degree. Mind you, disbelieving is also a type of faith, isn’t it? – faith that only the provable can exist.

        And so I now see your column as the jest it is! What you’re really saying is, “I don’t believe in God, and I find people who do incomprehensible. Here folks, if you can believe in God The Creator, maybe you can also believe in this God Of Parking!” Ha ha!!!, you’re a funny cat, Jane! – you’re just funnin’ with us, aren’t you?

        And here’s a couple of the ways how the creationists are making their claims in the face of scientific study:

        [begin quote]

        3. Each of the major kinds of plants and animals was created functionally complete from the beginning and did not evolve from some other kind of organism. Changes in basic kinds since their first creation are limited to “horizontal” changes (variations) within the kinds, or “downward” changes (e.g., harmful mutations, extinctions).

        4.The first human beings did not evolve from an animal ancestry, but were specially created in fully human form from the start. Furthermore, the “spiritual” nature of man (self-image, moral consciousness, abstract reasoning, language, will, religious nature, etc.) is itself a supernaturally created entity distinct from mere biological life.

        [end quote]

        They’re skirting the issue of proving God exists too! (I think… I haven’t read the whole thing yet). At a quick glance, I’d say they could probably make strong arguments for the two ideas above.

        And… the whole thing:


        So… what say you, Jane… does God exist or not?

        • You forgot one aspect that I think is critical here, which is how you grew up. If you were immersed in religion from birth onward, it must seem very natural to you. It doesn’t to me. Most of what you’re talking about sounds like it’s coming from a Christian perspective, which is one of many.

          As far as I can figure out, God is a matter of definition.

          Here are two sites that you may find interesting:

          • Ha ha ha!!!! … that’s hilarious, Janie!

            Pastafarians being denied permanent driver’s licenses in the US because they’re wearing colanders on their heads!

            And the “highly significant bottom line” of the noosphere project’s results being described as “[t]he jagged red line shows the accumulating excess of the empirically normalized Z-scores relative to expectation for the complete dataset of rigorously defined events. The overall result is highly significant. The odds against chance are more than a trillion to one.”… as crystal clear as dishwater! Mumblee-gook!!! Ha ha… awesome funny!

            Loved it… thanks for the wild goose chase
            :^ )

            It’s interesting, actually, how you answered this. I’m not sure whether your “that depends” is the synonym of the firm “maybe”, or of the shaky “I dunno”. In our modern language, I think it could be interpreted either way. It might also be code for “I don’t want to tell you”. That’s cool too; I’m not going to dig.

            As to the question of “growing up with”, I put it aside in my previous answer because I was addressing your last reply which pitted “logical” science against “unquestioned” faith – my point was to show that logic and reason =can= be included when considering Faith if people are willing to question and think – religion doesn’t automatically exclude reasoning or logic. I’m of the opinion that your personal culture is atheistic, scientific, and perhaps doubting by default.

            Considering that you’ve turned this to the topic of culture, however, let me ask you this, “faced with a culture that you find incomprehensible, what steps might you take to understand it? (with the implied underlying bias that there must be some healthy reasons that many other people do)”.

            I’m of the mind that we continue to adapt and grow, in reason and understanding, as long as we live and our minds are healthy. Lots of people change direction later in life: immigrants, limb-loss and stroke victims, third-world aid workers workers, to name a few. Being faced with the non-understandable seems like a great place to investigate from! (it beats losing an eye!!!)

            So, I’m not sure if you really want to discuss this or not… I respect your wish to stand pat and just laugh at it too. It feels to me that you’re defending your status quo without really considering opening up to shifting.

            And, yeah, I followed your lead in tabling the christian perspective. You’ve way way way oversimplified the zen-buddhist school of thought to four words, so I can’t take it seriously that you know much about that, and therefore don’t want to go there. And, considering the other major religion you’ve completely omitted, I’ve discovered a pretty interesting counter-argument to the popular reasoning we use for explaining the rise of muslim extremism, but that also seems out of scope to a discussion that’s making merry rather than extending the boundaries of understanding.

            You’ve got some funny material, Jane! It’s fun to laugh!!!

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