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.
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.
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
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
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 started 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
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, 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
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.