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Losing My Religion

My mother would probably have been raised Catholic, had her mother not died when she was four. Being of Italian parentage, it’s the default religion. I’m not even sure if my mother went to church regularly. Her stepmother wasn’t supportive and kept her and her sister outside till ten at night.

By the time I came along, third in the family with a six-year gap, my mother didn’t even bother getting me or my younger brother baptized. I seem to recall a few sessions in some church when I was young but I might have mixed that up with other things. I do know that when the teacher would ask us in class what we did in Sunday school I had a secret shame, because I did not go. I was different.

I did seem to have a spiritual bent because when I was about five my turtle died. I remember having a funeral, carrying the turtle in its little box down the steps in the back yard. A couple of little friends were lined up behind me. Then I buried the turtle against the side of the house but worried that it wasn’t protected. So I placed colored stones in a semicircle around its grave, butting up against the wall of the house.

Then my older brother turned Mormon from when he was around 16-18. (He got baptized twice because they slipped and dipped him a second time. We always joked that his soul needed extra cleansing.) My mother let us be taken to Mormon Sunday school, I think mostly to get us out of her hair for a couple of hours and give her a break. Strangely, I remember nothing of Sunday school so I don’t think we went for very long. My mother would roast the Mormon missionaries that were assigned the Anderson household, asking them why they had no black people in their inner temple (the one in Salt Lake City), why only the rich could go, etc. They must have drawn the short straw to see who would have to visit my mother.

My mother certainly didn’t attend church and she tended to read a lot of Edgar Cayce (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Cayce) books when I was young. I read or flipped through a few in my teens and Wiki says he was probably the forefather of the New Age movement. He does seem to be a kind of modern oracle who tried to ease people’s physical suffering.

As a teenager, I went with my mother to a few Spiritualist Church events. They sang hymns, which I didn’t like, but then would do palm or psychometry readings, or aura readings. A little bit of free fun. I was never convinced in what I was told though. I also felt no inclination to follow this path. I remember attending one friends communion around when I was 16. I felt intensely uncomfortable, being unfamiliar with churches and especially Catholic rites. After that I tended to avoid churches because I felt uncomfortable with them and unfamiliar in them.

I did continue to explore and think of spiritual and metaphysical matters throughout my teens. At one point my mother attended an experiment being done through the University of Calgary on psychic energy. In one room they had one of those bulbs that have the light sensitive vanes inside. The bulb was in a darkened room and in another room sat a person trying to move the vanes with psychic energy. I have no idea what the results of the experiment were, but my mother met several people intrigued with this aspect.

I would go with her to these meetings at one person’s house where we would try spoon bending, psychic impressions, psychometry, aura reading, etc. It wasn’t religious or spiritual, just exploring psychic phenomenon. There was one guy when we tried reading each other’s minds where it seemed he was trying to manipulate. Interestingly enough, on the drive home my mother had also got strange feelings about the guy.

Eventually the group dissipated, my mother stopped going and the group sort of reformed as a meditation group. I think we did start to get into some spiritual aspects as well. However, I left the group when it got down to Ouija board practice and asking the “spirits” and how to conduct day to day affairs. It got ridiculous and no one seemed to make a decision with their own brains, so off I went.

I moved to Vancouver, and continued my own explorations into spirituality but it didn’t involve churches at all. When I was 25 a young cat I had disappeared one night. I looked everywhere for her, put posters out, checked the SPCA. Nothing. So then I put out prayers, pleas, bargains, cajoling, threats to any deity that existed. And nothing.

At that point I gave up the last vestiges of being a Christian, and lost my religion. I also realized at that time that our North American culture is so permeated in Christian values that even if a person is agnostic they still are ruled by these values. It shapes our everyday affairs, how we conduct our marriages and families. It is in everything we do. At that point I claimed to no longer be even a token Christian and I also tossed out the belief that we’re guilty until proven innocent, as sits at the base of most Christian doctrines. Jesus didn’t die for my sins. He didn’t know me and in these tenets we’re all bad and flawed and tainted. I didn’t like being painted with guilt and so I wasn’t.

I became agnostic at that point, and believed in nothing (refused to believe in anything) for three years. After that the journey of discovery continued and does to this day, but that’s a tale for another time.

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Book Review: The Word of God

You might think this is a religious book and in a way it is. The Word of God, or Holy Writ Rewritten, by Thomas Disch, (Tachyon Publications, San Francisco, 2008) was written not so much as a refutation to other religions, but, as Disch puts it, to establish himself as a deity. He begins his book discussing that the only way to talk to many religions, especially the fundamental ones, is to argue on their own level and point out that he too is a god and what his religion looks like.

It is witty, scathing, funny, illuminating. In part this is an autobiography of Disch’s life, but as a pastiche, not as a whole. It is part philosophy and condemnation of many conservative religions, especially Christianity. Disch was raised a Catholic and was publicly gay and since this is his “holy writ” it of course talks of religion in many guises quite a bit.

The book is also a collection of some poems and short stories, interspersed to give examples of birth, afterlife, reincarnation and judgment: “The New Me,” “Room Service,” “The Second Coming of the Christ,” “A Man of Mystery” “A Ranch House on the Styx,” “The School for Traitors,” “On the Road” and “Deus Ex Machina” almost all string together (some continuations of the same story) and of course all do touch on religion and the events that came together to create Thomas Disch. He was the illegitimate child of Thomas Mann, the prolific German writer and Nobel prize winner, though you will not find this listed in either Disch’s or Mann’s Wiki entry (and his father is missing altogether in his entry).

Many of these stories have Philip K. Dick in them, as a sort of antiChrist and in hell. It’s hard to tell from this if Disch had always hated Dick (since he wrote a poetic eulogy for Dick, which is in the book) or if he only came to despise Dick’s right-wing, bigoted, perhaps drug-induced opinions later, when Dick reported Disch to the FBI as a subversive. What the outcome of Dick’s confabulations were is unclear.

Thomas Disch was known to the SF community and was nominated numerous times for awards (and won some), but he also wrote a great deal of poetry, criticisms and other works, and had earlier aspirations in architecture. The book starts out in the present, around Christmas of 2005 when he began to write it, and he finishes on February 2nd, his birthday. Disch lived with his long time partner, Charles Naylor who died in 2005. Disch himself suffered from several illnesses and had a string of personal setbacks, besides being depressed by his partner’s death.

He took his life in July, 2008, just months before Word of God was published. It is somewhat ironic to read his words in this book that proclaims his deity and see where he was at and where life took him to. This is not his last book as I believe a posthumous work will be published this year. I enjoyed Word of God and it gave me a new look at Disch, his mind and his life. I had read his works, On Wings of Song and The Priest which was pretty scathing to the Catholic church while at the same time being deftly written enough for you to care for the very corrupt priest.

And if nothing else, I’m very curious as to what went on between Philip K. Dick, a great experimenter of drugs, married five times, and Thomas Disch, an openly gay man, all those years ago. They were both brilliant writers and characters in their own ways. Here’s to the god Disch and his ascension to his own heaven. Word of God, definitely worth a read, informative and entertaining throughout.

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