79: Religion

We think only natives of Africa, the few remaining tribal peoples, have religion without paying for it. The rest of us get what we pay for— Cheerios and the Disney Channel, bottled water and cars that kill, fire insurance and atom bombs, hard liquor, diet soft drinks, cigarettes, cross-training sneakers. If we see it on the nightly news, we think it could happen to us. The stock market always rises in the long run, computers and cars save time, advertisements don’t affect us, something is good on television, chemicals are saving the third world and drugs will save us from getting old. Religion is not what we think it is. We think it’s what happens in a pew or beside a bed with folded hands, not insisting on popcorn at the movies, pouring in the cream after the coffee, or hanging toilet paper away from the wall. It’s avoiding walking under ladders; blessing when we sneeze. It’s what happens between Thanksgiving and the obligatory New Year’s Eve party, blowing out candles and making wishes, balloons, confetti, rice, shoes, something new, something old, and chicken soup when we’re sick. It’s the distance between our car and the car in front. It sticks to our fingers like cotton candy; it oozes from hot dogs and hamburgers like catsup we didn’t ask for. We cannot ignore it, like tabloids in line at the grocery. It glues us to the things that bore us— graft at the capital, the cost of a kilowatt, yesterday’s news. It glues us to the things we hate— fat around midriffs, pimples, wrinkles, baldness, taxes, overcooked broccoli, being told what to do. It glues us to the things that intrigue us and harbors in our addictions— caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, power, control, violence, sex, crime, sex, money, sex, and the possibility of sex. Fashion designers are our prophets; the business pages are our scriptures. Dermatologists, allergy specialists, plastic surgeons, heart surgeons, all kinds of surgeons, and Dear Abby are our priests. We eat ibuprofen and antihistamines and persecute drug users as though they were believers of a different religion. Our sins are purchases we can’t afford, yet we have faith we’ll scrape up the money or declare bankruptcy and all our debts will be forgiven.

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