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So I saw this node title and it caused me to start pondering something other than my belly button.

The first two words, "religion" and "suffering" are to me inextricably connected. Some folks believe that Christ died for our sins. Now, I assure you that while Christ was up on the cross with nails through his wrists and the vultures circling about, there was more than a modicum of suffering involved (on his part). Many religions ask that their followers fast for a period of time during certain religious holidays. Well, I can tell you, starvation (or at least annoying hunger-pangs) is no holiday and qualifies in my book as suffering. My good friend Dominic regularly cheats on his wife and, believe me, he suffers until he goes to confession on Tuesday to cleanse his soul and become relieved of the guilt-suffering he feels about cheating on his wife. I know that he suffers 'cause he cheats on Fridays, and then drinks seven or eight martinis a day until confession on Tuesday. All that drinking, to me, is evidence that some sort of suffering is being relieved (self-medicated, if you will) by my good buddy.

My friend Vito is further proof that religion and suffering are indeed connected. When one of his clients owes Vito money, and they don't make at least their vigorish payment each week, he visits some sort of suffering upon them. Invariably the person upon whose person the suffering is being visited invokes the name of either The Father, or The Son (not usually the Holy Ghost, though), e.g. "Oh, God, not my fingers!" or the old familiar "Jesus, Vito, not my kneecaps!" In extreme cases, the poor mope will be stricken with such horror at the prospect of what may happen to him, he'll utilize the familiar catch-all, "In the name of all things Holy, Vito, please, NO!"

Someone said that "religion is the opiate of the masses." I wouldn't go that far, but when I'm down and out, I like to believe that God, or Buddha, or someone (even a nearby chipmunk) is listening to me when I voice my woes out loud. It makes me feel good (even though when I voice my woes out loud in a public place, people tend to think I'm talking to myself; mothers grab their children and hustle them away, etc.) So when I voice my woes out loud, to God, the feeling is good, although nowhere near the good feeling I get when I get my hands on some real opium.

An acquaintance of mine, Thomas, was an atheist for a long time until he heard me mention the statement which begins the paragraph above. Old Thomas couldn't hear well and thought I'd said something about the Church handing out opium at masses. When he knelt at the altar to take communion he asked for "extra crackers and a little more of that wine to wash 'em down." Suffice it to say the priest was nonplussed.

Now dogma can be overbearing if one lets it become so. But I can tell you that the folks who created dogma were not stupid people. They just told stories that had a moral. Look at Job's wife, Ruth. The Bible takes a long time to get to the heart of her story, but they finally tell you, "she rent her garment." Great historians like my uncle Marvin have determined this to be the beginning of the tuxedo rental industry. What the Bible doesn't tell us is that after she rent her garment, when she found a new tenant, she raised the rent. Now that's a smart lady. Well, she was Jewish. Everyone says that Jewish people are good with money.

When I first heard the word "dogmatic" I thought it was a doggie-door with an infrared sensor that opened it automatically before Fido scratched the heck out of the doggie door. Boy, oh boy was I wrong. A teacher of mine assured me that I ought to take up something simple; like public safety, and not Theology. Now the teacher had nothing against me but he thought that I'd breeze through a course in public safety 'cause all of the cops he knew were stupid. He thought it was stupid that he got so many tickets (but the guy had a lead foot so it just figures he's gonna get tickets).

Now one more thing about the folks who take dogma a bit too seriously. Sure, God made the Heavens and the Earth etc. But Ray Kroc made McDonald's. Some people take the power of prayer too seriously. Take the case of the two guys, Irving and Clarence. Irving believed deeply in the proposition that "through prayer anything is possible." So does Clarence (who is blessed with an uncanny sense of common sense). Now one day Irving and Clarence are both hungry. Who's gonna get the Big Mac? Irving, who's sitting at home with his Bible praying really hard to God for a meal — or Clarence, who's walking quickly down the street on the way to McDonald's, calling out for God to relieve his hunger, and has $2.90 of the requisite $2.95 in his pocket and is praying to God that the McDonald's clerk will forgive him the five cents... Of course Clarence. Irving's still sitting in his Barcalounger praying really hard for a miracle to occur and deposit a Big Mac (or at least two hamburgers and a large order of fries) on his coffee table.

One must forgive Irving, though. He bought a new Cadillac a year ago and is to this day convinced that the earth is, indeed flat because the GPS screen in his Cadillac is perfectly flat and shows all the roads, highways and states in perfectly good order.

Now the big question, if there's a God, why do so many terrible, horrible things happen in the world. When my pal Sol put half of his paycheck down on a trifecta at Belmont Racetrack and lost, he told me that if I didn't loan him the money his wife would tear him limb-from-limb. Not being one to hand out that kind of folding money to a reprobate gambler, rather than loan him the money, I gave him $21.95 and told him to go to the bookstore and buy a very, very good book called "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." The book was written by a nice rabbi and I have to tell you, it makes a lot of sense.

Finally a word about people who take dogma too seriously. Did it ever occur to the evangelists who scream and howl about men lying down with men being wrong that maybe, just maybe, when the Bible was written all they made were "twin" sized beds, and it was just a matter of practicality to caution people from having too many sleep in one bed? (One might fall out, and hit his head, or worse, break an arm!) The Bible, you see, is written with so many big, old-fashioned words and is so extremely complex, all sorts of nice folks can construe the words to mean different things.

Who am I to question my Aunt Minerva when she tells the story of Adam and Eve, running around naked in the Garden of Eden. Now, every time I see a picture of the Garden of Eden, it's lush with greenery, trees, bushes, and waterfalls. I've never gotten up the nerve to tell my Aunt Minerva that Adam and Eve's nakedness were just a metaphor for birth (because wherever there's that much greenery, it's sure as shootin' going to be darn cold at night). I'm not a stupid guy; I can spot a metaphor a mile away. Perhaps Adam and Eve weren't wearing Ralph Lauren, but I can tell you that when the sun went down, they were wearing clothes. My Aunt Minerva is a good example of a good religious woman who believes in dogma, but not perfectly. If she believed in the Bible perfectly, she'd not have had me cut her grass all those Sundays during my childhood. Because, after all, doesn't Genesis say something about "On the seventh day He rested..."

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