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There is not one culture in the History of the World that does not conceal some hidden horror, some skeletons in the closet. How many bad apples on the family tree have shook up the foundation of faith in our past?

When you're young, they teach you about Christopher Columbus and all those other historical figures and instill in you a great sense of pride and patriotism and all that stuff.

Then you get a little older and they tell you more about slavery and hate and corruption. A sinking feeling begins to form in your stomach and your faith begins to dwindle, funneling slowly and surely out of that bright foundation you once laid for it.

Then there's the inevitable search for heroes and role models and Gods and as you come up empty-handed again and again the weight of history begins to press down on you, heavier. Sometimes you can forget, put it to the back of your mind, but the impossible pain of history remains.

There are, of course, real heroes and good people in history. But sometimes you have to wonder whether or not they did any good, they seem so outweighed and outgunned by their opposition.

Which is why the pain of our history seems so impossible to overcome.

(The phrase this node was built on comes from a line in the Ani DiFranco song, Fuel)

I was sitting in a church the other day and I kind of glazed over, just staring up at the front. The particular house of worship I was sitting in had marvelous stained glass windows and a titanic silver crucified Jesus in the middle of the altar.

I was in a strange state of mind. I wasn't listening to the priest. I was in that open, shapeless frame of mind that washes over me from time to time. The lights reflected dazzling spirals of spark-like spears from the silvered hide of the crucified. My poor eyesight cast the scene in a hazy dreamlike glow.

The accepted realities of the ceremony flowed away. This room, this house of worship, had a depiction of a man in a horrible state of pain, nearing death, glorified in silver metal. The cross, symbol of the religion that gave birth to this church, is a device of terrible torture and death. How strange. Why do we show this inhumanity? Why do we remind ourselves that man squandered the gift of God? We killed the son of a deity, if the Bible is to be believed. It boggled my mind. I sat in wonder at the confession of guilt hammered out in cold metal. We did this. Ancient bloody man crushed what he could not fathom. I felt a bit sick at this. The pattern of man is eternal. 2000 years and we still kill what we don't understand. We glower like cavemen at the fantastic, demanding to know the price and how to bend it to our personal advantage.

I have wondered if the flaw in religion is solely the nature of the people that follow it. All religions seek to better the lives of their followers. Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism. They all look to guide men from their base nature. But with all human systems, they are flawed. Human influence sullies the designs of the divine. I think of wonderful and magnanimous powers looking down at us, confused at the chaos we wreck in their names. Like giving a great hammer to a simpleton. We cannot fathom divine purpose.

Transfixed by the statue, I thought of Jesus as a man. INRI is tacked at the top of the cross. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, mockingly penned by a Roman centurion. He was a man, a person. A person with his hands nailed to a board. With a crown of barbs on his head. With his feet nailed together. With his chest stabbed deeply. What a hideous state of butchered humanity. The cruelty of man captured in one moment of butchery. It makes me wonder at the infinite sadness of our century, and of most centuries. What if he was a just a well-meaning man that only hoped to help men live their lives above their station in the mud? This is the reward that we give the freely loving.

Thinking these things, sickened by the thoughts that came to me, I wondered at the purpose of the church. It is a wholly human institution, and it has a terrible history of mistakes, as do most religions. People, the eternal problem, are its industry. The one purpose I could find in the church was to remind men that they can be better. They can love one another. They can be like those that do not judge, and give freely of themselves, in a divine nature. The way that they do this can be questionable, but I fear it is the human interpretation of something beyond our reasoning. The only absolute truths are that men can be cruel, and that men can be kind. It is up to us to choose the path we will follow. No god on high can change that. No fear of an eternity of fire can change that. No rewards in an afterlife can change that. Free will, and the reason for your actions or inaction rests solely on your own head. All the wonders and evils of history are born of that choice. Religion seeks to stack the deck in favor of good, and for good or ill, it has a dramatic effect. Fear your God and his wrath! Death to the unbelieving infidel! Beg for your eternal soul! Submit to the will of God! These are the sticks and carrots we try to use to steer the masses toward our vision of righteousness. This is the human poison introduced into the idea of unconditional love. This is where I think we got it all wrong.

But then, I am only human as well.

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