December 01, 2010

You Can't Catch Me

With apologies to Chuck Berry for the title of this post, I can't help rolling my eyes whenever anybody tries to hit me with a "Gotcha!" moment, as happened yesterday in regards to this post about Catholicism and punk. In the first place, I couldn't care less if I contradict myself; like Walt Whitman I am large and my cup runneth over with multitudes. Second of all, far from wanting to hide from my lyrics, I'm ready, willing and able to pull out the old microscope and tweezers and pick at them to see what turns up. So when one of my Twitter followers tries to pin a virtual scarlet letter on me for having written unkind things about religion in the past, I'm inclined to channel George W. and tell the rascal to bring it the heck on.

But when Sr. Lisa, who was kind enough to link to my piece via Twitter, innocently asks, after reading my feed, exactly what one of my other followers might be referring to when he mentions the "Jesus Hates You" picture disc, I feel like I don't have any other choice than to drop the six guns, kick off the cowboy boots and curl up with a nice cup of chamomile as I try to explain myself in a more charitable manner. Note that I said "try."

I've been singing about God since the first Screeching Weasel record in 1987 when I asked in a lyric "If there's really a God then what else is right?" The following year, answering the virulently anti-religion sentiments that were and are de rigueur in punk, I offered up a ditty entitled Holy Hardcore (golly, these lyrics sites sure do make a lot of typos), suggesting a world in which punk rockers were adamantly religious. It was over-the-top and cartoonish but it made me laugh.

My third act was in 1991 when I wrote The Science Of Myth, inspired in part by the Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell; this marked the beginning of my interest in Buddhism, and rekindled the vague interest in religion that I'd had from a young age.

I referred to religion again in 1993's "A New Tomorrow," noting: "We don't believe in God or Jesus Christ anymore." It was my anthem against what I saw as the wasteland of American culture.

I'm sure my readers will remind me if I've forgotten anything, but the next religious line I can think of in a Screeching Weasel song is "I didn't find a God/ I'll leave that for the weak of mind" line from 1999's "On My Own", which is the one referred to by my Twitter critic.

One year prior to that the band released the aforementioned "Jesus Hates You" picture disc (link NOT SAFE FOR WORK!) (the record is long out of print), which consisted of art featuring Jesus Christ holding a naked woman and flipping the listener the bird. The record was comprised of three cover songs, none of which had anything to do with religion. The cover was a reaction against what I incorrectly thought of as a minor epidemic of Christian punk bands cropping up (there were a few Christian punk bands at the time, but I don't think they proselytized and in any case, nobody really cared and the whole thing faded away pretty quickly). I went out of my way to offend them in a childish manner. I'm embarrassed by the record, not because I think God is really offended by it, but because it's so amateurish - it's what a pro wrestler would call a cheap pop: plugging away at fish in a barrel because you know the crowd will eat it up. Not my finest moment.

So. On my first record, I declare myself a Christian (admittedly, as was the case on the second record, largely to annoy the anti-religious types). On the third record, I attempt to discuss religion intelligently. On the fourth record I reject religion - and specifically Christianity - as being part and parcel of an America I saw as being a land of empty promises: The American Dream is really a nightmare, y'know - the kind of crapola anybody with a heart believes in their 20s and anybody with a brain laughs at in their 40s. In 1998, I do a 180 from my position of a decade earlier and engage in a gratuitous attempt to annoy Christians, followed by a 1999 note that God is for the weak of mind, which, probably not coincidentally, was at the precise time when I started getting serious about a spiritual path (which surprised me as much as anybody else, and which I rebelled against to some extent. Hence, that lyric).

So there you have it, gang. I've been interested in God and religion and what they mean since at least my first record (really, for much longer than that), and my thoughts on the subject, my feelings about it and the attitudes I displayed on records about it have changed.

"Gotcha!" indeed!

I don't think that as a Christian I have to hide from any of this. If I've committed sins (in the true sense of sin - a turning away from God), that's between me and God and I'll address it in the confessional. Actually, you have no idea if I may have done so already. Nor should you, because it's none of your beeswax. I do think it's important to note that it's possible I've contributed to a boneheaded view of religion, specifically Christianity, and if so, I regret it. I can't do much about that other than what I'm doing right now.

But to the extent that any of this points to my faltering steps along a spiritual path, I not only feel no shame or embarrassment about it, I embrace those moments and wouldn't change them for the world.

Certain non-believers hold that believers who sin ought to be punished severely and publicly by society. When a preacher is found to be cheating on his wife, there's never a shortage of people to declare "Aha! Proof that religious people are full of crap!" But it's no such thing; it's only proof that the man sinned. That man is prone to sin is hardly a revelation to the Christian. But the non-believer isn't content to rub his hands with glee over having caught the believer in a compromising position; he wants the man's sin to define him, and to serve as a testament to the futility of faith. The Christian has recourse to forgiveness and redemption. Even the Buddhist can purify his negative karma. But those who would condemn the person they believe to be a sinner - particularly the Christian who is caught red-handed screwing this or stealing that - condemn him mercilessly, at least until he's satisfied their need for him to do public penance by being thoroughly humiliated and humbled on TV, in print and online. How odd that the secular world demands far more repentance from the sinner than does the Christian God! Even a non-believer like Tiger Woods has to go into a convoluted, shamefaced, shuffle-footed act for the press like he's some sort of criminal for engaging in behavior that, while scummy, isn't any of the public's business. Had this information not been made public, and had Tiger Woods confessed his sins to a priest, he not only wouldn't have been assigned such bizarre penance, we'd never have even known about it.

That obviously isn't the situation here but there's a similarity in this sense: I'm thought of by some as a sort of hypocrite or phony for having once rejected religion and then, eventually, embracing it. It is important to a certain type of person to point this out, and the implication is that I ought to feel bad about it. And if you expect that, you're barking up the wrong sycamore, chum.

If you insist that a man is hypocritical to convert after having made anti-religion remarks at any point in his life, what else are you saying other than that he has a duty to never change, and that if he does, he's somehow done something dirty, shameful and wrong? You're insisting on a worldview that is rigid and harsh; you're imputing your own ideas about sin on others; you're denying people a nuanced experience and demanding that they conform to your black and white ideas about right and wrong, ideas that come not from God, but from you. But who exactly are you to judge anybody?

Of course, there's another possibility: your world is small enough, and your ideas about Christianity are rife enough with stereotypes and inaccuracies, that you simply find the whole thing bizarrely funny. Which is fair enough, but even then, the humor has to come from somewhere, and where else but from the idea that a man who goes from being anti-religious to embracing religion is somehow beneath contempt, or, at best, a fool? I'm afraid that no matter which way you slice it, we're left with the idea that we're doomed to maintain the views we held as teenagers for our entire lives, or be branded hypocrites, traitors, and, ultimately, sinners for whom there is no road back. Well, that's not entirely true; I suppose a complete repudiation of the faith - and maybe a tearful apology - might put one back in the good graces of those who would like us to mind our p's and q's.

And in my case, I can't pretend to find these types of reactions surprising; punks always seem to tend towards the puritanical. But as I noted yesterday, I take a certain pride in being the finger that pokes the eyes of those who would have us live that sort of bleak and joyless life. Whitman had it right: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself." To which I'd only add, "And blow it out your tailpipe!"

Posted by benweasel at 06:51 PM