Preface: The Babo Gospels, ©2008, Sebastian Gerard
THE “BABO” GOSPELS grew out of a lifelong interest and formal learning in religion and belief, and subsequent apostasy. After writing a large number of essays on different aspects of religion and belief, all in the atmosphere in which religion had insinuated itself into American politics, I decided that it might be a good idea to cohere them in some fashion for my grandchildren, who are geographically distant from me, though not because I am outspoken on the subject of metaphysics. This preamble to this forthcoming book explains more of what motivated it.
OH GRANDCHILDREN! MY GRANDCHILDREN! AMEN, AMEN, I SAY UNTO YOU . . .
Babo wants you to know at the very outset that one of the reasons I have written this book for you is that, while we are obviously not from the same generation, or share many of the same life experiences, we are also markedly different in terms of religious upbringing. I was deeply “immersed” in religion as I grew up, and you have been raised with little or no metaphysical environment in the home or school. Nevertheless, religion, belief and faith are all around us. Not just at Christmas, or Easter, or Rosh Shoshana, or Ramadan, but in between these times, in too many ways and forms to enumerate. No matter, you would have to be bereft of senses not to know that.
Religion, faith, and belief raise big—and important—questions and issues about life, death, and the way we should conduct ourselves in between. You will not be able to escape these questions, not just because there will be people around you who will raise them, and there will be other people who will want to persuade you to accept how they have answered them, but also, because these questions have a metaphysical dimension, they extend into the realm of what is unknown and unknowable. So, by just being human, you will come to wonder about such questions. Questions like “why am I here?” Or, “does my being here have any purpose?” And, “what happens to me when this life is all over?” And a lot more questions.
I wrote above that we come from very different religious experiences. You were brought up like your mothers, in what would be called “secular” homes, homes where the answers (or at least responses) to life’s questions were addressed and discussed from the perspective of the rational, not the mystical. We did not seek answers in scripture and revelation, but in science, logic and reason. This is the kind of home in which you are being raised, too.
That is a good thing, and I applaud it. But it also means that you are a further generation removed from familial contact with someone with my experience, that you will not be exposed—at least in a proselytizing way—to religious thought. But outside the home such thoughts and influences will be all around you; in some of your friends and school mates, people with whom you work, teachers, bosses, political representatives, even people who might become dear to you. Some of them might think they have the advantage of you, that their “faith” makes them special, even superior to you. At their worst, some will consider you unholy. You will know from reading history—or even the Bible—what this can lead to.
That is why I have written this book for you, because I have the “advantage” (although it seems odd to express it in that way) of having been raised as a Roman Catholic. Having been educated in Catholic schools from first grade through college I grew up believing that I was of the “one, true” faith, the faith that God intended that we all believe. I pitied, or mistrusted, or was suspicious of anyone who was so unfortunate as to not have been baptized a Roman Catholic. So I know how religion can engender prejudice, and separate people rather than bring them together. I also, from the first, seem to recall a nagging, and unexpressed, sense of indoctrination. I knew that I was supposed to believe what I was being told to believe, but I knew my mind was unsettled. I felt like I was “going through the motions” of being a good Roman Catholic.
I quit the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1960s (you don’t really “quit” as such, there is no resignation form or anything like that, you just stop showing up). My last sufferance was the bumbling homily of a local tongue-tied parish priest that was just too much to bear. I felt so sorry for the guy. He should have been a Trappist monk; they take a vow of silence and I am certain he would have served out his days in aphasic contentment.
I was in grad school, living, literally, in a garret room, with nobody to record my failure to make my Easter Duty, no parents around to please that they had done their duty and raised a nice Catholic boy. The closest I have since got to a Eucharist is a pepperoni pizza.
The next time I was compelled to go to church was to get married, more than a year later. Your grandmother went to mass for a while, attending the campus Newman Center with other liberal and attenuated Catholics, but she soon joined my “fallen away” status of her own and complete accord.
The 1960s were a time when there was an abundance of metaphysical energy to fill the self-induced void. There was plenty of company in my apostate status, and some were doing the “inner- searching” thing with various forms of pharmacological assistance. But drugs were not for me. I never liked not being conscious and in control. Some friends experimented with the newly popular LSD in the “church” the perpetually “stoned” high priest of altered states, Dr. Timothy Leary. Others tried to go native with the “Yaqui way of knowledge,” induced by peyote and mescaline. If there was a god to be found, he would be in some tripped-out haze and probably look like a drummer for The Rolling Stones. “Joints” were routinely passed around at various social gatherings. But I wasn’t about to exchange one opiate for another. The word at the time was what are you “into.” People might be into something one week and into something else the next. “Trip was the term for being on drugs. A lot of people were “tripping,” but few of them seemed to be getting anywhere.
There were other potential substitutes for my discarded Catholicism. It might have been “encounter groups,” people sitting around spilling their guts out to strangers who would rush to hug them; or diving into hot tubs at the Esalen Institute up in Big Sur, a warm-up to hooking up with some complete stranger for the search for the big orgasm. It could be sitting in a room full of dim-wits at an EST training squeezing your legs together to keep from pissing yourself, and calling each other “assholes,” and paying big money for the privilege of re-casting yourself to really fitting the appellation. It could be dozens of other spin-offs in the rollicking self-awareness movement that rolled over California like a tsunami of psychobullshit. It filled in the void left by the unmooring from the traditional faiths that took place in the liberating 1960s, a period which conservatives still regard at the Lexington and Concord of America’s “culture wars.” The first “shot” in those ongoing wars was literally a little pill, the birth control pill invented by Dr. John Rock, that was fired across the bows (or would that be balls) of the Roman Catholic Church. Liberating it was, but many people were clearly disoriented by its centrifugal forces and quickly set about seeking cosmologies and lifestyles to ”re-center” themselves. It was the early “new age,” a period that is now in its second flowering, fertilized by the “tapping into the inner-self” nonsense of Deepak Chopras and Tony Robbins’s.
Traditional religions were fracturing. There developed a new and profitable relationship between God and mammon. In the 1980s, Reaganism made it OK to be greedy and get rich (sort of a retro-Calvinism that reasoned that if you were rich then that’s what God wants you to be). Millions joined in the resurgence of Christianity a la the television “prayboys” like the Bakkers, Swaggerts, Falwells and Robertsons. This was the great counter movement against the liberal legacy of emboldened minorities, the women’s movement, sexual liberation and media’s fracturing of the (mythical) solidarity of the American family. Men were seeking out their “fire in the belly” manhood rites to counter feminism. Sexual swingers, it was turning out, tended to more conservative people than liberals. Many liberals, not sure that there really was going to be an eternity, set about perfecting their bodies to make them last as long as possible. As usual, true to the essence of American culture, there was a buck to be made everywhere; the core faith, capitalism, seemed well intact and thriving on the novelty of it all.
Somehow my inborn skepticism shielded me from it all. It took long for anything to “take” with me, and by the time I finished reading and thinking about the validity of a new cosmology or lifestyle it was usually out of fashion or replaced by the next one. But there was no going back to my Catholic roots; I had worked too hard to be free of their entanglements. Yet there is never being totally free of them either. They are my roots, and as you can never resign from the Church, you can never not be Catholic. There is a certain indelibility to that baptism thing—once Catholic, forever Catholic. It is not so much the “sacramental” or the ceremonial that sinks into one’s spiritual marrow, but the “culture” of Catholicism, a culture that is captivating in many respects and owes much to its theatricality. The Roman Catholic Church has costumes, and rituals, music and art, and that greatest of all dramatic themes the battle between good and evil. The essence of drama is conflict, and the battle for the soul of humankind is perhaps the greatest dramatic theme. That’s entertainment, and the new Christian churches are doing their best the emulate it.
Curiously, my departure from the Church engendered a new interest in religion, not so much a search for a new religion to replace Roman Catholicism, but a liberated, critical-historical interest in the nature of belief, into the unreasoned credulities of faith. I read works by biblical scholars such as Hugh Schonfeld (The Passover Plot), Donavon Joyce (The Jesus Scrolls), Elaine Paigels (The Gnostic Gospels), works on the “historical” Jesus, by Michael Graves, historical novels such as Gore Vidal’s Creation and James Michener’s The Source, even edgy stuff like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the precursor of The Da Vinci Code. Malachi Martin’s The Final Conclave. I looked at religious art, listened to the music and missas, read of the lives of saints and popes, long monographs on Mary and Mary Magdalen, even the writings of Josephus, the First Century Jewish turncoat. It was almost all very interesting, but there were no accounts of, from, or about anybody who had been to “the other side,” who had had a real audience with The Deity, the father the son, or the flaky one, the Holy Ghost. Not one, single, sane, person. Nobody, not the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the Ayatollah, or Sister Ignatius, my first grade teacher, knew one single shred of evidence, knew anything more than me. Everything on which the great faiths were based was made up, conjured, imagined.
I never recovered my faith—if I ever had it in the first place—but I did get some insights that gradually evolved into a sort of modus vivendi composed of bits and pieces from here and there. A good part of it came from that First Century radical Jewish rabbi, Yeshua Bar Yusef (a.k.a. Jesus Christ). Thankfully, my concoction was neither complete, nor communicable enough to comprise a faith, or religion, or this would be a solicitation for funds, an urging to bomb and woman’s clinic, or an email to a congressional page asking him if he likes to play leap frog in the shower.
Much of my metaphysical odyssey took place before the resurgence of Christian Fundamental Evangelism in America. I had come to my accommodation with the believers: they can leave me alone, or I could make them wish they never brought up the subject. They could have their faith and I would even fight for their right to have their faith.
But no, they just couldn’t live and let live, believe and let not believe. No, they had to take their faith into the classrooms, into the legislatures, into the streets, into the media. America had to be “a Christian nation” and our laws had to become subject to Christian principles (which, if they were true Christian principles, would actually make us a better nation). Our leaders had to pray in public and proclaim their faith, and wear cross pins next to their lapel flag pins. They had to plant giant white crosses on our public hilltops. They wanted to tell women what they could do, and could not do, with their bodies, they wanted our kids to believe the world was created in six days, and Noah could actually fit all fauna on a barge, they wanted to judge the worthiness of science with the mumbo-jumbo of people who speak in tongues and see the face of The Virgin in the guano deposits on the side of a parking garage. They want to deprive homosexuals of their rights and keep public monies from being spent on condoms for the HIV-ravaged African states. They want to take us back to the dark ages, before the age of enlightenment. And when they do that, they aren’t just people of faith anymore—they are the enemy of reason. I realized that it no longer mattered if I went to church on Sundays, but it did matter very much to me that there were people who wanted t make my whole country a “church,” and this “church would be open 24/7.
In short, I have “been there,” to a place where you might consider going, or be evangelized into going. That is your decision, but I want you to read what I have written before you make that decision. I want you to read the thoughts and opinions of someone who loves you, who is concerned with your happiness, and who wants you to make your decision as an informed person, not out of fear, coercion and certainly not out of ignorance. The only thing I wish to gain is your happiness, peace of mind and a good life. As you will see, I think that you can define this for yourself and do not have to accept what has been prepackaged for you by various religions. This may take some courage on your part because religious belief is, as Also maintain, rooted in fear, fear of the unknown and, sometimes, you might feel that it is easier and safer to join the crowd than to go it alone. But you will also see that there are plenty of people with questioning, independent minds. You will not be alone.
I am not out to snatch your soul, or convert you to anything other than open-mindedness. As I have said, there are many big questions to which there are no knowable answers. Of these I can offer, as no one can, any proofs. But there are also many questions in religion and faith for which there are answers, different answers that are offered by scripture, revelation and outright myth. I will address both types of questions in the following pages. Since my essays on these topics have been written at different times and different moods you will find them ranging from satirical to angry. You will also find that I give the greatest art of my attention to the “faith of our fathers,” Roman Catholicism, because I was raised in that religion, and I as had the most profound effect upon me. But I probably will also offend (sometimes intentionally, I must admit) other religions as well, in my quest to be, as some might say, “ecumenical.”
Here I need to make an important distinction. My quibble is not so much with faith as it is with religion. Faith, I think, comes somewhat naturally to humans. I see it as somewhat primal, an urge to put some kind of known on the unknowable. So where there is a vacuum in knowledge, we seem to readily substitute belief. So, if somebody wants to believe that, say, rainfall is the saints crying, I don’t have a problem with that. Belief can come from that wonderful human capacity for imagination, and from the gift of narration, that enrich life. Believing in something can be comforting to some people. I, personally, like some of the stories that come out of belief, but they are not as satisfying as the joy of discovery, as the enriching of life as knowledge. I prefer realism to fantasy, knowledge to superstition, truth to faith.
My quibble is with religion, which in some sense is the business side of belief, the economics of metaphysics. Religion happens when belief becomes codified and a “professional” class of intercessionists is created. This is when you get people who claim to talk directly to god or the gods, or who claim to have been “called” by their deities to reveal to you what God really wants you to do with your life, one aspect of which is to provide monetary and material support to these self-anointed priests, rabbis, gurus, pastors, lamas, shamans, and such. From the beginning of wonderment these types have squiggled themselves in between people and their beliefs the way a virus gets into a cell. And, as I will allege later on, they wedge their way in with fear. This fear can allow the virus to infiltrate every aspect of your being, body, mind, and they will allege, soul. If you allow it, they will own you, body mind and soul. It will control the way you think and act—out of fear.
But I am getting a little ahead of myself here, because I will elaborate this theme in many of the following pages. My purpose here is the distinction between faith and religion, because sometimes people use these terms interchangeably. As I wrote above, I have no problem when somebody believes that rainfall is the “saints crying.” My problem begins when another religion says that rainfall is the saints peeing. Even that doesn’t bother me much until one or both of these religions say that the other’s rainfall belief is blasphemous to their belief and sets about putting the others to the sword. You will recognize this human tendency runs wide and deep in our brief and sordid history. War has many causes, but religion trumps them all.
So, I am not out to destroy faith; I’m not even out to destroy religion, although I wish they would just go away. We probably can’t be human without the first, but we could be better humans, I maintain, without the second. My intention is to be a cognitive antibody that takes on that fear-mongering virus, gives you a fighting chance to be your own person, to be curious rather than submissive, to use your own mind to search for truth. The packages (religions) are all out there and I don’t want you to ignore them. Look them over, because I believe that the more you do, with scrutiny and without fear, unafraid to laugh at their inherent silliness, and you will see that none of them, not a single religion, from Animism to Zoroastrianism, know anything, I mean anything, more than you do. They made it all up!
If I can get you to open your mind to that starting point, I shall have done my job as your Babo. And, of course, a curse will be called down upon me, and I will not know salvation and be raised into the heavens at the “end times,” but and my evil seed will be cast to the depths where the incubus and succubus writhe and burn and . . . well, you get the idea. If it wasn’t so scary to some people, it would be funny. I hope I can show you the funny side, seriously.