Thursday, Feb. 06, 2003, 2:24 AM

Religion



I once dated a girl while in college. At the time she was a born-again Christian and a virgin. It was a beautiful and passionate relationship full of longing and letters and laughter. Although she was dating another when we met, the gentle seduction of her ear by my mouth was enough to shake the foundation of that other relationship to rubble. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses and caresses and saliva, and eventually love. As the school year came to an end and the summer placed a greater distance between us our brief visits together became more intense and passionate until we committed the sin of copulation out of wedlock.

This is not a story about love and sex, although it is, this is a story about religion. You see this woman and I shared our fears and desires and love and selves and then she turned to me one afternoon as we both lay naked in post-orgasmic bliss and said, "It really bothers me, Greg, that we can't be together forever, only for the rest of our lives." My response was something akin to, "Huh?" It didn't seem like a bad thing to me. The rest of our lives, as far as I was concerned, was forever in the most finite sense of our lives. She was talking about religion. She was talking about the fact that in her religious beliefs I was not saved, and therefore, could not share the seat beside her at the table of salvation after her death.

The days and nights passed by and our love and attraction grew as though it was boundless. So did the tension regarding her religious beliefs. It bothered me that when she came to my town one summer day and we planned to have breakfast and to get an early start to the day that included visiting many sites and attractions, we never left the house and the only attraction we visited and sights we saw were the wonders of each other. Not that it wasn't fun, but the tension and the conflict with her religious beliefs was almost palpable. So I decided to do some soul searching.

I have grown up without religion. I am not going to go into my past and life experiences and the lot, but I will tell you this: my parents divorced when I was three and I had many interesting experiences growing up in interesting neighborhoods with interesting relations. So as I grew up in various low-rent apartments in the less-prosperous regions of town with my mother, and occasionally her friend Jean, who was divorced and had a son my age named Michael, I had only the lessons of the world to guide my beliefs. When I would stay at my father's house for the rare weekend he would wake me early on Sunday morning and then chastise me for not bringing nice clothes for church. Church? What the hell? Sundays are about sleeping in and watching cartoons. So I would go to church with my step-brother and sit in the classroom in the back with the other kids while the adults would sit-stand-kneel in the large room for hours and then drink grape juice and eat some white wafer that looked like a Necco mint. And while I was in the back room with the other kids we would color pictures with things like telephone poles that had no wires but instead had the worker nailed to it. It seemed a little bizarre. And the teachers would always be so mad when I didn't know that the worker's name was Jesus and that he died for my sins. What? You mean someone killed him because I didn't make my bed that morning? This seemed like such a warped thing to tell a kid. It was bad enough that there was a boogieman that came out of my closet if I didn't eat my vegetables, but now there are people who die for my sins? So I said fine, I won't sin. And they said that I am born with sin. And I said that sucks. Is there medicine for this? No. They said that I could stop sleeping in late and watching cartoons once a week to come to this building to sit-stand-kneel and in the end someone might forgive me for being born when I died. Sounded to me like a jail sentence for a crime I didn't commit.

So after the occasional weekend with my father would end my Sundays went back to sleeping in and cartoons with my mom. When I was about six I pointed out to my mom that we didn't go to church and asked my mother what religion we were and what religion I should be. She said that I could choose any religion I liked. I didn't know any religions, and since I kept waking up everyday and people didn't seem to be dying when my bed went unmade I decided to continue living like I did everyday-without religion.

Years later I fall in love with this girl in college and we have sex and it is a sin and now she is not going to heaven…no wait, she can be forgiven and still get in but I can't. And that makes her unhappy, but we can still keep having amazing sex because she likes it and wants it, but she constantly reminds me that it will only last until we die and this makes her unhappy, and now I find the dynamic of the relationship changing. All of this was a royal mind-fuck. So I flipped through and read some of the salient points of the Bible, because this was the tome of her religion. It was interesting. There was intrigue and mystery and betrayal and incest and murder and homosexual behavior and smiting. Oh, did I mention the eat fish on Friday rule? Well, the reading didn't help. Talking to other friends didn't help. When I asked my best friend who had a Jewish mother and a catholic father all he said was "Dude, I'm half Jewish and half Catholic so I don't believe in sex before or after marriage." It seemed that my ex-step-father believed in god but never attended church. His Asian wife was Shinto. When I asked her what gods she prayed to she said, "We don't. We pray to our ancestors," and when I asked her why, she said, "Because they were real." And some of the ancient cultures had gods as petty as a suburban prom queen committee who are all concerned with betrayal and image and care nothing for the masses. "Like, you are so not me, so you are like so not important."

I enjoyed the books on Zen that I had read in some of my college literature courses. I had a strong rapport with the daughters of ministers who I had met. They seemed to be just as human and normal as most other people. The orange robes and bald heads of monks always kind of seemed cult-ish to me in the same manner as the armed services where a common consciousness is achieved by looking and acting the same. Sort of like the religion of the Gap where we would all run around wearing only performance fleece on Fridays and praying to the alter of the cash register during our seasonal sales masses. But none of this helped in my relationship with this girl.

So what's the point? Well, the relationship waned as the summer ebbed. Her religious tension froze the passion like the onset of winter. Our love was strong, and still is. Years later we would have our final physical encounter free from the shackles of religion and relationships and commitments, and it will forever be the peak of passion against which all others are measured. And now her religious beliefs have changed and mine have not. I still have no particular religious bent. For, since reality truly only exists in my perception, then the only definitive any of us have in our lives is our perception, and for that reason the only thing I can and will ever know is myself. I have a religion and it is me-ism.