This is an article about Religion. Titties and lasers are also mentioned.
Just The Facts
- Religions often have moral codes they require their practitioners to obey.
- The world's most common moral is to love one another.
- All religions hate eachother.
An Artistic Jew (That's not a Comedian)
After two hours there was a hill of cigarette ends in a porcelain ashtray shaped like a woman, with only a phrase typed on the monitor: screw Cracked. It became apparent that there was nothing to be had by conventional methods of journalism. The author, being an internet comedy writer, knew a little less about every major religion than the common man. The only answer was to go Gonzo. Enter the field, do some interviews. Be a part of the story (against the very specific wishes of my yet-to-be employers).
A large man in his mid twenties walked towards the shadowy corner of the parking garage, at the time he'd been instructed in his text. He peered through the thin lenses of his wire glasses, certain he was in the right place.
The red glow of a cigarette cherry momentarily revealed a face, "Isaac."
"Jake? What the hell- why did you have me meet you here, for God's sake. It's way on the other side of town, man, my kid's going to be asleep by the time I get back, and if I wake her up-"
"Thought you might be interested in an opportunity to pay back your debt."
He gawked, "My debt? You said you were going to give me the fifty you already owe me! You can't- Damnit, why the hell are we in a parking garage!?"
"Dramatic setting. Writing an article for Cracked, and it's got to be entertaining. Already decided to go Gonzo but walking around and conversing with intellectuals isn't going to cut it. Think action. Think humor. Love. Tits. Explosions. Mostly it's about religion."
Isaac pinched the bridge of his nose, "What on earth does this have to do with me?"
"Two things. First, you're a Jew."
He wrinkled his nose, "Yeah?"
"Talk about it."
Isaac took in a slow breath. He was finding his patience. In our odd history together he'd learned to gather himself during times of particularly heightened annoyance. It was good when he did this, as it made it possible to make totally bizarre and unreasonable requests in small increments. "Talk about what? Judaism?"
"Shit! Is that what it's called?"
"Sounds like the martial art of an orgasm."
"Classy. Is that it? Did you have any kind of questions prepared or something?"
There was an awkward moment. "Yes."
Isaac shifted, "Okay, so ask."
"What is. . . Jew?"
"What? Goddamnit-" he snorted and spat, "Do you have your notebook?"
"Then write this down. Judaism is the belief that in exchange for all the good God has brought to us, we will try to bring holiness to every aspect of our existence. If you write any one thing about the difference between Jews and other religions, it's that we don't believe in hell is a permanent end. The soul is cleaned there.
"This cap we wear," he pointed to the knit wool on his head, "This is called a yarmulke. In Hebrew it's 'kippah'. It is a sign of respect to God. Not everyone chooses to wear it all day, but it is traditional to wear one at least while praying.
"Now!" he beamed, possibly a little proud of himself, "Did you get most of that? Let me see.''
He pulled the small notepad out of my palm. It read: 'Jews, whiny? A little.'
"God damn it! Okay, good night, Jake!" he turned and began to plod away.
"There's still the other thing. You don't-" he was still moving, "You don't know why else you were called here!"
"I don't care!" he yelled back without turning around.
"I need a camera man!"
He was almost too far away, but I heard him scoff.
"And if the article's good enough," I hollered, also realizing that David Wong's grim warning not to use the word "I" in a piece of writing was now thouroughly for naught, "IF THE ARTICLE'S GOOD ENOUGH, THEY PAY FIFTY DOLLARS."
His form had deteriorated to a silhouette among shadows, but the sound of his boots clopping against the cement stopped. For a moment there was a tense silence, but then the clopping sound resumed, now growing from soft to loud. Ah, his racial handicap had kicked in. Things were looking up.
Isaac plucked the cigarette from my lips and tossed it away in frustration, "Why would you think I'd take pictures for you?"
"I let you photograph my girlfriend for your portfolio."
"She was already going to model for me."
"I let you photograph me for your portfolio."
"Jake, when I got us coffee you ran off with my lighting girl."
"Oh yeah, good girl."
"You broke her heart! She never worked for me again!"
"Hey, she left me! I just forgot she was handcuffed to the bed."
"That's it-" he started to turn again but my hand was on his shoulder.
"If the article doesn't have pictures no one will read it and there will be no fifty dollar paycheck. We do this right, get that check, there'll be enough money to pay you back and buy us both a round of pancakes."
"No," he shook a heavy finger at me, "There will be enough to pay me back. Just that much. Fifty dollars is the amount you owe me, remember?"
"Semitics. You're in then?"
" . . . Maybe."
"Awesome. Grab your camera and some shuteye, then meet me at the Holy Church of God at 9am."
One of these things isn't in the article.
Demon Hunting Cannibals (Catholicism)
At precisely 9:45 Isaac was asleep in his car. A few hard taps on the driver's side window woke him. The glass muffled whatever he cursed when he recognized my face, and showed some frustration in throwing open the door. The smell of the hazelnut coffee under his nose threw him off.
"My Daddy always says it's better to show up a half hour late with flowers than fifteen minutes late empty handed."
Isaac took the Bigby's cup (they used to have a hilarious name
) "Or you could show up on time." He sniffed wetness away from his nostril, "On time with coffee would be even better."
"Bring the camera."
The inside of a Catholic church is an amazing thing to behold from an outsider's perspective. Beautiful architecture. Ornate objects. Violent, violent scenes painted on everything. Angels with swords, a blood spurting savior, flaming fucking meteorites. Astounding to behold, and frightening to think of large congregations of people comfortable around this imagery.
When we wrangled a Priest he was happy to talk about his religion and none of it concerned the ritualistic disemboweling of heathens (that he was willing to disclose). It did concern a lot of forgiveness and abstinence. It was pretty standard, actually. Until the cannibalism and demons.
In my boredom I had begun pacing the back room, fiddling with cruets and crosses; each time I was politely asked to put them back down. The Priest eventually gave up on trying to curb my minor sacrileges. He'd even stopped trying to follow me around the room and was mostly addressing Isaac now.
It was when his back was turned that I found it. Sweet Lord it was beautiful; Catholics carried alcohol. A newspaper was covering the box that hid the bottles from me, but my hooch sense was tingling. Swatting it aside I spotted three beautiful bottles of red wine. In seconds one was uncorked and a filled ceremonial goblet was in my hand.
While Father Connolly droned on about Eucharist and Biblical text and other things that were entirely too boring to pay any sort of attention to I was taking long gulps of sweet, pilfered wine. Hey, crackers!
The crunch of a tasteless white wafer turned Father Connolly in my direction, "-is why heeeEEE DEAR GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"
Crumbs sprayed from my mouth, "Hungry. We didn't get breakfast."
"But you can't eat that!"
"Sorry, it looked like it was just out there for anybody," the words muffled as I turned the goblet up to my lips.
"That is the body and blood of our lord!"
After sputtering hard I fell to my knees and began to retch. "GAH! Puh! Why? What!? Why??"
"I've just explained-"
"No! It isn't-" Father Connolly, bless his twisted black heart, was helping me back to my feet, "We're not cannibals."
I shrugged him off my arm, but weakly: it was too late, "It's alright, Father. We've all watched Ravenous. Just tell me; how long before the hunger controls me
"But we're not cani-"
"JUST LET ISAAC GO!" it was more a plea than a demand. This man was a Priest of their dark religion. Surely he had the combined strength of all the men he'd slain and devoured for sustenance. "Please, just let him go. He's Jewish, he would taste foul to you anyway.''
"I't's. . . too late for me Isaac. I am Wendigo now."
"Now listen, young man, we do not eat human beings."
Amazing. It set in then what this was all about. They worshiped and consumed some sort of great, sacred, muffin man. The actual Pillsbury Doughboy? I was still too shaken to ask. Perhaps he was one of the more famous of this crazy race of food creatures. It didn't matter, he was doomed to be eaten by his followers.
Regardless of the bread-man's fate, I had to get my nerve back. My fingers shook as I fumbled with the Zippo's flint, but my whole hand steadied as the orange flame ran over the tip of a sweet, sweet cigarette.
"You can't smoke in here." Father Connolly, despite his bizarre religious beliefs, had been nothing but gracious until he insisted on a smoke free house of God. Suddenly he seemed infinitely more douchey.
The cigarette sizzled out in the stone bowl it was flicked into.
"God, no!" Father Connolly nearly fell getting out of his chair. He ran to the pedestal that held the bowl that now held a floating cigarette. "You can't do that to holy water!"
"What, like real holy water? Like for vampires?"
"Yes and it's also used in baptizing!" He'd fished the soggy cigarette out and was now looking for a place to drop it.
We didn't care. I could feel Isaac tense behind me. This was ball-smashingly awesome. This had to be explored,
"So. . . as a Catholic priest. . . were there a sudden vampire epidemic. . . it would be your job to slay them?"
Father Connolly pulled his chair in as he sat back down, "Yes, I suppose. But casting out demons is a function reserved for only a select few. Exorcisms, I think you mean, are only considered in extreme situations, and when they are investigated, they are rarely ever ordered."
Dryness on my tongue. My mouth was agape. "S. . . d. . . But the Church has ordered exorcisms before? Like, actual exorcisms?"
A stunned moment passed. "Do not mess with me."
"I'm. . . not?"
"Interesting. When'd you go Catholic?"
"I was born into Catholicism."
"Uh huh. And, what if a couple of random dudes wanted to get into it?"
"Do you two want to join the Church?"
"Never said it was us, specifically."
"Hmm. Then the best way to know if you want to join the Church is to attend mass. We have one coming up tomorrow. 7am."
"Uh huh. And how does one become a Priest, hypothetically?"
Father Connolly narrowed his eyes, "Do you want to become Priests just to hunt demons?"
Isaac spoke up, "He said 'hypothetically' and please answer the question."
"Uh," Father Connolly sighed, "Well, first there's the vow of celibacy-"
In the car we cranked up "Hollaback Girl". Our windows were down, the wind blowing around us. We had a good start to our mission, but such elation had to be curbed; we had more holy men to harass.
Islam: Now in Stereo(type)!
"What's next on the list?" Isaac seemed to be energetic, his grip was tight on the wheel. This was determination. This was good. I could risk getting him killed now.
The car swerved as it's tires skidded against the pavement, a terrible shriek coming up from the rubble against cement. "No effing way!"
"Don't be bigoted. What happens in the middle east is a political thing. We're out to interview Americans. Besides; we're already here."
The bell above the door jingled, alerting the staff of the 7 11 to our presence. There were three men and four eyebrows looking back at us, indifference on their faces.
"Hi, we're from the internet. Might we interview you about Islam?"
Kunar, as his nametag read, asked, "Why would you assume we're Muslim?"
The shortest pushed the rim of his baseball cap up, "What website?"
"Cracked. Sort of. Look, you're a bunch of Arabic guys at a 7 11. There's no way you're not Muslim."
Kunar scoffed, "Man, that's racist."
"But you are Muslim, right?"
" . . . Yeah."
"Right, so, what's that like?"
"Have you met Swaim?" baseball cap asked. His friend, a big guy, looked pretty excited too.
"Not exactly. My friend talked with him on the internet once. Heard he was an android."
"Like an actual android?" baseball cap asked.
"That's what I heard."
"Hey!" Kunar slapped baseball cap on the chest, "We could be representing our whole people. Let's not get crazy over Swan."
"It's SWAIM!" baseball cap shouted. He was clutching an old issue of CRACKED magazine.
"Shush." Kunar turned back to me, "Listen, if you're really writing an article on Islam, we can tell you about it. If a customer comes in, though, we have to get back to work. Our uncle owns this place and if he sees us messing around he'll yell at us."
"Absolutely, I understand." I wiggled my fingers behind my back, and Isaac discreetly turned the "open" sign around and locked the door. I continued, "Just tell us the basics."
"Alright, well, we as Muslims feel we are one of the more committed religions. We face Mecca when we pray, which is six times a day. We're very serious about Allah. We aren't trying to be mean, but it's something we feel pride in."
"What's the deal with women covering up all over?" I asked, putting a cigarette in my lips.
"Those are called burkes, they- Hey! You can't smoke in here, man, I told you my uncle will freak."
"Alright, alright," I flicked the cigarette at the door.
Isaac 'tsked' me, and turned to pick it up.
It is then, I suspect, that they spotted his yarmulke. Kunar stretched his arm violently outward, pointer finger quivering as it singled out my skull capped friend. He let out a high and monstrous shriek. His brothers saw what he was pointing at, and they too pointed and shrieked in that terrifying high note. There free hands were reaching for something below the counter.
The lower pane of glass shattered on the door and I tackled Isaac through it, narrowly dodging gunfire.
"What? Why!" Isaac hollered in shock even as we began to scramble to our feet.
On my notebook the comments on Islam consisted entirely of 'Muslims = Body snatchers?'
"Damn it!" Isaac spat, "Damn it all, Jake, I think they hit my car!"
"They definitely hit your car."
"I told you something like that was going to happen!"
"Alright, one point for you."
"No! That's not- this isn't about points, this is about how now it's going to cost me more to repair my car. And why are we taking MY car!? I'd demand you reimburse me for the gasoline, but I'm getting the whole fifty anyway! Except there is no fifty, because I'm through with your ridiculousness."
"Whoa! Settle down there, Isaac. Look, it will cost you to repair the bullet holes, yes, BUT: if you stop now, you'll be out the cost of one bullet repair, and gas, and
the fifty. You've come this far
. You stop now, you lose the whole investment."
Isaac gave me a nasty look, but when the light turned green he didn't turn right to go home, but left towards the Scientology center.
It was plain, for a religious place. It had offices, and meeting rooms. The receptionist at the front desk did ask us to wait for a few minutes, but she was impossibly cheerful. When ten minutes had gone by she took the trouble to put on a pot of coffee and even brought us cookies.
Jeff Daniels came out of the big office first, a man in a handsome three piece suit behind him.
"Mr. Shelgrove, this all seems so interesting," said the famous actor, "I may decide to join up. I can't wait for our meeting next week!"
"Certainly, Jeff! I'm excited too; the Church is glad to have you." He waved until the thespian was out of sight, and began to head back to his office before his secretary stopped him with a polite cough. "Hmm?"
She pointed to us with her pen, a warm smile on her face.
"Oh! Excuse me, gentlemen, we're so busy these days! One of the fastest growing religions in the world, you know."
Janine happy announced, "They write for Cracked.com!"
He looked at us with greater interest, "The humor website? Really?"
"Sort of." I stood, brushing cookie crumbs off my pants.
"Have you met Michael Swaim?"
"Afraid not. Had a friend talk to him once."
"Too bad. Well, come right this way gentlemen."
His office was simple but elegant. Our chairs were tan leather and very comfortable.
"Just give us the bottom line on your religion, and I'll ask you some questions from there."
"That's simple enough. Our founder was L. Ron Hubbard; he was a writer, philosopher, and scholar. He didn't believe psychiatry could help people, and instead he formed dianetics. This is how we assess people who want to enter our religion, and try to make their lives better, richer."
Nodding I said, "And why all the celebrities?"
Shelgrove chuckled, "Well, some people get celebrity status and find that they're still not happy, and that's exactly the sort of person who we want to help. See, many outsiders make us out to be some crazy cult, or a wacky celebrity trend, but the fact is we're a caring, honest religion. Our goal is to make people feel happy."
I nodded slowly. "You're selling human organs on the black market, aren't you?"
In a flash Shelgrove pulled a switchblade from his jacket and was lunging over the table, "You tell fucking anybody and I'll-"
"Relax, Shelgrove," I was already on the other side of the tan leather, "I've got a couch like this at home."
F I L E F O O T A G E
We walked out, never turning our backs on Shelgrove's office. Janine looked surprised; she had already taken out a pattern for a jacket.
"Not today, sister. Thanks for the coffee."
Atheists and Other People You Definately Won't See in Heaven
It was the home stretch. How many people had we interviewed? What had we learned? A lot and a little was the short answer. Still, it felt as though we could potentially come to some sort of understanding, some enlightenment on the whole mess. To get this, we agreed that the best angle was to talk to people that believed in no divine entity.
The University of Michigan had an excellent biological research department. Actually, several. We chose the marine life wing, because they had a pinball machine.
Isaac, curse him, was lost to the game without taking a picture, but it was abundantly easy to find an Atheist in this group. On one cubicle there was a bumper sticker depicting the fish-symbol for Christianity with feet, and the name Darwin was underneath it.
A young man poked his head out from behind the wall. "Yes? Hey, who're you? How'd you get up here?"
I thought back to the security guard three floors down, lying unconscious in front of the elevator. "Press pass."
"Oh. Uh, you'll probably want to talk to my department head. His office-"
'Press Pass' was the affectionate nickname I had for the blackjack I kept inside my jacket, and I had shown it to the back of the gaurd's head repeatedly. We had a limited time to conduct an interview and leave before the police interviened, "Nope. Just you. You're an Atheist, right?"
"What's your name?"
"Jon. What's this for?"
"Cracked.com. Kind of."
"Whoa! I've actually heard of you. Is David Wong's book selling?"
"Very much so. Now Jon, what is. . . atheist?"
Jon minimized the game of solitaire on his computer, revealing a humorous cartoon of a squid as his background. "Atheists aren't a special group, we're just people who don't think such a thing as "God" exists. There's not a specific requirement other than that."
He seemed a little distant already. Was this man bored? What smelled like saltwater?
"Do you find life as an Atheist hard? Were you always a person without religion?:
"Mm, no." He spun lightly in his chair, stopping at a crude sketch of a winged creature, "Actually, until a couple of months ago, my brother and I were Protestant. But, then, we started having these dreams. . . " his voice faded a little.
"Your brother drew that, I'm guessing?" A hermit crab scuttled past my feet.
"Why, yes." he said lightly, "How did you know?"
"Oh, hunch." the notebook went back into it's place and my hand went around something else under my jacket lapel, "C'thulhu
, vrntgn R'lyeth?"
Jon spun in his office chair, his eyes wide and his voice not of this earth, "Vrntgn! Yessssss C'thul-"
He went down like the security guard, but he had spoken loudly and other scientists were poking there heads out.
I tried to look normal, but my pace was quick. Had to get to Isaac fast. Crabs scuttled down the hall towards us, I gave up on subtly and sprinted to my partner. My hand found his elbow just as the fish-men were emerging from the back office.
"Hey, man," Isaac growled, "Don't pull my arooooOOOOGOD WHAT ARE THOSE THINGS!?!?"
"Warshipers of the Old Ones!" I yelled, already half down the hall, "You should be running!"
I almost didn't hold the elevator for him. It opened on the ground floor to a wall of fish-men, the tentacles on their faces writing, their clawed hands busy ripping apart the flesh of Terry the security guard. Apparently, they had trouble telling humans apart. We turned our collars up and tried to look casual as we walked out.
"That better be it," The fresh air blowing in from the car windows was good for Isaac; he had looked ill for the first couple of blocks. Now he just looked angry "That better be fucking it, because this assignment of yours has almost got us killed a lot today."
"What do you mean 'almost'?"
"We've got just about everything in here but love."
"Love? What the hell are you- wait, no-!"
I was already leaning in, "Come here, sugar."
His fist went up fast and the car swerved, "Brockway
me and I swear to God we'll both die fighting."
"Fine then. A night on the town it is! Strippers and booze abound, good sir! My treat."
"How exactly do you plan to pay for- aaaah, what the hell."
"Come, Isaac: To the Gentleman's club!"
Lasers, Tits, and the Exciting Conclusion
We were sitting at the local smoke easy
. I had a tall gin and tonic with a twist of lime. Isaac had passed out from a combination of exhaustion and seven shots of tequila. Tomorrow he would learn that the bill was on his tab.
Tonight, it was good to be alone with my thoughts. Our adventure had been thorough, and in fact I suspected there was too much to turn in to the website, even if I took out the part with the cult of the bisexual nymphomaniac cheerleaders.
What was to be learned from this weirdness? Why did such irrational ideas get accepted as common place?
Perhaps the most baffling aspect of all of these beliefs is that there is no way to win. If you join with Judaism you'll make an instant enemy of a million Muslims, and no one in the other religions will let you marry their daughter.
If you go Christian, you'll have to deal with the awful reputation that comes from being the winning team during the last few centuries of this overwhelming douche bag contest. Worse yet, you will be a cannibal, call it what you like. Also, no one in the other religions will let you marry their daughter.
You could go Muslim, but the FBI will suddenly become interested in every conversation you have for the rest of eternity. Perhaps more terrifying is that Allah demands those with beautiful bosoms cover them lest anyone they're not married to enjoy them from the upper level of the mall after dropping thirteen dollars in nickels while trying to get you to turn around enough to see that glorious crevasse and it was totally worth it because the strip club across town closed down after that lawsuit from the real uppity stripper who thought that four drinks didn't entitle a regular to a panty less lap dan- The hell were we talking about? Oh! No one in the other religions will let you marry their daughter.
There's Atheist, but (weaknesses to Lovecraftian lore aside) that requires you to come to terms with the grim possibility of both a meaningless universe and an incredibly brief existence. It should be considered that there is absolutely nothing to be gained by declaring yourself opposed to the general idea of a supreme being in this world of God loving fanatics, as you'll be pleasing no deity and doing nothing to bolster your already precarious chance at some sort of tolerable afterlife. Announcing Atheism is like tossing chum into the ocean waters while you skinny dip with a tasty breakfast sausage wrapped snugly around your dong: there's no denying that it's brave, but the outcome will be equal parts predictable and horrific.
What to do then? Agnostic? Not if you want respect. Agnostics are like Gamecube owners in this regard. If you can peel yourself off your people-skin couch, try lifting up your white Xbox. Is there a black one underneath it? How about your Playstation, is it sitting on top of a grayish late 90's looking thing? These artifacts had their own war which spanned generations. In the beginning of the 2000's you were either an Xbox person or a Playstation (2) person if you mattered. They would pause their unending conflict only briefly; those rare moments where they would unite to stuff the Gamecube owners back in the locker where they belonged.
That's when we look our best by the way. When we unite to destroy something everybody hates. It's totally natural, we love death and destruction on a scale that would give Ares himself a throbbing erection. Unfortunately our last real natural enemy was the bear, and once we invented guns they went down to the shock of the rest of the animal kingdom like Rocky in his first fight against Clubber Lane.
Without species rivalries we have only each other to battle, and a great way to pick teams is religion. This may be because somewhere deep inside we all know it's so ridiculously arbitrary. If religion serves any useful function at all it is that it gives us a perfectly reasonable motive for slaughtering our fellow man. Clearly, the atheists are insane; they believe that we're the offspring of damned chimpanzees! Not quite as crazy as the Christians, who are firmly and truly convinced that woman was made out of a rib. Muslims pray six times a day. Six!
Of course it's all insane. WE'RE GUESSING AT THE ORIGIN OF LIFE! There is no practical theory that results in something from nothing. Anything, absolutely anything suggested, has to be nothing short of bat shit insane; utter mind blowing weirdness from the most depraved and lucid corners of a lunatics imagination. Why? Because we're fucking here! Existence itself defies the laws of existence.
The moral? None. Wait! Maybe. Come up with your own religion. Make it a wicked awesome cult that's heavy on the boob showing and laser guns, then count me as one of your first members. If you've got to do something crazy, at least try to make it the kind of crazy you can enjoy.