Layers

I’m all for not offending anyone. I became P.C. in principal just as soon as my consciousness was raised that the very basics of English grammar caused distress to others (often women), based on its androcentric orientation. It does seem, however, that God is even more easily offended than humans. This raises some tricky questions when it involves the highest perceived authority within or outside of the universe, the font of all morality. Some of the things that offend God, if the sources are to be believed, are most unusual. Last night I attended one of those you-should-send-your-child-to-Europe-while-in-high-school seminars that remind you that being a good parent always involves a touch of poverty. The trip is a very expensive bargain, giving your daughter or son a lasting set of life-changing memories. So far I’m on board. And, what is a trip to Europe without visiting some of the great cathedrals that exhausted local, medieval economies but left modern companions to Stonehenge all around the continent? Okay. Having seen my fair share of European cathedrals, that’s perfectly understandable. Then the kicker: since these are religious places, there is a dress code.

Anyone familiar with mainstream culture even in America is aware of this idea. To attend a place where God is supposed to be present, you must dress for the occasion. The Simpsons can throw around the phrase “Sunday clothes” and everyone knows what they mean. Attend a religious service dressed down and you’ll immediately discover it. Some traditions raise this to a high sartorial art—some Episcopalians I know are so fastidious that the very statues of Jesus seem decidedly underdressed. Since your child will be in Europe and be in cathedrals, you mustn’t offend God in a foreign land. No jeans. As the parent of a teen that means buying a whole new wardrobe to add to the pricetag. Apparently the Levi-Strauss tribe is not the same one in the Pentateuch. I spent some time in Israel a number of years back. The dress code is very strict around sacred spots. No shorts or visible shoulders. In the hot climate of the Middle East wearing excessive layers, well, it’s no wonder some folks get a little irritable. God’s standards are high. Celestial even.

Nowhere is God’s discriminating taste more evident in the required “modesty” of women. Nobody told me, but apparently women are quite a turn-on to gods. Read Genesis 6 and see if you don’t agree. The burden of public hiding beneath cloth falls on them. A man’s calf doesn’t excite God nearly so much as a lady’s. In Jerusalem they used to hand our hooded cloaks to wear over your street clothes for visiting holy places, just in case. Lord knows we wouldn’t want any unrest in the Middle East!

Having lived in Europe for three years, I know about and despise ugly Americans. At home I find our culture and manner of dress fascinating. Most of us don’t think what it says about our religion. If you ever catch a priest in church wearing jeans you’ll have your own local, mini culture-shock. I’d like to figure out why God is so easily offended by human fashion, but there is no time. I’m off to the street corner with my tin cup to try to raise money to buy clothes so my child won’t offend God in Europe.

No shoes, no shirt, no salvation.

Two Mites for the Truth

“Abuse scandal puts heat on Vatican for more transparency,” runs a headline on the front page of today’s New Jersey Star-Ledger. The reference, of course, is to the recent divulging of alleged abuse that implicates the brother of the Pope. The wording of this particular headline, however, contains the kernel of a very important religious preserve. Like the X-Files, religious structures thrive on secrecy. If the mystery were removed from religion, what would be the motivation to believe? Science provides facts and theories that do not require as much belief as they do acquiescence. Religion, on the other hand, deals with intangibles shrouded in murky darkness.

Religions cannot be transparent. “Naked business” models simply do not work when the wealth of the ages is at stake. Few religious believers ever question how or why the leaders of their traditions hoard wealth and valuable objects and real estate. The great medieval European cathedrals, as magnificent as they are, represent loss, pain, and toil on the part of a great many faithful. Those with severe consciences will always drop an offering in the plate, basket, or tray when divine pressure is laid upon them. Even if they really cannot afford it. Two mites for the salvation of an eternal soul is a real bargain!

No one can truly claim to have comprehended the whole of a religion. After all, many religions have centuries of accumulated lore and tradition that must be passed along in ways opaque to the general issue believer. If glass walls were erected around every seminary and religious training institution, those who have not had the experience of being involved in clergy instruction would find the sight blinding. No, religion will never be transparent. Nor will it ever be extinct. It is simply far too easy to believe what one is told.

Two mites, and then some