The dream stayed in my mind, like the residue of honey in a refilled cup of coffee. It’s not there, not even the memory of the dream is there, nothing but something akin to a psychic aftertaste, something floating around in the mind like a speck of red dust in the air, reflected by sunlight for a moment in time, picked up by imperceptible currents in the room, before drifting back into the shadow near your closet.
It’s still there, it still exists, you know for a fact it does, but you also know you couldn’t find it, and by looking for it, by trying to define it, you would pollute and distort it, change it so completely as to destroy the vision entirely.
How can it be both there, not there, remembered, not remembered, forgotten, not forgotten, Schrodinger’s Cat, with your conscious being the radioactive isotope, that triggers the poison. Your subconscious doesn’t know if there was a dream, or if you dreamed there was a dream, but the if you look for it, you kill the dream.
Perhaps the same part of your mind that forgets people one millisecond after you’ve been introduced is responsible for remembering your dreams. It’s a faulty device, battered by television shows, bumper sticker politics, and Prosperity Religion. If you spent more time reading, you’re remember what you had dreamt in more details, and Barbra Anderson’s name after you met her.
You can feel it, can’t you? You know it’s there. You meet someone and you’re looking at her, she’s speaking to you, and her name was said out loud, you shook hands with her, and now you’re scrolling through names in your head without a road sign or a map to help.
Feels just like when you’re trying to remember a dream, doesn’t it?
When was the last time you did remember a dream? The dreamscape, the setting of the dream, was it familiar only while you were there, or it is a real place? The people, were they characters in your life, or did they only exist in your slumber? Perhaps there was fear, some creature that meant you harm, were you lost, were you missing someone, was there abject terror of death, fire, falling, bullets, bears, or Johnny with an ax?
Maybe that’s why we don’t remember dreams, it’s a self-defense mechanism keeping us from screaming during the day while we remember what happened in our sleep. And perhaps, for mechanisms we cannot quite comprehend, it’s the same reason we forget the names of strangers.
When I got involved in Snake Identification in Facebook groups, I had no idea there was a culture, and subculture, that revolved around snake myths, and snake identification. I should have known, for if you get ten people together in a room for a week, by the end of that seven days, you’ll find narratives that have no basis in fact at all. Three people will believe the narrative, three will accuse the first three of lying, three will be indifferent, and one will have never heard of it.
Even before we are able to fully understand our mother language, as infants, we are fed the myth of Santa Claus. Every year, as we grow up, we see photos, videos, movies, hear songs, listen to adults and other children talk about Santa Claus, so we believe, because why wouldn’t we? Why would all of this be based on a lie?
But it is a lie. It’s not a misunderstanding, or some tightly held religious belief with no evidence, no, it is an outright lie.
Whether you want to admit it or not, whether or not you think it matters or not, parents teaching their children about Santa Claus is teaching those same kids, once they discover the truth, that lying is acceptable, and even more desirable, than the truth. To use a lie to modify someone’s behavior, like parents do when they tell their kids if they misbehave Santa won’t come, is perfect.
Here’s the fallout: Children will so reverently believe this lie they’ll repeat it to other children, and among the kids, will be stories of how one or the other, or some group, stayed up late, or got up early, and actually saw Santa. Others will see something in the sky and know, really know, deep down inside, they truly and honestly saw a red nose, brightly leading the sleigh through the sky. Moreover, as the kids get older and the lie gets harder to defend, and the truth becomes glaringly clear, both parents and children will pretend to believe, as to keep the lie alive, for just a little while longer.
Gee, Mike, that’s certainly a buzz kill, but what’s any of this got to do with Cottonmouths?
Here in The South, as I was growing up, I was told the tale of Hoops Snakes who would grab their tails in their mouths and roll like a hoop to chase you. Then there was the story of how Coachwhip snakes would chase you and whip you with their tails. And rattlesnakes had a poison dust in their rattles that would kill the unwary. Snakes hypnotized birds to catch them. And if you killed a rattlesnake, its mate would hunt you down by the next day. And there was the story of the water skier who fell into a nest of moccasins, and as rescuers tried to drag the lifeless body from the lake, the snakes were still hanging on!
Also, Cottonmouths would chase you.
None of this is true, of course, and most of these myths have slowly evaporated as videos become more and more ubiquitous, and the evidence for such snake activity becomes more and more impossible to prove.
Yet the one myth that seems to be the hardest to dispel is the one of Cottonmouths chasing people. In ID groups, long and irritating threads will stretch on and on, with the person claiming to be chased never relenting, never giving an inch, but yet never producing a photo or a video that their claim is true. They grew up hearing about people being chased, and they feel they are not part of their own culture if they do not produce a story about nearly being killed as they barely escaped the deadly fangs of the moccasin.
Yet there are issues here, and those issues are based in reality. The truth of the matter is while these snakes do strike swiftly, on land they are remarkably slow. The Cottonmouth got its moniker by its eponymous mouth agape position, showing its fangs. But it is impossible to chase anyone from this position as it is a purely defensive posture! Moreover, there have only been four recorded deaths from Cottonmouth bite in the United States. If these animals are so dangerous, and they do chase people, why is it so few people have been killed? Why is it so few people are bitten? Why is it we have no videos, why not hundreds of them, if the myth is not a myth?
The truth is we have “The Santa Claus Effect” here. People have been fed a lie, by people who were fed the lie, and each generation passes it own without thought. It’s true not because it happened but because it’s part of the culture. People lie about it, and find a ready audience for their lies, because they have already told the lie themselves. To argue this point is to find a group of people emotionally invested in what they are telling, and what they have been told.
If you really want to piss people off, tell the truth. Tell a four year old child the truth, Santa doesn’t exist and watch their parents explode in anger. It’s magic, the parents will tell you, it’s wonderful, that is, until the bill comes due after Christmas and all the fake snow and tinsel has really brought is credit card payments and a child who believes no amount of toys is quite enough to keep the magic alive.
The Cottonmouth tale is much like this. People want excitement, and safe fear. They want to feel brave and heroic as they blast away at a creature that will run away if given a chance, and who has harmed no one. They want to feel like they have, once again, conquered the wild by beating to death a snake they have always heard was dangerous, and they have always told people was dangerous, without giving a single thought to the truth.
Back in the day, I had a co-worker who hated the sight of people eating with chopsticks, at a Chinese restaurant, in south Georgia. Chopsticks, he claimed, was not only un-American it was anti-American. Of course, forks were brought over from England, so not strictly American, but I occasionally used chopsticks in the office while eating lunch just to watch him melt down. It was interesting in that he personally invested in chopsticks being the antithesis of American values but cell phones, clothing, and thousands of plastic items from China polluting the waterways were perfectly fine.
It should be noted that injustice is practiced, and nearly perfected, when it comes to conjuring excuses to colonize violently those places deemed desirable. Once the early settlers became strong enough to declare war on those who helped them survive, one of the tried-and-true methods was religion. In due course, the settlers accused the natives of Satanism, for they knew nothing of Christianity. In Central America, the Spaniards would hand a local leader a bible, and if he failed to be able to read it, they would kill him and loot his kingdom. Greed, the psychological desire to possess more than enough, drove the Spanish to destroy ancient and advanced civilizations, and erase cultures from the maps of history. Christianity was their excuse of choice.
Of course, destroying a civilization isn’t the only horror to be laid at the feet of the Genocidal Marriage of Greed and Christianity within the boundaries of this nation. Slavery was used to kidnap, murder, rape, and to steal the lives of people whose only crime, or only sin, was to be born of a darker skin color than the men who held money and land. For four hundred years, enslaved people could be, and would be, kept in bondage and made to work, getting nothing for their labors but the barest of necessities. Women were used as breeding stock, men were worked to death, and nothing, no bright point of existence could be experienced without the permission of those who were pocketing the money the slaves worked for.
Greed, in all of its various forms, has always been accompanied by spiritual heroin. The rich can convince the poor their lives are only meaningful by their submission to the way things are, by the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and obeying those in power is the only real virtue. After all, how could the rich have all the money and all the power if they weren’t those selected by the gods to have them? Who are the poor to questions this?
It’s no mystery why churches in America are tax exempt. It’s the tithe they receive from those in power for keeping the poor looking past their own lives for something better. Here, in this lifetime, they must be productive, meek, and work themselves to death, very much as the slaves did. The misery they endure will be assuaged by some mythical creature, but only, never before, they die.
Back in high school, I began to drift away from the beliefs of my parents, my siblings, my friends, and community. It made no sense to me there might be some old white dude in a bathrobe and sandals, waving a shepherd’s crook around flinging people into Hell forever because they never got dunked in water.
The Christians I knew back then were dying out. The church was changing. There was a time you sat with your family in a hard wood pew in a dimly lit wooden church, and listened to a preacher talk for an hour, if you were lucky. Being a kid didn’t get you out of it. There wasn’t a separate place for children. Infants were held by their mothers; little kids were forced to be still and quiet.
The people in the church did things for the community and nothing was ever said about it. No one ever mentioned the fact that three or four members of the church got together and went over to someone’s house and cleaned up their yard because of sickness or poor health. People donated food because they could. Christianity didn’t need a presentation because it was a lifestyle.
Today’s churches don’t resonate with people because it’s more of a commercial than a message. There are huge television screens, microphones, piped in music, soundtracks, and all of this costs a lot of money. Churches are businesses now. There’s a contract to sign, autopay, direct deposit, and money is a big concern.
Churches have nurseries, ball fields, gyms, carpet, full kitchens, security systems, professionally designed websites, their own email domains, and it’s more of a social club than a spiritual journey.
Atheism is getting easier. Leaving the church isn’t what it once was. Now, it’s like walking away from a bar, or a restaurant. The depth of spirituality of Christians is as superficial as the strip mall buildings they’re housed in. There’s no bond of generations of families who sat in the same pews three generations ago. Convenience of parking, how pretty the lawn is, and how big the building is, yeah, that’s what the Christians are these days.
There are multi-millionaires running billion dollar industries that call themselves Christians, and there are millions of people following this in the name of a man who told people to sell their belongings and give the money to the poor.
I never truly believed. I never accepted the idea of a god of any sort, not even when Christians were good people, conscious of their beliefs at all times, and the driving force in every community. Oh yeah, the judgmental and racist churches that littered the south were a problem for many of us, but overall, I miss the Christians, those who were good people.
Christianity, if it is not dead, is on the brink of extinction. Greed, the love of political power, the raw and ugly commercialism of Christian holidays, and the idea that presentation trumps faith and service is killing the church my grandparents knew.
I always hoped to see the day religion died in America. I just never expected to be this sad about it, and I never thought for a minute it would look this goddam ugly.
I became open about my atheism back in the early 1990’s. For a while I just blended in, ignored the overt, and often hypocritical professions of piety from my friends and co-workers, and stayed silent. However, being silent about a subject is a tacit expression that either your opinion is not as valued as a majority opinion, or that it’s wrong. So I began to speak out against religion, and the reaction was as strong as it was predictable.
People whose lives are deeply rooted in religiosity not necessarily the beliefs and the actions, but the civic perception, are those who most want to stamp out any mention that there is no supernatural old white man living in a cloud bank, wearing a bathrobe and sandals, waiting to roast people who masturbate in a lake of fire for all time. Those were, and still are, the people who have the biggest problem.
For years, decades even, because churches were the only form of mass socialization, society was shaped by what the herd thought was right. Those people who did not go to church were marginalized, and those who were walking through the door every time they opened were thought better of, even if they didn’t behave any better than anyone else.
The idea that a person could say one thing while totally living their life in a manner opposite of those words, was baptized in America churches.
Social media has religionized nearly every opinion. It’s sanctified politics. It’s drawn a line of holy and unholy between people who would vote for one person, or another, when that line, like every god except the one you believe in, doesn’t really exist.
Worse, infinitely worse, these lines are now being drawn in the streets, between friends, inside of families, and the nation is becoming both more divided and less informed. Religion does not inform but instead indoctrinates. The harder you believe, the less intelligent your decisions will be. Belief is not an educated choice but one derived from feelings.
This isn’t to say that people who believe are stupid. This is merely pointing out that to truly understand why an apple drops from a tree a person could study physics, yet to believe that a Jewish zombie could bring everlasting life requires nothing more than faith, and a support group who repeats, endlessly, that this is so.
Even the people I agreed with were becoming religious about their opinions. They demonized the people who disagreed with them, and they settled in to an echo chamber of opinions that matched their own. To break with the herd as blasphemy.
Trust me. I know exactly how this feel and looks. I feel it again. I see it again. I’m leaving it again.
It was a wild gamble, and one with consequences that were easily foreseeable. Back in the 1980’s a sudden shift in the political winds saw the Republican party actively courting Evangelic Christians. It was a ploy, a false woo, but the rewards offered were, seemingly, great for both sides. The politicians would get votes, and the Evangelics would have men in office, very rarely women, who would change the laws of the land to more reflect the values of those who voted in God’s name, Amen.
Abortion was the hot button issue. It didn’t matter, at all, that there were far greater issues facing the country. The Republicans farmed this issue, they mined it like it was gold, and it paid off, even though they never delivered on their promise to end abortion. They truly didn’t want to, because the Republicans believed in the sanctity of life, unless it was their sixteen year old daughter, or their mistress, who needed to get rid of a pregnancy. But to stand up in front of a crowd and call abortion murder was a sure way to get elected. And bring in money.
Republicans took a hit, and a pretty severe hit, when they became the party who opposed gay rights. Their efforts to criminalize sexual orientation backfired, and the Evangelics should have seen the future in this issue, but they did not. They should have realized that mixing politics and religion was an anathema to both the Constitution, and the free will of Christians, but they were blinded by the power their candidates held, and there were seduced by the amount of money that could be raised.
Once the Christian Church in America began to act as a Political Action Committee for the Republican Party, they left the path of righteousness. Instead of following the teachings of Christ, they began to following the whims of the men who used them like blind whores, offering change in abortions laws, and opposing gay marriage but emptying the coffers of the churches. Feeding the poor, clothing the needy, taking care of children, healing the sick, and all of the other actions of Jesus Christ were set aside in the name of doing the bidding of the Republican Party.
became the religion of those who sought personal wealth and power. Mega Churches sucked the tithes from the followers, and billionaires began to pop up in the pulpits. They preached against humanitarian actions in favor of political fervor.
Churches changed to media centers, replete with wide screen televisions, surround sound speakers, wifi, ATM’s in the lobby, Starbucks in the parking lot, and at some churches, pledges were taken from church members to donate a certain amount each month, to keep the parking lots paved, the air conditioners running at 65 degrees, and to keep the private jets in the heavens.
But Prosperity Christianity failed many people for many reasons. It failed the poor, it failed people of color, it failed the gay community, it failed anyone who didn’t speak English well, and it fail to address the hunger for a religion that fed the soul, not the bank accounts of the men who ran the churches.
When Trump was elected, it was a sign, a bright orange neon sign, that Christianity could be whored out for nothing more than the promise of oppressing of minorities, banning abortion, and setting the world right again, for theocracy. Trump enriched corporations and gutted environmental laws, trampled on the rights of anyone not white and male, and in the middle of a peaceful protest, he gassed people so he could stand in front of a church, a bible raised, both upside down, and backwards, for a photo op.
But even before Trump, people were leaving the church. People began responding “Spiritual not religious” to polls and surveys. Paganism began a comeback, with the promise of a more ecologically friendly, and earth based belief system. Trump’s high jacking of faith has had a scorched earth effect on the Evangelics. His crassness, his lies, his lack of a moral compass, and his disregard for civility has driven decent people away from the churches who advocated for his election.
I told you this would happen. I told you in the 1980’s that the separation of church and state protected both sided from one another. I said, many years ago, that once religion and politics mixed, it was like stirring manure with cookie dough. No matter how little is in the mix, it still ruins the end product. But now, there is more manure than cookie dough, and there is no way to get it back out again; there are far too many people in the church selling those cookies. And far too many people buying them.
Christianity as most of us once knew it, is dead. In its place is convenience store religion, something that is a little more expensive, but it doesn’t require much time, and there isn’t an expectation in the quality of the product. It’s a cheap plastic Jesus on the dashboard. It’s McDonald’s for the soul. It’s bad for the environment, for families, for the poor, for the downtrodden, and basically, anyone who once believed in the Redeemer.