I’ve been getting older lately, and it occurred to me that perhaps, in the middle of a pandemic, I’d better think about choosing a religion. Nothing too serious mind you, nothing that makes excessive demands on me or anything. And one that doesn’t disappoint my kids by not wanting to process my ashes, or say a few words over my urn.
I suppose I should be embarrassed that I’ve waited this long, but I like to think that it all started when I was much younger -I remember tripping over a hymnbook on my way up to the United Church’s altar to be confirmed; I saw it as a manifestation of divine displeasure at the crassness of my parents’ decision to threaten me into going through with it.
I mean, it wasn’t as if I was irreligious, or whatever; I did sing in a professional church choir in Winnipeg, but I picked the wrong denomination. It was Anglican and furthermore it featured a Summer Camp in the Lake of the Woods in Northwestern Ontario – which was the wrong province, and rather far from watchful parental eyes. They didn’t really trust the Anglicans, and felt there was too much chance of denominational conversion therapy. So, like a shotgun wedding, my parents decided I’d better marry their own church before… well, you know what.
And then there is the thing about Pascal’s Wager, eh? Bet on there being a god, because if there is, and you didn’t, you lose. Still, if I were going to bet, I would want it to be on a sure thing -so I’ve never bet. Of course, I’ve never been this old before, either, and maybe there are some benefits to pooling resources with younger, less tau-ridden and minimally neuro-tangled others: an eponymic Elder’s Wager.
Of course, I suppose my hitherto beliefs have been too loosey-goosey to merit much attention from the major religions, however. It stems from a task my mother used to assign me on those Winnipeg summer days when I was bored, but couldn’t go outside to play because of the lightening: I was instructed to tell her when a pot of water on the stove was starting to boil. I mean, talk about really boring… I suspect she meant it as a kind of mental exercise, or something -a sort of proto-Zen koan.
I would watch the little bubbles which were forming at the bottom of the pot becoming gradually excited and finally deciding to let go. There was only one path for them, but until they reached the top and disappeared, each one of them no doubt thought it was different from the rest. Unique. A separate individual. But in the end, none the wiser, each of them joined the air from which I suppose they no doubt started. A mind thinks differently in boredom, I guess -because when I asked mother whether we were all like bubbles, she just told me not to get my nose so close to the water.
Of course my mother was never big on answers, just questions -like whether I’d cleaned my room yet, or if I had remembered to flush the toilet this time. Parents in those days saved any thoughts of impermanence for Sundays at 11 AM, where Holy Communion promised them their souls, and the envelopes they had to put in the weekly collection plate, served to assure them that they were still on the ledger.
But the possibility that we only lived a bubble-existence just would not go away. And when the kids I played with argued about whether the expurgated parables their own Sunday Schools told were the best they would laugh at mine. Of course I didn’t call the Riverview United Church by name; I called my church the ‘Bubble Church’ -although unsanctified by any parental or ministerial fiat.
I gave up proselytizing when I got into high school, however -it was just too dangerous. So, I took to calling myself a peripatetic theist -I figured that gave me a bit of leeway, and besides I’d always liked the expression. And because none of the kids knew what it meant, I thought it also gave me a certain cachet, although no particular surfeit of dates… Any, actually.
As I got older -okay, as I aged– it began to occur to me that the bubble framework not only failed to provide any social or moral succour, but it actually seemed a bit of a dead end as far as maintaining any semblance of a post-mortem identity -sorry, a post-burst one. In fact, it was rather existentially depressing, I suppose -although it did avoid the potential Sartrean problem of being locked for eternity in a room with other people, as in his play Hui Clos. I see that as small comfort, however.
No, I think a good religion should tell a convincing story, embellish it with appealing food and music, and then sit back and wait. Maybe I’d be better off believing that there’s more than simply air at the end of it all. But, I’m not impressed with the contrived and pandering just-so stories religions always seem to use -nor, for that matter, with the scalloped potatoes and ham the United Church always served after most of its evening social events -the Allegory Quiz night springs to mind.
Bubble theology actually seems to embody more verisimilitude, when I think about it. What’s so good about being trapped in a short-lived identity and then trying to pretend it’s anything other than a brief aberration, a temporary lapse from the joy of being everything rather than just something?
Why would I hope I’d stay like this; why would I even want to be trapped in an I rather than enveloped in an us -or, more likely, a single entity that is not composed of multitudes. There’s no heavenly reward at the end, it’s true, but what an adventure! To be liberated back into the creative void from which I, you, and probably the Big Bang originated, is nothing to sneeze at.
And you wouldn’t even have to sing hymns or pledge anything… Not bad for a short trip in a bubble, eh?