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i am apocryphal. (religion and writing.)

December 26, 2010

maybe it’s all of the led zeppelin i’ve been listening to lately, or maybe it’s the christmas music that has come and gone, but i’ve started to think more about religion.

on an aside, every christmas (actually, we didn’t this year… odd) our family watches our VHS tape of The Snowman, which is a a british storybook-turned-movie about a young boy, and the snowman that he makes who comes to life. and their brief adventures. it’s a wordless movie, and the main theme is sung by a choir boy, and i cry every time i watch this part:

it’s actually exquisite. beautiful 1982 animation. don’t be a lazy bug. click on the link.

religion isn’t necessarily something i give a lot of thought to. i was baptised as a ukrainian catholic (and confirmed at the same time, too – in one fell swoop), and i went to a roman catholic elementary school for ten years (from age 4 to 13). i never took religion all that seriously in school because my cynic-meter was in tune even at that young age. religion was never major in my house, so coming home from school never re-affirmed any of the religious things that i had learned that day. i just remember thinking “that doesn’t seem right” when my grade eight teacher told me that people couldn’t have gay relationships. it was innate, i suppose. and after elementary school, i went to a public high school, and the religious schooling stopped there for me. since i belonged to both the roman catholic church and the ukrainian catholic church at one point, i had two first holy communions. so i had two sets of catechism classes, so i do have a decent background in catholicism, at least.

i’d like to think that i have a decent grip on the bible – at least the new testament. (in elementary school they only gave us the new testament. seems they didn’t want us reading about ‘sodomy’ and incest and the true and awesome cruelty of god before he mellowed out and had a child.)

it’s hard to remember, often, that the bible is a book. that it was written and edited. i’m so interested in the idea of the apocrypha – gospels and books that didn’t make the cut for the bible because people are “unsure” of the authors of said books. (which blows my mind, because i mean, really, we’re not that sure that matthew, mark, luke, or john really wrote their gospels either considering it was 2000 years ago.) from a writer’s perspective, the bible is truly this big long fantastic story and god is kind of a tyrant, isn’t he?

all of this religious stuff has come to the forefront of my brain as of late because i wrote a play, recently, (that was based off of a short story of mine) that really deals with a lot of pan-religious … stuff. (for lack of a better word. mumbo jumbo.) now that the play is being produced for brave new playrites, i am going to have to workshop it again and edit it a lot – really revisit the reasons why i wrote it and where i want to go with it. and i have a feeling i am going to be really questioned as to why i chose this subject matter.

because lucifer is kind of hot okay?


so i ask myself – what is my relationship with religion, as a writer?

in kingston, for all of undergrad, i had a copy of the king james bible in my bookcase, wedged between eliot and faulkner. it was important for me to have a copy of the bible so that i could check references and citations, in case i needed to use it in an english essay, in case a religious reference was brought up in a book or a poem. actually, i think most of the bible is online nowadays anyway, which is pretty cool. as a first year, i read paradise lost and rather fell in love with it. i loved the concept of satan being the sympathetic character and god being the tyrant. i wonder, even now, how milton got away with that.

religion comes into play a lot with my writing. when i write about northern ireland for my thesis, i have to think about religion a lot – especially when i write about the troubles.

and a lot of my poems end up having a religious tone to them, and i don’t even realise that i’m doing it. i use religious-themed words like flagellate, cilice, god, etc. – i tend to compare people’s bodies to religious things, too – apses and steeples. it’s odd, because i don’t believe in the idea of religion, but somehow it makes its way into much of my writing.

i think there is a terrific beauty to religion. illuminated scrolls and papyrii of the old copies of the scripture – they are lovely, and fine examples of early writing. and truly, every story in the bible is just that – it’s a story. there is something so awesome about a woman turning into a pillar of salt, or prophets who spend the whole night sitting in a furnace without being burned, or the holy spirit – the holy spirit – murdering thousands and thousands of egyptian babies. it’s terrifying and exquisite at the same time.

why am i drawn to the themes of religion when i don’t identify myself as religious?

first off, i think a part of me appreciates the patriarchy. it’s odd for me to say, but it might make sense to some. at this point in my life, i write about men. (gay men, yes, but also straight men, as my play is about.) the catholic religion is pretty male dominated, and god is identified as male. and a part of me has always taken comfort in the idea of a big bearded guy in the sky, which is odd. i think that i was introduced to the idea of a male god as a young child and i just never questioned it. i question it now: why still rely on the idea of a male god? why the preoccupation with the male gender? why do i write predominantly about men? it has to connect somewhere. i think that there is something about maleness, about masculinity that i am not understanding. i have this odd fear of men, but it’s not something that i can put words to. maybe that is why i am so shy around them.

and a part of me appreciates the writing and the fear and the terrifying awesomeness of the bible. if someone who knew nothing of christianity picked up an old testament (or a new testament), they would be blown away. things happened – rains of blood, bushes on fire, golden calves, revelry, salome and her dance of the seven veils, solomon and his lust, bathsheba and her beauty, the brief mention of lillith (isaiah 34:14), pillars of salt, sodom and gomorrah, the ark, the flood, john’s head on a silver platter, the murder of egyptian babies, the mark of cain, the idea that men lived 996 years, the murder of all the babies, a virgin birth, a holy conception – things get odd and beautiful and totally unbelievable, and that is what writers do.

and maybe a part of me likes the rhythm and rule of religion – not the oppression, not the cruelty, not the acts committed in the name of religion, and not religion itself, because nobody should tell you who and how and when to worship. but the type-A person in me does warm to a set of rules, which disturbs me to admit.

above all, i like the language that religion uses. i don’t believe in the way that this same language has been used for awful, horrifying things in our day and age, but look at the songs of solomon for some beautiful inspiration, for age-old love poetry. look at the way god quakes and rages from the sky, raining shit down onto his miserable human creations. look at the biblical geneaology – the biblical names in themselves – methuselah, metatron, seraphiel, issachar, esau – things of oddness and beauty.

yes, religion has been wielded as a nasty, nasty, toxic weapon. but even i, a heretic, a lapsed catholic, a borderline-pagan, a sinner, a writer – even i have been rendered silent in its presence sometimes.

we’ll go into my fascination with the character of lucifer at a different time. i think this might be enough religion for one post.

in the name of christmas carols, here is a particularly disturbing one from annie lennox. she wanted to strip the holiday of its “gloss”. very often, at this “joyous” time of year, people who celebrate christmas forget that herod the great, the king of judea at the time of jesus’ birth, murdered all of the male babies (the holy innocents) in bethlehem when he heard of the new “king of the jews” (jesus.) it’s really an awful story, horrific, and this carol completely speaks to the grief of a mother whose baby is about to be killed because of herod’s decree.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert Hagedorn permalink
    December 27, 2010 2:57 pm

    Do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.


  1. Religion And Spirituality | TECHNOLOGY NEWS
  2. The Whole Bible: New Testament History

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