‘Hallelujah!’ and hold your breath
I remember my first religious experience very clearly. It was at summer camp, when I was about 10 years old.We were killing time on a rainy afternoon and one of my fellow campers taught me how to knock myself unconscious by holding my breath.Following his instructions, I took 10 deep breaths, held the last one and pressed my hands against the sides of my throat.In a matter of moments, I was transported out of my body into a swirling cosmos of bright lights and shimmering colors. And through it all came a booming wrathful voice – clearly the voice of God, chastising me for whatever sins I had managed to rack up in my first decade of existence.Far too soon, the moment of religious ecstasy passed. My soul returned to my body and I regained consciousness.The wrathful voice turned out to be the camp counselor, understandably upset that one of his young charges had rendered himself unconscious and was lying on the floor twitching.Eventually his anger subsided. The rain stopped, we went out to play baseball and religion was, for the time being, left behind.But lately, with the Christian fundamentalists looking to dive-bomb us with 2-ton reproductions of the Ten Commandments and Muslim fundamentalists just looking to dive-bomb us, and the Religious Right fighting to ban gay marriage (perhaps in hopes of encouraging gay promiscuity, to speed the spread of God’s righteous wrath in the form of AIDS) … well, it just feels like maybe what we need is a new religion.Which brings me back to my summer camp experience.You see, religions thrive on taking control of our most basic, most urgent needs.For example, sex.Think about it for a moment: Why should belief in God automatically result in rules about sex? The connection between the two only seems obvious because most of our religions focus on it with a deathly fanaticism.Why? Well, forgive a moment of indelicacy, but as Lyndon Baines Johnson reportedly loved to say (in a different context), “When you got their peckers in your pocket, their hearts and minds will follow.”Or, if you prefer tacky Western metaphor to crude Texas folk wisdom: Once you lasso the raging stallion of lust, you can hitch him to your wagon and … oh, never mind. You get the idea.So religions make lots of rules about who can do what to whom and when and why and how – and they figure if they’ve got that under control, our hearts and minds will follow.But it’s not just sex.Religions love to make rules about food. Food!Jews can’t eat pork or cheeseburgers or lobster. Muslims can’t eat pork or drink alcohol. Catholics used to be barred from eating meat of any kind on Friday. Buddhists aren’t supposed to eat garlic. Hindus aren’t permitted to eat coconuts. (Hey, I read it on the Internet, it must be true.)Let’s see … no eating meat on Fridays – sure, that makes perfect sense as a religious practice. And no lobster. Absolutely -God hates crustaceans.Once again, you get the idea. If a religion can make you follow its rules about what you can eat and when you can eat it – well, by golly, they’ve got you hog-tied. (But don’t eat that hog!)So, getting back to where we began, it’s time for a new religion. To start with, no rules about food or sex. Your appetites are your own business.But we have some very strict rules about breathing.We must control our rampaging desires for the Evil Oxygen, thus sayeth the Lord. There ain’t no Oxygen in heaven, children. Follow in the Holy Footsteps and Hold your Nose!For the truly devout: No breathing on Tuesdays.For the recovering sinners, breathing just once every three minutes, every other Wednesday from 2:15 in the afternoon until sunset.Services will be held Monday at dawn at the Shrine of the Holy Blackout.Bring your own nose plugs.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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