The Religion Of Oliver Willis

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So here's a startling observation: religion is contentious. That's why they pay me the big bucks, folks. Well, considering the kind of conversation that gets started up every time I derisively link to one of the new "militant atheists" (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and now Christopher Hitchens) I thought it was worth letting you all know where I'm coming from on this issue. Yes, it's a very special OliverWillis.com.

I was born in 1977, and christened in the Anglican church which is the church of many people in Jamaica, including my mom. She's a strong believer, but not in what I would term a "crazy" way. She raised me with her beliefs which essentially boil down to being a good person, praying for others and giving thanks to God. I moved to Jamaica at about the age of four and attended a Catholic elementary school. We had a bible study class and you learn about the twelve disciples and mostly Genesis and a few of the morality stories (like Lot and the wife turning into salt and Jonah's technicolor robe and the like). Like most kids, I believe what I'm told and taught. It isn't like we're doing hardcore fundamentalist things. You pray before meals, you try not to sin but you don't go around whipping yourself like the albino guy from DaVinci Code.

Some cracks in the armor appear when my Mom decided that we were going to go to church on Sundays. It's not that I start lashing out, but that I start falling asleep. So much so that (and this is according to my Mom and not my memories) I snore loudly in the middle of the service. As a result, we stop going. To this day I don't really get the whole going to church thing. If God is the omnipotent being he's billed as, why do you have to go to a specific building every week and have the reverend/pastor/whatever give you a new spin on "don't sin"? So, we're not churchgoers.

I get a little older and discover I love science. DANGER WILL ROBINSON! DANGER! This is where things get a little dicey. I can't reconcile the Garden Of Eden and the prehistoric era. I ask my mom why there's nothing about dinosaurs in the bible, and did they come before or after Adam and Eve. In my mind at the time, everything was fused. Much like the Crisis On Infinite Earths I sought to mush everything into one coherent storyline. As I got older I understood the impossibility of this all.

Eventually, science wins out. I realize as my studies go that a lot of the stuff in the bible was invented or just out and out wrong/impossible. But I don't give up on the concept of God. I figure, okay, maybe the Bible's taken a little dramatic license but probably the "guts" of it are valid. While the God of the Old Testament seems like something of a dick (He's always testing people and screwing them royally when they don't seem to "love" him enough), the God/Jesus stuff in the New Testament with all it's sixties-style love and happiness feels like a cool enough thing to work towards. Coming up into my teens I've strayed from my mother's concept of it all and essentially created my own personal Jesus. I pick and choose, I admit, assuming that if God exists He thinks all the formality and ritual surrounding religion is pretty silly. I mean, really, does God hear the prayers of an older black woman better if she's wearing a really sharp dress and fantastic looking hat? I just don't see it. And if he does? That's pretty superficial for the Ultimate Being.

Crisis. Twelve years ago this month (June, 1995) my Mom had a heart attack. She had blockage in one of her arteries and required angioplasty. During the angioplasty her vein broke and she had to have emergency bypass surgery.

Let me backtrack a bit here. Everyone thinks their mother is great, but mine truly is. She is the most selfless and caring person I've ever known. She cares for everyone and won't think twice to help a stranger. Being like that has burned her a million times and she persists to be this good person to this day.

I remember the moment quite clearly. I was walking down the street from the hospital where my mom was (it was just around the corner from our house) and I made sure to say out loud that God could go screw himself. Maybe everyone thinks like this when their family goes through a major medical crisis, but I just couldn't reconcile this apparently great deity in the bible with the pain my mother was going through. And she wasn't just a Joe Schmoe but one of the true believers, you would think that if any person would be spared, it would be her. But she wasn't. So, I figured if God did exist he was an ass I wouldn't want to be associated with and more than likely he just didn't exist.

She had a totally different take on the issue. The entire episode made her belief stronger. She belives the entire episode was a wake-up call and God is the one to thank for allowing her to survive it and live to this day. I still don't agree with her, but believe she's got a right to see it her way as I saw it my way.

Since then I've identified myself as agnostic. I figure that I don't know the secrets of the universe and I don't believe those who profess to without hard evidence to back them up. But I also think things happen for a reason. I don't think there's a God determining if you wake up on the left or right side of your bed, but I also like to think that the entire purpose of man is not to be born, procreate then die and decay in the ground. Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but I don't see a reason to get up in the morning if that's it to life. I think life has purpose and we should try our best to be good people while we're here. I like to think that when you die the good gets weighed against the bad and you go to the good place forever or the bad place. Whether this involves angels, wings, St. Peter, the devil and Hell I have no clue and think life's too short to waste time gaming it all out. If there's a God or something like it, I don't think he/she/it wants us to spend so much of our lives fixated on what happens after we die.

I'm always suspicious of religion when it gets organized, or when leaders or nations claim to have the deity on their side because that usually ends up excusing some horribly immoral behavior. I don't believe in foisting belief systems on people, and certainly believe that in America our leaders are entitled to their beliefs but the line stops at them imposing those beliefs on the rest of us - even to people who may share their God.

To sum up - I don't think God was really actively rooting for Tony Dungy in the Superbowl. But I think that the Universal Power was pleased when Doug Williams threw four touchdowns in one quarter in January of 1987.

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