December 9, 2014

Religion: Serious Business

With a title like that, readers would expect another expose' on the murky world of religion as a business. There are other writers who've gone there and done that.
No, my take on the subject of religion is how serious it all is. As in lack of humor. In fact, it appears that religion and humor are considered as antithetical opposites, by many people.

The idea for this essay started when I was in a particularly reflective mood (serious, you might say) and had this insight that many of the people I know are similarly afflicted with an underdeveloped sense of humor. Why should that be?, I mused. Looking at my own family background, it was obvious that my parents tended to be very serious, responding to most domestic crises with outbursts of pandemonium rather than humor. The very thought of laughing at mistakes was quite unthinkable.

Why, tho, should they have been like that? was the more puzzling question. While there are several possible reasons, one stood out as most likely, when I looked around at the more serious folks in my purview. The common factor is that most of the serious types grew up in 'religious homes.' Homes where the parents were members of a religious society, a church, or temple.

Currently, there's a television series following a group of young people who've decided to leave their Amish community (one left a Mennonite colony). Unlike most young people, what one notices about these refugees is their general seriousness. Sure, they can still laugh-- but only a little, compared to their typical, worldly peers. And taking this extreme example, it's pretty clear why they are serious. You see how their parents, their elders and church leaders criticize and shun them for their normal attempts to want to see more of the 'real world.' You see how those good church folk pride themselves on maintaining a poker face in all circumstances. You see how they regard any display of levity as sinful indulgence of the flesh.

The Amish and similar cloistered religious enclaves serve to exemplify how the mind that is conditioned by ultra-orthodox or fundamentalist thinking cannot accommodate humor. As in so many other ways, these religious prigs cut themselves off from the harmless, even beneficial aspects of  human society. For certainly, humor has been found to be related to better emotional states, improved health, and superior coping with difficulties.

Even the Bible states (Prov 15:1): 'A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.' A gentle answer doesn't have to be humorous, necessarily; but a humorous answer is most likely gentle.

The major religions seem convinced that God is a humorless taskmaster, demanding perfection from fallible humans, and expecting elders and leaders to uphold only the strictest standards, in all seriousness, too. So, even for those souls who find their way to escape the figurative prisons of religion, the legacy of seriousness persists in their lives. As the saying goes: you can take the boy/girl out of religion, but you can't take the religion out of the boy/girl.

Now in my 'latter years,' I'm trying to find humor where I can, which is mostly in the little, everyday things. The big picture of the world in these apocalyptic years is much too serious to merit genuine laughter. But whenever possible, we should all try to resort to humor before getting our blood pressure soaring.

PS. I was going to try and write this as a funny story… but it's too serious to deal with that way!

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