Friday, March 20, 2009

"Thank God..."

"Thank God you never let a drink of alcohol touch your lips."

I heard those words coming out of the mouth of my 17-year-old foster son last night.

Earlier that day, I went with Glen to the Department of Motor Vehicles, where we got him his learner's permit. "Now you have a license to be a menace to society," I joked. He's really excited to get behind the wheel and start learning to drive.

We came home and got a bite to eat, and then he started on homework while I went to work on my latest writing project. Göran arrived home later than usual, around 8:00 p.m. That's the time of night we usually watch an episode or two of a favorite TV show before going to bed.

"South Park or Six Feet Under?" I asked.

Göran voted for the goofy-looking round-headed cartoon kids with potty mouths. Glen voted for the dysfunctional family in the mortuary business. I had the swing vote, and I was OK with either, so we had to negotiate a little bit until we finally settled on Six Feet Under. Somehow, in the course of discussing television choices, Glen mentioned how his father would habitually come home drunk on beer, grab the TV remote from his young son, and change the channel on him, without asking -- or caring -- what he wanted to watch. And that was when those words came out of his mouth.

"Thank God you never let a drink of alcohol touch your lips."

A day earlier, we had had a different sort of conversation. We watched Bill Maher's Religulous a couple of weeks ago, and Glen has, in imitation of the comedian, I suppose, taken to asking "What good is religion to the world?" He asked that question the night before last.

"Well," I ventured lamely, "The end of slavery? The emancipation of women?" I attempted to discuss the role of Christianity and Christian ideals in the modern-day world-wide legal ban on human bondage, and in the emergence of the concept of women's rights in the West. As a student of religious history, I could speak about this with some authority. Though I knew that whatever "good" religion had accomplished in these realms was also counterbalanced by such delightful phenomena as the Biblical defense of slavery and the medieval Christian debate over whether women have souls. And both Glen and I knew what, in the name of religion, has been done, is being done to us -- to me and Göran as a gay couple -- and us as a family. I knew that whatever good I could think to say about the accomplishments of "religion" per se is counterbalanced, perhaps even outweighed, by the evil religion has been used to justify.

The truth of the matter is, religion is for the most part apostate. Its day-to-day, ordinary uses consist of providing us an excuse to feel superior to others, or worse, of offering us routines, rituals, and doctrinal formulations that we can use as blinders or shields against the demands of God upon us. The demands of mercy, love, and justice. Most religion is what the Book of Mormon describes as the Church of the Devil. Even the truest of the true religions lends itself to these hideous uses.

But then there were those words of Glen about alcohol never touching my lips. That's a demand of religion too. And that to me was a concrete illustration of the value of faith, because when I gave up alcohol for good a few years ago, I honestly saw nothing wrong in an occasional drink or two. It was an act of faith, in response to a prompting of the Spirit. In my mind, it seemed an odd gesture. Drinking, I told myself, was not bad in itself, only its misuse. Abstinence from alcohol is a religious requirement of the LDS Church, but I can't be a member of the Church, so why should I feel bound by its restrictions? I had only considered living the Word of Wisdom again because my bishop had suggested it to me, and, in the wake of his suggestion, the Spirit had prompted me. So I did it. And I've even taken a lot of flak for it since, from friends and from my spouse. And I couldn't offer much to defend myself except to say that I felt it was what I needed to do.

And then last night I learned, in that passing phrase from my 17-year-old foster son, about the nature of trust between a father and a son. How in one relationship, alcohol had become a kind of anesthetic that made a father insensitive to the needs of a son. And how, in another relationship, the refusal to let alcohol so much as touch my lips was a kind of promise I didn't even know I'd made.

If there's any good at all in religion, it's in the training that it gives us to make and keep those kinds of promises.

1 comment:

Duck said...

Dear John,

Being able to keep promises made and being able to keep one's committed word are SO important. These are SUCH huge things in MY life.

I work very hard at NOT promising things I KNOW will not be kept, especially to children and young people. They HAVE to know they can count on me when I say something. I want them to know they can depend on me EXACTLY.

And, I feel it is the same for you, especially with your son, G.

Thank you for your posts. I really like your style of writing and the things you share.

Happy day! Duck