Jack McDougal’s Article: “Jesus Christ and the Three Bears”
Written by Nick Lingnofski
Jesus Christ and the Three Bears: A Tale of Religion vs. Rationalism in a New World
By Jack MacDougal
Religion is a force. It is a way of life. It can wield unbridled power. It can feed the hungry. It can bring peace, joy and happiness to the many or the few. It can give comfort in times of pain. It can also destroy lives in a matter of seconds. It is directly responsible for the deaths of countless human beings. It is a way to create division and war between families and nations. But most importantly, religion is an impossible, unprovable truth that the world should consider forgetting forever.
Firstly, I want everyone to know that this piece is a commentary. I have a point of view that many (if not most) of you will find upsetting. I am not here to start a war on religion. I am here to ask serious questions about the world we live in. Please note that the thoughts and feelings herein do not directly reflect the views of my editor or publisher. They are simply my own. Proceed at your own risk.
Religion is an idea that we believe has been with us since the very beginnings of man. We have evidence of ritualistic and religious behaviors going back over 300,000 years. We have seen the burial sites of the homo sapiens and the bear totems of the Neanderthal. We all know of the ancient gods of the Egyptians, the Romans and the Greeks. We classify these things now as mythology, but why? Because we know better? Of course. Our modern general world couldn’t possibly believe in Zeus or Olympus, or in the rainbow bridges of Asgard and Thor’s mighty hammer. We laugh and treat these as the stories and fairy tales of a time long past while we whisper our hypocritical prayers into our pillows at night to the one true God of our modern religious world, who certainly can’t be considered a non-existent mythical deity. Why? Why indeed.
I come from a religious family. My mother was Italian Catholic, my father Irish Catholic. She was devout; mass every Sunday (and sometimes in between), no meat on Fridays, Grace before every meal. My father was less devout than she, at least back then. He respected religion from a distance, living as he did as a working man and former soldier, missing most Sundays at the parish to go into work at his drug store or to watch football with his war buddies at the bar.
Then, when I was a young boy, religion also tore my family apart. I came home after spending a night at a friend’s house to find that my mother had left my father and sisters and I. The death of her third child (an older brother to me who had passed after only living a few days) had weighed on her mind for years, pulling her deeper and deeper into the depths of guilt and pain. She believed that God had spoken to her; that he had told her that she needed to leave her home and family to go become a cloistered nun to make up for her child’s death. This was a concept my seven-year-old mind was incapable of understanding. I merely saw it as the death of my family as I had known it since I could remember.
This, as you can imagine, colored my attitude toward religion at that young age. My father did his best to defend her faith and reasoning over the following years, but even I could see that he felt anger and frustration over her decision. After that, religion became more of a memory in my house than a practice. My father’s mother moved in with us and became our surrogate mother. She cooked and cleaned, took care of us children and our needs, and quietly practiced her own faith in the quiet prayers she said to herself before meals and bed.
I grew up a precocious child, to my father’s alternating delight and intense frustration. I learned from an early age to think for myself and to question everything. My father encouraged me to read and to watch the news, to know what was going on with the world. I learned how to ask a lot of questions, and I learned how to argue. I questioned and argued my way through my childhood and adolescence. I became known in the teachers’ lounge of my Catholic school as “that MacDougal boy”. That boy who would put his hand up to ask so many questions during religion classes that the teachers eventually stopped calling on him. I began to develop my adult attitude toward religion back then. My basic attitude? Question everything.
After high school I was drafted into the military and served over five years in the killing fields of Vietnam. I was part of the clean-up squad: a group of infantry men whose mission was to clean up after battles. We were tasked with finding and identifying the dead, though for the most part this was a futile practice due to the level of violence we were facing. Often, we’d only find parts of our men; parts too small and decimated to make any identification. I realized in those fields that I did not believe in God. No God could allow the terrors I saw to happen.
When I returned from the war I came home to find my father suicidal. He was in the throes of alcoholism and depression. His mother had passed while I was away, his store was destroyed in the Newark Riots, and I arrived home from the airport on Thanksgiving to find my father with a gun in his mouth. Thankfully I found and stopped him before he could kill himself. That night we spoke about my mother for the first time in years. I also told my father that I couldn’t stay. I told him I had to move forward and make my own life. To his credit, he let me go without too much of a fight, but I felt so much guilt leaving him like that. I only knew that I had just escaped the hell of Vietnam, and I couldn’t be forced into a life of rescuing my father.
He and I didn’t see much of each other over the next year, despite the fact that we only lived an hour away from each other by train or bus. I arrived the next Thanksgiving to find a new man. He seemed happy and healthy. He looked better than I had seen him in twenty years. And he proceeded to tell me that he had become a Charismatic Catholic and he was attending church. Then he IMMEDIATELY began to evangelize me. He began to tell me what was wrong with my life and tried to share the “good news of the Lord” with me. He warned me that I was destined for hell unless I changed my ways and turned to Jesus. He began to ram all of this down my throat with such intensity that I had to get the hell out of there.
As time passed, his devotion grew and so did his efforts. He alienated our entire family trying to save us all. He told my sister that her children were going to hell. He told me I was DEFINITELY going to hell unless I changed and fast. He and I began to argue intensely about this each and every time we saw each other. It became known as the “God talk” and I knew I was going to have to face it every time I saw him. I would argue about science and fact and he would counter with faith. Faith, which I affectionately began referring to as “the suspension of practical thinking”. This didn’t sit well with my father, as you might imagine. Our talks became more heated and angry, and soon I stopped going home very much. I decided that it was better to let him have this and I just wouldn’t see him very much anymore. After all, he was doing better, wasn’t he? He was sober. He had a woman in his life for the first time in decades (a woman from his church) who he seemed to love very much. He seemed to want to live in that reality, so I decided to let him.
Then, earlier this year, my father told me he had been diagnosed with cancer. It had been several weeks and he hadn’t told anyone else. He then told me that though he had initially seen a doctor when he was diagnosed, he wanted to move forward with a strict treatment plan of prayer. PRAYER. No medicine, just prayer. It seemed to me at the time he might just be afraid of what the treatment might do to him.
I was so angry with him. I screamed and I yelled at him, telling him how ridiculous he was being. I hollered louder and louder about how irresponsible he was being, and he fought back equally with his religious rhetoric. I ended up throwing him out of my house in frustration. A few weeks later I visited him and he told me that he and Angie (now his fiancée) were moving forward with their plans to fight cancer with prayer. Again, our talk got angry and ended with one of us leaving out of spite.
After that I began to obsess over this subject. I would lie awake at night and read all of the religious books my father had given me over the years; books that I assured him I would never open. I needed to find some truth in what he was saying. I needed to be able to prove to myself that my father was not making the worst and biggest mistake of his life. I dedicated myself almost entirely to this pursuit, and by the end of two months I had read 17 theological books including the Bible cover to cover. In the beginning I had flashes of a feeling I might call a mixture of fear and hope, fearing and hoping that I might find I had been wrong for all these years. Would I suddenly discover a new life of faith? Would I somehow get over my logical way of thinking and release my heart to God?
As I read further and further, I only became more resolute in my father’s foolishness. Then my focus broadened. Why, in this age of advancement in science and technology, is our world still living in the ancient past with our fingers stuck firmly in our ears and our eyes shut tight? I haven’t been able to find an answer to that question or to any of my questions in those books, but I have come to my own conclusions, as my father would tell you I’m prone to do.
I have a lot of questions for you religious folks out there in the world.
How, for instance, can you and the modern world refer to the ancient religions as mythical, and at the same time absolutely MISS the fact that the world religions of today are based on the same basic ideas (one or many gods who look after us and take care of us from afar, who hold us in judgment and control each minute aspect of our lives from their lofty thrones in the sky)? Why is yours more real than theirs?
How can you possibly think that there is an all-knowing, all-powerful being floating in the air above us who literally can hear you (along with everyone else in the world simultaneously) as you whisper your deepest desires and prayers into your pillow before you fall asleep? Isn’t that completely narcissistic and delusional?
How can you completely deny the advantages and facts of scientific advancement and medicine, deciding instead to rely on the COMPLETELY unprovable and ridiculous practice of prayer? Doesn’t that seem foolish to you?
How can you believe that there is a heaven somewhere in the air above us and a hell somewhere below us, and that we will be going to one of these two places after you die? How do you know we don’t just die?
How can you believe that there is a God who cares about you and your parking space or your Christmas bonus or your team winning the Super Bowl, who doesn’t seem to care about the little 2-year-old boy dying of cancer in the hospital?
How can you think there is an all-knowing and all-powerful and loving God above while millions are murdered in His name? Wouldn’t he want to stop it? Is that just His plan? Is it? Or is it just life?
I realize I will be making many of you upset with my words. I will be called out as a heretic and a blasphemer. My name will be dragged through the mud. My way of life may be impacted, simply for the beliefs that I hold. The beliefs that I am granted the freedom to have. As you are granted the freedom to have yours. But here is where we differ:
I am not trying to evangelize or convert you. I know I won’t be able to.
My thought and beliefs are based on solid scientific fact.
I don’t wage wars and murder innocent people in the name of “no God”.
I don’t belittle you and tell you that I worry about you because you believe in God.
Why is acceptable to do all of these things in the name of a supreme being who is supposedly here to take care of us? Why do we believe so desperately in something that, when looked at objectively, seems so completely ridiculous? Isn’t it time for the modern world to take a step back? Shouldn’t we stop and ask the questions? Shouldn’t we challenge the flaws? The discrepancies? The hypocrisy? Again, I’m not asking any of you to stop believing in God. I’m asking why you won’t allow me not to. Isn’t it really time?