I was checking in at the doctor’s office a couple of days ago and the receptionist asked if I wanted to note my religion in the file. No one had ever asked that before. Maybe they’ve got a new block to fill in or something. In any case, the question caught me off guard. I’ve spent very little time pondering the issue as an adult. Sure, I was raised Methodist, but even back then I was more interested in hanging out at Scotty’s on Sunday morning to watch and listen to the grand old men of my hometown smoking their cigarettes, talking shit, and drinking copious amounts of coffee than I was in whatever was happening in Sunday school or church.
Like the poet said, “Mama tried to raise me better,” but the formality of institutional church never really took hold in me. The older I got as a kid, the more my Sunday learning took place right there in the side booth of the best and only greasy spoon restaurant in town. Over the years, Scotty’s and the people in it have become a core memory, likely even foundational to how I think of myself as a person.
None of that answers the question about what religion the nice lady at the doctor’s office should write down, though. It’s not like I could ask her to put me down as a disciple of the Scotsman’s Church of the Sacred Sausage Sandwich or a parishioner of the Midland Temple of the Holy Cheeseburger, French Fries with Brown Gravy, and Strawberry Milkshake. Although, it’s the 21st century, so maybe I could have them plug that into my file without much argument.
The real answer is probably more complex. I tend to believe in the things I can see or taste or touch. I’ve never seen God or Jesus or an angel or any of the thousands of other gods scattered across human history. It’s awfully hard to prove a negative, though. My lack of seeing those things isn’t proof against their existing somewhere in the unknown universe.
If I had to distill my philosophy of religion into a single salient point, I think there’s probably just one universal commandment: Don’t be an asshole. If you can navigate life without doing that, or doing it as little as reasonably possible, I expect you’ll have done well in the eyes of an almighty. If that doesn’t satisfy some all-powerful sky lord, well, honestly that sounds like it’s more his problem than yours anyway.
So yeah, I stumbled on my response this week… but I think I know what I’m going to say the next time anyone asks.