I had just come from an experience that preyed upon me in ways that are hard to describe. I had seen a common sight – the true Faith knocked down and a false one set mockingly in its place. I often see this at suburban Masses, but today I saw it up close, outside of Mass. I won’t go into details, but it had disturbed me.
At any rate, I was walking and feeling better, but something was nagging at me, a little devil, the kind of devil who has gained the world but lost his soul. Devils who do this get very smug. If you show any kind of faith around them, they smile condescendingly at your naivety. If you show any kind of enthusiasm, they patiently endure your childishness. They sneer at hope, since the only emotion for the truly sophisticated is a tired cynical ennui. Belief and trust in anything is simply the symptom of immaturity and a lack of education, you see.
And, of course, the world drags you down on its own. We don’t even need the help of devils. The daily and hourly grinding away of inertia, the assault of selfishness that persists at every waking moment – the persistent selfishness of others and the stunning and dumbfounding selfishness we find in our own hearts, if we admit it.
I was walking and rehearsing my lines. I am appearing in six different productions in the next six weeks and I have to keep my lines fresh, and the best way for me to do that is to go on hikes in the woods or long walks in the city and recite my lines aloud. Today I was in the city, and I found myself beside a Mormon church, sitting high on a hill above the sidewalk.
And that’s just another mild assault. On the one hand, the Mormon faith is outlandish, contrived, ridiculous, clearly made-up; on the other, Mormons are very concerned about their families and have held to Catholic teaching on the sinfulness of pornography, masturbation and contraception far better than Catholics have. Weird as they are, they are generally good people – but … but there’s something creepy about that church on that hill, about that belief; something creepy about that devil who smirks at my faith and who sees no difference between the shocking thunderbolt of the New Testament and the L. Ron Hubbard-ish inanity of the Book of Mormon.
And the sky was gray and the neighborhood in decline. The older houses are sometimes abandoned and even the Protestant churches are closing and consolidating due to lack of attendance – but who can be fed at these Protestant churches? Who can be fed at most Catholic Masses, the way they’re typically run? And that big Mormon church up on that hill – that big ugly Mormon church and the who-knows-what is going on in there. Is this where all faith leads – was Freud right that all religion was an illusion, moronic wishful thinking? Or is it worse even than Freud imagined – far from stretching our souls even by means of a wish and a desire to embrace the truth, beauty and goodness that is all about us and that transcends us, does religion actually drag us down, fill our heads with soporific condolences that are, in truth, ugly bulky lies that do nothing but burden us and blind us?
All religions are the same, after all, aren’t they? They are all equally true – which is a kind of way of saying they are all equally false. “Believe” if it helps you; “to believe” is an intransitive verb, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter what you believe in – just believe. We all need help, after all – drink, drugs, sex, power, money. Even love is false, or that stirring of hormones and chemicals that we call love. Just keep on keeping on as the universe itself slowly winds down and all things in it swirl with a funny sucking sound down the eternal drain of existence. If there is a God, he pulled the plug out long ago.
Above all, be nice – even to those people who take good things and twist them to their own uses. Because that’s all any of us does with anything, isn’t it?
As all these thoughts were passing through my head, as I glanced at the ugly Mormon church high above me, I said aloud a line from a special on J.R.R. Tolkien that I’m about to film at EWTN (one of the six shows I’m performing in the next six weeks) …
The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. Its head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used.
Suddenly, caught by the level beams [of the setting sun], Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. “Look, Sam!” he cried, startled into speech. “Look! The king has got a crown again!”
The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.
“They cannot conquer for ever!” said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone. The Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black night fell.
They cannot conquer forever.