As I might have mentioned, or maybe I didn't bother to tell y'all, I attended a funeral on Wednesday. (Not to worry, a friend of my parents with Alzheimer's disease, whose death was a long-awaited relief.) It happened at an old, very fancy Episcopal Church in an affluent Connecticut shoreline town. The pews were packed with elderly patricians, who collected at an old, very fancy yacht and country club for the reception.
The church (which is on the national register of historic places) is what they call High Church, meaning they lay on a lot of fancy rituals. It also happens to be the church I attended as a young child, where my uncle was the pastor and my mother taught Sunday school. It has been many years since I have experienced so much Christian folderol -- the last time was my uncle's funeral, in fact, in this very church, more than 20 years ago. What once seemed quite normal and perfectly sensible now seemed just plain bizarre and inexplicable.
People in medieval costumes came marching down the aisle holding useless but expensive objects -- a gold (plated I suppose?) cross and a crook on long carved staffs. They proceeded to wave around gold plated books and recite a whole lot of mumbo jumbo that was syntactically well-ordered but didn't actually mean anything. We all had to stand up and sit down and we were supposed to recite a lot of mumbo jumbo ourselves (although I did not), and then everybody had to line up to eat human flesh and drink human blood, although not really, it was just crackers and rotgut wine.
Making people assert beliefs or commitments out loud is a well-known psychological technique to cause actual belief. It really does work backwards from articulating the words to cognitive structure, I suppose because we don't want to make liars of ourselves. One of the incantations we were ordered to recite is called The Apostles Creed. For those of you who don't know it:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.
Some of this, arguably, has actual meaning in that it has referents in reality. Most of it, however, is just words that mean nothing. "He descended into hell?" "He ascended into heaven?" These places do not exist. What the hell (pardon me) does it mean to "judge" the dead? I can form my own judgments, much better than Jesus, who is dead, but the dead don't care. It's all a lot of gibberish.
All you need to do is get away from it for a while, stop reciting it, and its power quickly fades. After a while, it's just laughable.