Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

“Cleanliness is next to godliness, or so they say. I’ve been next to godliness though and there’s nothing clean about it. It’s filthy, dirty, stained,” he would have laughed, but instead he frowned. It should have been a joke, but it didn’t come out like that.

“Stained?” she looked a little shocked. “That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?”

“Stained is an appropriate word, I think, because it sticks with you.” He frowned a little, gathering his thoughts. “ If working behind the scenes at a theatre destroys the magic of show business for you, then just imagine what a peek behind the curtain at a church does for your soul. Deception, that’s another good word for it. The deception of others isn’t the worst of it though; it’s the deception of self that stains your soul.”

“In what way, though?” she replied. “Can’t someone just have genuine faith?”

“No, not within organised religion,” he shook his head, “not if they’re truly intelligent. It’s necessary for any intelligent, free thinking person to enter into a Faustian bargain based on self-delusion when seeking to make a living while working at a religious institution. I know, I know, that’s a deeply offensive statement to most people, but look at it this way…how many of the core beliefs of any given religion can you, as an intelligent human being, honestly accept as literal truth?”

“Literal truth?” she laughed and shook her head. “Why literal truth? Why does that matter? Why not allegory or metaphor?”

He sighed, a long, deep, world weary sigh, “because to work within organised religion you will be dealing with people, on a daily basis, who accept the most ridiculous things as literal truth. Not only that, but it will be your job to accept that. No, not just accept that, but to actively sell these notions to them as literal truth.”

“But why?” she was still confused. “Why not teach them that religion interprets the world through allegory and metaphor? Why not explain that it’s attempting to enlighten followers to the human condition, to explain something to ourselves about our basic nature; rather than presenting a scientific, literal version of actual factual events?”

“Because most people can’t and won’t understand that,” he explained. “It’s easier and more comforting to believe that it’s literal truth.”

“So why does that make it dirty?” she asked, craftily steering him back to his original point. “What’s so unclean about it?”

“It’s a lie,” he replied, simply. “It’s a lie told for personal gain. It starts out innocently enough, you start out believing that you’re called of God and doing the right thing, but ultimately you end up lying to people.”

“Why?” she seemed sad. “Why not just tell them the truth?”

“People don’t want the truth,” he told her. “People want a nice, comforting lie. So you tell it to them, and they give you money. And then you realise that you can specifically tailor the lie so that they will give you more money. Before you know it you’re in this unspoken conspiracy to part vulnerable people from their cash. You never say it, you never so much as articulate the thought, but deep down you know it’s true. And it sticks with you, that lie. It sticks with you knowing that people struggled to get by each month because they were giving money to a lie you sold them. That people left friends and family behind because you promised them that things would get better if they clung to an untruth.”

“So why not just tell them the truth?” she asked.

“Oh, I did, “ he smiled, although his eyes were filled with sadness. “In the end.”

“And what happened?”

“They hated me for it.”

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Ian Sharman
Ian is a freelance writer and artist. He founded Orang Utan Comics Studio with Peter Rogers in 2006, writes for their Eagle Award Nominated anthology Eleventh Hour and regularly inks for Panini’s Marvel Heroes comic.
Ian Sharman

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