Recently I made fun of keeping kosher – including the absurd practice of getting around a prohibition of lighting a fire on the Sabbath by starting an oven ahead of time and disabling its light bulb.
Some commenters gave me heat for ridiculing this practice of observant Jews, even though I was careful to point out that I wasn't singling out Judaism. Every fundamentalist religious practice deserves to be laughed at.
I replied to one comment with:
Like I said, I'm an equal opportunity ridiculer. I particularly enjoy ridiculing my own previous unsupported beliefs.
So now let's have some laughs at my expense. Here's a partial list of what I used to hold near and dear when I was an unquestioning Radha Soami Satsang Beas true believer. This is part of the RSSB version of "keeping kosher."
-- Initiated disciples (satsangis) were supposed to meditate 2 ½ hours a day. I'd set a timer on my watch. Before midnight I'd make sure that it registered 150 minutes of meditation time. Sometimes I'd stare at the seconds going by until I could hit the stop button after the magic 150th minute passed. Not exactly deep concentrated meditation, but I was precisely obeying the letter of the RSSB law, which gave me great fundamentalist satisfaction.
--Like most other satsangis, I believed that food blessed by the guru was really special. I'd treasure little bags of blessed puffed rice or granulated sugar that initiates would bring back from India to share. I'd string out the supposed spiritual benefit of consuming this parshad by eating a teeny bit every morning before I meditated. If any spilled, I'd eat it off the floor, along with any dust or dirt it might have attracted. After all, it was holy!
--Eggs weren't permitted to be eaten on the RSSB vegetarian diet. Even non-fertilized eggs, since these were still considered to be potential instruments of conveying life. So buying new items in a grocery store went slowly. I'd read every ingredient to make sure there weren't any eggs in the product. When I got older and couldn't see as well, I'd pass an item up if the fine print was illegible. For if I ate a smidgen of egg white, I'd have sinned!
--At first there was no problem with cheese. But then my guru died, and his successor decided that animal rennet was a no-no. Satsangis put great effort into researching cheese brands to distinguish those that were theologically pure from those that weren't. Great fun (not!) for hapless waiters who'd be asked by an initiate, "Your pizza looks good. But before I order could you check and see whether the cheese on it has animal rennet?" (What the [email protected]#$% ? would be the evident reaction, but we didn't care, because even a speck of "non-kosher" cheese could ruin your good karma. How'd we know? The guru said so.)
--I followed the RSSB injunction against drinking alcohol for more than thirty years. With a single lapse at my 10-year high school reunion that was just too freaking weird to get through completely sober. As I wrote about before, I felt morally superior to anyone who'd I see having a drink, especially a "lapsed" satsangi. So rigid spiritual practice doesn't lead to humility – I can testify to that.
Fortunately, my second wife (who I married in 1990) wasn't a RSSB initiate. Almost from the moment we met Laurel would kid me about how seriously I took my sacred satsangi vows.
She could do a damn fine Saturday Night Live "Church Lady" imitation. "You're doomed, Brian, doomed, if you eat an egg white!" Laurel would intone. "You're going straight to hell if your lips touch that piece of cake!"
This could get mildly irritating at times. But looking back, I'm grateful that Laurel wasn't shy about making gentle fun of me. Over the years her kidding began to sound more like wisdom than ridicule. She helped open my eyes to the unthinking dogmatism with which I held certain beliefs.
Right now I'm sipping a glass of red wine as I sit on our deck, enjoying a warm summer evening in the company of some beautiful Oregon countryside, a wi-fi laptop, and my current churchless sentiments.
I can smile at what I once believed without regretting having held those beliefs so firmly. Like the cliché says, It's all good.
Yet also worthy of ridicule, if some of that "all" is ridiculous.