Thursday, October 11, 2012

Consumer Reports: Religion

In this country, the magazine "Consumer Reports" offers monthly assessments of cars, appliances, electronics and ... well, whatever stuff consumers consume. While the magazine's reports do include "customer satisfaction" ratings, the publication's value lies in the fact that they do some in-house testing to find out how much of the manufacturer's hype stands up to scrutiny. No one wants to spend a lot of money on something based solely on the fact that lots of other people say it's really good or really bad. When it comes to major outlays, it's nice to have someone who actually kicked the tires and found them sound or lackluster.

Back in the day when I had three kids and was into buying stuff, Consumer Reports was a part of my go-to research. I didn't ask for perfection -- the perfect promise perfectly kept -- but I found the magazine more reliable than four-color advertising. I wanted to get some bead on whether a purchase actually performed, how long it might perform, how its costs compared to the costs of similar products, and how many repairs might reasonably be expected.

Today I wonder whether it might be nice for Consumer Reports to do an issue on religion... to lay out the performance and expenses and comparative reliabilities ... what's defective and what purrs, not according to customer satisfaction, but using some freely-admitted yardsticks that might gauge a good purchase.

I haven't got the research energy to comb through every holy text in every religion I can think of, but I just went to, a site that allows the visitor the opportunity to type in a particular phrase and get results as they appear in the Bible.

I typed in "Jesus laughed." I got this response:

Keyword search results
0 Results

As I say, I haven't got the energy or interest to try this yardstick out on the Koran or Talmud or Upanishads or Tripitaka (using appropriate names to replace "Jesus"), but I doubt if I would have much better luck. Hindus, as the old guys on the religious block, would probably provide a happy result -- they've been around longer than the others and their tales have some wonderfully wry and self-deprecating humor.

I'm not trying to suggest that laughter should be the only kick-the-tires yardstick for one religion or another, but seriously ... who wants a religion that lacks laughter on the part of its chief expositors? It sounds positively defective to me.

No one ever signed on to a religion because they were so damned happy. Mostly there's a sense that something is missing and probably threatening, something over which the petitioner has no control or no understanding and yet, duck-and-cover, here comes the tsunami  or other unwanted surprise. The future arrives and it's not at all what anyone might wish, perhaps. Womb-gloom-tomb... and people look to religion to lighten the load.

And yet what lightens the load more than laughter? How can you credit a man or woman who won't or can't or doesn't laugh? In a world of tears and uncertainty, who would not give a nickel and a dime for the freedom of an up-close-and-personal laugh ... and if religious expositors cannot or do not embody that freedom, how well is the car likely to run?

Everyone interested in spiritual adventure chooses his or her appropriate yardsticks. I'm not suggesting mine are better. But a spiritual life without a down-home belly laugh strikes me as buying a Go Kart when you were looking for a limousine.

In "Alice in Wonderland," there was the enigmatic Cheshire Cat ... a creature that smiled and then bit by bit disappeared until all that was left ... was the smile.

The Cheshire Cat

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