In a series of columns written for The Mountain Views (Observer), which are cached on The Sierra Madre News Net site, former Sierra Madre Councilman and Mayor Glenn Lambdin revealed himself to be a man seemingly in the throes of a searing struggle not only with religion, but perhaps even God Himself. In his Losing My Religion essays, Glenn lays out his spiritual denouement this way:
"I've recently come to the conclusion that I've lost my religion. After spending twenty years as a fundamentalist Christian, and the last six years dissecting and re-evaluating my faith, it's time for me to admit that I have lost my religion. The very institution that guaranteed me eternal bliss now guarantees me an eternity of torment, sorrow, and gnashing of teeth. I am a heretic ..."
Definitely not the kind of thing you get from most politicians.
Men of God losing their faith is an ages old theme in religious thought, and endless literature has been dedicated to the topic. And it is no surprise that as a person begins the final chapters of his existence he might begin to question things that until now had been held close. The need for rejuvenation is a constant in life, and occasionally straying from one's faith in search of greater meaning, particularly during so late a passage, is hardly uncommon.
But that said, there seems to be something very different about Glenn's struggle with his faith. This is no mere case of navel gazing, or wandering the hills looking for spiritual inspiration in the fields and flowers. No, there is a distinct layer of rage in this, as if God has somehow let this lost seeker down, and for that the shepherd cannot be forgiven by the lamb.
"Something has gone hay-wire (sic) with religion. The same pool of religious thought that brought the world Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is (the) same pool of thought that, in practice, has forced humanity to suffer millenniums of unthinkable atrocities of hate, murder, torture, bigotry, slavery, or worse."
Worse than millenniums of murder, torture, and slavery? The mind recoils.
Blaming God or His teachings for the works of man is an intellectual failing that I'm sure Glenn's religious instructors hoped he'd have gotten past by now. While there are certainly those who attempted to justify their evil deeds as being works of God, none ever really withstood the test of time. And though Glenn may have willed himself to believe that religion is responsible for the bad things he catalogs above, has he also taken into account the hospitals, the schools and great universities, the many beautiful houses of worship, or the countless millions of acts of love and charity that also found their genesis in religion? Apparently not. Would civilization have evolved to the point it has without the moral and ethical compass set for us by the great religious thinkers and philosophers?
Back in the day I had been a party to discussions such as this. But the venue was hardly the city adjudicated newspaper. Rather it was a college dorm room stocked with beer and other equally inspiring effluents. And I even turned to a few liquid varieties this rainy evening as I struggled to put my finger on what exactly it is that Glenn's bleak screeds bring to mind. And then it dawned on me. Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, the tightly wrapped and troubled warrior prince of the film classic Apocalypse Now. In his famous "horror" soliloquy, Marlon Brando, who played the part of Kurtz, delivered these lines:
"It is impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror is. Horror. Horror has a face ... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. ... Horror ... And I remembered I cried. I wept like a grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out ..."
Great film, but with a truly bizarre hippy philosophy lesson tacked to the end. Oh, and ouch on the teeth thing.
Where Glenn's whole premise collapses into an overheated heap is when he attempts to assign the blame for his personal spiritual crisis on something other than himself. In this case the terror attacks of 9-11.
"The events of Sept. 11, 2001, saw the Western media portraying the men who hijacked the planes and killed thousands of innocent people as crazed lunatics and cowards. In fact these men were neither. What these men were was faithful. Men of faith - faithful to ancient writings and hatreds that have been passed down to them ..."
Look, it is one thing to experience a hiccup in your spiritual journey. Happens to even the best of us, and it is our lot in life to deal with it. What goes on in the hearts of most isn't always pretty, or without fear, doubt, or pain. Or free of questions about one's purpose in a world that can seem chaotic and destructive to all we hold dear. But when a person makes a decidedly provocative public assault on religion, and then turns around and blames it all on the brutal actions of a few deranged individuals, then we are talking about an entirely different set of issues.
The line between troubled man of faith and cranky village atheist can be a thin one. And with these essays our former Mayor might very well have passed a tipping point.