Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Holy Chip

I have to admit I have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to the Catholic Church. It's not a major part of my life, but it does stand in the way when the topic of religion comes up. Needless to say religion is not an easy topic. It is very charged from both sides. I know people and have people close to me on both sides of the issue of religion. It is one reason this post has been so long in the making. I may tip-toe around certain topics because this is the public realm. Some beliefs may come out here, some in a more intimite setting over drinks if the circumstances are correct, and some are probably best kept to myself. I'm not a wave maker and the last thing I want to do is hurt those close to me. That said, here we go.

I spent my first twelve years of schooling at Catholic institutions. My family was Catholic, but not particularly religious. We were not devout, did not discuss it much, and did not attend church regularly. If I could roughly break it down, there were four types of schools in Chicago when I was growing up. First was the public school designated to you. Second were the magnet schools you could attend if you passed a certain exam and were chosen. There were the Catholic private schools. And there were the more expensive (dare I say elite) private schools. Others can correct me, but I think my sister and I went to Catholic school both because it was better (and safer) than the designated public school and everyone in our family went to Catholic school. As far as the atmosphere, it was probably like most other schools. Though we had uniforms, a religion class every semester, and attended mass every once in a while. Now I'm not one of those people who had some horror story about my time in Catholic school. It went quite well for me.

Now my parents brought me up with a steady diet of science and nature. I still enjoy them both to this day. But even at that young age I started to see some conflicts between common scientific knowledge and teachings by the church.

For high school I chose between three schools: A college prep Catholic school, a public magnet school, and a technical Catholic school that also offered college prep classes. I chose the last one because I wanted to be able to take wood working classes with aspirations of possibly becoming a carpenter. In my third year at the school we took a class called "Ethics" taught by one of the more intelligent priests at the school. We learned about existentialism, utilitarianism, socialism, Nietzche, Kierkegaard, self-actualization. Most of which I have forgotten, but it was fascinating for me and it also steered a good friend toward his college major. But having grown up surrounded by almost only Catholics, it really opened my eyes. It also really surprised me because what was taught in the class (by a priest) did not always agree with the tenents of the church. I found it to be a turning point because from then on I looked at the church with a more critical eye.

I went on to a public college, so I no longer was required to take classes in religion or attend mass occasionally. I went on with my life without the church. I had no major quarlms with it so it became a part of the rest of the world like the other world religions. I entered the work world. Nothing changed. I only went to church for weddings, funerals, and occasionally with a good friend.

It's cliched, but then there was September 11th. Everyone ran back to secure places from their childhood. For many that was religion. I was not one of them. But it did open my eyes a bit more. Around that time, I started following politics more closely. Religious leaders seemed to be getting more press. And the ideals they were pushing forward did not seem to make sense to me. Abortion, gay marriage, celebate male priests only, an us versus them attitude against other religions. It seemed like I found myself on the opposite side on a very good portion of issues that were coming out in the press. So formed the chip. How could I say I am a member of a religion that holds so many truths I don't agree with?

Then came the DaVinci Code. I try to avoid things that the masses raves about. But at one point I said why not and read it cover to cover in a week. I could not get enough and could not put it down. In addition to being a thriller, which I really like, it played on my misgivings with the church. I believed the statement at the beginning saying that all facts were true. Part of me wanted to believe what they said about the history of the church. At the time I was a bit jilted thinking of how the church authority through the years was not much different than those in politics doing what is necessary to keep people on their side. Again, I gobbled up the history offered in the book. I even read (almost unquestioningly) the US News and World Report special issue that delved further into some of the issues. One book referenced in the issue compared how Jesus was a tragic figure, dying and reborn, like so many dieties in other religions beforehand. And it suggested that Jesus may have been an exceptional person, but his story was modified to match the classic diety mold.

So a year later, I reread the DaVinci Code. This time, I reread it to be clear I understood what it had to say in regards to the church. At that point I was still not questioning what they stated as true. It was more recently when it came out in the press that what he stated was not true that I questioned the book itself. I did some limited research and got some points clarified, supported, or dispelled.

Now I know what some of you are saying (or have said). "Why did it take a book like that to open your eyes to well documented facts that have been around for ages and available at your local library?" Well it's simple. There really was no passion to seek out things against the church. And at what point does something contradicting common knowledge pass from conspiracy theory to feasible possibility? Many would love to believe the movie JFK or Fahrenheit 911, but in the end it will probably end up as he said - she said. There will probably never be a smoking gun. People will be left to believe what they want.

But there is still a chip. I disagree too strongly with some major points of the church for it to go away anytime soon. And I have difficulties with how much it is run like a business or a political machine. I do agree with so many tenents like love your neighbor, treat those as you would like to be treated, help the less fortunate, don't judge others if you yourself have done wrong. There is so much good in the teachings of the church that it is so hard to swallow those tenants that go against. Love your neighbor as long as it's not an intimate relationship with a member of the same sex. Or how some of them have gotten so twisted in today's world. Pseudo-religious leaders calling for assassination attempts.

Come on people. This is the modern age so get with the times. We're smarter now than we were back when much of that doctrine was written. And get rid of all these people who are using religion for alterior motives.

I'm not saying that I will or want to be a religious or devout believer. I'm just saying that it would be nice not to have any hangups with something that is very important to people who are close to me.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting look at the powerful forces inside you. You are very brave to share this with us. Feels to me that the critical thinker is awakening. Your catechism inculcates you into a dualistic religion: right v wrong, Satan v. God, good v bad. However life mostly gets lived in the grey zone, and Christian doctrine doesn't provide for that. Partly that is a supply and demand issue. Like on 9/11, people flocked to the churches looking for solace and clarity. They wanted clear answers; ambiguous grey zones are not amenable to providing quick, ready, soothing relief.

Like you, I began my education in Catholic school because of the family tradition you mentioned. Unlike you, I was consciously religious from age 4. I went to mass weekly. In my teens, I went to mass several times a week. At age 18, I went daily. During my teens, I read the bible daily, especially focusing on the NT. The gospels fascinated me. Eventually, it became too clear that Paul, not the Nazarene had invented Christianity. It became deeply disheartening to see the huge disjuncture between the two; they had completely separate visions.

In trying to figure out which was the correct vision, I steeped myself in reading about the so-called Old Testament. It became abundantly and painfully clear that Christianity was not the logical next step or fulfillment of the Old Testament.

It would be easy for me to walk you through the problems rife in the Gospels and the massive disjunctures between Paul's vision and ambition versus what the Nazarene teaches in the gospels. I could make you a short list of books to read about Christianity's dark side.

Yes, Paul, in trying to make Christianity palatable to the Gentile world (at that time) had to make the Nazarene a god, because that is what the Gentiles knew and where familiar with. In the Roman Empire, the Caesars were usually made gods after they died; the Senate voted and decried the deification. And indeed in 325 c.e. the council of Nicea voted to make the Nazarene a god, in order to stop the squabbling and unify Christians on this tenet. That decision was the finally parting of the ways between Christians and Jews.

I think that religion is useful and important. It makes you part of a community. It provides you with moral beliefs. It provides you with a way to express your connection to the divine part of yourself, and with The Creator. It provides you with a rich culture to celebrate your life and you family life. Religion can help you navigate your way through difficult periods. so even if you have your doubts or shoulder chips, don't the throw the baby out with the bath water. Doubts are good, they can make us stronger.

Btw, Mr. Scientific Thinker, you might get a lot out a book called "The Science of God."

And to think that I’ve failed in my duties… Wait. On second thought, this is just the right kind of thing for me to be writing to you about. As godmother, I’m supposed to be a source of spiritual guidance for you when you need it.

Anonymous said...

We read Nietzsche in Father Glab's class? how could I have forgotten that?

Unknown said...

jason, He didn't? Maybe that's why I don't remember it.

mrne, thank you for sharing your journey. The bible is something I have difficulty with. Or at least other's understanding of it. I see the stories in there as an oral tradition of life lessons. Others take it as historical fact. It was also written at a time when people did not understand as much about the world around them. The antiquated viewpoint in today's world is one of my major difficulties. The push for creationism for me was going in the wrong direction. Maybe I should read up more on the all of this.

It's interesting to hear your perspective and history with religion given what direction your spiritual life took in early adulthood. Don't worry about the godmother thing. But this guidance is helpful.