Friday, July 29, 2005

# 44 TAKING THE EASY WAY OUT

I was raised in a seriously religious home. As a child, I thought it was too tough. Couldn’t play ball on a Sunday, couldn’t attend card parties, couldn’t wear jeans, couldn’t wear make-up, couldn’t attend a movie or go to a dance, couldn’t play cards, or read "True Confession" magazines. And when I’d complain, and believe me I did a lot of that, my Mother used to say that although we are ‘in’ this world, we must not to be ‘of’ the world. She always emphasized that religion is about redemption of our souls after death, not redemption of our good time here.

But that wasn’t all. As a child, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was blasted by a hell-and-brimstone preacher with the threat of immediate death in a car crash upon leaving the church if I did not soak up everything he said. Under those circumstances, I would dash to the altar, pray diligently with renewed remorsefulness for forgiveness of my sins, before I could steady myself enough to step out into the street and walk to my parents’ car. And then, after that, if a car struck me, so what? After all, faith is not about our good time here, it is about our good time in the hereafter. (Strikes me right at this moment these thoughts are vaguely similar to a suicide-bomber mentality).

But I digress. What I really wanted to do here is flesh out the memories of my difficulties in following my Mother’s religious agenda. Social restrictions were difficult, explaining these restrictions to classmates was equally difficult, but the worst thing of all was that repentance was not enough. In order to save my wretched soul from a burning lake of fire, I must tell others about God and explain to them how they could be like me. And why was that so difficult? Well first of all, talking about such things was embarrassing to the extreme. And secondly, now that I think about it, what could I possibly use for bait for anyone to want to be like me? Dirt poor, obliged to go to church all the time, no personal liberties, etc. Obviously, with all these problems with Fundamentalist beliefs, even as a very young child, I promised myself that one of my goals in life would be to search for another "easier" religion.

Now, in those days, I didn’t know a lot about other religions but I could see, even as a child, that the Unitarians had a good thing going. Lots of personal liberties. They could smoke, drink, play cards, go to movies, attend ballgames on Sundays, etc.

The Catholics too, had a good thing going. They had all these liberties as well. They also had a wide encompassing kind of tolerance, or so it seemed to me. Their congregation covered a wide spectrum. There were practicing Catholics, non-practicing Catholics, those who regularly attended mass, and those who never attended but insisted beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were Catholic. That was pretty impressive. And the only hard and fast rule that I was aware of certainly didn’t impact on their personal and social life. Baptism in the church and fish for supper on Fridays was about as regimented as it got, as far as I was able to comprehend. Obviously being a Catholic is much easier than being what my mother expected me to be. Besides I like fish. Fish, instead of moose or goat meat every Friday would be really nice.

And furthermore, I noted that if the RC’s committed any sins, they could just go to confession and get that all cleaned up. Right? No one was constantly reciting to them the fearsome phrase, "my spirit will not always strive with man" which I had been led to believe is that by committing a sin, even unwittingly, one could find themselves eternally banned from any further communication with God. You could weep, you could cry, you could plead, but it would be all to no avail. Shut out. Eternally shut out.

And furthermore, when RC’s died, with no chance to beg forgiveness, someone else took over to do it for them with something called ‘last rites’. And failing all that they even had a stopping off place between the joys of heaven and the horrors of hell called purgatory. Nice.

So from my perspective, it seemed a whole lot easier for a child who had stolen cookies from the jar, or Christmas oranges from the stash under the cupboard, to be forgiven in a Catholic confessional rather than having to go to bed each night worried sick about being cast into a lake of fire. A real risk and possibility in my mind after reciting my prayers. i.e. ‘If I should die before I wake’.

And, in truth, it seemed so much better to me having a living breathing real person behind a wall in a confessional box telling me that my sins were forgiven rather than just hoping they were. It's difficult for a child to cope with the intangible absolution of Fundamentalists. Theirs is a process of seeking absolution through an invisible cosmic connection that always left me worried, particularly during my teen and adolescent years, that I might be too wicked to get absolution because of the occasional pornographic thoughts, and because of the stash of "True Confession" magazines and the sinful tube of lipstick hidden under my mattress.

I was well aware the Seven-Day Adventists had a good thing going as well. After death for the sinful, absolute nothingness. Heaven for the righteous; for the unrighteous just a big whole lot of nothing. That sounded really attractive to me. Comforting. Very comforting indeed.

But going back to RC’s, today I am wondering why a religion that was so liberty-minded, tangible, tolerant, comforting, and easy to follow, when I was a child, could be such a problem for adults. Particularly since nothing in that religion has changed since I was a kid. But what a hue and cry there is from adults in the Catholic Church for reform. They find everything about the church too difficult. Since the death of Pope Jean Paul, and the installation of a new pope, the media has been saturated with articles about RC declining membership and specific issues such as birth control, women in the priesthood, and priests rights to marry.

Now it would seem to me, the common sense approach to all these concerns would be the same common sense approach I had as a child. Particularly since the Catholic Church lays claim to being the original Christian church, and because (and this is stated in doctrine), the church and the Pope are infallible. That being the case, change cannot happen. Change will turn what was once fact into fiction. True and infallible beliefs cannot be altered to fit social and political conditions. To change anything now would be to say the Pope is fallible, the church is fallible and say that historically they have been wrong throughout all of history. That crashes and burns the infallibility and first-church-basis that has always been their best selling point.

So, it would seem to me, that the thing to do is to find an easier religion that has beliefs that are in agreement with one’s personal and social preferences. That would seem more acceptable than deviously pretending to be devoted to a particular sect, while at the same time rejecting a big chunk of the churches' doctrine.

NOTE: In the writing of this blog, I did no research to verify the accuracy of my perceptions of the various sects mentioned. If I have written anything that is an untrue assumption, please feel free to correct that assumption for the benefit of any who may read this rant.

8 Comments:

Blogger plumleigh said...

I like what the Buddha said:

"Do not believe in anything [simply] because you have heard it. DO not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything [simply] because it is found and written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conductive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

9:46 PM  
Blogger Meredith said...

Note that in Catholic teaching, the Pope is only infallible when he makes specific pronouncements "ex cathedra"--a rare situation in which he is speaking "from the chair" or in other words, directly from God. This explains how the Church has adapted itself through the ages without compromising the daily leadership of the Pope. You're right, though, in that the modern American Catholics in dissent want a change so dramatic, it would be like a completely different religion. I agree with you-what's the point in that?

10:06 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Thanks for stopping in plumleigh. These seem like great words of wisdom but there is an irony in the statement that cannot be denied. This statement is on the authority of a religious leader. A statement written, handed down for many generations, spoken and rumored by many. But despite all that, I think it is a great bit of wisdom although embedded in it is a kind of 'catch 22'.

Hi meredith. Thanks for offering clarification of some of my thoughts. I appreciate you taking the time to do that. Your comments are always well thought out and so often add that extra perspective that I have overlooked.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Clarence said...

I watched an episode of "House" last night in which Dr House and another Doctor were discussing God. They both had opinions as to why people pray. Dr House supposed that people pray to God to keep him from crushing them like a bug. I've said many prayers during my lifetime but not once do I recall pleading with God not to crush me like a bug. An easy religion. I'm not so sure it is supposed to be easy. Doesn't Jesus instruct us to first "count the cost" and then decide? It seems to me that you held the opinion that your Mother's religion demanded too high a price. Salvation is free, but it's not cheap. A very high price was paid for it. The difficult part is being able to trust that what Jesus did for us was enough and that nothing we can add to it will make it any more acceptable.

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Esther said...

I too, have wondered where I am spiritually many many times. Raised as a Lutheran, but had a very strict Baptist grandfather on my father's side and Pentecost's on my mother's side, there was a little bit of "fear of God" instilled in me from a very young age.

I was a Buddhist for about 5 years in my 20's and found the chanting to be enchanting and very soothing, but the rest of the rituals silly and I became disenchanted when people started testifying that they "chanted" for a new car or some other material thing, which of course does not sit well with someone from my background.

I love to go into Catholic churches, and sometimes will go there for no particular reason, just to sit and pray or meditate and think. They are always quiet beautiful, serene and seem as if you ought to meet God in this sacred space.

I also love the idea of confession, especially made out loud to another person. It's one thing to confess privately to God, it's a whole other thing to have to confess to a live human being, it's much more humbling, I think.

I see God all around us, and I often think of this analogy. What a bore it would be, if we all were the same. I think we have different religions, the same reason we have different cars, some just suit us better. I've always loved Hondas.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Thanks clarence for stopping in. I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

In all truth I think my mother was a bit of a fanatic. And to become too extreme, too fanatical, is what shuts down curiosity and open-mindedness. I think examination of others beliefs is more positive than detrimental. And I don't think one's religion, their belief in the protectiveness of God, should make them more fearful, but rather more calm, more at peace.

1:41 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

esther, you dear and funny girl. I do love your analogy about cars and you have your Honda. As for me, I prefer a Toyota.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Editor Choice said...

Excellent and original blog. I will comeback.
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6:42 PM  

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