Friday, December 30, 2005

Religion: This Man’s Search for Godlessness (Part One)

I was asked recently about religion and faith and started writing this because I couldn’t assail the dense wall of amateur writer’s block. Here’s the first half if anyone gives a goddamn.

Once upon a time, everyone was damn sure the Earth was flat. Now we know better, but for some reason a good number of people still believe a man rose from the dead after being nailed to a cross.

Like many people, I had the profound misfortune of being raised Catholic. Not only raised in the sense of being forced to march into churches but I went to Catholic schools off and on, totaling seven years (not including the drudgery of C.C.D.). I feel the lord and me are just fine.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about this lately. I did a lot of thinking about it in the past, while attending St. Lawrence High School and knee deep in Christian Brothers, bad neckties and the noticeable lack of female company. It was at that time I decided that the church and I were mismatched and I said goodbye to the traditions and superstitions of Catholic mythology. Let me state for the record, the aesthetics of the religion are appealing and the traditions are often quite interesting in the same way the Hindu gods are beautiful and the Buddhist Scriptures are fascinating. This may be, but I don’t find anything in these fairy tales to believe in. If I have to use an old book as the basis of my personal religion, I’ll choose Boccaccio’s Decameron.

It is a question of faith and I have none in the gods, especially the ones who might threaten to send me to a lake of eternal fire for anything I may have said or done.

George Carlin said that religion was the worst thing to ever beset mankind. I find it hard to disagree. Sure, religion has served a purpose but I think that purpose has changed and as a result, religion should as well. Evolution being a natural function of life, religion needs to evolve. Or, we need to evolve to allow these beliefs to remain relevant. They are not, in my opinion, relevant in the least.

Another great comedian’s take on the subject:

“I was watching that show the other day, you know the one where the guy stands up on stage and pretends he can communicate with the dead. [Crowd starts yelling show titles such as “Crossing Over”.] No, it’s called church.”—David Cross.

Anyway, most of the people I know are pretty split about the subject but I would guess the overall population of this country considers themselves religious without going to church or saying grace or participating in those rituals. “Non-Practicing” is the term, I believe. Another term for these people might be “pussies”. Sorry to be so harsh, but as this cranky writer moves headlong into the midpoint of his thirties he finds himself more infuriated with things than he was during his terrible twenties. On the subject of hocus-pocus I am beginning to lose my patience. There are a myriad of reasons why one might go to church or put their stock in any form of witchcraft, and I have to almost admire that kind of devotion. I disagree completely but hey, at least the churchies put their money where their mouths are (and a couple of coins in the collection plate). The non-practicing are just unwilling to commit as they have no real interest in going to mass yet they call themselves believers because, well, I assume they fear hell. Or they were raised in the faith and find it hard to abandon the myths that were forced on them as tots. I would ask them to please examine their paper-thin beliefs and shit or get off the toilet.

Examining one’s faith is essential to any thinking being, the fence-riding non-practitioners, the atheists and the devout. We all need to step back from time to time and see if our opinions and beliefs are a result of personal reflection or just adherence to old customs. Rituals have a tendency to take hold. I could waltz into a Catholic mass and still know when to stand, kneel, sit, make the sign of the cross and the little rub of the forehead with the thumb. I’ve got the choreography down pretty well even after such a lapse in attendance. It stands to reason that many of the weary who drag ass over to the place of worship go through the motions in a similar manner, cat napping during the sermons and dreaming, as I did, of more interesting things.

Actually, as a child I used to stare at the high ceilings and stained glass images in St. Albert’s Church and imagine Batman crashing through the glass to whisk me away. Where did he get those wonderful toys?

Why did I go to a Catholic high school? I suppose it was because I hated everyone in grade school and thought a fat Dungeons and Dragons devotee might get a fresh start in private school. Everyone else was going to Argo High in picturesque Summit, Illinois. Also, my mother liked the idea. She thought I might excel in my studies in private school. She was wrong, but I don’t regret the decision anyway. Were it not for four years of Bible study and ridiculous classes called, “Marriage and Faith” I might have been one of those non-practicing hypocrites.

St. Lawrence allowed me to see the absurdity of the church and the utter useless of it in regard to my life. My favorite of the Christian Brothers (sort of lesser version of the priest) was a guy who left the order during my junior year. I was a little sad when I heard he was leaving. He was funny, down-to-earth and easy to relate to. He was also pretty damn smart and very encouraging, the ideal Brother to guide us little lambs along the road to enlightenment. And yeah, he occasionally spouted something religious but he was hardly the Bible beating zealot unable and unwilling to listen to reason. I liked the guy a lot and was sorry his girlfriend got pregnant, resulting in his quiet departure from the black dress of the Christian Brothers. He looked better in street clothes anyway.

Another great thing St. Larry’s offered was (and this is rare in a Catholic organization) disparate ideas. I don’t know how this member of the lay staff managed to sneak Sartre into my senior year theology class, but he did. We students were also presented with St. Thomas Aquinas and his five proofs for the existence of god (a fascinating read, really, but it hold as much water as a sieve). The idea, I suppose, was to present us with a religious philosopher and one who was an atheist. I think my instructor was attempting to convince us of the validity of Aquinas and the heathenism of Sartre in an attempt to strengthen our young faith. It backfired. Sartre made a lot more sense, at least the part of his convoluted prose I was able to comprehend.

(Part Two Coming Soon)