Friday, August 11, 2006

Leon in Winter

Catholic childhood indoctrination is strong. For a number of reasons, adult attachment can be very strong, too.

I haven't gone to a Catholic Mass in four years, feel no need to do, quite the contrary. Still, I follow the shenanigans at the Vatican and in the American hierarchy, for which I used to work, much like Trotsky watching from Mexico the revolution in the Kremlin gone Stalinist -- without Leon's cachet or his famous mistresses.

People ask why I care and I don't have a easy answer. Perhaps the old Loyola epigram is true: "give me a boy at the age of seven and I give you the man." My strongest formative influences were celibate, vowed men.

For others, there's also cultural Catholicism, which is more or less the notion that one's grandparents were Catholic and in one's family "we've always done this." This is limited to baptisms, first communions, confirmation, weddings and burials; to manners and genteel words and even the occasional charity.

This never exerted much of a pull for me. Celibate vowed men leave family traditions behind. "Let the dead bury the dead," Jesus told a would-be follower who wanted to bury his father before following him.

For me there was always a truth kernel in the gospel that resonated, indeed resonates. What must be done is very clear and simple, if only I would dare: feed the hungry, give to drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison. Tell the truth, respect what belongs to others, ignore other people's wealth, nurture and protect life. Little or nothing about churchgoing or Bible reading.

Most of us complicate it with theologies, exceptions and fancy dancing that allow us to temporize while we enjoy our dollar-driven, consumption-directed lives and pretend that we are really taking the gospel's simple imperatives seriously.

What's specifically Catholic about this? That I am not the arbiter, the interpreter or much less the transmitter. That the truth is the truth, whether I like it or not. That even the pope can't unsay it.

I am a philosophical absolutist with all the doubts and scant few certitudes of an agnostic. If there is a God, it's not up to me to define God or agree with what God wants done.

There probably isn't a God. Here all of us who temporize and avoid what God wants of us can sign on the dotted line: we're unbelievers. If there were a God and we believed that, we would be seriously concerned about what God wants (and how little of it we fulfill).

Yet something keeps tugging, something keeps urging: somewhere there is a good that has my name on it for me to do. And I had nothing to do with it being there. All I can do is find it and embrace it, or find it and walk away.


George said...

I,too, am no longer a church-goer. But for various reasons, I still believe in God. I'm probably more of a "cultural Catholic" than a more compliant practicing Catholic. Coming from astrong Catholic environment (Buffalo) I was educated by nuns and Jebbies through elementary and high schools and two years of a Jesuit college.
I have ceased looking for God, but apparently
He's still looking for me! Wheb you are as fortunate as I with my spouse, kids and grandchildren, I'm either very lucky...Or, maybe, there is a God!

Dave said...

I have a Catholic grandmother, but my dad broke that connection back when he was a teenager, before I was born. I was converted to evangelicalism as a young adult, a convoluted process that I've documented elsewhere and won't attempt to describe here. Currently, my views on Christianity have led me to adopt a very "wide-open" approach to theology while I continue to work and live in a mostly conservative religious environment. Kind of a big juggling act at times, since I really don't want to forfeit all my relationships by stepping completely out of the boundaries that have been established and are mostly followed by the majority of Christians that I relate with on a daily basis.

So even though my connection to Catholicism is very tenuous, I am still interested in tracking what the large scale institutional representatives of Christianity say and do because I know that their leadership and guidance influences a lot of people. And I continue to regard Christianity as having a very important and pivotal role in steering our culture in different ways. Not always toward the best that we can be, but generally speaking a force for much good in the world.

My main beef with the church these days is that it continues to identify way too strongly with the powers that oppress or needlessly bind people from what life could be. A lot of bargains with the devil have been made along the way that wound up getting tangled up in doctrine and tradition, and once that happens, it's very hard to unravel the knots that result.

I'm trying, in my small way, to advocate for a style of Christianity that is less defensive, more willing to concede that there's a lot of hyperbole and superstition that found its way into church practices over the centuries, and that the best way forward is to neither refute it all in an absolutist, iconoclastic way nor try to boil it down to a new form of fundamentalism either of the right or the left.

But my perspective is admittedly individualistic and more non-binding on others than most people are ready to accept or expect from their religion. In light of all that, I'm not trying to start anything big... I'm just looking to connect with people who find something sensible and refreshing about this approach. That's why I host the email list and what generally ties together the random subject matter that I post on my blog on a daily basis as of late.