Friday, February 25, 2005

Faith, Beliefs, and Ideas

His Holiness Pope John Paul II had a tracheotomy yesterday. For those who don't know, this is a procedure where you have to open a hole in the trachea below an obstruction (usually just a bit below the larynx, which has become inflamed or crushed, between the third and fourth tracheal rings), and insert a tube to allow air to pass into the lungs.

The media is playing down how serious a procedure this is, especially for a man who's primary duty includes speaking. Yes, it is a relatively routine procedure, and it's not generally life threatening, but for an 85 year old man with respiratory problems... Well I don't think there's any question that this pope will not be with us very much longer.

Anyway, you might have notice that I like taking on tough subjects. This news got me thinking about religion, and about faith (which I think is more significant), and I thought I'd talk here about how I left the catholic church, and how the church left me.

Please bear with me, this is going to be a very long, and very personal ramble. It may not be very coherent, but I promise it will be honest, and thats the best anyone can give.

More in the extended entry...

I call myself a recovering catholic; It's kind of like being an alcoholic, you never stop being an alcoholic, you're just in recovery for the rest of your life. I still find myself making the gestures, reciting hail marys to msyelf when I'm not thinking about it, sometimes reaching for a crucifix that isn't there, and it's been 15 years since I regularly attended church.

I was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, to an Irish born father, and a 2nd generation Irish American mother. Particularly I was born in southie, and lived in southie, and then Roslindale til I was 2, then I lived in Milton with my grandparents til I was 5, then Dorchester for a couple years, and back to Milton, then Randolph, and back to Milton, then Quincy, then Canton, etc...

I moved a couple of other places for six months, or a year at a time, but we always came back to Milton until I was 13 and we stopped moving around. I lived in Milton from 13, until I left home at 16. I had two constants in this time, moving back to Milton every few months or a year, and the Catholic church.

My mother didn't make me go all the time, not every Sunday, but I went to first catechism and junior catechism and religon til my first holy communion at age 7, and then CCD and religion until I was confirmed at 13 (yeah, they get us young in Boston; my stepsister here in AZ didn't take communion til 9, and was confirmed at 16).

Anyway Milton, the town I mostly grew up in is, according to the U.S. census, the most catholic town in America (48%), and the most Irish town in America (43%; they do sort of go together). Just about everyone who wasnt Irish was italian, and most of the kids around me had names like Flaherty, Doherty, Shaugnessy, etc... My town was so catholic, that they actually used to let us out of public school in the middle of the day so we could go to religion class at the catholic school jsut down the street.

In a town of 30,000 we had one public high school, one Jr High, and five elementary schools, with a total of less than 5000 public school students, and five or six (I can't remember) catholic high schools, with about 5000 students (plus three other secular private schools with about 2000 students, and five major schools in the surrounding towns, almost all of them catholic, with probably 5000 students from Milton).

Well from that little soup of numbers you can see that the families where I grew up had LOTS of kids, and well over half of them went to catholic school. The point of all this is that I grew up in a pervasively catholic culture. It surrounded me at all times, almost like the air that I was breathing.

I remember from a very young age having some very definite ideas about god, and jesus.

A lot of what the church was saying I just thought was garbage, but I still felt the spirit in church. When I was in St. Marys of the hills (where my mom was married, and I recieved my first communion and was confirmed), I very strongly felt the presence of god. In fact I still do; I went to the church the last time I was in town a few months ago, and those same feelings were there for me. Stepping into the nave, I felt the presence of god settle about me like a cloak over my neck and shoulders. An almost physical presence, but very much not, if that makes any sense.

When I was in CCD getting ready for my confirmation, things started changing for me.

I knew a lot about religion, and had read just about everything I could, reading the bible back and forth, as well as english translations of every holy book I could find, and still I felt that the catholic church was my spiritual home. My feelings about god, and my relationship with god just felt at home with the church.

But things jsut werent quite right. I still felt god in the church, what I didn't feel anymore was god in the men teaching me. More and more I felt cynicism, and manipulation at worst, and frustration and desparation at best. We did get one great young priest, but he had some non traditional ideas about brith control, and gays, and that just wasnt on where I grew up, so they sent him away. We had old, mostly Irish priests, and old Irish nuns, and bitter middle aged christian brothers instructing us, and it just didnt feel right.

Just as bad, I also no longer felt god in what they were saying, if indeed I ever really had.

Aside from the feel of it, many things in my head were at odds with what the church preached. I don't believe in the immaculate conception. I dont believe that Jesus ascended bodily in to heaven. I do believe in sin in the nature of man, but not in the sense of original sin of Eve.

I have to say that honestly, while I felt the spirit and presence of god, I had no faith in religion. By some peoples definition, I have no faith at all.

I started thinking about what I really did believe, and what I had faith in. I don't think my faith every really changed, just how I thought about it, and how I expressed it, to myself. I thought a lot about how I was leaving the church with every thought, and how the church was leaving me.

With every young priest that they discouraged, the church was leaving me. With every gay man they denounced, the church was leaving me. With every abortion that happened because a stupid teenager didnt have birthcontrol, the church was leaving me.

Then some friends of mine were molested by some of those bitter old men. The church covered it up. A few weeks later the first gulf war happened and the church left me for good. The last time I stepped into a church for years, was when the pope came out against the first gulf war. I couldnt stand the hipocrisy of being againsta truly just war, but covering up child abuse.

I haven't taken the host since my confirmation in 1990.

I started thinking more and more about how to express my beliefs; not in worship, but just explaining them, to myself if no-one else.

I figured out that I believed in some very big, but not very clear things.

I believe that there are three essential motivating force in the universe; Creativity, Entropy, and Chaos.

Chaos is that from which all is formed and to which all returns; undirected, without form, function, structure, or intent.

Creativity is that which gives form, and purpose to the chaos.

Entropy is that which returns that which has been created, into the chaos.

If you've ever taken any physics you'll see where I'm coming from here.

Through all time, human kind has sought to devine some purpose in this great universal structure. Eventually, they found spirits, and then gods, and finally, one god.

To my mind, God, as christians think of him, is a personification. God is the expression of sentience that directs the creativity of the universe. God is indeed creation, and love, and spirit.

Throughout time, people have chosen to serve aspects of these forces. Those who have served God, and the deities and spirits of creativity that came before the rise of the jews some 6-8000 years ago were serving creativity.

Entropy is the negation of creativity. The creation of chaos. Entropy is pain, and eventual nothingness. Those who have served evil, in all it's forms, have served entropy.

Please note, in this system you can clearly see, that entropy is the rejection, and repudiation of God, and eventually the total absence thereof. There is a significant school of thought (including most jewish thought), that hell is the absence of god, nothing more nothing less.

There are those beings whose pain is so great, in their rejection and repudiation of god, that they would do anything to bring the nothingness of oblivion. Only in this nothingness can their pain end. There are also those being who have thought to increase their own personal power throguh entropy. Entropy in it's grossest forms, appears stronger than creativity, and it is in all ways easier to weild, and easier to access. It is easier to tear down a house, than to design and build it. It is easier to cause pain, than to heal it.

There are those who have served chaos, and all it's embodiments, and universally they have been considered insane.

All throughout time (I've said that a lot haven't I), these same themes have recurred, in all faiths, and all religions; not only that they are encoded into the very physical laws of the universe. This cannot possibly be a coincidence, and the perhaps 40,000 years of "civilized" humans who came along before the Jews cant all have ended up in hell, or purgatory, or limbo etc... God is eternal, but the belief in him clearly has not been.

I believe he IS eternal, and he has been, because he is the sentience of creativity, and all godheads of a creative nature since the beginning of civilization have been aspects of god. Man did not understand how to percieve him; until he revealed himself to the Jews; and made the covenant.

Now I'm going to say something some might consider crazy. A few years ago, I was going through a very difficult time. I had just come back from a reserve deployment, and was getting ready to head back to classes. Some very unpleasant things had happened during this deployment. A few months earlier my fiancee had killed herself. I was feeling... very dead. While I was in the field, I had shut myself down, blocked all emotions, all reactions, it was just mission.

I got back, and I started wondering, what was the point. I had all these skills and opportunities, but I had nothing inside of me. I was empty, and dead.

One afternoon I'm just sitting there, not really watching the TV, thinking about things, and I had what I can only describe as a visitation. I wont belabor the point, but I spoke to Jesus Christ that day. He told me that I had a job to do, and that if I wasted my life, or screwed it up, or missed the opportunities I needed not to miss, or didnt help the people I needed to help, he would be very disappointed in me. He wasn't angry with me, but the look in his eyes when he spoke was enough to make me cry just a bit.

The next day I tried to go to church. I went to this big, ugly southwestern catholic church, and every minute of it felt wrong. Not only did I not feel the presence of god, but I felt the suck of the void. I swear that I felt evil in that church, and I left, very quickly, long before the service was over.

I hadn't set foot inside a catholic church since, until my trip back to Boston a few months ago. I had tried going to other churches, but they all felt, at best, like a group of nice, friendly people, and at worst, they felt horribly wrong.

The catholic church is my home, but I have left it, and it has left me.

I've tried going to my local catholic church a few times, I just havent managed to do it. I want to talk to a priest over there, but I can't seem to get one of them for a useful length of time to talk about things. I'm not going back to church unless there is a priest I like, and I trust, and who I can feel the spirit of god with, and the strength of faith in.

I believe in God, and in Christ. I believe in true good, and true evil. I believe in angels, and demons, and spirits. I belive that there is far more to the spritual world than most churches are willing to admit, or talk about, or if they do, they attribute it all to satan, or demons.

I have faith. I have faith in God, and in myself, but I don't have faith in the church, or the bible, and I don't think I can.

I just don't know where that leaves me.