Monday, September 16, 2013

My experience with an important question

This is going to be about religion... I'm not proseltyzing, I'm trying to explain something important about me. Do with it what you will.

A few days ago on Facebook, I posted something about Catholic doctrine, and as I expected with my rather diverse group of friends, there were a few comments about how they believe in God but not organized religion, or how the church was corrupt and abusive etc...

I get that... that's where I was for a long time. I am still in schism with my church over several major issues, and thus I can't take communion or resolution.

I left my church young. I grew up in Boston in the 80s. I had friends (and possibly family, though that's never been clear) who were molested, and the church (and others, much to their shame) covered it up. I saw a lot of the negative that a church can do.

For most of my life, the last time I attended a catholic service as a communicant (vs. being a wedding guest etc..) had been my confirmation mass at age 13.

For a while, I thought I was agnostic. I've seen, and felt, and done too much to be atheist. I'm a rationalist, and a trained engineer, but with what I've been through in my life, I simply cannot deny the existence of the spiritual and the divine. To do so would be irrational...

Anyway, I knew I wasn't and couldn't be an atheist; but at that time, I rejected Christianity, along with my rejection of my church.

After some years (and a rather intense spiritual experience in which I felt the presence of the divine directly. God pretty much smacked me upside the head and told me to stop screwing up), I finally understood that I had not lost my faith in god... just my faith in my church.

Unfortunately,  for years, I really I wasn't really sure how to deal with that.

I tried other churches, and none of them ever felt right. I tried other "spiritual communities", both Christian and otherwise. I've studied other religions, other philosophies. I've taken instruction in them, and even practiced in them some.

None of them were ever right for me. They just didn't feel right. I was not expressing my relationship with the divine and the spiritual in a way that worked for me.

A few years ago... I guess it's about 10 years ago now actually; I got the exact same piece of advice, almost word for word, from several different people, none of them connected with each other, without prompting, and all at the same time (within a few weeks of each other) :

Why let the stupidity, venality, and corruption of men; interfere with the way you wish to express your relationship with God?

That struck me... almost literally... The idea had a near physical force... Simply put, it was "right". Entirely and absolutely RIGHT.

So, 13 years after having left, I went back to the Catholic church. I've been happier, and felt better spiritually since.

My wife was raised evangelical, and by the time she reached her teens; because of the extreme bigotry, arrogance, hypocrisy, and flat out emotional abuse, of the group she was raised in; she had rejected Christianity entirely.

When I met her (8 years ago) she had  basically drifted into being a neo-pagan of sorts, but that was never really "right" for her either.

I never set out to convert her, but it was important to me that she understand my faith and how I expressed it.

At first, she was very much against the idea of any kind of Christianity, because she had had such a negative experience growing up. I certainly understood that, given my own experience.

The thing is... most people... even, unfortunately most of those who profess to be devout Christians... don't know very much about their faith. Very few know anything at all about the history, theology, and doctrines of their professed faith. Or frankly, much of anything beyond what they're own minister has told them.

Even many who believe themselves to be extremely knowledgeable, are in fact totally ignorant; because they have been taught a version of Christianity that reflects their pastors personal preferences and prejudices, rather than the teachings of God through Christ.

Worse, many are taught that theirs is the only possible understanding, that one must accept the word of their leaders as if it was the word of God, and that any who believe otherwise, even the slightest bit, are not truly Christians (and of course, all who are not true Christians are damned to hell).

They are taught that unquestioning and unthinking obedience is required of them; and that to question or disobey their leaders, is to act against God.

Many are taught that God has a very specific and detailed set of rules, behaviors, and expectations that cover every little bit of their lives. That differing from these in any way means that you are a bad person, not a true Christian; that unless you repent and follow the rules exactly as their leaders dictate, you will go to hell.

Christianity isn't necessarily easy; there are some absolute moral and ethical precepts and standards, and they can be hard. Christianity isn't feel good, everything goes, do whatever you want to and it's all ok...

...but it isn't... that...

The only more vigorous bigotry than antisemitism, is the bigotry of some who call themselves Christians, against other Christians.

Anyway, once I talked with her about my faith, and my understanding of God, and how my church fit into that.... and once I corrected the rather deeply ingrained misconceptions, deliberate disinformation, flat out lies and vicious prejudice etc... about catholicism that she had been taught since childhood, she decided she wanted to try attending a Catholic service.

We went together, with our young children (at the time our daughters were 4, almost 5, and 3).

In that first service, at a wonderful parish that we remained members of until we moved to Idaho (St. Theresa's in Phoenix) she felt what she had been missing in church, and in Christianity, her entire life... and she decided that she fit best as a catholic as well.

As I said, I am... actually we are... in schism with the church over a few pretty major issues (issues of politics, policy, and doctrine; not of theology)... but the Catholic church is where we feel at home spiritually.

No, my church isn't perfect. Like any other, it is an institution composed of men, and men are imperfect. Frankly a lot of what they say and do, I disagree with. But this the Catholic church is where I feel best in expressing my relationship with God.

So... if any of that sounds familiar to you... I've got the same question for you as my friends had for me...

If you believe in God, and in Christ... No matter what your differences or issues with any particular church may be... Why are you allowing the venality, corruption, and stupidity of men and their institutions, interfere with how you want to express your relationship with God?