What I Meant to Say

Wendy Babiak's Visions and Revisions

Please, Roman Catholic Church, Excommunicate Me

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In my last post I said I was a little nervous about unveiling my book because it makes clear that I wholeheartedly reject organized religion. Well, I guess I’ve gotten over it, because for a few days now my FB status has insisted that my next blog post would carry the above title. I do like to keep my word, so here I am.

I was raised in a rather strict, Irish-Catholic heritage, in a parish just north of Daytona Beach (that hotbed of sin), St. Brendan’s, where the Irish Catholic churches sent missionaries (I was 12 before I realized there were priests who spoke without a brogue). We went every Sunday. When I was a girl I was in love with Jesus, whose love I felt returned in the beauty of the natural world. When I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, the simple answer was saint. I planned on being a nun until my hormones kicked in at puberty. I’ve completed all the sacraments save last rites.

The adherence to nonsensical dogma like transubstantiation, combined with the flagrant misogyny of the patriarchal hierarchy, and the popes’ insistence on forbidding birth control (despite the damage to women’s lives AND the environment that such a policy causes), had encouraged me to eschew my Catholic upbringing by the time I was in my mid-20s. But it was impossible to completely eliminate something that had been sown so deeply; I ended up on a spiritual quest, due to an ingrained need for the numinous, that led me to explore other traditions, starting with Taoism, to Buddhism, to the Bhakti tradition in Hinduism (a tradition centered on cultivating love), to Sufism (the mystical branch of Islam), and even atheism, all the while practicing an intuitive, earth-centered spirituality. Finally I’m at a point where I embrace a positive (meaning assertive) Agnosticism. (Despite what some militant atheists insist, agnosticism is not the idea that one isn’t sure what is true, god or no-god, it’s not a refuge for intellectual cowards, but an assertion that one doesn’t believe one can know ultimate truth.) Looking at the geo-political paradigm, at the damage our current world-view(s) has (have) led us to do to each other and to the natural world, I can’t help but feel that certainty is at least partly responsible for the world predicament. A little humility would be a good thing. A little “I don’t know,” or “fu jiki,” as the Japanese Zen embrace. Here’s a short poem from my book (originally published in Free Inquiry, the journal of the Council for Secular Humanism):

Before your Grandma’s Funeral

What do you say to the nice old ladies
after your book-worming has taught you

the religion y’all once shared is just
a bunch of stories with suspect origins

like a poor man’s quilt, pieced together
from the brightest and the darkest bits

of the generations who went before
also just guessing and imagining

while the earth shook and thunder clapped
and the stars whirled and flashed overhead?

Seems to me that the myths religions promulgate at best are simply attempts, pre-science, to explain how things came to be. At worst, as explicated in The Chalice and The Blade, they are used to control people and to justify exploitative and dominating hierarchies. I said in my last post that the gylanic (egalitarian in all senses) message of Christ in the gospels was hijacked by the Roman empire to serve its own, quite contradictory ends. The man who did this, of course, was Constantine, a man who had his wife boiled alive, who had his own son murdered, and who force-fed the pagan Celts sanctified bread while their jaws were mechanically pried wide enough to break, until their stomachs burst. That’s mighty Christian, eh? And the Roman Catholic Church as it stands now is the natural flower of this beginning. It continues to encourage the subjugation of women, the rape of the natural world, the exploitation of the poor. Not to mention the rape of children (it seems hardly necessary to include that, as much press as it’s gotten, but there it is).

I remember when I was a docent at the New Orleans Museum of Art. They have a portrait of the Archangel Michael, painted in the time of the colonization (when the natives were being “converted” and used as slave labor) of South America. His stern visage is quite European, and against his shoulder he holds, not the flaming sword of ages past, but the flared musket of the overseer. At the time it was clearly intended to send a message to those laborers when they came to church. Now it hangs in the museum testifying against their exploitation, a potent visual metaphor.

None of this is news, of course, to anyone. So why am I now intent on securing an excommunication? We recently had attempted to rejoin the Church. Our kids were eager to belong to a religious community, eager to have an acceptable answer to the question “What are you?”, eager to have easy access to volunteer opportunities to help others. So we thought we could come back to the church, recognizing that much of their doctrine isn’t so bad when viewed metaphorically (that message in the gospels still rings true). But now this: Female Troubles, Lisa Miller’s article in Newsweek about the Church’s attack on women religious who dare to stand up for other women, or who harbor nefarious feminist ideas. Ugh. At a time when the Pope should be doing all he can to make the men in his organization bear personal responsibility, he’s attacking the women for not keeping in their place.

This is not an organization I can align myself with. Sitting in Mass some weeks ago, I was so emotionally torn it was hard to control the tears. On the one hand, I felt like I’d come home. It was beautiful. Facing a portrait of Mary, I thought, yes, the Church, unlike the protestant sects, has retained at least a little bit of the divine feminine in Mary. But sitting with my daughter, straining to understand the homily of the foreign priest while the eloquent sister sat to the side, not allowed to serve in that capacity though much more able, and hearing all metaphors for the divine delivered in the male gender, I thought, NO! I can’t do this to her. And I won’t.

Author: Wendy Babiak

Poet, permaculturalist, lay Carmelite. Pretty sure the world needs more love and less politics.

3 thoughts on “Please, Roman Catholic Church, Excommunicate Me

  1. Pingback: Please, Roman Catholic Church, Excommunicate Me « What I Meant to Say - Christian IBD

  2. In the ancient mystery cults, initiation was a private affair, in darkness, with hoods, bloody oaths, etc – a wisdom doled out by the priests and/pr the priestesses. The effect of these rites was the absolute conviction that one had been killed in the initiation, and now one was awake to the new world all around, that of communication with realms of being far beyond daily existence. This understanding, precious as it was, came with a price: obedience, money, allegiance, or control. Jesus, on the other hand, performed public theatrical initiations, like with Lazarus. One could now partake of the great mysteries of life, consciousness, and the oneness of mind, by sitting in a desk chair -no priest or priestess, no payment, no allegiance but to the cosmic motion of the ALL, from which one was never really separate, and to which one was already bound. The Romans attacked the Christians and then commuted their mysteries into a false church in order to keep the Caesars as the gate-keepers of knowledge. No church or hierarchy could ever contain the truth that all this we know is but a tiny bubble on a greater reality, a reality that guarantees an equality to all faiths, races, genders, sexualities, and nations by virtue of the fact that every human being is now divine, and that remembering this divinity is free for the taking any time, any place.

    That’s a hard thing to keep a lid on or control.

    Considering that the revolutionary impact of Jesus has been so poorly internalized by so many, I think the Church and other hierarchies have done a tremendous job of keeping people convinced of their spiritual poverty while keeping treasure dangled right in front of their parishioners’ noses. I think the Church got a lot of mileage out of Mary and other re-crafted symbols of the great mysteries. A lot of people like you and me were so grateful for a taste of the mysteries or a small token of the female divine, that they tolerated the abuse for quite a while, much like the pagan mysteries before. At least the Church didn’t have the lack of ritual or magic like Protestant or Pentecostal churches, which, of course, always seemed so unspiritual, materialistic, reductionistic aka Saturnistic aka Satanic. But, then again, from another perspective, charging for mystery may ultimately be more blameworthy then crushing mystery under the heel and banishing it from the earth like the Protestants attempted. Denied mysteries always rear their head again, in world consciousness, subconscious motives, whatever, but perverted mysteries may never be straightened right again. To use a sexual metaphor, getting into a relationship again after being celibate for decades might be easier that trusting again after being raped.

  3. I’ve often said that Catholicism is the best inoculate against organized religion.

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