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.