I know, I know… One post on the topic is fine, even two. But now I’m pushing it.
I’m finding that the more I write, the more I have to say. And let’s face it–religion/philosophy/spirituality are the sorts of topics that can lead to really long and interesting discussion and exchange of ideas.
I chose the title of this blog because I wanted to explore the ways that my personal beliefs differ from the formal doctrine/dogma of the Catholic Church. When I take an honest look, there are probably more things I see differently than things I view the same.
First, let’s get the obvious gender stuff out of the way. The Church has made some (superficial) strides toward inclusiveness. I personally believe many of them are silly. I understand God as being neither male or female (or both male and female, if you prefer). But I don’t need traditional hymns revised to tell me this. In fact, I find these sometimes clumsy word revisions to be petty, and nothing but an attempt to placate those of us who feel that women deserve a more equal role within the Church. In other words, no, you can’t be priests, but here, we’ll change the word “Him” to “God” because we’re sensitive to your feelings. Our stand on contraception and reproductive rights all but eliminates your role as an autonomous person, delegated to the role of baby incubator, but we’ll change the second verse of Joy to the World from “Let men their songs employ” to “Let us our songs employ.” Yep, that sure does make me feel better.
But I didn’t start this post to rant about what I don’t like, so let’s move on.
When I was younger, I had a conversation with my father about religion. He used an analogy that I still continue to use to this day. He said different religions were really just different paths up the same mountain. At the most basic core or all religion is a belief in something greater than ourselves and the goal of living a life that is in harmony with the rest of the world. Do not kill, do not steal, help those in need. In the grand scheme of things, the differences between many faiths are superficial. Do you worship “God” or “Allah”? Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God, a prophet, or a figment of the imagination? None of these things change the most fundamental teachings of religion, which is about being a good person.
As I mentioned in Part 1, I spent about 10 years trying to work through me beliefs. By the time I was in college, I had already decided that my beliefs were pretty much Christian, but there were certain ideas and concepts that I had learned along the way that drew me in other directions. I was always open-minded regarding the supernatural. I found that astrology described my personality very well in the explanation of my sun sign (Sagittarius) and my rising sign (Libra). I believe in reincarnation and that each lifetime presents us with different lessons to learn. I read The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure, shortly after it was first published. Not only did I love it then, but it’s something I still recommend to people and re-read regularly. So how could I reconcile all of this with Christianity, and especially with Catholicism?
The first step for me came in the form of a book that I found in a new-age bookstore in Syracuse. While most of the store was geared toward Wiccan beliefs (the store was owned by a practicing Wiccan), the selection of books spanned almost any religion imaginable and included a wonderfully large assortment of Gnostic Christian texts and writings. One day I stumbled upon a book called The Nine Faces of Christ: Quest of the True Initiate, by Eugene E. Whitworth. It was a fictional account of a man who was trained in the old great religions and was eventually crucified. While it is not about Jesus per se, it demonstrates the relationship be tween Christianity and other great religions. It’s no secret that Christianity has “borrowed” from earlier religions. For example, we know that Christmas was intentionally set to be celebrated right around the same time as the Pagan Yule/Winter Solstice. All Souls’ Day immediately follows Halloween (also the Pagan festival Samhain). But this book looked at some of the larger concepts that also became incorporated into Christianity. For me, this book was the beginning of my journey back to the Catholic church. Unfortunately, when I gave the book to my father to read, he did not get the same message and actually destroyed the book because he apparently felt it was that bad.
So here I am, over 10 years after deciding to go back to the Catholic church. For almost nine years I’ve been involved with at least one of the two adult choirs at my church. For the last two and a half years I’ve been completely committed to both groups. I sing for two masses every Sunday from September through June. I generally take July and August off, going to mass a little less regularly (I have two months where I can actually do stuff with my friends on Saturday nights). I still read books like The Secret or The Four Agreements because I’m okay with the idea that anything that helps me to be a better person is worth reading. I have more recently been drawn to books that relate to the intersections of science and religion. I firmly believe that the two can coexist. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a Christian to believe in evolution, because I don’t see science as a threat to religion. I see science ultimately proving the existence of something greater than ourselves, and I know that I’m not alone in this.
Maybe I’m a bad Catholic. Maybe not.