Friday, September 9, 2011

Old School Reasons

I was raised Catholic, and as far as I was aware, so was everyone I had ever met until I was 18 years old. Everyone, except of course, my father. My father's family were 'Protestant.' I say Protestant, and not Lutheran, or Baptist, or Westleyan, or Episcopalian, because to this very day, I have no idea which divisional tree branch of the Protestant Reformation my father's family ascribed to. We just never talked about it. My father is a bit of a man of science, and certainly not one to be contagious with his Christianity.

As far as I was taught, as far as I was aware, everyone was Catholic. It's just what you did. Being raised that way instilled in me the beliefs and arguments that I currently hear from those non-lapsed Catholics who care to talk about their beliefs on rare occasions.

Catholic Dogma is, I think, pretty well understood. Virgin Mary, Jesus, Trinity, Nuns and Priests, and the Pope's big hat. The actual 'beliefs' of actual Catholics are bit harder to wrap one's head around, and that's because I'm pretty sure that they don't have any.

Catholicism is a job. You go to church on Sunday, tithe away, send your kids to Catechism to learn the rules, and enjoy in the social aspects of a large group of people with similar beliefs playing bingo. Catholicism has long ago dropped the 'fire and brimstone' proselytizing in favor of a sedate 'Hosanna in the Highest." (Look it up.)

Questioning a Catholic on the tenets of their faith can be a frustrating endeavor. Questions about 'The Holy Trinity,' and how that could possibly make any sense are typically rebutted with "Religion has done more good in the world than harm." That's probably why you don't see any Catholic debaters going up against the likes of William Lane Craig, or even Christopher Hitchens.

For me, religion has been a constant annoyance. Church was boring, with long winding sermons only punctuated by "Let us proclaim the mystery of Faith." I think that chant, more than any other, defines the current state of American Catholicism. My questions on the logic of all of it were refuted one of two ways: You can't know God's plan, or, more honestly, "No one actually believes that."

And so, I went on my way, slowly evolving over time into the no-man's land of lapsed Catholicism. Religion didn't bother me because I didn't bother with it. The people on the television espousing stupidity were laughed at, and that's about as far as I went.

And then something happened. 19 people who had beliefs unfounded but unwavering hijacked 4 planes, crashing three of them into the monuments that represented for them the antithesis of what their religion told them was right.

Ten years later, I think I have finally realized how I came to be here writing this. It was a slow process. I didn't come out on September 12th, and state "I'm an Atheist, and you all are fucking nuts!!!" Instead, I spent a fair amount of time wondering how these things I had called "beliefs" were the same unproven, untestable claims that would lead people to do what they did.

We called them evil, we said that they hated our freedom...and then we consecrated a set of crossed I-beams left standing, and carved the word 'Jesus' into it.

In the past ten years, religion has become a more vocal aspect of the American Zeitgeist. From the Westboro Baptist Church to the Tea Party to Proposition 8 to Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. The American response to fanaticism has been fanaticism.

And we are getting worse. In the September 2011 Republican debate, former Governor John Huntsman argued, unsuccessfully, that we shouldn't turn our back on science. He was referring to the fact that Bachmann, Perry, and many others on that stage proclaim absolute certainty about creationism. And Huntsman is a goddamn Mormon!

Catholicism taught me that religion does more good in the world than harm, that no one really believes that stuff, or takes in seriously, that religion is simply a way for people to come together as a community. The decade after September 11th has taught me that religion fosters hate, divides, that science is to be ignored when the facts conflict with faith, and that people believe so strongly in these campfire tales of comfort that they are willing to die, that they are willing to kill.

Unfounded beliefs will always lead to fanaticism. When the position is indefensible, where will always be those who choose to defend their position with a fist.

And I can't believe that we don't see it. When I looked around with open eyes, and watched our culture heading down the road of insanity as we have so many many times before, I never once thought that I was alone in realizing where this goes.

Was I wrong?

-Paul Wittmeyer

1 comment:

  1. Open eyes... not an easy place to stay, either. No that I expect you to 'backslide' into Catholicism, just that the temptations to go with what you want to be true rather than what is most probably true are always changing and we are all so very fallible.

    From now on I think that on September 11th I will take the time to admit my own capacity for bad judgment and wishful thinking, and admit my need for peer review. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all capable of horrible, insane things if left unchecked for long enough and if even for just one day a year we could honestly listen to the criticism against our cherished ideas with the possibility of changing our minds and damn the consequences - the better world we're all hoping for might become something more than an embarrassing cliche.