Sunday, June 24, 2007

Let's talk a little bit about faith.

Or, let's try, before I go off on some rambling incoherent tangent.

Growing up, I was a good Catholic. I had the Mass memorized by the time I was in 2nd grade, just from hearing it week after week after week. (I never understood why anybody, let alone adults, needed the missilette: He's saying the exact same thing as last week, people!) I won prizes by answering trivia questions from our priest. (All of the questions were, to anybody who paid any amount of attention, ridiculously easy: Who wrote the Gospels? Name some of the people Paul wrote letters to. What does it mean when we make the sign of the cross over our forehead, mouths, and hearts right before the Gospel? I won a bike for that one, thank you very much. The hardest part, for me, was overcoming my shyness enough to raise my hand in the church full of people. I used to whisper the answers to my friends, let them raise their hands. Sometimes they shared the prizes with me - in addition to the bike, there was a turkey, a twenty dollar bill, and some books).

We prayed at home before meals & before bed; I made my first communion; I read at Sunday Masses (this was before girls could serve on the altar); I aced my CCD courses - and eventually taught CCD; I used to march in the May Day processionals and join the Blessed Mother's Rosary (where we would say the rosary as we walked around the outside of the church. In October. In Massachusetts.)

I was a good Catholic. And I believed.

I didn't just say I believed: I really, honest and truly, believed.

I was a normal, mischievous, playful kid, but I believed in God and Jesus, Mary and the Holy Spirit, Heaven & Hell, confession and contrition, the seven sacraments and the deadly sins: the whole bit. The Creed during the Mass was my creed: I believed in it all, at least, what I >understoodof it. (It's the second version on that page, btw.)

I was ashamed when I felt I'd sinned & confused when I had ideas that ran contrary to the teachings of the church. I thought almost everybody was Catholic like me, and felt sad for the few friends I had who weren't, since it meant they wouldn't go to Heaven.

But somewhere along the way, I started to have doubts. Something that didn't add up here, something that just felt wrong to me there. All the hows, all the whys.

In the end, it was as easy as a few unanswerable questions, asked to the priest leading our Confirmation class - questions about infallibility and church policy, questions about suffering and loss, questions about what kind of a God they had sold me on. And when the priest couldn't answer my questions to my satisfaction (and, at 17, it would've taken a lot for him to satisfy me), I had had enough. I was confirmed because it was what one did in my family, but inside I knew I wasn't a good Catholic girl any longer.

Ten years later, my perspective has changed a million times, but I've still never gone back to being a good Catholic. A cafeteria Catholic on my best days, a complete atheist on my worst. Mostly, I fall into the agnostic category: Just plain unsure.

In college I took courses on religion. I studied philosophy and the birth of religious dogma, and came away more confused than ever. Add in all my psychology and the theories on brainwashing and religion as cult, and the scientific explanations of what it means if you're hearing voices, and things kept getting jumbled up.

On my own, I've read about the beginnings of the Catholic church, and its controversies and inconsistencies over the years. I've studied Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, the different Christian sects, and found things in all of that that are to be much admired, things that are to be feared.

But there still has never been just one *answer* for me.

And I long to be little if only to have that belief: that certainty that there was something out there, someone, in charge of us all, making sure we did alright. Tried our best, came out OK in the end.

Because a lot of days, it just doesn't feel like that's true.

So I envy my grandmother who, though she'll be 90 next month, never misses a Sunday or Holy Day Mass. Ever. Who just believes. After all she's seen, all she's lost, all she's done.

Because to have that comfort, that bone-deep belief is a feeling that I wish I could get back. Because I may not go to church on Sundays anymore. I may loathe the influence of a few high placed, highly immoral 'religious' folks in our political system. I may think the Catholic Church will have much to answer for if Judgement Day ever comes. I may roll my eyes when someone says they're praying for me. But I want it to be enough... I want it to be true. I want to feel, when I'm mumbling my Hail Marys, that there's somebody up there listening. Somebody who's on my side.


Maya's Granny said...

Is it possible that you are not an atheist on your worst days, but on your best? That your intelligence and reason can't accept what doesn't make sense, no matter how nice it would be if it were true?

I think it would be lovely if there were a diety up there looking out for us, but if there is, why isn't He taking better care of you and all the other people who haven't a cure for their illness?

I could never believe that a good God would allow a little girl's father to die, it just didn't make sense.

TB said...

I came to agnosticism in much the same way you did, although my religious background was much more extreme and that extremity pushed me away in the end.

And my husband is even more on the atheist end of agnosticim.

Now that we have a child, we're unsure what to tell him about religion and what to do about church since we don't belong to one. I think I'd like to tell him when he's old enough to understand, about many different kinds of religion and let him explore, research and decide for himself.

But I totally get your last paragraph. I'm also sort of an eye roller when people talk to me about religion, but in the end, if they truly believe and it brings them comfort, then it's a good thing.