Monday, March 15, 2004

The Catholic Club

Hi. I'm taking a lunch break from working on my book. This weekend I spent a lot of time rereading the New Testament. Those parables are strange and odd. So much odder and stranger than I remembered them from my Bible study class and even from when I reread the New Testament a year or so ago. Take the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew, Chapter 22. So, the idea is that heaven is like a wedding feast that God is giving. God's messengers go out and invite people. Some of the invitees ignore the invitation, and other invitees kill the messengers -- just for inviting them to the party. Okay, that IS bad. I get it. You shouldn't kill someone for trying to invite you to a party.

But, then God (or the King in the parable) sends an army to destroy, not only the people who killed his messengers, but the ENTIRE CITY that these people lived in. A city filled with people who didn't ignore the invitation. They didn't even GET an invitation.

The Bible is filled with stories of entire cities being wiped out because of a few bad apples. That seems unethical to me, but let's just let this part go. So far, I get it. God comes and invites people to a way of life, and those that ignore the message don't get to come to the party (eternal life in heaven). Okay, okay.

But then what happens next? God (the King) sends his servants out into the street and they ask a bunch of other people to come to the party, good and BAD people. Okay, that's strange, because what do they mean by "bad" people? But okay -- let's just go with this -- good and bad people, OTHER people get to come to the party because the first people ignored the invitation. At this point I am asking myself, is there a limit on the number of people that can come to heaven? Does someone not responding to Jesus allow room for another person to come who wouldn't have been asked if the first person hadn't declined? Or been murdered when their city was destroyed?

But now comes the bizarre part. Since the servants ran into the street and hauled people into the wedding party, good and bad people, at the last minute, there was one guy who wasn't properly dressed for the wedding. Okay. Well, there's all kinds of people there -- good and "bad," and they were all asked to come at the last minute. But what does God have his servants do to this person who is badly dressed? Ask him to change? No. Ask him to leave? No. Give him some proper clothes? No. Explain to him how to dress properly for a wedding? No.

No, God (the King) instructs his servants to: (this is from my New American Bible version) "Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the night to wail and grind his teeth." So, I'm thinking, even if you are a BAD person, but wearing the right outfit, you go to heaven. But you could be a good person, in the wrong outfit, and you get thrown into Hell.

The moral of this story according to the bible: Many are called, but few are chosen.

OK. So, I get how a story illustrating how many people may hear the message and few of them RESPOND to it properly could be important. But why the clothes part of it?

So, if you hear the word of God, and come to the "party" but aren't wearing the right clothes, you still get thrown into hell. I imagine a priest from my childhood would say, "The clothes mean how prepared you are to enter heaven, i.e. go to church, are in good status with confession/your soul, etc." But the story goes out of it's way to say that these secondarily invited guests were invited off the street and some of them were bad people. Isn't this a convoluted, confusing, and strange story, given the theme "god" is trying to express?

Now, when I was a Catholic, I barely paid attention to these parables, they seemed dated and odd even then. I just figured it was some benign way to explain a moral concept using a story. My teachers would probably have said that this story means, "Listen to the word of God, but even if you are listening to the word of God, you have to be in good standing with God in order to go to heaven. Just listening isn't good enough." Or something like that.

Why did Jesus speak in parables? Well, the Apostles ask him this very question in Matthew as well. Even though the Apostles seem constantly confused by Jesus's message, even when he is straightforward, Jesus tells them that the reason he speaks in parables is that the people, the general public, don't understand him, "They look but do not see, they listen but do not understand." (Mathew 13) Okay. Why? Why would stories be clearer for people who have a hard time understanding than outright lessons? Jesus does give a lot of outright answers to things, like about divorce and how people should sell every last thing and give it away to the poor. Why are these stories so special? They don't seem special. They seem confusing. And it seems as though even the Apostles are confused by them.

All right. That's enough for now. What I wanted to write about today is this whole idea that I'm against the Catholic Church. I got an e-mail today from an old friend who I adore, this wonderful and delightful person, who is doing work for the Catholic Church in Seattle, and she said, "I know you are against the Church." And I've been thinking about this all morning. I am not against the church. (I'm totally confused about when I'm supposed to be capitalizing Church and god, or church and God, or even Apostles, or for that

I have a lot of affectionate feelings for the Catholic Church. It's my birth culture. I honestly am not sure that if I lived in Spokane, I wouldn't be sending my daughter to St. Augustine's, a Catholic school. Because I think Catholicism, at least as it's practiced in my home town, is a great club. I know that might sound flip, but I really think it's a great club. It has rituals and meetings and solidifies a group and creates history between people. It provides a place for the dispossessed, rituals for births, deaths and weddings. It organizes charity events. It has excellent schools. Great club.

I'm not "against" the Catholic Church. There are a lot of things I like about it a lot. I just don't believe in the dogma. I was on the plane recently with a high school friend who has a few kids in Catholic schools in Spokane. And he was telling me how he and another friend of ours, who also has kids in Catholic schools in Spokane, revealed to each other that they don't believe it either -- the whole dogma, god, catholic thing. But they went to those schools and had a good experience, it's where the people they know send their kids, there's this whole history and community for them there, and that's where they want their kids to go to school. And I totally get that. When he told me this I was nodding my head, like, "Yes, yes. That's how I would feel too."

But now that a few weeks have gone by, I am still thinking about it. Would I? I don't know. I don't know if I could casually not believe like that. Not believing in god and Catholicism in particular changed my world view so dramatically, it's not like I could just take god and religion out of Catholicism and have it still be okay. I don't think, anyway. I guess I'm still coming up with my take on it all.

I guess what I'm coming to grips with, especially as I talk about letting go of God more and more, is how outside the accepted norm I am becoming. And I'm not sure what to do about that. I know that my mother would say that the best thing is to not believe in God and not say anything about it. I don't think this is necessarily hypocritical. She has said to me, lovingly and sincerely, that "People who don't believe in god keep it quietly to themselves." I don't keep it quiet anymore. And I found that a lot of people, lots and lots of people, feel the same way I do. We accept a wholly natural universe. We don't accept the idea of a God who is concerned with us personally and who is in control or who orchestrates or reacts to anything that happens. We believe we evolved, with all the haphazard, accidental, wayward, opportunity-seeking moves that is the hallmark of evolution. Which, by the way, makes us humans so lucky and remarkable -- but that's another topic.

But what I'm really trying to get comfortable with is how this point of view I have colors how others see me. If I met a guy who was writing a book about, how the Twin Towers were not brought down by Al Qaeda but by the United Nations instead, I would automatically think this person was a nut-case. And that's how people view me when they ask what I'm writing and I say this book all about losing my faith in God.

I guess that in our culture, and probably all cultures, there are certain beliefs that are the accepted norms. Whether they are true or not isn't important. But people who do not hold these beliefs are immediately flagged as outsiders or crackpots or, as in the case of Los Angeles therapy-speak, obsessives. I can see how efficient this way of thinking is. I can see how it would develop. I can see how I use it in other areas, myself.

Like say, take the...9/11, the terrorist attack example. If someone told me it was the United Nations behind it, I would think, "My not-fully-investigative, but casual research into this topic makes me confident that Al Qaeda was behind it and not the United Nations. I am going to label this person a wacko and avoid them or at least this topic with them." And that would be an efficient and, most likely, a correct move to make.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I can see how the average person who accepts that there is a God, but hasn't put a lot of objective, investigative research into it (And why should they? The entire culture behaves as if this God does exist and they probably have no reason to doubt that ) I can see why they would see me as a nutcase because of this book and this show that I'm working on. I get it. I totally get it.

But what am I to do? I am a monologist. I write about my point of view. And this was a deeply life-changing experience. And, IN my point of view, it's dangerous what is happening in our world and in our society because of this belief in a god that, I think, is not well considered. And I think that not believing in God makes awareness, true awareness in the beauty of our world possible.

But if I try to explain this, then I come across even stranger! Oh me oh my. Ah well. Good thing I care a little about what people think about me, but not a lot. Enough to bathe and get haircuts, but not enough to change my world-view. So, I guess I will avoid talking to people about it, even if they make comments, unless they ask me a question directly. And I can write about what I think here! In my blog!

Oh dear. I wrote through my lunch hour. Back to work!


Now I'm feeling bad about saying that the average person has not fully considered the existence of God. I guess I just think, how can they, when the facts are so obvious? But then, maybe they aren't all that obvious. If you are a casual observer of the intricacy of this life we are in the midst of, it seems sufficiently complex as to have to be created by a creator. Also, we humans are so much different than other animals that it must also seem obvious that we are created especially. But the thing is, now we have the facts, we've got the theory of evolution and DNA, we can observe how evolution behaves in things like viruses.

Maybe I need to just quit everything and go be a high school biology teacher.

The other thing is that if you are coached, like I was, to feel God's "love" all the time, then that's another tangible piece of evidence that someone might have to believe in God. Hmmm...

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Life in the Slow Lane

What I'm doing: I'm writing a book. So far the title is going to be: "Letting Go Of God". It's hard. To write a book, I mean. Letting go of God was also hard, but I did that a while ago, so it doesn't seem so hard now. What seems hard now is to write this book. I am working on the outline. I have finished a preliminary one. I am terrified and overwhelmed. I have been doing the stage show of the same title, here and there, around and about, for almost three years. This is definitely my hardest show to do.

What's new? Well, I read this wonderful book, "Uncommon Sense" by Alan Cromer. His idea is that scientific, objective, abstract, rational thinking is not natural to us. But, as he says, "...when you think about it, monogamy, honesty & democratic government are unnatural human behaviors as well...." And I have to say, after reading his book, I agree with him. He also says that "Our claim to greatness is that we have at times gone against the grain of our own egocentrism to forge a higher vision of the world."

Also this: "Science is the end product of two unique histories: the biological history in which human beings evolved from anthropod ancestors, and the human history of the discovery of objective thinking and its application to the study of nature. The second history wouldn't be possible if the first didn't endow us with the capacity of abstract thought. But why do we have this capacity? What were the specific environmental factors that selected for high intelligence? Were they the same ones that first caused the hominid line to diverge from the ape line? If so, then science was the destiny of our line. If not, the hominid line from which we descended arose from extraneous factors having nothing to do with heavy thinking -- then human intelligence itself is a fluke, an unpredictable event along the chaotic trajectory of life. Maybe we got to where we are by such a tortuous path that it's likelihood of being repeated elsewhere is very small."

I loved the book, underlining things all through it. I tried to send him an e-mail but it seems he is alive but not able to get e-mail through the university he used to teach at (Northeastern University).

I think it's true, that science asks people to veer away from a passion for believing in spirits and gods and it's difficult. That scientific thinking comes, not naturally, but through formal education. In the end, that was the biggest transformation for me. I thought I was just seeking to find God, and what I ended up with was an entirely new way of seeing the world. It wasn't just God I gave up, but also my confidence in anything that I couldn't pass through my new method of finding truth, which included evidence and objectivity and probabilities and a deep attempt at freeing myself from projecting my own personal wishes and needs into ideas and concepts. Not only out went a personal God, or even any non-personal God, but a lot went with the bathwater -- from astrology, psychics, untested herbal remedies to ideas like transformation through transcendence. But I gained so much more.

This week a friend said to me, "You don't believe anything." And I couldn't stop thinking about that. Because that's not true. In fact, I think it's the oppposite. It's that I believe in so much. I mean, if you define "believe" as in "have confidence in." I have confidence in the laws of nature. I understand how objective truth is arrived at. I have a method that allows me to "believe" in things.

What else? I was in Spokane to visit my parents. I went to a Christian concert -- I took Mulan. I felt a little guilty taking her to her first big concert and having it be a Christian one, but I was curious. The first band was a local one, called Sittser. I couldn't detect any overt Christian references to their songs -- most of them having vague possibly religious themes, like "When you are confused, look up for direction," which of course, could mean looking at the stars or something. The second band was Newsboys, and they were yelling "Praise God!" as soon as they got onstage to a packed Opera House filled with believers yelling "Yes!" and "Praise Jesus!" back at them.
Mulan asked me, "What does 'praise' mean?" and I said, "It means...adore or like...give a compliment."
And she said, "Why does God need a compliment?"
Ha. I said because he's omnipotent and omnicient and also really insecure.

The lead singer of the Newsboys started telling the audience a story. He said, "You know how it's easy to pray when things are going well, when times are good? But it's a lot harder to pray when things are going bad." Then he told about how his wife died of cancer the year before and how he and she used to pray. It felt very manipulative. I looked around at the audience. Couldn't they see how manipulative that was? Plus, it's not true. People pray much quicker and easier when times are tough. It's when they need something and the idea of a loving merciful God who has control or even just comfort is appealing. When things are going well, people usually don't pray. (Although I have to say, I used to pray all the time, good times and bad. I liked to pray in good times because it gave me the idea that there was someone to thank). In any case, this was about the time that I decided that we had to go.

As we were leaving the Opera House, I saw the lead singer of Sittser. I asked him if he considered his band a Christian band. I could tell he couldn't tell where I was coming from, and so he tried to have it both ways, saying that he didn't want to get pigeonholed, but that his band had deep faith, blah blah blah.

I went because I was curious. The radio station that promoted the concert is one of several Christian stations in Spokane and this whole, new, Christian music is a phenomenon. I wanted to see it up close. Mostly, I have to say, it was pretty boring. I mean, almost any gospel music has many times more "soul" than these two bands had. And more vocally appreciative fans.