29 April 2005

Fumbling towards...?

My attempt to recreate what I lost before. It will not have the fire or passion of my original attempt since that was spurred on by a specific catalyst cannot be duplicated. But I've had a couple of requests that I voice my thoughts anyway, so I'll try. It won't be nearly as empassioned, though.

I grew up, a good little Anglican. For those of you who don't know, that's the the Church of England which was "cannonized" as the official sect of the UK by that grand womanizer, King Henry VIII.

I went regularly until about high school. That's when I traded in Sundays at the alter (I was even an Alter Girl) for the semblance of a social life. You can't stay out late and have fun and get up to no good and be expected to get up early for church. I somewhat maintain that if our parish had evening services, I might not be the "lost sheep" I am now. Though, at the same time, so much has happened, I really can't make that assertion. I'm sure that having a bunch of heathen friends didn't help.

After I stopped going to church regularly, I bashed it a lot. It was boring, it didn't make sense. I "descended" into full-blown atheism for a while. I didn't engage in the debate very much. I avoided talking to my parents about it, and it was an easy lifestyle because it fit perfectly with what everyone else was doing. I guess I became a different kind of sheep.

It wasn't until I met Mo that I really started having crises about what I believed. That's when I really started thinking about what religion was and why I backed out.

Mo's a Catholic. She sometimes refers to herself as "Catholic light". She follows most of the tenets to the letter, but we've also had some interesting conversations about what doesn't work in the Roman Catholic church. The one I always bring up (and get really angry about) is this "the Pope is infallable" dogma. I have plenty of other problems with the hierarchy of the RC church, but it can originally be traced back to my realization of what Pius IX did. In 1870, he declared the Pope infallible. Immediately makes it hard to argue with, eh? Here's my problem with that: Man is fallible. God is (acclaimed) infallible. The Pope, while God's representative on earth, is a man. I see holes in the logic. Need more proof? The Pope isn't chosen by God. The Pope is elected by Cardinals (hey, that just happened!). If the Pope was truly the one true representative of God, wouldn't it be unanimous? But maybe I'm oversimplifying. Maybe that's not the point.

At any rate, in my view, I don't see how the Pope can't be wrong about things like birth control, when so many unplanned babies are born into horrible situations, and millions are infected with AIDS in Africa. I'm not saying that everyone should rush out and have premarital sex, but really, why can't we protect ourselves if we do. Especially since marital sex doesn't guarantee that nothing bad will happen. And you're also asking recognized fallible creatures to fight against millions of years of biology. But I digress.

Then there's the Catholic stance on gays. Now, before anyone jumps all over me, I know this is a view held by many religious institutions. But in my world, RCs appear to lead the charge. Maybe because of their numbers, maybe because of where I get my information. But it was from an RC that I first became aware that there was oppostion. To the people, and to their marriage. I could never really find the words for why I accept both. In researching a post to Robyn's blog, I found this website that put it into perspective for me; even backing up the arguments with Bible quotes. I also recently came across some interesting thoughts in this (Janet's) blog.

As I started becoming aware of all the different incarnations of Christianity, I really started to question how anyone could be right. Then when I realized that Christians (in various forms) have been trying to prove people wrong for years, I really got mad.

Now, I realize that this isn't a phenomenon particular to Christians -- that many faiths have been trying to peddle influence for thousands of years. But when I looked at Western history and Christians long, bloody history (crusades, colonialism, etc.), I got really confused. When did "Love thy neighbour" turn into, impose your beliefs or slaughter those who disagree?

Did they have it wrong? Were they out of line? Contemporary thought seems to agree, yes. So assertions that This Is The Way It Is or that Now We've Got It Right fall a little flat to me. My example: many (and I apologize for being non-specific) Christian sects preached slavery from the pulpit for decades. It was our "God-given right" to abuse and subjugate entire races because of skin colour and origin. Well, no one's very fond of that doctrine anymore. In fact, I've been hard pressed to find a religious organization that has make public statements to that effect (note: the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazism are not religions (although the former has been recorded as promoting Prostentantism: they are secular organizations).

My point is that all this contributed to a great big WTF?!?! from me as I failed repeatedly to be able to reconcile all this history with what I was understanding from 20 years of religious instruction.

Let me make one thing clear: I do not think anyone is stupid for their religious beliefs. I might not understand the wherefores and whys of someone's faith (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.), but I don't think I need to understand in order to accept. Nor does any of what I've said mean that I think other people's beliefs are invald. Everyone thinks differently. I've just been cataloguing my experiences and my struggle with how or what to believe.

So, what do I believe? Well, usually, I simplify things and label myself an agnostic. People like labels. They allow us to categorize easily and make unsubstantiated snap judgements. I know, because I do it too. The thing is, agnosticism doesn't cover it for me. I'm not just unclear about the existence of God or a god. I'm confused over how anyone can think they have it right and that 5 billion or 3.4 billion or 5.75 billion people (depending on which cult you're in) are all completely wrong. And for the record, I don't think I have it right either; just that I have it right for me right now. I guess I believe that's all anyone has the right to expect for themselves or for anyone else.

There are many things I don't get. I don't understand how (as happened on Desperate Houswives recently) a mother can say to her son, "I don't believe you'll go to heaven." I don't understand how minor variations in personality or biology can be the basis to reject someone on an institutional level. While education systems are bending over backwards to include everyone in the learning process (which doesn't necessarily work either), it seems like religious institutions are holding on rigidly to whip people into shape and get them to fall in line.

So, maybe I'm a Moral Relativist, or a Pluralist, or an Agnostic, or an Existentialist. When it comes down to it, I don't know what to call myself. And maybe I'll be proven wrong some day in whatever it is I believe. But I don't disparage anyone who believes in a particular religious doctrine, nor do I disparage those who believe there isn't anything to believe. I do take issue with people who manipulate doctrines to acheive a larger political or social agenda, or to justify the subjugation or abuse of others. Maybe that's right, and maybe I somehow contradict myself by making that assertion, but I'm currently comfortable with myself. I'm glad I took time and energy to think about it all. And I'm glad I made another attempt at this blog (even though I know I went way off course from my original intent that is lost in cyberspace).

I welcome thoughts, opinions, and healthy debate. Random personal attacks, name-calling, and otherwise unintelligent commentary will be deleted -- and I reserve the right to rebut the author of such with derision and mockery. :)

[Endnote: I apologize if my blog seems to skew unfairly toward Roman Catholics. It's true that I could have done more research into other denominations of Christianity, but since I was talking about what I believe and how I came to it, I had to go with what I knew. I guess it's funny that I didn't poke at Anglicanism more: what a (lapsed) Catholic ex once referred to as the religion of fickle, skeptical whores. Maybe I should have stuck with my own. ;)]


Tricky said...

Infallible in this case does not mean what you think it means. It means, very specifically that in matters of the church, the pope has the final say. This is infallibility happens only when the pope speaks 'ex cathedra' (from the chair.) So, he’s not infallible all the time, but only when a doctrinal decision must be made regarding faith or morals. Basically, to have this infallibly take effect, the pope must be willing to bind all the church to the premise the pontiff posits, it must be something he is willing to teach in his official capacity as the head of the Church, and it must be something he commits the entire church to. Pius XI did it in order to define, with authority, the Immaculate Conception. There is biblical precedent for this infallibly, the Catholics cite Matthew 16:18, among many, many boring others. This doesn’t mean that the pope can’t make mistakes; it is simply a formal dealio that states that the pope, being leader of the Church, can make judgments on doctrine. They were doing it before; after all. This thing with Pius simply made it official.
And, to my knowledge, this infallibly came into play very rarely, twice about Mary - the I.C., and the other was about her skipping death; a pope made it doctrine that she was called directly to heaven without the muss and fuss of dying. The Catholics maintain that this infallibility has never, when scrutinized under a historical lens, been wrong.
Regarding the choosing of a pope, are you honestly expecting a big booming voice from the sky, or a finger to point out the new pope? It would kind of take away from that whole free will thing, wouldn’t it? Sure, he’s god’s representative on earth, or whatever, but I still don’t think that’s a good enough reason to suddenly take free will from those cardinals, and make them choose someone in particular.
Nowhere in the bible does it condone slavery. There are places where it discusses slavery, and how to treat one’s slaves well, but it doesn’t ask people to go out and buy a blonde or anything like that. In those times, everyone had slaves, and Christians in general were walking on pretty thin ice not to get their asses kicked at every turn. It would not do for them to upset the status quo by launching slave rebellions and whatnot. They would have been stomped out flat. Instead, the subversive route was taken, and bubby there wrote about how to treat one’s slaves well (Paul, I think.). I think, however, that it was previously established that god didn’t much like slavery, since he unleashed an assload of plagues on the Egyptians.
It seems to me that your problems with the church aren’t really with the church, more like with the 200$ haircut preaching stupid shit from pulpits. The church is comprised of people, and people are fucking stupid. An institution is just a thing. It only does stuff when people make it do stuff. Atheistic regimes do just as much damage; they just haven’t had as much time. Stalin, anyone?

Jac said...

First, thanks for being clear about not judging people for belonging to particular religious institutions. Second, your point about how people like labels got me thinking about my own "label". As you know, I'm a card-carrying RC. For a long time, that was just because it was the way I was raised. Once I committed to it personally, it was still a matter of just going with the flow. Now that I'm a more well-informed adult, I find myself making personal decisions about what I actually do and don't believe. And to best categorize (or *label*) myself based on what I personally believe, I identify myself as a Roman Catholic. My church is nowhere close to perfect, and never will be as long as it's full of fallen people (which, incedentally, is the whole beautiful point of having a church), but I know that for me, it's the best representation of what my heart and mind believe to be true.
All that being said, I applaud you for doing the same: figuring out what YOU believe, and THEN trying to label it, rather than just mindlessly conforming. (Of course I also applaud you for mentioning dear ol' Mo!)
(Tricky, thanks for pointing out the specifics of papal infallibility. Too many people think that it means that if it's sunny but the pope says it's raining, then he must be right.)

deadwriter said...

"I do take issue with people who manipulate doctrines to acheive a larger political or social agenda, or to justify the subjugation or abuse of others."

Do you make a distinction between the people who knowingly and purposely manipulate doctrine to serve their own political and social agendas, and those who accept a doctrine which which they believe pushes them toward certain political and social agendas?

minako said...


a) Thanks for clarifying infallibilty re: popes. That actually makes a lot more sense to me now. However, I've still come across a lot of practising Catholics who disagree -- and cite the Church's policy during the holocaust as why.

b) No, I don't actually expect God to declare the new pope from the heavens. I use that as an example of how interpretations can be different and still not wrong.

c) I didn't say the Bible condonned slavery. I said that it was preached as an acceptable right becasue Man (read: white people) hold dominion over all the beasts.

d) Religious institutions didn't pop up on their own. Yup, it's all about the people. And, yup, the people in charge are generally the ones I take issue with. But they're the ones upholding the authority of the institution, so I point to the institution as the problem I have. Remember, this blog is all about my personal experiences and how I arrived at my current position. I never claimed it was right.

minako said...


Thanks for your support. This is what I like; people who can accept that they differ and still respect each other's views.

I may not always get it, but I certainly respect and admire how you work with it and commit to it.

minako said...


Actually, yes. I do.


Agate said...

Tricky, I like your last paragraph. You're right that secular regimes can be just as bad. Anything can be used for someone's own purposes. I think many people blame the church for what certain individuals have used it for.
Personally, Minako, I think it would have been better to think only about your own church. It's hard for us to see all sides of issues to do with other denominations. I think it's better for us to be concerned with the denomination we are involved in. It's just too easy to find fault with organisations that we only know from the outside. It's odd, people still feel resentment to the "church" as an institution of power and authority. I don't see it as claiming any authority any more. I see churches as the underdog today.
Jac and Minako, you are lucky to have a label that you can wear. I don't really have one that fits me. It would make life a little easier, to identify myself with some group, some title. Instead people see that I am not them, and try to put some other label on me, but no group claims me as one of them, and no label suits me. Blah.

minako said...


I respectfully disagree. I feel that only considering one's own church can be single-minded and even ignorant. If someone told me they based their dismissal of the whole of Christianity on only experiences with one denomination, I'd be quick to point out that not all denominations are the same.

So in talking about leaving the church, I mentioned other denominations; in particular, the one that featured most heavily; Catholicism.

I also explained that my post might appear to be unfairly slanted toward Catholics, but I was not Catholic-bashing. I could have just as easily inserted, "Well, I hear Baptists don't dance or drink, and I'm not so comfortable with the Pentecostal idea of speaking in tongues," but I was trying a focussed approach (something I'm not often accused of), so I excluded passing references to religions and denominations with which I has less interaction.

I didn't critique Buddhism or Islam either. :)

I talk more about Roman Catholicism than Anglicanism in relation to this "journey" partially because I don't know any Anglicans my age. I'd already stopped going to church with my parents when I started thinking about what I believed and started debating theology with friends. My friends who went to church happened to be (and still mostly are) Catholics. So while I openly admit that I don't know everything about Catholicism, I don't think I'm wholly ignorant either, and don't think I should only "stick to my own kind." I think I have the right to comment on their belief structure, and I'm open to anyone who wants to have a conversation about why they disagree with my views on the RC church.

In fairness, current specific problem with Church of England: The international council has requested that Canada and the US step away from the table for up to 5 years because our "leniency" toward homosexuals (US ordained an openly gay bishop, Canada is debating civil same-sex marriage legislation) is upsetting the "more conservative" developing nations. I think this is a closed-minded approach to a global social issue. I'm glad I live in the country "in the wrong", because at least we're talking about it.

I also disagree with your statement that the church has no power. When the pope says no condoms, people listen. When the pope touts a policy of abstinence that isn't working in Africa, but still won't budge, people are listening. Meanwhile, millions of "misguided" Africans are contracting/infected with/dying of HIV/AIDS. If the pope said, let's reconsider this doctrine, people would listen. That seems pretty top-down to me. Yes, that's another Catholic example, but I think it's relevant in that it's a policy whose effects can be measured in real time, not in theory. I could also look up lots of stats on the current US administration and the Christian Right, but this is only a comment and I'm lazy (and at work, devoting far too much time to this comment already).

Finally, I don't think there's a label for me -- that was part of the point of this exercise. The terms I chose were to point out how none really fit. I use labels, not to belong, but to make other people comfortable in categorizing me. There's no "belonging" where I am. I have yet to meet anyone in the same situation, with similar beliefs for similar reasons. I find it quite isolating, because the majority of people I talk to about it don't understand. I'm either a heathen or a hypocrite or ignorant or just stupid. It can be extremely frustrating. That probably why I'm close to the people I'm close to; they accept my beliefs (or lack thereof) and like me anyway, they don't want to convert me (to full-on religion or full-on atheism), and they're open to some healthy and entertaining theological and philosophical debates from time to time.

Tricky said...

Africa is not a Christian continent. Specifically, it is not a Roman Catholic continent. Botswana has 15% Christians, no denomination specified. The majority of belief is indigenous beliefs. Central African Republic has more Christians, 25% which are RC, and the Christian beliefs in that area ‘animistic beliefs and practices strongly influence the Christian majority’. (CIA fact book) These are just two examples; there’s lots of statistical crap available.

To state that the pope had anything but a negligible effect on the AIDS epidemic in Africa is misleading. The pope was hard nosed to extremity about the no-condoms issue, but he has a miniscule audience in Africa.

Also, keep in mind that RCism preaches abstinence until a heterosexual, monogamous union can be achieved. Perhaps if these tenets were followed as judiciously as the non-usage of condoms, there wouldn’t be an AIDS epidemic. Even though not using condoms is a RC tenant, it doesn’t follow that one can blame catholic doctrine for the AIDS epidemic, considering that promiscuity is strictly forbidden by Catholics. It’s just a coincidence, really, that Africans aren’t using condoms, and the Roman Catholic Church forbids them, as the statistics illustrate. Yeah, yeah, stats can show ANYTHING, but the amount of Roman Catholics on the African continent is little, whereas the amount of people suffering from AIDS is big. It’s more a question of cultural mores – remember this quote, from that article you sent me a while back, Minako? It exemplifies how condoms are regarded: “Who wants a sweet with the wrapper still on?”

I’m not saying that the Church’s position is good. They are, however, consistent; by this position, they are saying that someone who has AIDS should not have sex at all, even with their spouse. This would definitely cut down on the transmission. After all, we’ve changed the jargon from ‘safe sex’ to safer sex’ in recognition of the fact that there is no such thing as safe sex. The more liberal clergy has suggested that such abstinence is untenable; and they do state that not using condoms is toeing the line to breaking one of the commandments ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill.” These clergy, are in the vast minority however, since it is the Church’s position that sex is for making babies. They’re all about enjoying sex - John Paul Two was an advocate for women’s orgasms; but sex is for reproduction, in the church’s eyes, and only for trying to reproduce.

minako said...

My point actually isn't about RCs on the continent of Africa. It's about RC doctrine affecting foreign policy that says, "Teach abstinence, not safer sex." And that they're teaching it in a predominantly non-Christian environment is precisely my point. They're still trying to adapt and co-opt cultures.

To be fair, George W. Bush amended foreign aid policy after his election in 2000 to kill funding to "family planning" clinics that talked about anything other than abstinence. His view is informed by Methodism and right wing Christians.

The quote I sent you was taken out of context. It was in an article by a columnist with the New York Times. The article was highlighting the problems with how religion influences foreign policy and the subsequent problems in spreading the message that condoms could staunch the spread of AIDS, and education could prevent things like raping young girls because the myth is that such action will cure the disease. Numerous quotes from numerous workers on the continent fighting this disease all point to similar causes -- policy that isn't based on need and research but based on moral superiority.

I'd reproduce the article, but it would cost me $20 US to order it from the NY Times archives -- they only keep they're articles up for a week.

I understand the RC church's position on sex -- and other denominations, too -- my point is that it's known to be a harmful policy in this case, and governments are squeamish to contradict it for fear of upsetting a powerful voting group. It's fine to dictate the action of your members, but when it comes to others, and their slow, painful death, I think it's past the point of caution. Do what's right to help people.