Friday, February 19, 2010

Holy Shit

Last October, my friend Cher was conducting a good conversation going on her site AskCherlock, about being Catholic and going to confession, to which I contributed several long comments.  At the end, I thought, “what the hell am I doing putting all this here, when it would make a perfectly good post of my own?” 

I tabled the idea for a while but then on Wednesday, I bumped into the notion again when BachelorGirl was talking about Ash Wednesday and giving things up for Lent.

I mentioned there that Ash Wednesday has always given me the willies ever since I had a traumatic childhood experience with receiving the ashes.  I made the mistake of trusting that the priest had put his cigar out first.

OK, I kid.  But it reminded me that I still hadn’t used the Cherlock comments.  So let’s dive in.

When not referring to myself as a heathen, I usually self-classify as “Recovering Catholic”. 

I only endured 4 years of Catholic school at St. Euthanasius, but it certainly left a mark (and I really mean that.)

I, too, dreaded going to Confession because I didn't think I had that much to talk about in that dark little closet.  Cher had mentioned that when she was in Catholic school, the nuns had given them a little Book of Sins.  (I would call it a menu.) 

Now, I didn't have a neat little Book of Sins to refer to although I wish I did... It might have given me some good leads for after-school activities… so I only had the Ten Commandments to go by. 

So what does a little kid really have to confess? 

Not honoring father and mother was always a good fallback.  Kids aren’t much for ‘honoring” anyone or anything.  Let's see... false idols?  I'm in 3rd grade, for Pete's sake... Does Batman count?

Coveting neighbors wife?  Uh, nope... she was like a thousand years old.  Coveting neighbor's goods?  I did like his little electric lawn mower, but I wasn't allowed to cut the grass yet.  How about coveting my brother's toys?

Ah... name of the Lord in vain!  I didn't really do that one much, but at least it was plausible.

In all seriousness, I probably checked out of the whole Organized Religion thing right around 2nd grade, when we had a priest come in to take questions... you know... Play "Stump the Father".  I hit him with the dinosaur question and he gave me a bullshit answer.  2nd GRADE, and even I could tell it was bullshit.  

Like many boys, I read every dinosaur book in the library. (Wow... in retrospect, I'm surprised they even HAD dinosaur books in Catholic school.)  Anyway, I knew that the dinos had been there for millions of years before mankind, yet he was up there still pushing that World Created in Seven Days stuff... He told me that back then, "the days could have been longer than they are now."

I’m thinking, in my little kid head, “Is he flippin’ KIDDING me?” I wasn’t confident enough to argue with him about it though… The nuns will get you for that. In fact, maybe that’s what happened after all… After class, Father Pinhead told her, “Make Dinosaur Boy pay…” I KNOW that’s really why she took my mechanical pencil away from me.

Another day, I asked what Jesus' last name was.  He told me "Christ."

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT... wrong answer, and again I knew he was BSing me.  So I did what any kid would do and I asked my mom.  She knew the answer... People were named after their fathers, so it would have been "Jesus of Joseph".  It was a perfectly logical answer that I understood just fine.  Why couldn't he have told me that?

I’ve always had problems with the idiosyncrasies of organized religion.  I mean, why does it really matter what you eat, what you wear, or what day you do which activity?  If there is a Supreme Being, would it really matter to him what you ate on Friday, as opposed to Saturday?  And if it does, then that’s not the kind of micro-managing deity I care to hang out with.

I remember the exact moment I became an ex-Catholic.  I was a freshman in college and we were visiting my grandparents in Pittsburgh, which meant we had to go to church on Sunday.  On this particular day, the priest’s sermon was devoted to denouncing the new movie, “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”  Or as the priest called it, “Brian is Alive.”  Asshole didn’t even know the name of it, but he knew we shouldn’t see it.  So that pissed me off right from the start, that this pious jaggoff was obviously under orders to come out and condemn a movie he hadn’t seen.

At the time, I’d just discovered Monty Python through their record albums and thought they were hilarious.  (Still do.)  So I wondered what it was that could be so upsetting to the Church establishment.

The priest said that we shouldn’t see this movie because it advocated thinking for yourself and following your own heart.  (As opposed to doing what the Church tells you to do.)  I just got madder and madder, thinking, “that’s exactly why people should go see this movie.  I stood there, just absolutely fuming.

The second we got back home to Ohio, I went out and saw the movie immediately.  Laughed my freakin’ ass off… it’s one of my all-time favorites.  (Along with “Dogma”.  Sense a theme?)

I see now what the Church found so threatening.  They claimed it was making fun of God and Jesus and the Saints and the Martyrs.  In fact, the movie didn’t make fun of any of that… it made fun of the weird shit people do in the name of God.  That’s a big difference.  And it told people to “work it out for yourselves… you’re all individuals…” meaning, seek God in your own way.  No one can tell you what’s right or wrong.

This philosophy is no threat to God or spirituality.  It’s merely a threat to the Church’s market share.

Cher said on her post, “I tell God my deepest and darkest secrets, regrets, and joys. An automatic pipeline, if you will. Right? Wrong? I don’t know. I’ll let God judge when it’s my time.”

I agree completely with the "automatic pipeline." 

Who needs "the middle-man?"  It's all the goofy shit that mankind made up in order to deal with the eternal questions that has made such a mockery of what God is supposed to represent. 

I find that all these denominations are about power and influence.  Sometimes it's monetary; sometimes it's not.  Maybe all these divisions are necessary because they provide the powers that be with a reason to exist.  If there are not differences that appeal to a certain "market", there's no reason for anyone to attend.  Or chip in when the plate is passed.

I don't claim to have any answers to the eternal questions.  I wouldn't call myself "atheist"... more probably "agnostic", because I just don't know.  But what I do know is that if there is a God, you won't need an organization to reach him.  All you need is your own brain.  Of course, there is no money to be made in that. 

All the other trappings of organized religion are just things that some men made up a long time ago, in order to control people and amass or retain power in whatever form... money, land, status, influence, etc.

I know that all seems rather cynical, but that's the way I'm wired.  It puts me in mind of a quote I read once, but have been unable to track down again to double-check the author.  But it said, "Religion is the only thing that keeps the very poor from killing the very rich."

OK, that and the National Guard.

So I told Cher to use that automatic pipeline with pride. 
Anyone that judges her for that will have his own judgment to deal with soon enough.


  1. Talk about "market". Fish on Friday? Remember JC's Buds were all fishermen! At least once a week, they had a captive audience for their product, not to mention LENT when fish days abound. Of course Lent came much later when the Church decided folks should diet out of penance for sins rather than because of rampant fat assedness.
    From my perspective, Gimme dat ol' time religion. Fertility rites and human sacrifice. Of course the Church gets a cut.
    Here's my favorite commandment: "Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices for behold all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." This comes from the MOTHER.
    Here's my prayer: Thank you for this day. Help us find the way. Let it be with courage, dignity, discipline, dedication, love, peace and joy. This comes from little mother.

  2. Now let's mount the campaign to canonize George Carlin.
    We need another St. George to slay the dragons of hypocrisy, greed, cruelty and intolerance. Or maybe he taught us to do that ourselves!

  3. One of my all-time favorite Carlin bits is where he takes the Ten Commandments and, quite logically, boils them down to the Two Commandments. I need to dig that up and post it here, if for no other reason than as a public service.

  4. First of all, best title EVER.

    Second, anyone who judges anyone else for anything, ever, is a pinhead, period. Not only is that God's job alone (in my belief system), it's also bad manners. And I hate bad manners.

    I identify as a lifelong Roman Catholic, and in all fairness, I think my experience with it was, for whatever reason, quite different from many other people's.

    I didn't go to Catholic school (first they were too expensive, then the nearest one was almost an hour away). I never felt pressured to go to confession. When I finally did go as an adult, I did a face-to-face one with my priest (whom I love beyond all good sense and reason), who started giggling in the middle of it.

    The two priests to whom I've been the closest are both humble, outgoing, loving, compassionate, open-minded, highly educated men with fantastic senses of humor. Excellent representatives of the church, in other words. I can honestly say I've never had a bad experience inside a Catholic church; maybe that's why, despite the fact that I disagree with some of the church's teachings, I still consider myself a Catholic. At any rate, I certainly don't dismiss or discount anyone else's negative experiences. I've heard enough stories from my parents, my brothers and my godmother to know that I've been almost unbelievably lucky.

    As I said, I disagree with many of the church's teachings (e.g., homosexuality, patriarchy, etc.). It's not perfect; nevertheless, it's the thing I've found that fits me best.

    May everyone find the thing that fits them best.

    Excellent post.

  5. B Girl:
    First, thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned comment. And let me say that it is not my intention to degrade anyone for their religious beliefs. Whatever works, you know?

    I'm glad you've had a positive experience in your Catholicism. With me, where you say you can still be a Catholic without subscribing to all their tenets, that's something I just can't do.

    My family left primarily because of the patriarchy you mentioned.

    I find their stance on birth control to be a crime against humanity, especially when you consider how they preach in 3rd world countries about how condoms can't stop AIDS and similar misinformation.

    Also, the fight against stem cell research, the prioritizing of a blob of cells over living, suffering human beings, is unimaginably stupid. But then they have to have this fight because it's tied to the abortion debate. Again, that's a couple of cells having more rights than the women that host them. You can see the paternal doctrine at work right here, as they consider women nothing but incubators for more Catholic babies.

    Further, (and this came much later), their handling of the sex abuse cases among the priesthood smacks of nothing but corporate-greed ideology... profits first, hang what happens to the victims. Hide, deny, stonewall, transfer problems rather than eliminate them. I'm sorry, that's just a fucking crime.

    As a kid going to church every Sunday, I found the rote repetition mind numbing. I see zero value in showing up every week, hearing the same shit, saying the same shit, over and over again, week after week.

    Again, this is just me. I choose what's important to me and live accordingly. What sends me into a meltdown is when the religious types begin lobbying to institute their particular flavor of belief into public policy. I will fight that with every fiber of my being.

    If people could just go on about their business being religious and leave everyone else alone, the world would be such a better place. But that whole idea of evangelism... which is nothing but an attempt to have the flock go out and gather more sheep so that the Church has influence over more and more people, and their hands in more and more pockets (and the ultimate Ponzi scheme) is particularly noxious.

    I want to start my own religion... Mind Your Own Fucking Businessism.

    Again, Carlin leads the way... (I'm paraphrasing the quote to the best of my memory) "If religion wants to have a say on public policy, then TAX THEM. Make them pay the admission like everyone else."

    Please, B Girl, don't take this as any kind of attack on you. I don't mean it that way and I know you're not advocating the kind of things I'm talking about. I'm just using your comment as a jumping off point to get some more stuff down that I didn't use in my original post for brevity's sake.

  6. Brian: You have to be different.
    The Crowd: Yes, we are all different!
    Small Lonely Voice: I'm not!

  7. Vange:
    I was totally going to use that but I couldn't think of how work it in.

    That movie was all kinds of great.

  8. First of all, funny story. My long time high school boyfriend told me that one year during lent when they went on a Catholic retreat, on Friday they were served hotdogs and hamburgers. No freaking joke. Catholics. Bah.

    Secondly, bravo, BG, that was a very well reasoned comment. I'm in Bluz's category of no real defined religion. I describe myself as being spiritual, NOT religious. I believe in God, but my idea of God is probably far different than the majority. When my best friend died in a car wreck 10 years ago (gosh I'm old) someone told me that God just needed another singer in his choir or something. I looked at her and said, "Are you serious? No. No way. God is up there crying with me." God isn't some smiteful being who wishes people bad things. No freaking way.

    Stepping off my soap box...

    Thirdly, this cracked my shit up. Thank you for the laugh, Tony!

  9. Oh, and this:

    I want to start my own religion... Mind Your Own Fucking Businessism.

    Magic. I'm joining. Can we wear matching track suits? Red looks good on me. KTHNXBYE.

  10. Cassie:
    Isn't if funny the philosophical gyrations people go through to explain how a just God can permit such tragedy on Earth?

    I ascribe to the Shit Happens Theory of Life. If there is a God, I think he set things up for us and said, "OK, you're on your own." And thus what happens in life is up to us. When your best friend died 10 years ago, and when my best friend died... wow... 9 years ago... it was just shit that happens. Randomness. The world is full of it. It sucks that there's no magic incantation/prayer/ceremony that can inoculate us from tragedy.

    Now, thank you for cracking up at my shit. You're totally welcome to join me in Mind Your Own Fucking Businessism. I don't know about the track suits though... it's kinda like Kool Aid would be the next step. Maybe just a secret handshake... Or some nice red sweatshirts...

  11. There's only enough religion in the world to make men hate one another.

    Since the beginning of time more lives have been lost in the name of religion than any other reason. Jihad anyone?

    I agree. You're free to seek God on your own terms.

  12. How about I bake a nice cake? I don't much care for Kool aid. I'm more of a vitamin water kind of girl.

    Here's how weird I was, when I was a kid, I had read and MEMORIZED all of the first few chapters of Genesis. I then re-wrote it to say that after the 6th day of creation, God sat back and marveled at his work and thought, welp, my work here is done. On to the next.

    (Not that I believe in creationism...oh lord, that's a whole new can of worms.)

    I also agree with you that, shit happens. There's no fate, God doesn't strike people dead, and the only people who believe that are the super radical Islamists.

  13. Dog:
    I'm with you brother. Across time and history, religion has been the grounds for dividing people and persecuting those that don't believe in the same flavor. I always looked at all the religious variants as different branches off the same tree. The only differences are the trappings that all too human men made up to differentiate themselves from others. In other words... Marketing.

    Who thinks it's worthwhile to die for Marketing?

  14. Cassie:
    Red sweatshirts, cake, and vitamin water, it is.

    When you memorized Genesis, was that with Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins? j/k

    I think there are a number of chapters that can use a rewrite. In fact, I wrote something back when The DaVinci Code came out, about how the Bible may have been edited and assembled way back when, using focus groups. I may have to take that one out of dry-dock and post...

    Oh, and along with the super radical Islamists, there are the super radical Christians like Pat Robertson, who seize on any tragedy (9/11, Katrina, Haiti) to claim that people were being struck down by a vengeful God. Islam by no means has a corner on the wing-nut element.

    Happy Sunday!

  15. Thanks so much for the mention, bluz. We have been updating our blog. It was so daunting, I almost took The Lord's name in vain!

    I am not sure anymore that I believe in dogma. I do have faith, and trust me, I do a lot of praying. I don't like the business angle of churches today. Maybe that's wrong and someday I will change my mind. Who knows?

    Great post on your thoughts, said as only bluzdude can say it!

  16. Cher:
    Thank YOU for hosting the original conversations... see? I told you I was going to use this. I thought it would have been sooner than 4 months though. I was hoping you'd find this post...

    I saw your site redesign last night. At first, I must say that I was quite alarmed when I saw that D-Fish had been removed from your blogroll. I was like, "Was it something I said? Was I rude? Too obscene? What have I done??"

    Then I saw that you had separated the non-politics/econ blogs onto your About Us page. Phew! I saw I was in good company. So all is well.

    I think you're living as I've been talking about. Your "automatic pipeline"? There's no reason not to use it. It's personal... just you and the Big Guy (or Gal). There's no reason anyone or anything else has to be involved. That is, unless one's goal is to be seen doing it, which unfortunately, is a more widespread notion than it should be.

    Thanks Cher... you and Rich are an inspiration, as always.

  17. Just remembering how Ed & I would sit in the pew prior to going into the confessional and "prepare" our sins. We didn't want to have the same ones because we thought the priest wouldn't believe us.

    So here we are, two little kids, getting ready to lie to the priest, not knowing that in itself is a sin. We didn't have any good sins to confess, just made shit up. I also remember how terrified I was in the dark closet. Being afraid of the dark as a child anyway this just seemed so brutal to me. That's pretty much what Catholicism gave me: fear.

  18. Thanks Annie... I never knew that... heck, I never knew that you two did Confession together. Not a bad idea to compare notes.

    Still, I could just see it... brother goes in and says, "I hit my sister."

    Sister goes in next and says, "I got my brother in trouble."

    Still, I really think they should have kids wait until they're older before subjecting them to Confession. Not that I think that'll happen... they WANT you to be blindly obedient to the clergy at the earliest possible age, and if you're scared, all the better.

  19. This is interesting to me just because I grew up with another controlling religion (the Assemblies of God, an Evangelical Protestant sect.) It's amazing to me how there are so many flavors of controlling religion (even non-monotheistic ones, like some Hindu sects and organizations in India), but they all seem to go after the same things: sex, science, entertainment, peoples' time and money...

    Being Neo-Pagan, I actually kinda hope that my religion doesn't become big and organized enough to have such sway over its members' lives and minds.

  20. Lilo:
    That's really my point. It's always about controlling people, no matter what the organization. True spirituality requires no outside forces, just you and your God(s).

    As soon as you organize, someone's hand comes out...

  21. I'm coming to this post from your year's wrap-up today. First, Monty Python and Dogma both rock. Second, I can relate to the Catholic thing, my whole family is Catholic and my mom keeps asking me when I will abandon my Pagan ways and come back to the Catholic Church. I keep reminding her (politely) that I was never actually there, I was only baptized Catholic at 6 weeks, but that's enough for her, I guess.

    Great post! The crap people do in the name of god or organized religion never ceases to amaze me. And I remember my ex church (I was a born-again Christian for a while) telling me I couldn't let me kids read or watch Harry Potter cuz he was 'of the devil.' Go figure.

    Anyway, I'll stop babbling now. Have a great New Year!


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