A Question of Faith

April 26, 2007 at 10:56 pm (Uncategorized)

I am not a religious person. I was Christened a Catholic, and even made my First Communion, but by the time it came to make my Confirmation, I was resistant, and felt unable to confirm much of anything, least of all my faith in the existence of God and my preparedness to be in some way wedded to it. So I passed, and thus ended my religious development.

Of course, that’s not to say I’m not interested in religion. I am. I find the idea of faith endlessly fascinating, and the fact that people appear, en masse, to need something to believe in is a source of real wonder to me. I wonder why we look beyond ourselves for meaning. I wonder why we look beyond the world we know, the empirical world, to explain us to ourselves. But I do have serious problems with many aspects of organised religion, and I think this example helps illustrate why:

Llew came home the other night seething about a new edict handed down by the Vatican, which he read to me from the newspaper. The Catholic Church now stipulates that babies who die before they’ve been baptised may now proceed directly to the pearly gates of Heaven. The Church has decided it’s a little rough, really, to leave those infant mortality souls locked out, forced to wander forever in Purgatory. One can only imagine the stampede from Purgatory to Heaven once word got out that all the unbaptised dead babies of history may now gain admittance to the Good Club. And to me the sad thing is that there are doubtless people for whom it matters, deeply, and who must believe, fervently, that their lost baby won’t be excluded from the Hereafter now in the way they were tragically excluded from life on earth. These same people must have believed until this week, and suffered for it, that their baby hadn’t made the cut at Heaven’s door. How awful that anyone ever deemed it appropriate, nay, Holy, to extend a parent’s suffering like that. It’s really a bit rich considering the irony of who’s in charge.

But don’t you think it’s weird that they can just make up the rules as they go along? And don’t you think it’s weird that a bunch of guys sat in a room and one day decided that perhaps babies, yes, just babies, we don’t want children under the age of 10 because they’ve had long enough to get dunked in the holy water, let’s face it, ample time, by Christ, can be admitted to Heaven without being Christened? I mean, just what kind of club is this?

Mexico has recently passed new abortion laws, despite heavy opposition from the Vatican. Mexico is the second largest Catholic country in the world, and more than 2000 women die in Mexico each year from complications and infection as a result of previously illegal backyard abortions. 2000 women. And to men who take a vow of chastity, who have (supposedly, although boy – no ghastly pun intended – don’t we know it ain’t the truth) never known sexual intercourse with another human being, or ever had to live with the consequences of it, and certainly not in poverty (there’s nothing ascetic about life in the Vatican, that much is painfully clear), I have this to say: who are they to decide? They don’t even know the first thing about it.

The AIDS epidemic in Africa, which has spread so virulently thanks in part to the success of the missionary project of instilling a contraception-is-sin mentality, could largely be halted by the widespread education about and use of condoms. But no, we can’t have that, because that’s contraception, and using contraception is a sin in the eyes of the Lord. Or so they say. The men in the room. The men in the room doing all this deciding. The men in the room handing down all these arbitrary and sometimes bizarre rules to the faithful.

I just have to wonder if they actually believe this stuff themselves. Do they really believe that there’s a gated Heaven through which unbaptised babies now, but no other unbaptised innocents may pass? It’s just too spurious for words. I think just changing the rules like that also lets everyone in on the fact that, well, they could just change all those other rules, too, if they wanted to. Everything’s open to interpretation, after all. And let’s face it, whatever version of the Bible you prefer, it’s still a document that was written by…oh yes, a bunch of guys in a room. It wasn’t written by “God.” It wasn’t even written by Jesus. It was written, and then rewritten, by a bunch of mere mortals, just like the ones who changed one of the rules this week. Do they even believe it themselves? I don’t know how they can, but that’s just me. I do respect the right of people to freely pursue and practice their religious beliefs. Unfortunately I don’t share them, and I say unfortunate because I believe there must be a measure of comfort in religion, and in the belief that there is meaning and continuation of self beyond what we can ever possibly know. But I also believe in the right of all people, both the religious and the non-religious, to question religion, and call it to account. I just keep finding it so desperately wanting. Others fare better, and good luck to them, but what struck me as odd when I was a child seems even more incredible now. I’ve been Christened. And I know I’m not a bad person. But I do not believe. I do not see how I possibly can. I don’t know – no one knows – what happens when we die, but I do know that those men in the room would have it that if there is a Heaven, I’m no longer getting in.

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