Part Fifteen: …Hollow Be Thy Name

I’ve already discussed the fact that I was raised in a Catholic household, so it goes without saying that I was a churchgoing child. In addition to the weekly torture that was the sit, stand, kneel repetition that was church itself I was compelled to participate in catechism classes throughout my younger years and confirmation classes as a teenager. I did not complete confirmation though, striking out on my own as I did before I reached adulthood, which means that I can’t be excommunicated from the Catholic Church…and that is just a damn shame.

Reading the Bible was a large part of those studies throughout my childhood, and not those cutesy, illustrated children’s Bibles either. Being a delinquent as you’re aware I was, I was predisposed to getting into trouble more often than other kids…punishment in catechism was to copy, by hand, chapters from the Bible. I suppose that I don’t need to tell you that I became more familiar with the Bible than the other kids in my peer group. In case you are unaware, I feel that it should be known that the Catholic Bible is substantially larger than the versions of that same book recognized as authentic by other Christian faiths, including books that are dismissed by protestants. Over the years I read that damnably tedious thing from cover to cover, not because it was captivating literature by any stretch of the imagination but because there was something about it that genuinely fascinated me beyond the literary quality. This is something I recommend only for those with a serious masochistic streak.

I never was a believer, though I sometimes wished that I could find a way to force myself to be, and I spent a long time going through the motions and trying to force myself into that mold because it was what was expected of me. There are aspects of the faith that I could appreciate and even admire to some extent. As much as I occasionally condemn religion and the religious, there is something special about the sort of history and gravity that accompanies that kind of organization and the traditions it carries with it. There is something solemn and deserving of respect in the Catholic Church, for all its faults (and the same could be said for a number of religious or semi-religious frameworks)…in the same way that ancient architectural edifices and venerable texts are worthy of our respect and study. If you don’t recognize that, you might be a bit touched…I say that with only the utmost respect.

As much as my family raised me to be a good, guilt-riddled Catholic boy, my mother deserves some credit for not only tolerating but actively encouraging my exploration of that and other religions and schools of philosophy. It was my mother who provided me with books like The Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Bhagavad Gita as well as textual explorations of things such as Kabballah and Sufism. As many times as she and I have butted heads, including the countless times where screaming matches were ignited by my refusal to go to church, my mother has earned a great deal of respect from me for nurturing and supporting my intellectual development over the years.

There is a strange inverse correlation that I discovered, as the more I studied religion and the belief structures around the world the less I found myself able to take it seriously that anyone actually believed those things. If I ever had any kernels of faith in the things I was raised to believe, it was eroded as effectively as if by geological processes during my teenage years. That lack of faith did nothing to deter my interest in studying those things and I still enjoy reading about those particular subjects to this day. Personally I think that atheists and religious people alike would benefit from actively studying the various belief systems that surround us…regardless of whether they reach similar conclusions to my own.

It’s all very subjective, and I think that is kind of the point. You know already that I don’t believe in any sort of god…but I am scientifically minded enough to accept that there is a chance (however fucking slim) that some sort of god or god-like being could conceivably exist…a very small chance, as far as I am concerned, but a chance just the same. Claiming either that there is or is not a god with absolute certainty is dogmatic either way and equally a product of faith whichever side of the fence you find yourself on.

I am honest enough to accept that there could be something out there that resembles a god, and pretending that I somehow know better would be total bullshit. The one thing that I do feel safe in saying though, is that (if there is a god) it is nothing like any of the things that any religion has claimed it to be. As much as some people rail against it, religion is an entirely human and subjective experience, a thing we assembled in order to come to terms with a strange and frightening world filled with unpredictable and magnificent things. Within any given congregation there will be dozens of people with entirely different perceptions of what their shared deity is and what it desires of them and those around them…and dozens more interpretations of the exact same words located in whatever their sacred text might happen to be. That alone should be enough to wake people up, but we are nothing if not proud and so filled with hubris that we just know that we are special and set apart from everyone else. We assume that everyone else sees the same things we do, or that they could if we just explained it to them.

I am no less guilty of that particular bit of ignorant reasoning. In my late teen years I started trying to put my comparative religious studies to some use by fabricating a new Bible that would collect the common themes that are found in numerous religions and explain away the differences as little more than culturally-imposed nuances that became exaggerated over time to become the divisive bullshit that it is today. I spent a long time writing that worthless thing only to one day realize that there was absolutely no fucking way I was the first to try that very thing and if no one else had succeeded in making a difference, I sure as hell wouldn’t. I knew I wasn’t special, for once…so why can’t you figure that shit out?

It wasn’t entirely out of character for me to try and adopt the role of shepherd in a sense, by trying to develop something comprehensive that could bring people together, nor was it the first time I would dismiss that very thought process. During my time attending Catholic school I went on a trip with some other students to a seminary and Catholic college in Minnesota. I was seriously considering the possibility of entering the priesthood, and I wanted to get a feel for what that life would require of me. We took classes there and lived alongside the actual priests in training. Ultimately a group of us ended up spending a large portion of that time playing D&D, and bonding over a fictional adventure of our own creation rather than the fictional adventure that was the Bible. Strangely enough, the individual who took on the mantle of bard within our party (and all later parties, because playing D&D was one of those things I very much enjoyed doing with my close friends) actually did go into the seminary after high school…and he was a fantastic fit for it, compassionate and intelligent, which goes to show that not all religious people are idiots (even though I sometimes fall for that confirmation bias myself, and there are plenty of people out there who make it difficult not to).

Yes, I know, it seems silly that someone who didn’t believe would entertain the thought of becoming a priest…but there was a sort of logic behind it. I figured, quite sincerely, that no one who devoted themselves to studying scripture and Church history would actually retain their belief in any literal truth to be found in those things. I thought I would be in good company, men who made great sacrifices in order to become teachers and stewards, helping the lost and afraid to find a sort of peace and direction in life…the hoodoo, mystical nonsense was just window dressing as far as I was concerned. In my mind it was something good and noble that I could do with my life that might also save me from becoming the monster I was afraid I was. It was not because I had an unhealthy predilection for young boys…I know you were thinking it, you sick shit. Though I did not become a priest, I did become an ordained minister over a dozen years ago exclusively for the purpose of being able to officiate weddings outside of any religious affiliations. It is legitimately quite appropriate to apply the honorific of Reverend when addressing me, though only a few of my friends actually do…mostly because it is kind of funny to do so.

I have known some fine priests, monsignors, and bishops over the years, all of them good men who deserved my respect…regardless of what they happen to believe. Also, none of them tried to diddle me behind closed doors…or outside, or anywhere else for that matter. This is not one of those stories, as interesting as that might be. In all reality, it doesn’t matter what people believe or don’t believe, there are good and bad apples in every group. I greatly respect the current Pope and I had a great deal of respect for Pope John Paul II as well, for all of his shortcomings. I even joined Catholics from around the world on a pilgrimage to Denver in order to attend World Youth Day in 1993. As much of an irreverent shit as I might have been, there was something beautiful about being there…and attending the ceremony at Red Rocks officiated by Pope John Paul II himself.

Being the sort of kid that I was, I spent the long bus ride to Denver with headphones in, listening to White Zombie and Nine Inch Nails, perhaps offensively striking up a small chorus of us singing along to the song Head Like a Hole. Of course, I spent most of that time fucking off and just being an irresponsible fucking kid. I became friends with someone who would end up becoming one of my best friends during that trip and we spent most of that time finding ways to screw off and generally be bastards…much to the chagrin of the people who were trying to escort us and keep us safe. Sleep deprivation, massive quantities of caffeine and sugar, as well as an overall predisposition to behave like a fucking criminal led to that being one of the most enjoyable vacations I’ve ever had. This friend I made on that trip ended up attending Catholic school with me until we both got asked not to return by the administration, and he was on the trip to the seminary as well. There are so many good memories that I might never have been able to form if I hadn’t gone on that trip and met him…and there were numerous other friends I would never have had the pleasure of knowing had it not been for him introducing me to them. He remains the best dungeon master I ever had the pleasure of role playing with, with a wry sense of humor and a sadistic streak that often led to almost inescapable situations. His friendship was important enough to me that I overlooked the fact that he was one of the two individuals I found in the bathtub with the girl I lost my virginity to, and I must have been important to him as well because he forgave me for sleeping with his girlfriend years later after he asked me if I would let her stay with me when she had nowhere else to go. There was a time when he was being pursued as a felon and I immediately let him stay with me, and it was only because of one of our mutual friends informing the police of his whereabouts that they showed up at my door. Were it not for one particularly diligent officer, he might have eluded them for a while longer, but that cop insisted on thoroughly searching my apartment and located him curled up inside of my dryer. I never would have checked that location, so we both figured it was a safe place to hide. I hated seeing him hauled off, but there wasn’t a damn thing I could do. He and I have grown apart over the years, but my memories involving him are still some of my favorites.

It may seem like I have gone off on a tangent there, and I did…but there is an important lesson to be learned from that little anecdote. The Church provided a sort of community, a way to meet people that I might never have met under other circumstances. This is the most important purpose that religion has fulfilled throughout human history, bringing people together and reinforcing that sense of community and belonging…the problem is that infinitesimal differences regarding inconsequential nonsense has led to that being distorted and used to vilify anyone outside of that community. We can’t blame the religion for it, nor the religious people, as easy as it is to cast that stone. In-group/out-group dynamics and kin selection have been hardwired characteristics within human nature since our earliest tribal (cultural) advancements…the same sort of primitive bullshit we’ve yet to cast aside as a species that lends itself to racism, nationalism, sexism, and every other form of discrimination that we exhibit on a dishearteningly regular basis.

As much as I have entertained the thought of burning every religious structure down to nothing but ash, I don’t hate people because of what they believe…it’s what they say and do that makes me hate them, and those things have more to do with who they are as a person than the religious indoctrination they might have been exposed to.

All of this puts me in an awkward position from numerous directions; I’m not rigid and dogmatic enough for hard-line atheists, but I openly deride and mock the beliefs of most religious people on a semi-regular basis. Hell, the simple fact that I don’t believe is enough to place me at odds with certain religious folks. I guess it’s a good thing that I couldn’t possibly care less about how well I fit in, as evidenced by a lot of what I have shared with you so far.

Really, it all comes down to one simple thing for me. Whatever you believe or don’t believe, just don’t  a cocksucker about it and we’re OK…also, lighten the fuck up, this is the real world and nothing is sacrosanct, everything is worthy of ridicule.

Even me.

Especially me.

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