Friday, July 4, 2008

Why I Can't Leave the Catholic Church

[Readers of my old weblog will recognize this post, and some of them will no doubt chastise me for being too lazy to come up with something new. Fine. I am really depressed, and the bowels of my creativity are constipated. Sorry.--PSR]

I had intended to give this post the usual and bland title of "Why I am a Catholic" but chose the one above, not to avoid triteness (triteness does not affect truth), but because, frankly, I never really chose to be Catholic. My mother chose for me. I was baptized as an infant and was sent to twelve years of Catholic school. So, the question of why I am Catholic yields a very trivial answer: I was raised to be one. The more pressing question, then, is, now that I am well past the age of majority, why I don't use my freedom from parental supervision and leave what Thomas Hobbes, the founder of modern liberalism, dubbed the Kingdom of Darkness.

I have many reasons to leave, but let me say at the outset that my desire to fornicate and masturbate without guilt is not among them as it apparently was for the Marquis de Sade's priestly interlocutor. Yes, I have this desire, and as a few of my subscribers know all too well, it can often be rather annoyingly pronounced. And, yes, I get really tired of having to confess repeatedly every single instance of my onanism to a priest, who may well be buggering an altar boy. I am not being outrageous for the sake of a cheap snigger; this actually happened. In 1998 I regularly confessed to a priest who later got three years for having repeatedly buggered a fourteen-year-old boy. But if I left because of my libido, then that would not be a reason but the opposite thereof--brute, irrational instinct. I would be trading the glorious tradition of Augustine, Aquinas, and More for submission to my penis, and that would be pathetic. If I tire of embarrassing myself with admitting my libidinous sins, then there is a simple solution: I should stop doing them.

But, wait, did I not just illustrate a reason why many others have left the Church, namely glaring and arrogant hypocrisy on the part of the clergy? Yeah, well, that never has impressed me much. I learned back in grade school that priests can be very wicked and perverted men. Yes, I know very well that priests, bishops, and popes are supposed to set shining moral examples, and their frequent failure to do so causes huge scandals that leave alot of anguished disillusionment in their wake, and this is why St. John Chrysostom once quipped that hell is plastered with the skulls of the clergy. That said, Oscar Wilde's dictum remains true: Hypocrisy is vice's debt to virtue. It makes no sense to rail against hypocrisy by abandoning the standard that makes it possible in the first place. What? Because the Catholic Church has pederast priests, she should stop condemning homosexual acts and adopt the more lenient standards of NAMBLA? Yes, the priest scandals of recent years warrant indignation, but indignation is also a notoriously bad counselor.

The real reasons that make me want to leave the Church are two sets of things: 1) my doubts and 2) my love of paganism. I will deal with my doubts in this posting and my love of paganism later. My doubts are the usual ones such as the inability to reconcile free will with God's sovereignty and omniscience and the conundrum of a Just God committing and ordering atrocities, among others.

I could just take the Calvinist route and deny free will altogether, but then I might as well say that I am a Cartesian machine fueled by my totally depraved libido and pray to my sovereign penis for that would be as irrational as the Calvinist conception of God. Or I could do what Sartre did and deny God to make room for human freedom. But Sartre's move works only if man has the capacity to exempt himself from the inexorable chain of material causes. In other words, man has to rise above creation and become God by his own efforts, and this is just philosophical Mormon bullshit. Besides modern neuroscience now tells us that what we call our mind is nothing more than highly organized matter and, therefore, we are just extraordinarily developed rocks. While the problem of reconciling God with free will does give me headaches, I suggest that it is easier to master than the notion of how the devil a stone could ever develop the ability even to contemplate such a problem.

But it is the Bible that gives me the most worries. Truth be told, I am rather embarrassed by Scripture, and I should not be, I know. I try to be an orthodox Catholic, after all, and so I try to allay my worries by ignoring them, frankly. While I have read the New Testament many times in many different translations (and in various languages), I have yet to read the Old Testament all the way through. Part of the reason is that alot of it is boring. The list of the land allocations in the Book of Joshua, for instance, are interminable, and so are the instructions on the construction of the tabernacle in the Book of Exodus. I'd rather read a manual on how to mix concrete.

But, in all honesty, my big problem is the sheer whimsical brutality of God in the Old Testament. He smites down a man for collecting wood on the Sabbath, He orders the Israelites to evict the Canaanites from their land, He orders Saul to commit genocide against the Amalekites and then gets mad (not angry, but mad) at him for sparing the King and the choice livestock, and the list goes on and on as an Atheist like Richard Dawkins would point out. Yes, I know very well that Isaiah tells us that God's ways are not our ways, and a Calvinist will, of course, remind me with gloating glee that who are we, mere vessels of clay, to talk back to the Almighty Potter, and, therefore, God can do whatever the fuck He wants and our duty is to be good happy-clappy sycophants and call whatever He may do justice. How the hell then is the Calvinist love of God any different from Nietzsche's amor fati, the love of blind fate? The Calvinist might as well be an Atheist.

No, I do not know why God in the Old Testament acts frequently like a brutal tyrant, but I do know that the Old Testament itself teaches that we can talk back to God and that He will, unlike blind fate, answer. Abraham bargains with God to save a city, and then there is the great figure of Job. True, I'll admit it, God's answer to Job sounds very much like the routine talking points of the typical militant Calvinist (sorry for the redundancy), but the story does not end with the answer. It ends with Job's reward. Job dared to talk back to God and not only lived but flourished as well. In the midst of global, cataclysmic drownings, divinely ordered genocidal wars, and other horrors, the unpunished audacity of one man and his subsequent flourishing (after his family had been wiped out because of gentlemen's bet with Satan, of course) ain't much more than a mustard seed, but I'll take it if only because, as I mentioned before, with God there will someday be answer to all of our doubts and confusions if we yell loud enough. As cruel as God can be, blind fate is even crueler for it has no answer to all our anguish. We can yell as loudly as we wish, and all we will get is an eternal, inexorable, merciless silence.

[I have more to say but am too tired to type anymore. Stay tuned for Part II. Comments, scathing criticisms, death threats are, as always, welcome]


Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

the sheer whimsical brutality of God in the Old Testament.

How does this making Pagan gods attractive? Hrolf Kraki's man Bodvar Biarki cursed Odin ... and, if Odinism had been true, or even if he were having a vision of Odin by diabolic intervention, had some reason to do so.

Babylonian mythology does not give us gods without a flood, but a god causing the flood because of headache, when others simply save Utnapishtim while curing the poor chap.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

"He smites down a man for collecting wood on the Sabbath,"

In the Old Testament the rites were symbols for beliefs. And death penalties were symbols of excommunication.

"He orders the Israelites to evict the Canaanites from their land,"

Not quite. More like evicting their evil, Baal-worshipping societies that killed infants.

"He orders Saul to commit genocide against the Amalekites and then gets mad (not angry, but mad) at him for sparing the King and the choice livestock, and the list goes on and on as an Atheist like Richard Dawkins would point out."

Order for killing Amalekites is indeed the record. It is also an act of vengeance for an attack on his people of a particularly faithless kind. Carried out by the inheritors of the victims.

Or not even carried out to the full.