Monday, December 18, 2006

Working Out Stuff About God

The situation in my household is that my husband was raised Catholic, I was raised really "nothing." Our daughter will hopefully be exposed to a wide range of thoughts, but technically, she's Catholic. However, I'm the one, the "lost" one, who spends the most time thinking about this subject, and working out my thoughts and feelings on it.

My faith is of my own development. Possibly if you asked my parents, they would tell you they are Presbyterian because they were once members there; or Methodist, because my father's family claimed that denomination when he was raised; or even just generic Christian, since they have never attended church or practiced their spiritual side as long as I have been aware. Or my mother might not even tell you that she's Christian. I don't know that she even knows what she believes on that subject. My father believes he's Christian, has a set of values he upholds, and it's more the values I was taught, rather than any sense of "faith". But when I got into my 20's, I did some faith exploration of my own, starting from the premise of deciding whether or not I believed Christianity, rather than a blank sheet of paper with a list of the world's various religions on it. I went under the assumption that I wanted to practice Christianity, and then sort of tore at my questions about it with the help of some very, very good friends. That went on for a number of years. I don't know that I really got "answers" to my questions as much as I got a nice understanding of where I falter and what I am unclear about. I did a lot of learning though, which is a good place to start any exploration of a new subject matter. And that makes me feel better, though I know I'm no scholar.
My husband went to church with his family, was confirmed as a teenager, and will attend periodically throughout the year, though not regularly. His mother is Catholic, his father attends church but doesn't claim denomination or really make much comment about any of it. He recites the blessing at the table for mealtime, and he will attend church with his wife, I think mostly upon request or at holidays. The husband's sisters are mixed. I think one is agnostic (at least doesn't attend church of her own volition and wasn't married in a church), and the other has a very strong faith which is now practiced within a Protestant church setting. Point of all this is that the family is of mixed religious belief. My husband has a "quiet relationship" with God. He doesn't see a need to think about it, to explore it, to discuss it, or "work" on it. But he will only really attend a Catholic church, as I have discovered over the years, in an effort to maybe find something between Catholicism and whatever I am to suit us as a family. Our daughter was baptized Catholic, because I agreed upon marrying him (in the Catholic church) that I would not stand in the way of her learning about Catholicism. I don't have to teach it to her myself, and there is nothing to say I cannot expose her to other faiths as well. I just cannot prevent my husband from teaching her or indoctrinating her into the Catholic Church. Not that I want to either.
But, I cannot become Catholic. I have studied it, I have thought about it for YEARS. My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law have invited me with open arms into the Catholic faith. I appreciate their invitations and have taken it extremely seriously. About 98% of it is fine, and in agreement with my views. But I honestly have some problems with it that keep me from being able to stand up in front of a congregation and affirm that I believe the same things they do. My MIL tells me that all Catholics have a few things here and there they disagree with, and that's okay. But I cannot do that, in good faith, disagree but say that I agree.
I have issues with the whole role the Pope has within the church, and what they believe to be true about the Pope. I have issues with his "infallibility" and we've seen throughout the course of history that many Popes have been very, very fallible. I have issues with the priest putting himself as a necessary participant in my communication with God. As though I cannot be forgiven directly, I cannot be in Communion with God unless I become Catholic, as though the human beings within the church know my heart, or could possibly know it well enough to decide if I can be in Communion with God, if I am forgiven when I ask for forgiveness.
However, I have a good friend who is Orthodox Christian. This faith is older than Catholicism - it was the schism between those two as a result of the political situation at the time in Europe/Eastern Europe which resulted in the position of the Pope being established, and after which the Nicene Creed was "altered" by the Pope at the time, changing a fundamental Orthodox tenet of doctrine. I learned a lot through my friend Brent about Orthodoxy, and did a good bit of reading about it. While its doctrine and rituals are very firm and inflexible, somehow I am able to stomach that more than I can Catholicism. I think if any denomination has a right to claim it is the original Christianity, it is Orthodoxy. If it is in any way critical that we follow what was originally Christian, I think Orthodoxy is the way to go. But that is one big fat question - is it critical we follow and practice our faith and worship the way it was done back then? The Orthodox believe it is, because they don't trust themselves to read the bible, interpret it, and know what to do. They cite the fact that everyone else who has done that on their own has come up with different interpretations and approaches and beliefs and doctrines. So therefore, it's not possible to "do it right" or consistently, anyway. So if we, as fallible human beings 2000 years after the fact, actually cannot read these multiply translated versions of the Bible, and understand what was really meant by those words, what are we to do? Can we get the translations right, and understand the context in which it was written, with such a drastically different culture and political situation from so long ago? Should we be taking everything that literally anyway? Those are my major open issues. If we really cannot do that, then I think Orthodoxy makes a lot of sense. The religious clergy never decide anything alone - everything is done in the context of a large group of scholarly, learned clergypeople, praying that if they can collectively agree on something, it must be due to divine wisdom being imparted on them. And the clergy are there to help their followers understand the Bible and know what God expects of them.
And, on the other hand, there's Buddhism. Having done a lot of thinking and participating in my yoga classes, I find this philosophy enlightening, and inspiring. I think it doesn't conflict with Christianity, but can go hand in hand. Buddha isn't "God". Buddha is the being inside each of us which joins with the higher power. That within us which is divine, our true selves. I see this marrying nicely with the idea that God created each of us exactly as we should be, and that we ought to seek union between our divine nature and God Himself.
So, on Sunday, I was in church with my husband, daughter, and his grandmother. A priest came to talk about how he came upon the priesthood as his true vocation, and how he feels about Catholicism specifically. It was very judgmental, very self-centered, in my opinion. I was so turned off. I do not know how I can be so turned off by a facet of Christianity, when one even stronger in their exclusivity (Orthodoxy) does not turn me off at all. Food for thought.

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