Effects of Religious Affectation

sinner
“Sinner” M. Murphy 2012. Digital composite collage.

by M. Murphy ©2010

I remember when I was a young child (late 1960’s & early 1970’s), and my Mother insisted on sending me  to catechism school on Saturday mornings.  I did not like this for a number of reasons, one of which being I would miss out on the fabulous cartoons being aired on television. Back then, television was a bit more innocent, and the choices for wasting time through televised entertainment were slim to none but momentous nonetheless. Unlike today, where ten thousand channels show nothing but crap. Oh sure there are educational programs, but I’m not going to pay any amount of money to receive pointless broadcasts along with educational materials that should be given for free. The infectious disease that is television is a whole different monster altogether and not really part of this little story.

With regard to being sent to catechism school, and attending church, Catholic Church, I felt early on that it was nothing more than a sham, a tool of control, a means to persuade individuals into a certain belief system that was fundamentally opposed to attaining spiritual freedom – It just didn’t feel right!. So, I skipped pretty much all those classes and hid out in the tract of woods at the end of our street where I grew up. Being close to nature was my church, and I spent my time observing all I could in that environment.

Now going to church on Sunday was another chore in and of itself. And, I would have to be extremely inventive with my reasons for not going. Nothing was sacred in terms of an excuse – from stomach aches to smallpox, and bee stings to snake bites. I utilized all my skills to avoid sitting in a huge, sterile room with some guy uttering nonsensical, deeply ominous babble. Whenever I did end up going, I just wanted it to end. So, I amused myself observing and admiring the Stations of the Cross sculpture reliefs hanging on the wall. I would pretend to know all the words in the hymnals by humming loudly while mouthing out words; I lip-synced. Sometimes I would fart, and since the church pews, no pun intended, were made of wood the sound would resonate, and the pew would vibrate. Many are guilty of this.

One thing my Mother was successful in was getting me to attend classes that prepared me to receive my first Holy Communion and Confession. I remember that quite well, and to this day for the life of me can’t find any relevance to the natural spiritual grounding within my being, other than the practice of affirmation of belief. We practiced with corn flakes and tea or cherry soda for hours, weekend after weekend, listening to the instructions on what to say, and when to say it, how far to stick out our tongues, to crunch and chew or not to crunch and chew – all of the things that were deemed appropriate in receiving the Eucharist, seriously. We were told that the very last thing we would want to happen is to slip up in our little ceremony and commit a mortal sin right there in front of the whole Catholic Church. Indeed, if we said the wrong line at the wrong time or whatever, we would be committing a sin. Yeah, no pressure there.

Needless to say, the ceremony went off without a hitch. Everyone said a proper Amen, and instead of cherry soda the chalice was filled with grape juice (not sacrament wine). When it was all over the adults herded all the kids outside in their little white robes and satin sashes for a group photo. It was hot; the kids were miserable, sweating, and ready to go home. The one thing that really stood out for me as the most endearing part of the whole ceremony was that the priest presiding over the ceremony looked exactly like Jonathan Winters; I kept waiting for him to do some shtick, like the ones I had seen the real Jonathan Winters do on Laugh-In. This guy was like a stand-up priest, not part of the regular rotation of rectory fathers.

The second part of this ceremony was first Confession. No kidding, you had to be there to experience the hypocrisy first hand, because I’m sure I won’t eloquently convey to you just how ridiculous it really was. I was totally prepared though with a long list of lies and general bad behavior I had committed, quite ready to spill my guts to the priest when my turn came to be ushered into the dark confessional booth. For weeks I was told how my mortal soul would be tormented in hell, or worse, limbo and purgatory if I didn’t come clean with the truth regarding all my sins to date. I feared being secluded in some dark confessional chamber booth with some old man whose face was all wrinkled and contorted. I never knew exactly what went down once a child was sequestered behind the wooden paneled door of a closet sized box without windows, and, was it sound-proof? I always saw people going in, but never coming out. Maybe I just never noticed that part? The group of kids I was with all sat in the church pews waiting for our turn, but I was surprised to see each child being led not into the confessional booth, but into a different door altogether. My fear doubled upon seeing this.

My stomach was in knots as I sat waiting. I just wanted it to be over with, as I sat there thinking of the items on my list and which things I would omit; I would lie in order to guarantee my salvation. This is what they taught me! And, when my turn came, I was led through a door, down a hall, and to my surprise I was led into a regular classroom, told to sit in a chair, and wait. It was one of those older, polished plywood school chairs. And, there were at least 30 of those chairs piled up like a mountain in the corner of the room. There were other chairs arranged in a messy half-circle, and a few desks. I sat down. After a minute or two, the priest came in, pulled up one of the chairs and sat down directly across from me. It was a different priest, not the stand-up priest from before. This priest was older, pale white, and shiny from sweating. I started to reach into my pocket for the list of lies I had prepared for this occasion, but before I could even get them out of my pocket the priest said a few words, and then pronounced that all my mortal sins were absolved. Then I was told to leave. Just like that. No Hail Mary’s or whatever else I had imagined I had to do to be cleansed of the black spots on my mortal soul. Indeed, I had envisioned my soul as one big black circle, especially because of all the previous smack-talk I had heard from the nuns, the priests, my Brother and Sister, and my family. I said nothing as I left, and nothing more did I speak concerning this matter of confession. I felt duped and relieved at the same time, but I still did not understand why I had to compile a list of transgressions against an omniscient being. I had spent days and days making that list, adding to it, all the time becoming more and more afraid.

So, what does all this mean? This is what I experienced. Moreover, was my innate spirit informing me that all this ceremony and performance was completely unnecessary, and that the whole religion thing was not real? At the time, it seemed they all just made it up. I will freely admit, I was fascinated by the stories being told of the magical Jesus who defied the odds and cheated death; disappearing after three days, leaving a warning that one day his return would be imminent, and judgment would be dealt out like grades at school, or cards in a high-stakes poker game.

Now that I am an adult, little has changed in how I perceive religion, dogma, the ceremony, and the circumstances surrounding all of it. Indeed, many stories have surfaced as of late detailing sexual abuses in the Catholic Church, and as I make attempts not to judge, I can’t help but feel so very unclean to have had any association with this hypocrisy. What seems worse is how the mainstream religions around the planet continually vie for top honors; who has the best God, and who will offer the best deals in salvation and redemption? This kind of seems like a giant pissing contest. But, I am no different than anyone else on the planet, right? I need salvation and redemption, right? Yet, I made the choice to reject all notions of resting my faith upon the shoulders of an invention just so I can pass blame on to some construct when I sin.

So then, what is faith? Faith is that which is believed as truth and fact, but can never be proven by any means, like the scientific method, for example. Heck, it seems anyone can claim to have had some sort of revelation, visitation, or communication with God these days, and then invent some dogmatic structure of morality to dress it up, like fancy ribbons on a birthday present. With all of this mass confusion, it would make sense that a messiah, prophet, or divine holy person would exert their will and manifest as living proof for all people to see. But, this is not the case. It is all a matter of faith. Religions have existed for some very specific purposes, constructed and invented by humans to answer many of life’s unexplained or unanswered questions, like: Why are we here? What happens when we die? How shall I live my life? And so on. Only you can answer those questions, and that’s your responsibility and not some construct’s burden.

If you need religion in your life to give you balance or a sense of purpose, community, belonging? Then, yes! By all means. Regardless of what construct or method gets you there; regular re-affirmation of that which gives you meaning in your life is essential for survival.

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