Religious experience

April 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

On Q and A this week celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins and the Pope’s man in Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, faced off over religion. Or atheism. Or faith, or science, or something. I only saw the last ten minutes because Game of Thrones.

Folks have since complained that “the questions had no substance“. I thought the questions had every substance:

If there’s a benevolent God why is there so much suffering in the world?
Do you really believe the host is the body of Christ?
If all people are equal and deserve love, why don’t you support gay marriage?
Is there Hell?

There is if you watched all of it, apparently.

I thought it was a pretty good show, except that there seemed to be a concentrated bloc of over-enthusiastic Christians on one side who clapped vigorously anytime Cardinal Pell did a full stop.

I was raised a Catholic, and of the seven sacraments (Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders) I’ve managed five. I haven’t been sick enough to be anointed, and I haven’t entered the priesthood. And I’m no longer married, but I think that doesn’t count.

Like many others, I stopped going to mass as soon as I stopped living with parents who did. Nowadays, I go when I visit them. I don’t feel this is especially hypocritical. Unless I’m mistaken, I have a lifetime membership and if that’s where my folks are heading then I’m fairly happy to join them in goodwill and companionship. But there is a personal sense of belonging, too. All those years of instruction and participation; the nuns and the brothers and the priests of my youth…there’s a bond there, however dysfunctional. Like when Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited finds her free will ultimately no match for the pull of the church.

So there I was, in Toowoomba Cathedral on Easter Sunday, trying to remember my lines and choreo like an under-performing actor who has missed too many rehearsals. The Creed is long and tricksy; the Liturgy a bobbing confusion of sit, kneel and stand.

At Easter, Catholics are invited to renew their baptismal promises (the ones they made as an infant). It’s a sort of call-and-answer system in which the priest goes: “Blah blah blah blah blah?” And you go: “I do”. So I was surprised when the priest said:

Do you renounce evil?
And I thought: I do. And when he said:

Do you believe in God?

I thought: Yeah, pretty much.

There is heaps more about Virgin births and resurrections from the dead and how Satan is the prince of sin and Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father – but that’s the guts of it.

For all its faults, and there are a lot, the decline of the church makes me sad. Even though I am – apparently – not prepared to make a personal effort to keep it going. (My bastard children languish unbaptized in a state school.) These days, the prayers for the recently deceased heavily feature the clergy themselves. But there were quite a lot of young people at this mass. Teenagers. Young couples. Young pregnant couples. Thirty-something couples with a toddler or two. Families with kids. Perhaps there is something there that is worth keeping alive.

I liked these people who cared enough – held enough faith – to make the effort. I liked the small, imperfect but energetic choir. I liked the priest whose diocese covers 490,000 square kilometres. Bigger than Germany.

I felt a sense of community with these people, with whom I share some past rituals and some future hopes. I felt thankful, for all of it and every thing.

So I showed my appreciation in the traditional way. I put twenty dollars on the offertory plate.



§ One Response to Religious experience

  • Most people come to baptisms etc because they are rituals, and they mean about as much from a spiritual/religious point of view as Christmas and Easter [nada]. Ritual and unthinking following of ingrained habit is what binds these communities.

    Pell acted like the man he was used to being – in control, able to say anything he liked and not be questioned. His performance was appalling. He was pompous, ignorant of science completely yet freely pontificating on it, overbearing and saved only in terms of approval by the phalanx of equally ignorant people who had not the faintest idea in the world what the debate was about.

    It was all the more embarrassing a performance because he had no idea he was done like a Christmas dinner. I’m afraid your $20 merely added to the coffers of a failed institution.

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