Home > philosophy, religion > The Road To Atheism Part VI: Clerical Difference (?)

The Road To Atheism Part VI: Clerical Difference (?)

1517, Martin Luther began a series of questioning of the Catholic reiligion by mailing his theses to an Archbishop in Germany by inquiring as the religious legitimacy of certain Church practices. There were a lot of stuff about relics, the status of the wealth of the pope, and most famously the sale of indulgences (a practice, I am told, that is being reinstituted) wherein a person pays for the absolution of their sins. This led to the excommunication of Luther himself, and the split of the Christian religion into Catholic and Protestant sects. These items are historical fact, although my explanation of them is all too brief. There were many other issues that led to the various splittings of the church, but this is one of the most famous. As I have stated throughout this series, I was raised Catholic, by a family of Irish descendants, in a particularly insulated suburb where the only religious difference beween us was whether we went to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church or St. Vincent Catholic Church.

The difference was nothing, I mean it’s a Catholic mass the building itself is inconsequential. The Catholic mass is going to be the same no matter where in the world you go, the language might be different, the homily might be a bit longer or shorter, but most everything is going to be the exact same. A priest candidate friend of mine once commented to me that the best advantage of the Latin mass was that the language barrier didn’t even exist (provided you spoke Latin of course). What I am, in short, saying was that encounters with people of other religions or even sects of the same religion were extremely rare. The best we got was probably the family that didn’t go to church (for reasons unknown and undiscussed) with whom we usually looked at the kid envious that he got to sleep in two days on the weekend instead of just the one.

Of course in religion class, we knew about Protestantism, I mean we learned about the historical nature of the split and how they believe in the same thing but are just different. The ‘different’ part was always stressed. It was they who were different from us. Which is the way that it goes, “difference,” is a reflexive identity principle according to Ontology. If X is different from Y then Y is different from X. Yet, there is also another version of “different” that means “odd.” The Protestants were odd, because while they believed in almost everything they couldn’t commit fully to the doctrine. The Pope held the keys of St. Peter, and the Protestants denied this was the case. Good Catholic boy that I was, I asked one day if I was out of town could I attend one of their masses and would that count toward my church attendance. The answer I received was mixed.

While the teacher of my seventh grade class didn’t run me out of the room screaming “heretic,” she said something along the lines of “if that’s the best you can do, then do it, but you shouldn’t.” (I’m oviously paraphrasing). The worry was that I would be attracted to the Protestent way of doing things and abandon Catholicism for them. Again, though, where was this going to come up? In my old neighborhood right now, the nearest non-Catholic church can think of is in the city of Buffalo. Now, there’s a ministry a mile down the road from where the Catholic church I attended is, but I don’t think that’s a place you go for services, rather a bible study place or something.

I’m sixteen and my cousin marries a Protestant and we went to the wedding, which was exactly the same as a Catholic wedding save one thing–the seats were padded and there were no kneelers. Otherwise it still took an hour, and I was still bored. I joked that the seats were much more comfortable and I could get behind this new fangled idea of not being in pain while waiting to leave which got me a stern look from two female relatives. To this day I don’t remember what earned me the look, the remark about being comfortable or the remark about “waiting to leave.”

Around that time of my life our parish Priest decided that we were going to have an ecumenical service (or celebration as they called it) and he was going to invite a Minister to come and speak during one of the services. I had to be around 16 or 17, because my faith was wavering, and I met this news with utter ambivalence. This was not the tone of the church ladies (the older hens who gossip and bend their intellects to making themselves look good in the view of the rest of the parishoners [in their heads anyway], every church as them) who believed that this was an affront to their faith. The minister came and went, and no, the Swiss guard didn’t show up carrying the fasces of the Pope or with bales of hay, jugs of oil, and Zippos. It was a non-issue.

The next week, the priest remarked that he wished that the two religions (sects really) could mend their differences and they could come back into the fold. It was a nice sentiment if he had stopped talking about half way through. To me at the time, and for the large part still now; it’s the same shit. But somehow Luther’s desire not to be ordered around by the Pope, makes him in the wrong. Yes, of course it does, but only to the Catholics. To Luther, it was the Pope that was in the wrong selling penance and asking the poor to build the great cathedrals and such. What neither side gets, is that the other side sincerely believes what they are saying. In the end though, having the minister visit was detrimental to my Catholicism. If only because I saw that someone else could believe in something different and still be just like me (i.e. white, male, Irish, suburban). It wasn’t like they were Muslims or Buddhists, or some foreign religion (which I now look back as being a really racist and also incorrect statement); but this guy was just like me and yet somehow he was technically a heretic.

The thing about his heresy was that it probably wasn’t even his choice. He grew up in a Protestant household in a protestant village or whatever and all he has ever known was that so how could that be considered sinful? So his religion didn’t believe that a dude in Rome wearing a three tiered crown got to make all of the rules without anyone’s say so, that didn’t seem exactly wrong, but still it was against the way that I was raised. Yet that difference between him and I began the thought that being Catholic was just tribalism (although I didn’t know the word for it then). I only thought this guy was wrong because I was told he was wrong, he was a Levinasian “other” that was not a member of my tribe. Yet unlike other forms of tribalism (where I am from, heritage, favorite Hockey Team) I could just choose to walk away from this one. That’s why everyone was so afraid of bringing in the other guy, because they might lose in the numbers. No one really believed god or the Pope was going to come down on the Priest for doing this? It was about the popularity contest and those little slivers of doubt are dangerous.

I mean apparently look where I ended up. The alternative though is isolationism, like the Mormons in Utah, or those crazy cults in Texas. It’s when we see that the heretics, pagans, and blasphemers aren’t that different than us, that religion begins to lose its hold. Or else we have to continue to demonize those different from us, and in this case how would that be justified? A political difference five hundred years ago means I have to think some guy in front of me is going to hell? Can you inherent sin? Apparently, that’s the whole deal with the Western Monotheisms.

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