On Sunday I did a lot of things that I usually do on Sunday. I watched football. I watched the Titans lose, which has become a strangely familiar habit. I had a few adult beverages and watched more football. I quite possibly consumed more food than was prudent. This is not unusual. I did one unusual thing.
I went to church.
I was not raised in any particular religion, and it wasn’t until I was of college age that I was aware of my parents’ faith growing up. They were both Catholics, albeit different brands of Catholics back when that used to mean something.
The closest I ever came to a discussion on the subject was with my mom one day in the car. I brought up the lack of religion and she said that just because we didn’t go to church did not mean that we lacked belief. I didn’t press, because when it comes to confrontation I run like the wind when I get the faintest whiff of controversy.
My parents are deeply involved in a Catholic church now. They joined about five years ago. I like that they now have a community. I don’t understand their beliefs and to date have not pressed them on it. It’s not my way.
For the past year or so I’ve considered myself an Atheist. I’ll put it with a capital A for now. There are two types of atheists. The first kind are not unlike people who dislike hot dogs. They share a belief but that in of itself does not constitute a group. The second kind is almost as fundamentalist as some of the religious folks. They are certain they are right and that all religions are the same. I thought I might be one of the second kind, but there were more important issues, you know, like the NFL draft, and I let it slide.
Then a podcast happened. The guest on NPR’s Fresh Air was Karen Armstrong, a former nun who had given up the church and later became a religious scholar. Her new book is called The Case for God. I felt a personal challenge.
I would read a book that gives a history of religion, which I always find fascinating. I like her discussion of the Greek terms mythos and logos. Mythos is myth or mystery, and comprises most of the Bible. The stories were not meant to be taken literally and follow stories written so long ago that they existed for thousands of years before there was such a thing as writing things down. We’ve lost myth in today’s society. Everything has to be tangible and literal. Don’t tell us a fable or parable, we have to tweet it or recount it on Facebook. I’m not very far in the book so I can’t say what her case is. I doubt there is a case at all. It’s just Armstrong’s way of saying that the current version of a personal God who might Tweet you back doesn’t exist. But there could be something godlike in every one of us.
At a very early hour on that Sunday morning I ended up at a beachside church in Jacksonville. I wore shorts and I wasn’t the only one. Not everyone dresses up for church anymore, apparently. It was a nice service and I felt the community aspect of church. I also felt, as I normally do in such situations, that someone would spot me, point and scream like one of the aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When everyone sings the same songs and recites the same responses and I of course don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, I don’t think that there’s a deeper spiritual connection in the room. People just go because they’ve gone for years and they know the chants because they’ve been saying them for years. There is no meaning. I don’t know that of course, I’m just speculating. The church is probably a little more mainline Catholic than my dad’s since there are signs on the wall proclaiming “Pray for the end of abortion” and the sermon was about divorce and how it’s destroying our society. The world probably would be a better place without abortion, but are the people fundamentally against it adopting unwanted kids or supporting unwed moms? I see the potential for negativity and shudder. That’s how it goes when you have a bit of a collective mind.
Everyone but me went up for communion, which I still find a bit creepy in concept. I know Jesus didn’t mean them to take his comments literally. OK, maybe he did, but since the Good Book is just a 2000-year-old version of the telephone game, he might have just asked someone to pass the salt and got misquoted.
The bottom line is I want to understand religion better. I need a better foundation of knowledge. Instead of using this knowledge to create the latest Dan Brown-esque thriller, I’ll just try to get to know my parents better. That is, if I ever have the guts.