Now for today's sermon...
America has passed through several Great Awakenings in the course of her history. Individuals usually have one or two of their own. Mine came in the seventh grade, when my science teacher explained the theory of the Big Bang (that's right you flat earthers, you deniers of carbon dating, stop fighting evolution, it's cosmology you should really be afraid of). I was making my First Communion at the time and full of big questions like: "But who created God?" The answers I received in my CCE classes were unsatisfactory. The Big Bang, on the other hand, blew my mind wide open. It grabbed hold of me and shook me awake. It explained so much randomness and evil. It also left a gaping hole where God had been. If I didn't need God to create the world, then what did I need him for? I tried to hold on to Him, deciding that maybe God was responsible for other things. Maybe He wasn't the architect of the universe, maybe he was the janitor. I tried to find a place for Him in my evolving conception of life, but He became smaller and smaller. Even if he only created Man, well, Man is a mess. How can a perfect Being create Man in his image, and Man be such an unmitigated disaster? The priests tell us it's because God gave Man free will. But if He knew we'd only use our free will to take a ten thousand year shit all over His creation, why would he give it to us in the first place? God is omniscient, after all. He's known from the beginning how it was all going to go down.
Besides, if it is so important that we freely choose good, why are there jails? We don't allow criminals to go on using their free will after they prove unworthy of it. Why would God allow us this criminal freedom? Ah, to test us! But I despise this vision of God. The SAT God. Just testing you, folks! Bullshit. Who can accept a God who sits in heaven fucking with his creation, you know, just for the fun of it. It can't be very satisfying for the Lord of the Universe. When I look around I see a handful of people, at best, worthy to enter heaven: Socrates, Lao Tzu, Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Henry Miller, Mother Theresa (yes, I read Hitchens' book, but come on!). I'm sure your short list would be different, and that's fine, but it would be short. Many are called, few are chosen. I can just hear Jesus now: "Dad, what can I say? You were right and I was wrong. I kept giving you shit about the Flood, kept begging for one more chance to redeem those nasty fuckers. I really believed it would work, but it's been two thousand years since I let them nail me to that stinking cross, and look at them. Have they learned anything? Fuck 'em. They don't deserve to live. I say Kill 'em all, let You sort 'em out!" Well, that's what I'd be saying if I was Jesus. I hope it's not blasphemous to admit I sometimes put myself in Jesus' place. Isn't that what we're supposed to do? From The Imitation of Christ to WWJD? Christians have been urged to get into Jesus' head, his heart, his life. So even now I try, and on those rare occasions when I succeed, I see one pissed-off dude.
These are the thoughts of a religious atheist. I gave up my faith, but it refused to give up on me. I keep thinking about God. Trying to understand what He was trying to do, what He hoped for this world, and how I can work to fulfill His wishes. So what if He doesn't exist. He is still the image of perfection. I'd rather aspire to His will than to fame or fortune. (Sure, I could go on Fear Factor and eat stewed maggots with the best of them, but it would leave me feeling so empty.) It took me many years to admit I didn't believe in God anymore. I thought if I admitted I didn't believe in Him, He would strike me down. (There's a good Catholic for you!) Yet I never became strident in my newfound Godless Communism. I never ridiculed faith, nor those lucky enough to have it, as I always saw my own loss of faith as a tragedy, not as some joyful release from cant. Think about it. Take one look at this fucked up world and tell me it makes you happier to think there is no one to tally our deeds, to reward the just and punish the wicked. Without faith, however irrational, I sometimes think the world would annihilate itself in a matter of weeks. Belief is the hand staying our appetite for destruction. We know the impulse to rape, pillage and destroy, but something holds us back (at least from going all the way down that path). That something is fear of God. His existence is irrelevant. We all doubt it, but all secretly suspect. He's up there! He sees me! I better put that cookie back in the jar! Everyone secretly fears they'll be held to account for their actions. It makes you grateful for fear.
In some ways I'm more involved with the Lord today than when I believed in Him. I am attracted to God, even more to His Son. I hover on the edge of faith. Growing up in Houston I used to watch preachers and healers on late night TV: Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn. They were good, no doubt about it. They had something. I often listened to their low rent cousins on the radio. It was gripping. God just grips you, even when you don't believe in Him. I will never pass up a chance to listen to someone's testimony. In college, street preachers and latter-day prophets often stopped by campus to proclaim the Good News. I made it a point never to miss one. I never minded their presence in my secular world. Sometimes I was so moved I would cry. Then I'd go back to my dorm, drink liquor, take drugs, fuck my girlfriend without a condom and know that if there was a hell, I was surely going to it. Oh well.
I take the faithful seriously. I take the extremely faithful extremely seriously. I myself still love Jesus, even though I don't believe He was the Son of God (there is no God, so how can He be?). The hypocrisy of those who do believe in Him - who talk the talk but can't seem to walk the walk - infuriates me more than it does God (if He existed). Sometimes I want to SCREAM: What part of "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven" don't you understand? What part of "Blessed are the peacemakers" don't you understand? Their Sanitized, Reaganized, Ayn Randified, Fully Incorporated, Limited Liability G.I. Joe Jesus makes me want to puke. My sole consolation is that, should they turn out to be right - if there is a God watching over us and His justice awaits - then none of their deeds has escaped his omniscient eye. No need to start a homegrown Baader-Meinhof gang. Henry Kissinger is already toast! So is George Bush. I just wish I could see his face when he finally faces St. Peter and is asked about the Iraq War.
What about all the innocent civilians who were killed because you started this war? The women, the children, the men who were tortured to death though innocent?
Um...but I was saving even more from a monster! Saddam Hussein! He killed hundreds of thousands during his reign. He was a devil!
Didn't your father supply him with the weapons he used to murder those innocents? Didn't your own Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, once go to Baghdad and shake his hand, after he gassed the Kurds?
He'd only gassed Iranians at that point. D'oh!
Besides, we're not talking about what Saddam Hussein did. We're talking about what you did.
But I meant well.
Yes, I know. You'll find your intentions over there, on that road...
(Saint Peter indicates the ROAD TO HELL.)
Now get going!
Say hello to Saddam for me!
Of course, I doubt Christians of this stripe really and truly believe in God. If they did they would already know He is watching and weighing every deed and they wouldn't be behaving the way they do.
There's a great Lenny Bruce line about the city I now call home: "In New York, even if you're Catholic, you're Jewish." Maybe I find that joke so funny because I was raised in the first faith he mentions and decided to marry a nice girl from the latter, so in my case it has become literally true. Maybe it's because I've always felt the two faiths have so much in common (above all their staggering preoccupation with guilt). I know Lenny wasn't making a statement about theological affinities. He was suggesting the overwhelming influence of Jewish culture on this amazing city. But the Church I was raised in also has its domain of overwhelming influence. It's called the world.
You can guess from the way I turned out, I never really got along with the Church. When it wasn't boring it seemed downright crazy. I've begun reading in Apologetics, that misguided attempt of religion to explain itself rationally. Catholic apologetics begins with the Church's belief that the Eucharist is the actual body of Christ, and that the wine is his actual blood. Aside from the humorlessness of this literal interpretation of Christ's words in John 6:51 - I mean, if Jesus really wanted the disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood, they could have done it right then and there, with Peter taking the left forearm and Judas the right foot - there is the more disturbing fact that every time a Catholic takes communion he is cannibalizing the Son of God. For Christ's sake! And don't get me started on Original Sin - if God knows all from all eternity, then he knew Eve would not be able to resist the temptation to eat the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge. For that matter he knew the serpent would tempt her. So why did he create the serpent and why did he plunk that fucking tree down RIGHT THERE! It don't make sense. The story just doesn't hold holy water.
Yeah, well, there are a lot of problems with the concept of God. Too many. That's why I gave Him up for Lent. But He refuses to give me up. So here I am. Here's my version of the joke: "In the Church, even if you're an atheist, you're Catholic." What more can I say? I am, and I am.