Belief and “Organized Religion”

The LA Times tells us that Anne Rice, the vampire novelist, has abandoned her Catholic faith and rejected “organized religion,” and she’s doing this “in the name of Christ.”  It’s hard to see how she could abandon a faith she never actually accepted, but the atheistic press is having a field day with it.  They go wild any time someone abandons a traditional religion in favor of the cheap substitutes of the popular culture:  sex, sports-obsession, mind-numbing sitcoms, ear-splitting music, drugs, tattoos, and a myriad of other distractions from serious and eternal questions.

Rice was a Catholic, of the “I’m a Catholic but…” variety.  As in, “I’m a Catholic but…I don’t go to Mass.”  Or, “I’m a Catholic but…I don’t believe all that stuff about sexual morality.”  Which is to say she really wasn’t Catholic at all, but was simply claiming a label she didn’t deserve by virtue of her rejection of essential doctrines of that faith.  The “I’m a Catholic buts” dominate today’s Catholic world, yet there are so few “I’m a Catholic ands.”

People are often shocked to find out that I’m a religious person.  “He seems so normal,” they say, “and so rational and scientific.”  How could a normal 30-something male, a computer engineer by trade, believe in a God that he cannot see, a heaven and a hell, angels, demons, healings and resurrection?  Why would such a man hold beliefs that are so hopelessly anachronistic and so incurably medieval, and what’s he doing in San Francisco of all places?  Maybe such people exist in the cornfields of Nebraska, but in Frisco we’re progressive, and free-thinking, and we’ve left those old and silly ideas behind in the dump, and moved on, since man’s inevitable course is progress.

They think that perhaps I was raised this way, and when they find out that I was an adult convert to the faith, they turn to one of the great idiocies of our age:  popular psychology.  “He must be sexually conservative because he was hurt once by a girl.  That explains why he doesn’t date.”  Or, “he believes in God because he’s afraid of dying.  Amazing how someone who seems so reasonable could be such a little child inside.”  Never mind the fact that I find the atheist concept of non-existence after death far more comforting than the judgment I will actually have to undergo.  Rather than examine what I have to say, rather than give me credit for having thought out my beliefs, it’s psychoanalyses via Cosmo magazine.

It’s a hard thing to explain faith to someone who doesn’t have it, to evangelize the unchurched, to convert atheists.  It’s a bit like the old optical illusion, which depicts an old lady or a young woman, depending on how you look at it.  I used to only see the old woman, but one day I finally managed to see the young girl.  I could switch back and still see the old woman, but if I tried to explain it to another person who was stuck with the old woman, they couldn’t see it.  “See, there’s the chin, and the ear…  Can’t you see it?”  No matter how hard I tried, they had to discover the girl on their own, and some never did, and never will.

For all the theological arguments, which have their place, it all comes down to this bizarre human condition.  We walk around, conscious beings, self-aware and intelligent, and yet we are tied down to matter, and we walk around in these bags of blood and urine and feces, ambulant colostomies with brains.  Our bodies seem like glorified worms:  tubes that take in food and produce waste, and I often wonder if our body serves our brain, or perhaps if it’s the other way around.

Three years ago I lay in a hospital bed in the cardiac intensive care unit of California Pacific Hospital, as the fleshy pump at the center of this fluid-bag was being eaten away by some unknown pathogen.  I lay in bed writhing in pain, and when it subsided and I looked out my door, I saw fellow patients in terrible states, trying to walk as their bodies refused to comply, and I saw doctors rushing into rooms whose occupants were dying, their last hope a massive electrical shock that might give a few more beats back to that failing piece of meat.

Eventually my doctor ran a catheter into my heart to determine the cause, which thankfully was not coronary artery disease.  But there is an unconscious effect to this sort of deep violation, as the most private place in my body, the symbolic seat of my emotions, was coolly probed with medical instruments and displayed on an LCD monitor.  “Abnormal wall motion,” the doctor said.  My disease was a virus, iatro-speak for “we have no idea what happened.”

I got out of it in one piece, but there is one thing I know with absolute certainty:  the time will come when this body fails, when it goes cold and limp, and it finally decomposes.  The temporality of our lives is directly connected to the flesh we inhabit.

Our time, however, is a time of somatolatry, when matter is all that matters, and the soul is perilously ignored.  We work out obsessively, we cover ourselves with tattoos, we have sex as often as we can, however and with whomever we want.  The other day I made the mistake of clicking on a YouTube video featuring a woman who plays a hair removal specialist on a Showtime series.  In the video, the actress visits an actual hair-waxing salon, where a middle-aged woman rips the pubic hair off of a number of women, and a couple of men, as the actress looks on.  “Didn’t we see you in porn?” asks the salon owner of a familiar client.  “Yes, and you did my anal bleaching!” replies the girl.  This is what we’ve come to, young girls whitening their sphincters (Greek student alert!  From σφίγγειν, “to bind tightly”) so that they look good while being sodomized for public enjoyment.  This is where forty years of sexual “liberation” have gotten us, and for all the blather about “empowerment”, I see a girl who is a hopeless slave.

I believe because I am a skeptic—I cannot believe that this container in which we live is our entire existence, nor that human consciousness exists for no reason.  I believe because I care about people—whether the homeless man or the abused porn star.  But most importantly, I believe because, when I was lying in bed while my myocardium was rotting, the only way I could make sense of the suffering was to know that the root of all evil and suffering is our sin; and that my Creator came here, in His own body, and suffered as well;  and that all suffering brings us closer to paradise, if only we accept it.

The reason I know these things is because of organized religion, specifically, the Catholic faith which has preserved the Truth throughout the centuries.  You can look at the pedophile priests and conniving bishops and reject the whole thing, but this is like saying we should abandon laws on account of corrupt policemen.  God, however, has worked His wonders through human agents, for better or for worse, and even one of His own chosen ones sent Him to His death.

In the end Mrs. Rice can elevate self over selflessness, and personal interpretation over dogma—she is creating her own religion.  But to do it “in the name of Christ,” a name she would never have even heard without that imperfect institution, is asinine.  All I can do is the rational thing:  pray for her.


25 thoughts on “Belief and “Organized Religion”

  1. I’m also a convert to Catholicism. I think it was in some ways easier for me – I didn’t have any hangups about organized religion, since I came from an atheist country.

    It was a long and tortuous journey though. All I wanted was be free from oppression, and oppression came in various shapes and sizes. I won’t forget my astonishment when the first ever Catholic priest I met told me that I can’t be a good mom unless I first took care of myself. It made perfect sense, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t known it before. The same priest later said that to forgive is not to say “it’s ok” – another strikingly commonsensical statement – but to understand why the offender offends and act accordingly, with love.

    (Now, love is a frequently misunderstood emotion – it’s doing what’s best for the other person, which often conflicts with what that other person thinks is good. A very convoluted affair it is, but let me give an example – if I truly *love* my students, I wouldn’t give them inflated grades.)

    I must say though that I was lucky in my first encounters with Catholicism. I gave Jude a very hard time with various questions, and the superbly patient way he answered them was instrumental. The fathers I first met were extraordinary – I’m thankful that I met the others only later. And even then, it took me some time to figure out that Catholicism is greater than the sum of its parts.

    One last thing – I don’t like gratuitous talk about my being a Catholic. There is a time and place for it, in my view. I am a very different person now, and it shows (most of the time) in the way I feel and act.

    1. No. I told you it was a reasoned and mature decision. You may disagree with it, but I don’t have to justify myself to you, or to anyone.

      Well, I was patient in answering your many questions, and justifying my answers, both here and on my own blog, so I thought you would reciprocate with answers to my own questions.

      (Sorry if this reply lands in the wrong thread)

      1. Oh – I didn’t mean to sound abrupt. To me, the Catholic Church is not identical with the people who manage it or who go to church. It’s difficult to explain without invoking “experiences,” and those sound stupid when one verbalizes them.

        I can describe some things though. For example, I was becoming seriously depressed while writing my diss and did a lot of procrastinating and reading of non-diss stuff. So one day I read in a book that this girl was praying the Jesus prayer, and I tried it, and it calmed me. It was like magic, and superstition was certainly present, because I had no idea what this was. So I kept doing it every time I felt overwhelmed. Then one day I went to a church that turned out to be an Assembly of God (my ignorance was infinite then, because I thought that a church is a church, and that all people who go to church are the same). There I had a series of experieces. I also ask questions, as you know, so eventually the AOG people decided that because I went to Berkeley, I must be possessed. So I started church-hopping. It was never a matter of going back to whatever I was before though. Various other circumstances happened, and as a result, I stumbled upon Catholicism. It was a perfect fit.

        What else do you want to know?

        1. I remain curious if there’s anything the Catholic Church could do that would make you leave it. I’m getting the sense that your answer is “nothing”.

          1. I did answer “no” several answers ago – cf. the one from 8/13 that begins with “No.” You responded to it, and I thought you just wanted a longer explanation as to why I feel so.

  2. sphendonetes, you wrote:

    I believe because I am a skeptic—I cannot believe that this container in which we live is our entire existence, nor that human consciousness exists for no reason.

    Skeptics avoid fallacious arguments to justify their beliefs. The above is an example of an argument from incredulity. Merely because you “cannot believe” something doesn’t make it false and your preferred alternative true. Many cannot believe humans evolved from more primitive lifeforms, but this doesn’t invalidate the veracity of the theory of evolution.

    But most importantly, I believe because, when I was lying in bed while my myocardium was rotting, the only way I could make sense of the suffering was to know that the root of all evil and suffering is our sin;

    As for me, this makes no sense whatsoever. Because some are committing adultery here means children must suffer and die from hunger, disease, or neglect somewhere else?

    But again, what makes sense to us doesn’t make it true.

    You can look at the pedophile priests and conniving bishops and reject the whole thing, but this is like saying we should abandon laws on account of corrupt policemen.

    Or you can look at the institutional arrangements within which the corrupt policemen thrive and determine if there’s something fundamentally rotten about them.

    Personally, I would quit an organization immediately if I found it to be coddling criminals, particularly criminals who prey upon the weakest members of society, but that’s just me.

    1. Personally, I would quit an organization immediately if I found it to be coddling criminals, particularly criminals who prey upon the weakest members of society, but that’s just me.

      That’s a sweeping statement, the way you phrased it. Let me inquire a little further. Imagine you work for a company and find out that it does some pretty nasty things to people. Would you leave your job no matter what, or only if you find a replacement? What considerations will play a role in your decision?

      Another scenario – you live in a country and vehemently disagree with its government. Would you emigrate? Why, or why not?

      1. Good and bad clerics come and go, the doctrine of the Church abides. There have been bad Presidents – do we give up Democracy? There have been wicked popes, etc.
        Bad examples aside (the good examples are actually more compelling), if a person can look at the order and beauty of the universe, or its parts, and not at least wonder whether a higher intelligence is the cause, then there is absolutely no argument either of you (or anyone else) can compose to convince him. We all (good and bad atheists, good and bad Catholics, et alia) will experience the truth for ourselves relatively soon (<50 years). This antinomy will come down on one side or the other.

        1. if a person can look at the order and beauty of the universe, or its parts and not at least wonder whether a higher intelligence is the cause…

          Though I’m an atheist, I continue to ponder this question myself. But I remain an atheist because:

          1) The “higher intelligence” argument doesn’t resolve anything, but simply moves the question back a step. What caused this “higher intelligence”? Why can’t you marvel at it, and not at least wonder whether an “even higher” intelligence is involved? And so on…

          2) Evolution demonstrates that order and complexity can derive from chaos and simplicity. This is one of the truly revolutionary insights of the theory, and why theists have such a hard time accepting it.

          1. I do marvel at the higher intelligence. But, the higher intelligence must be outside of the universe (so to speak). How else could that intelligence have ordered the universe while being a part of it (assuming matter always existed) or created the universe (assuming matter came into being) unless transcendent. As for ultimate regress, it has never been satisfactory to me – either logically or intuitively.

            Now, your second point isn’t so good because we only have what exists to measure evolution’s effects and the matter that exists is already structured or ‘hard wired’ to behave according to certain principles. Evolution will someday be understood (if man survives long enough) and will integrate into quantum mechanics, or whatever transcends that theory, and give us an even greater perspective of just how profoundly ordered and proportional the universe is conceived and implemented by the prime mover, or highest intelligence Who transcends matter and form.
            Thank you.

            1. I do marvel at the higher intelligence. But, the higher intelligence must be outside of the universe (so to speak). How else could that intelligence have ordered the universe while being a part of it (assuming matter always existed) or created the universe (assuming matter came into being) unless transcendent.

              If you beg the question of a higher or supreme intelligence (rather than merely ponder whether it exists), then I suppose anything is possible with it.

              Now, your second point isn’t so good because we only have what exists to measure evolution’s effects and the matter that exists is already structured or ‘hard wired’ to behave according to certain principles.

              My example was to demonstrate the validity of the general principle. Prior to the theory of evolution, the view that order could arise from disorder would have been foolish to believe; you saw design and it was reasonable to infer a designer behind it. But evolution showed you don’t need a designer to have design, or provide order out of disorder. It thus seems a reasonable inference that the same goes for the universe (or the process which created it).

              1. Interesting. I am curently trying to read Feynman’s “QED,” a book beyond me in many ways, but here’s what he says on p. 10:

                …while I am describing to you how Nature works, you won’t understand why nature works that way. But you see, nobody understands that. I can’t explain why Nature behaves in this particular way.

                What do you mean when you say that “evolution showed you don’t need a designer to have design, or provide order out of disorder”? That if you can’t explain the “why,” the “why” doesn’t exist? Or something else?

              2. Evolution shows that order rules the universe. As I mentioned, the matter itself is not at all disordered but, like everything else, has a nature or form. Yes, things do change but not out of pure chance but orderly and (I can’t get around it) by a compelling Agent.

                I think my position is based on reason. Now, add to that my subjective experience, e.g. prayers answered, life (I hope also soul) saved, and an intuition that never leaves me) and there is no way the atheist or agnostic (which you seem more to be) could ever convince me that a Supreme Intelligence does not exist.

                Btw, nothing you can possible argue hasn’t been raised before – I’ve made a study of most ideologies and have settled on Catholicism and the Oakland Raiders.

      2. Would you leave your job no matter what, or only if you find a replacement? What considerations will play a role in your decision?

        If I found that my work directly or indirectly contributed to the suffering of innocents, then yes, I’d quit. To stay would make me morally culpable in the suffering, once I found out about it.

        Another scenario – you live in a country and vehemently disagree with its government. Would you emigrate? Why, or why not?

        I would engage in passive disobedience. But the situation here is a bit different because you don’t “voluntarily” join a country to live in, and neither does the government own it. The government also forcibly extracts resources (e.g., taxes), whereas an in organization, you join by your own free will and pay dues accordingly.

        1. If I found that my work directly or indirectly contributed to the suffering of innocents, then yes, I’d quit. To stay would make me morally culpable in the suffering, once I found out about it.

          Are there any other considerations that would play part in your decision?

          As to your response to my second question – so you won’t emigrate. Why’s that?

          1. Are there any other considerations that would play part in your decision?

            Definitely. If I had a sick child whose life depended on my income and insurance, then I would have to weigh the risk of their extended loss against the evil done by my employer.

            As to your response to my second question – so you won’t emigrate. Why’s that?

            Because my country is something I never joined in the first place, so why should I give it up?

              1. Are you saying that if you are born within a community with the government of which you disagree, it doesn’t have to leave?

                In other words, why does the government’s right to inhabit a geographic space supersede my own?

                Rhetorical questions, to be sure. Here’s an honest one:

                What degree of atrocity committed by the Catholic Church, whole or in part, would impel you to quit it, if any?

                1. I told you Socrates had a better one about emigrating:) But what you say can pretty much be applied to my decision to stay Catholic – why should the atrocious misdeeds of some compel me to leave what I love? Plus, I could be much more effective from within.

                  Actually, I became Catholic way after the scandal broke out. So it was a reasoned and mature choice.

                  1. why should the atrocious misdeeds of some compel me to leave what I love?

                    Because the atrocious misdeeds reach to the very top? They were committed by someone alleged to be “God’s vicar on earth”? They occurred over decades?

                    I suppose my question remains relevant: is there anything the Catholic Church could do that would make you quit it?

    2. Just found out that a former swimmer is suing US Swimming for covering up sexual abuse by one of the coaches, and that this is not the first and only case. Would you call all swimmers to leave this organization too? jk

      Attorney Robert Allard says Havercroft used his coaching position to manipulate his victims and “groomed” them for sexual abuse. In Jancy’s case, Allard says the control methods began as early as age 11 when Coach Havercroft literally put a dog collar around Jancy’s neck and used a leash when she did laps in the pool.
      “She was degraded and humiliated to the worst degree imaginable; treated like a dog by her swim coach setting her up for the abuse that followed in the future,” he said.
      The lawsuit accuses USA Swimming of covering up the abuse in this case and others. USA Swimming is the governing body of U.S. Competitive Swimming. Attorney’s say the organization knew in the 1990’s that there were concerns about Havercroft’s behavior and did nothing.
      In fact, the attorney’s say there was a confidential settlement made in 2001 between the swimming group and an earlier victim of coach Havercroft. The attorney’s say Havercroft fled his Los Gatos home when San Jose police served a search warrant and went on to continue coaching on the East Coast and now lives in Southern California.

  3. Sphendonetes, I found your post extremely refreshing. Interestingly, it seems like organized religion has been stigmatized to a degree, while the in-vogue alternatives, “sex, sports-obsession, mind-numbing sitcoms, ear-splitting music, drugs, tattoos, and a myriad of other distractions,” have been strangely validated. I wonder what this “anti-religion religion” says about the progression of our culture.

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