A Freeway in Hell

My thoughts on the nature of our late capitalist society. The title should give some clue what I think of that! US 101 or I-80 as metaphor for our imperatives. Besides worrying about what sort of black hole we are speeding into, I like airships. One reason being the almost inescapble desire to have one to get out of a traffic jam!

Location: Sonoma County, California

Grew up a military brat, Californian-in-exile, reactionary libertarian-essentially spent the 70s on Mars, for I am hearing impaired and I did not know what the music was saying. Generally still don't unless I listen to it over and over or find the words captioned on a movie or somewhere on line. Came "back" to California to begin my adult life, have not lived elsewhere since. No regrets there despite our problems here. Have studied physics, more math than most human beings will ever need, worked on spaceship projects (well, one) at JPL. Lived with a wonderful disabled person who lives no more--L Natasha Littletree RIP October 2004. I have a life plan, just kind of vague on some of the short-term stuff.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Jammin' with Pam Spaulding on Matters of the Spirit

As she does on matters of race and homobigotry, Pam Spaulding has once again bared her sweet heart to invite discussion on that "third rail" of socio-politics in the USA, religion/spirituality, organized and otherwise. Note it is cross-posted on her own blog here.

OK, so now's as good a time as any for me to muse on my own faith journey.

Like Pam I was raised under some Catholic influence--unlike her, I was raised pretty much exclusively as a Catholic. For most of my life, whenever I even considered that I might recover, or perhaps more accurately discover for the first time, a true Christian faith, I assumed that of course then I'd become a Catholic again--because to be honest, I think I have to say a certain smug bigotry against Protestantism was successfuly conveyed to me, if not an actual living faith in my nominal religion.

Unlike a lot of Pandagonians, commenting on Chris Clarke's earlier entry, while I spent every year from 1st grade through 10th in a Catholic school, I had none of their seminal experiences with wonderful teachers, in or out of holy orders, who inspired me. But then neither did I have any truly horrendous experiences either. The bleak fact is that when I look at my childhood the only living inspirations and guides I had in matters of faith (or any other matter of spirit or intellect) were my own family. Otherwise, as I look back on it I pretty much lived in a world of books and other media.

I can trace the roots of my smug arrogance in part back to the fact that as a hearing-impaired child, one who was born with normal hearing but lost it gradually and behind the backs of everyone including myself, that I adapted by learning to talk rather than listen, and to read rather than hear. This is a fine thing for getting a leg up on the academic rat race of K-12 education and impressing one's elders with bookish accomplishments, but pretty poor for learning to relate to living people. But another would be my Dad's own rather austere and doctrinaire leanings in this same direction. My Dad actually went to a Catholic seminary instead of junior high school. Quite obviously he changed his mind, but from very early years I considered myself, emulating and following his pronouncements on faith and doctrine, fit to judge the orthodoxy and right-thinking of priests, nuns, and certainly my peers. Elsewhere I've written about my gradual revelation, as a young adult, that contrary to my impressions, I'd been educated to be a typical American racist. It was much easier to recognize, years before, how I'd been trained to be a sexist as well, because my Dad was quite explicit in his doctrines of the divisions between the sexes--so dogmatically so, and so in contradiction with my experience even as a child, that I questioned and rejected much of that nonsense.

Even as a child, I had my doubts about the reasonableness of what I understood I was supposed to believe, without question. Catholicism, and Christianity in general, has sound and reasonable answers for its critics, but one must accept the premises from which they are made. In my life experience, the message of Christianity seemed to divide up into, on one hand, a beautiful if dismayingly difficult challenge to confront the world with courageous and generous love, and on the other a corpus of dry and arbitrary doctrines fundamentally based on sheer authoritarian fiat. As an intellectually trained acolyte I knew that the latter was supposed to follow from the former, but I never really accepted that I saw it do so.

On the contrary, hewing strictly to the line that was clearly pronounced in Papal statements and dogmatic teaching seemed diametrically opposed to living the life exemplified by Christ and in the Acts. Believing as I was taught that the fate of my immortal soul depended mainly on the former, I spent my childhood as a sophist, seeking validation and approval for my proper understanding of dogma, while secretly chafing, and resenting the freedom and happiness of those who seemed to accept a more forgiving and gentle form of faith. In fact in the post-Vatican II 1970s, I was surrounded by folk masses and rather rockin' hymns and the threat of Charismatics and other bizarre shenanigans, not to mention my parents' rather dark pronouncements on the questionable orthodoxy of "liberal" clerics they found in every dioscese we moved to, even in places like Virginia or the Florida Panhandle.

So it was that within weeks of moving away from home, I dropped the facade of Catholic faith, stayed on campus on Sundays (skipping Mass being of course a mortal sin quite as much as if I'd murdered someone) and soon considered myself an atheist.

But that never sat comfortably with me either. Just as I was at heart a non-practicing Catholic, I've always suspected that somehow, we are indeed children of a Being that cares about us, and that somehow there will be judgement, reconciliation, and redemption. I've dabbled with various forms of neopaganism but have never quite crossed over to believing in any definite way that the powers of the natural elements are the same as this Great Spirit.

There came a day when I had a definite moment of revelation, when a reflection touched me deeply and I decided that at any rate, I am a person of faith. As it happened, this came from contemplating the record left on the Voyager space probes, that photographic and audio testament to human life on planet Earth, launched as an act of faith and a gift, for what it may be worth, to unknown peoples of other stars.

In the past year, I felt moved by various life events to seek out a congregation of more or less like-minded people to share some kind of affirmation of the spirt, vague as suited me but geared to some kind of positive action accountable to reason as well as the demands of the living spirit. For a time, I communed with a United Church of Christ congregation in Sebastopol, California. And a fine bunch of progressive, loving yet clear-minded Christians they are too. But the fact is, from my point of view the spirit of Christianity itself is clouded with the authoritarian, patriarchial dogmas associated with the rule of power over people. These good progressive Christians did not seem like agents of this to me, but I simply do not feel right trying to frame my perceptions from a specially Christian standpoint. I therefore sought out the Unitarian Univeralsalist congregation in Santa Rosa, and there I am happy to be for now, and for the foreseeable future.

For the moment I have run out of time, but blessings be upon everyone of good will.


Blogger Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

An interesting spiritual journey. Thank you for sharing. I found it especially of interest that you went form the United Church of Christ to the Unitarians, who themselves broke off from the Congregationalists, a UCC predecessor denomination.

Shalom, my friend.

2/16/2007 5:42 PM  
Blogger emjaybee said...

Well I can tell you for certain, the protestants were just as snobby about the Catholics (all those saints and Mary and the funny hats seemed to unnerve them).

As a former fundie turned agnostic, I can say I'm a person of faith but only on alternate Wednesdays...

2/24/2007 8:44 AM  

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