Some Thoughts on Religion, Organized and Otherwise

Of late I have been looking into the current state of religion in our world and more specifically in my general vicinity.  I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and received a relatively thorough indoctrination into its tenets through a 12-year course of primary and secondary Catholic education (boys only high school with religious brothers as faculty) along with multiple members of my family in the Catholic clergy (priest and nun).  In fact, my uncle was pretty high up in the administration of a Catholic order so I got to see a bit more of the nuts and bolts of Catholic clerical hierarchy than I cared to.

From all this I have come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church rarely has much to do with God.  First of all, making unmarried men the spiritual leaders of your community is completely insane.  Some young man who has never been married and will never have children is the last person I would go to for advice and spiritual guidance when my back is to the wall.  Secondly the idea of forced celibacy on young men is also an incredibly unstable arrangement.  I’m sure there is a subset of men for whom it can work.  The idea of abstaining from sex could allow for concentration on less worldly concerns but I suspect that some form of castration would be the only practical way to eliminate the hormonal influences on a man’s mind.  And the horrors of the pedophile history of Catholic priests is all the proof I need that it is a terrible idea.  From what I’ve read celibacy is more of a business decision that the church adopted as a way of preventing nepotism from infiltrating up the hierarchy of the Church.  Originally parish priests could marry.  Only the ambitious clerics who eventually wanted to climb the ladder to monsignor, bishop or higher remained celibate in order to be considered for this advancement.

Because of this restriction the Roman Catholic hierarchy has been conquered by homosexuals all the way up to the Vatican.  The grooming of young men in the seminaries is an abomination.  Any legitimacy it may have had as the primary vehicle of Christ’s Church on earth has been completely forfeited by the sins that its priests have committed against innocent children and by the failure of its leadership to uncover these crimes and hand the criminals over to the authorities for the heaviest sentences that can be handed down.

I have of late been interested in the Orthodox Catholic denominations and the Traditionalist Catholic.  The Greek and Russian and other churches have much in common with the Roman Church and would probably be relatively familiar to me.  The lack of a celibate clergy is to my mind a big advantage.  And the liturgy would be familiar.  I will have to do a good amount of research to understand whether any of the problems of the Roman Catholic Church exist to a greater or lesser extent in the Orthodox churches.

Not having attended services to any extent in any of the protestant denominations my knowledge of their practices is based on popular information.  One of the recent innovations in some of the denominations is female clergy.  Another recent innovation is acceptance of homosexuality in the ministry and finally the sanctification of homosexual marriage.  As you might guess I won’t be interested in any sect that stands for any of that.  In fact, I won’t even get involved in any church that starts editing gender neutral wording into its Bible.  I’ll stick to the most archaic wording I can get.  King James is plenty recent enough.  If necessary, I’ll go back to the original Greek.  I can read that just fine.

I went to an article on denominational differences and put together this list of “safe” choices.  I eliminated any denominations that ordain women or sanction homosexuality in any way shape or form.  Interestingly that even knocked out the Mormons, which surprised me.  These are the sects that were left.  Adventist, Southern Baptist Convention (stopped ordaining women in 2000), Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, United Pentecostal Church International, Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Now of course I actually need to know more about the other aspects of their beliefs.  Then I’ll have to see what local congregations exist in my neck of the woods and do a meet and greet with the ministry and find out if I fit in.

And finally, if all of these choices fall through then I have seriously considered starting my own church.  After all what did Saint Peter, Martin Luther and John Knox have that I ain’t got?  I’m just as created in God’s image as any of them and I can definitely side step a whole bunch of pitfalls that they’ve stepped in along the way.  And I sure as hell won’t be introducing celibacy into my ministry.  In fact, I think that I would require anyone thinking of leading a church to be the father of grown children and I’d use the job that he did raising them as prima facie evidence of his ability to guide his flock.  And I’d also want to meet his wife.  If she is a feminist that would be big old stop sign in my evaluation of his judgement.  And finally, I’d find out if he voted for Donald Trump.  If he didn’t, I’d boot him out and slam the door behind him.

But seriously, religion is a personal relationship between man and God.  The Bible says that the way to pray to God is to lock yourself in an empty room and talk to Him directly.  No one needs a big shiny church or a guy in a black suit to help you.  But if you can live in a community of people who have the same beliefs as you that is an enormous advantage spiritually, psychologically and physically.  And that’s the reason for my search.  I’d like to find a community.  If I have to, I’ll build it myself.  And with the COVID lockdowns I already have a beard that would do any Old Testament patriarch proud.

The Bells of St. Mary’s – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This week is Thanksgiving and that means we’ve reached the Holiday season.  And going hand in hand with that is my annual holiday movie watching and reviewing ritual.  In years past I’ve especially concentrated on versions of “A Christmas Carol.”  And rightly so.  It is almost a transfiguration of the generosity of the Christmas holiday into a mythic experience.  There is an actual catharsis associated with experiencing Scrooge’s repentance and rebirth.  So, without a doubt I will have something new to say about Dicken’s classic again this year.

But let’s return to the task at hand.

Tonight, I watched again “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”  I’ve seen it many times before.  First off, it’s not actually a Christmas movie.  The movie begins in the Fall and ends in the late Spring.  There is indeed a scene or two associated with Christmas as it relates to the eponymous Catholic grammar school that is the focus of the film.  But it is incidental, not central to the plot.  Strictly speaking, there is no holiday theme to the movie at all.  What there is, is a representation of an American Roman Catholic parish grammar school from the middle of the twentieth century.  And when I say it is a representation and not an actual reflection, I can speak with all the assurance of thirteen years of Catholic school experience to back it up.  Without a doubt, the priests and nuns that I encountered in school and church bore not the faintest resemblance to the kind, patient, loving and wise religious figures that exist in the film.  Quite the contrary, I know without a doubt that some of the priests, brothers and nuns that I knew were truly evil and committed atrocities for which they can never be forgiven.  So, I have no illusions as to the reality of Catholic education and those administering it.

Also, this is a movie from 1945.  America was close to defeating the Axis powers in World War II when the movie was being made.  The populace was united and determined and looking forward to winning the war and returning to normal life including marriage and children.  Everything about the movie reflects a societal view that was carefully orchestrated by Hollywood and the Federal government to maintain morale for the civilians at home and the troops abroad.  Wholesome entertainment and Christian values were the coin of the realm.  And they were especially important around Christmas time.  So, what we see is the Hollywood idealization of Catholic grammar school life.

Put all that together and you have to conclude that this movie is a lie.  A deliberate fabrication.  Shouldn’t it be derided for deluding the public?  Maybe.  After all, if the Catholic Church has been enabling predatory pedophiles for decades maybe movies like the present one are part of the front that allowed this practice to exist.  That may be true.

But if you watch this movie you see a story about people working together to raise children not only by educating their minds but also by nurturing their spirits.  The pastor and the nuns spend the time to find out what problems the children are experiencing and giving them practical advice and help to overcome their problems and face the real world they will soon be joining.

The portrayals by Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman are extremely enjoyable.  Both of them radiate warmth, intelligence, humor and vitality.  Bergman especially shows us a sensitive woman enduring an extremely confusing and demoralizing reversal in her life.  Some of the other characters and circumstances have some predictable tropes and stereotypes painted on but these do not greatly distract us from the central plot lines and some are quaint in and of themselves.

Overall, I found this movie to be a beautiful story.  Whether it’s classified as a story, a fantasy or propaganda it is emotionally powerful and very enjoyable.  For the Christmas season it provides an idealized version of what the Christian religious community is supposed to be.  If only it truly were like the movie.

The Catholic Church

I grew up in a family that was steeped in Catholicism.  My uncle was a Catholic priest and my father’s cousin was a nun.  I and all of my siblings went to Catholic grammar and high schools.  We went to church every Sunday and I was even an Altar Boy.  And probably because of this immersion, I always had a healthy skepticism of the personnel that ran it.  Seeing the priests and nuns constantly and up close allowed me to see just how human and flawed they really were.  But back then there was never any hint of the truly dark side of the priesthood that we are hearing about today.  And that is probably a generational thing.  I’ve heard that it was the 1960s that saw the large influx of active homosexuals and pedophiles into the priesthood.  This may be hard to prove but it at least seems reasonable to assume that the skeptical atmosphere that called into question every other absolute prohibition would be used by men to use a sacred office to abuse children.  Now, understand, I’m not saying that the priests who were around when I was a kid didn’t have any sex offenders in their midst.  I imagine that human nature being what it is, there were some of these.  I merely claim that a step change in the number of them occurred in the 1960s.

Over the last forty years a steadily growing body of evidence has accumulated proving that a hidden but pervasive subculture that included homosexuality and pedophilia has existed in the Catholic Church and that knowledge of this subculture has been shielded by the higher levels of Church leadership.  And now we know that the protection of these offenders has been sanctioned by the current Pope.  A Cardinal of the American Catholic hierarchy was found to be engaging in homosexual acts with young seminarians at his New Jersey beach house.  The previous Pope censored him and removed him from his ministry.  The current Pope reinstated him and embraced him as a counselor.  So now we know.  The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is composed of at best sexual deviants who are complicit with pedophiles and allow them to use the Church to irrevocably damage innocent children.  At worst, they’re all pedophiles.

The Roman Catholic Church is only something if it is the legitimate heir of Jesus of Nazareth.  And Jesus said, (Matthew 18:6) “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  And these are supposedly the priests and bishops of the Church Jesus founded.  By the very words of the Bible these men must be cast out of the Church as anathema.  If the Church leaders won’t do that then, they are nothing and the Roman Catholic Church is just a satanic cult.

I think the correct action is to withdraw all support from the Church until they clean house.  At some point the Church has to reconsider the wisdom of a celibate priesthood.  But in the meantime, it’s time to purge all homosexual and sexually active priests and identify all pedophiles and hand them over to the police.

And if the Church won’t reform itself it must be abandoned.  But Jesus said, (Matthew 18:20) “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  And that’s enough to know that a corrupt Church does not destroy God.