Meditations: Standing Outside All Religions
Standing Outside All Religions
Standing outside all religions, and yet being a very religious person, I find it difficult to communicate with people who hold strong belief systems. I once held organized religion in complete disdain, but as I grow older, I understand why many people feel the need to belong to one.
It sounds rather funny, but I've found that many good people are Christians, Jews, Muslims, or whatever. Perhaps for most of them, a church, mosque, or temple provide some semblance of a community, when nearly all other spaces for community life are disappearing worldwide.
Raised Catholic, attending parochial schools until 10th grade, I quit the church at 17 after three years of reflection, observation, and study.
For all except the last year or two of my indoctrination, the Mass, which we had to attend every morning before school, was in Latin. When I was very young, I can remember being enthralled with the rituals and man-made mysteries of the Mass. As a pre-teen, I considered it an honor and privilege to become an altar boy, and conscientiously memorized the considerable amount of Latin that was required to attend a priest.
Obviously some serious things happened between then and my junior year in high school, when I came down one Sunday morning and announced to my conservative, hysterical parents that I was not going to Mass that day, or ever again. (This at a time when missing Mass on Sunday was still deemed a mortal sin, landing you in eternal hell unless you confessed to a priest and received absolution before your death.)
The priests in our parish were good men that neither I nor any of the other boys I knew had problems with, which is perhaps surprising given all the revelations of sexual crimes and cover ups that have been rocking the church the last few years. My problem with the church began with a fairly minor incident, by these standards, involving a nun.
Two nuns taught the same grade in middle school, one young, beautiful, gentle and loving; the other old, bitter, tyrannical, and mean. I had the beautiful nun who many of the boys fell in love with, despite, or because of her concealing garb and unattainable station.
One morning after serving Mass, the very harsh and feared nun charged up to a friend and I walking in the hall, and without warning, began to beat and berate him. She thought he was the other altar boy with me that morning (he looked something like him). Unbeknownst to me, the fellow server had been flirting with girls as he stood on the other side of the priest during communion, when the priest alternated between the two lines placing the consecrated wafer on the tongues of the young communicants.
My friend in the hallway, who was known as a tough guy, broke down completely. Finally, I got through to the nun that she had the wrong boy. But she never apologized; she just turned on her heels and walked away. From then on I began to question the faith in which I had been raised, and observed more closely those who were supposed to exemplify it.
I did not feel particularly angry at the church when I left it, and don't feel angry at it now. For me the break was a negation of the entire edifice of organized religion. I had the unshakable realization that while communion with God is not personal, it is an entirely private, direct, and individual matter.
At best, much "inter-faith dialogue" is an exercise in tolerance; at worst, it's like throwing ropes from one sinking ship to another. Real discovery lies beyond, not between, belief systems.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.