So, Jesus and everything: I believed it, but couldn’t believe I believed it. I knew how I looked at people like me and I couldn’t stop judging myself, while also trying to explain myself to myself. I’m not that kind of Christian, I’d say to the imaginary people looking at me like I was an idiot. I’m so enlightened. No, I don’t believe all that stuff those other guys do. Shoooooot.
So I had a kid. Kids force you to examine your beliefs. On unbeliefs. Even the agnostics and atheists have to figure out what they’re going to say to their kids, and I don’t think anyone gets off easy. So you have to leave the part of you that lets the Big Questions slide with a meh and figure out what you’re going to say. Oh, my. You think religious concepts can be hard to grasp? Try explaining them to a two-year-old. Let me tell you, my whole faith structure would come crashing down every time Audrey asked me something like, “Jesus come play blocks with me?” Shiiiit. I mean, well, that’s actually adorable and I’m glad she cares. But how do you explain this? I felt like a fraud.
(Sometimes when Christianity seems absurd, I think about the last documentary I watched where some physicist tries to explain current ideas about the world, and then nothing about God seems weird. In fact, it seems to fit.)
I was getting restless in my church. I got so much out of it, brain-wise, but I was missing some feels. I was surprised to find I most looked forward to Ash Wednesday every year, of all things, because the service had ritual and liturgy and…I don’t know, gravitas? Sunday services, while beautiful, had started to feel like attending a good concert and self-help lecture. It was great, but it didn’t feel like worship.
Well, we Protestants, when we don’t fit perfectly in a faith community, we often pick another one. We have roughly 40,000 denominations to pick from, so we can pretty easily find a church with the beliefs that don’t challenge us, or with the prettiest music, or with the best doughnuts. We can be comfortable.
I started having an emotional hankering for Catholicism. Ritual. Physical worship. Our bodies and souls are connected, but we sometimes forget that. So I’m an actor, and a director once told me I pretty much suck for the majority of the rehearsal period, but he stopped worrying about it because I come through by the time we perform. That’s me spiritually in a nutshell. It’s hard for me to get somewhere mentally all under my own steam. Put me in a costume, on a set, and it clicks.
And then theologically: well, look, I couldn’t buy all of Catholic belief or anything, but I recognized the value in having some kind of standard. How do I grow when the message I hear is I’m fine just as I am? What do I aim for? Again, not that I could really get behind Catholic teaching, but you know, maybe I could come for the candles and sort of just tolerate the hard teachings. I mean, I’ve seen the polls. Don’t most Catholics do that anyway?
By the time I was contemplating this, I was pregnant with Zachary and we had started attending a different service at our church. I was still feeling wishy-washy about Catholicism but I started reading a little. I picked up Catholicism for Dummies. I’d actually read it a few years before, but this time something new struck me. There’s this teaching that basically says you can’t do a wrong thing for a right reason. The end does not justify the means. For example, you can’t take one life even to save a thousand. I started swishing this around in my brain. I hadn’t really considered this concept ever. It sat badly with me at first. Really? We can’t compromise ourselves a tiny bit to serve the greater good? Doesn’t a lot of good outweigh a little bad? And then I got it. This rule removes us from the position of making these decisions. Of being God. It sounds great to do a little wrong thing to make the world a better place. But it’s awfully easy to start rationalizing away more and more horrible actions in the name of the Greater Good. I think we can all call to mind awful examples of this in history. And I started thinking of the wrong things I was okay with because I thought of them as “necessary evils.” Suddenly my own phrase sounded really messed up. If I thought something was evil, did I really have sufficient criteria for calling it “necessary”?
This little section of Catholicism for Dummies started haunting me, re-configuring my brain. It was the beginning of what would become a pattern. I would come across a plain crazy Catholic doctrine, I would learn the actual teaching and worldview behind it, and it would make sense. Just beautiful, painful sense.
Next time: More things learned while making that second kid.