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the rhythm method

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One of the many things I’ve been figuring out lately about myself is what to make of my religious upbringing. That sounds wrong: “religious upbringing.” Makes it sound like we sat around discussing Bible stories at night instead of watching TV. Wasn’t like that. But I did go to Catholic school from the age of 3 till 18. 16 years of religious education, that makes. And I attended Mass, weekly, from 3 or so until 17, when I got my driver’s license and I could claim I was going to church and instead go sit around in exotic Barnes and Nobles scattered around northern NJ. I most definitely, and thickly, went through the whole I am going to hell, definitely going to hell. I promise I’ll never lock myself in the bathroom again and do that to myself. I am going to hell phase. Not nice! Horrible at the time, then came to seem trivial and cliche a bit later once I’d “lost my faith,” now seems more serious and deformative than I had thought, those early years of sexual efflorence while still under the chastening, condemnatory wing of Jesus H. Christ.

It’s funny. During a moment of real stress the cause of which I can’t quite put my finger on now, I started going to Mass again for a week or two during my second year of grad school. Talked to my wife about converting, even. (There was a funny scene where I tried to explain to her why she couldn’t go up and receive communion with the rest of us Catholics – she still thinks I’m crazy, but when we talk to other Lapsers they agree that, no, I told her the right thing). I can’t remember now what this was about – I think it was an intellectual crisis of some sort but it remains hazy.

But then again, on the other hand, there’s this sort of thing:

…I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

I always listened quite closely when people told me to listen. Quite a lot of Catholic education is self-contradictory, equivocating, incoherent. You’d put your hand up and ask, But father, does that really mean that rich people basically can’t go to heaven? I mean, if that’s what Jesus is saying, it means that… and they would sort of brush you off and say that it’s a lot more complicated than that. Or sometimes, they’d have a well-prepped response to blur things out a bit. “Rich” doesn’t mean “rich” in the sense that we think it… Etc… It was a frustrating, confusing experience for someone with a predilection to very, very careful reading and taking things very seriously in general.

Even though there’s no heaven, and no kingdom of god, I happen to believe, no know, that Jesus was right about the rich man. This is how the religious stuff has stuck on me, absolute rules and imperatives unanchored by any visible system of reward or punishment. Ads without products, in a sense. But true to the first and basic a priori of religion itself, just because this seemingly necessary structure of consequence is invisible doesn’t mean it’s not there… It may be all the more there because I can’t touch it, edit it, argue with it….

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 19, 2009 at 11:46 am

Posted in selfcriticism

3 Responses

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  1. I also had 13 years of Catholic education. I went through a phase around 8 or 9 where I wore a Scapular, because I really thought that if you wore it when you died you’d instantly go to heaven, or maybe it made you invincible..can’t recall. When I moved out of my parents house in college, I made a half-hearted attempt to go to Sunday mass, but the guilt only lasted only a couple of weeks, thankfully. I even tried going to the mass in Italian, to make it more interesting.

    In the intervening years my “religious upbringing” didn’t figure very prominently – but when I took my mother to Rome last November, and saw her kneel at the bottom of the Scala Sancta and touch the toe of St. Peter with reverence, well..I’ll have to sit down and process all that sometime.


    February 19, 2009 at 2:32 pm

  2. Yeah, I’m still processing, and will always continue to process, the fact that my dad still goes to mass. Long story why this is so mystifying (let’s just say it feels like all the other illusions that framed his life are long gone – so why does this remain?) but it really, truly is.


    February 19, 2009 at 2:34 pm

  3. The Scapular bit is something though. I totally get it…


    February 19, 2009 at 2:35 pm

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