On Religion

My understanding of religion might go back to my first memory of being in a church. I was very young and it was Halloween. We were at All Saints Episcopal for a Haunted House. This wasn’t my first time being in a church – in fact, I was probably baptized for before that and might have made it into the church for other reasons as well. But the first memory I have is of one of our priests dressed as a witch at the entrance to the rectory, and the other priest talking and maybe taking tickets. They were a male and female pair- one of them was married I think – hippies who played guitar while they talked and maybe supported the gay organist so much that they would later be replaced.

In my memory and in my heart, church was warm and inviting and you dressed up and sang songs, and even though I am now an ardent atheist, (and webmaster of atheists.org), I still have an undeniable place in my heart for my church, and certainly for the youth groups and all the way up to the Edge, which I loved up at Dartmouth. And my church has evolved with the support of gay bishops and has always fought for the rights of others and eschewed the more evangelical and colonial stripes of other religions (except for in the South and around Africa, but – that’s just not my church.

I even remember at various times being told about God and the Bible as a symbol. So it wasn’t hard to question and translate the teachings of the Bible into lessons, mortal, human lessons that had their value, but weren’t locked in stone. Now, that’s not the real orthodoxy, even in wealthy liberal Massachusetts Episcopal churches, but there is something to that mentality. If it’s all a metaphor, all an idea that we can translate into our time and place, then there is no room for hatred and fear. You can’t hate if there is no abomination. A bee can sting you, can sting your friends, but no one would claim it was a curse against God. My read on religion is part of what made me what I am today – things are good. There is no specific plan, but we should do good and be good. These are things that my parents did not necessarily teach me, though I now understand that they could have had they had the language. Church and religion are not necessarily evil or wrong.

But the Catholic Church is. This is a story I’d heard a long time ago, but a This American Life reference to it has me re-enraged.


The reference I heard, to paraphrase, was ‘They excommunicated the mother and doctor of a girl who’d had an abortion.  They did not, however, excommunicate the man who had repeatedly raped her since she was six.’  It should also be noted that the doctor had indicated, besides the aspect of rape, that the health risks to the girl were grave, especially as the children were twins.  She was nine.

Abortion is an abomination – but the rape just happened.  It’s their story and their sticking to it.

I’m sure even my church has stories like this.  In a system that large, there are going to be awful people who put dogma, put an idea over rational and human response. But the Catholic Church doesn’t just have a few outliers, like the Cardinal in Brazil – they live the policies.  Woman priests are intolerable, molesting boys is just a speed bump.  Condoms in Africa – well, they spread AIDS (Jesus hates contraception).  Helping gay people who have AIDS?  Hell no.  (Jesus hates gays.)

I know a lot of people who have argued there’s no room for relativism in religion.  What’s the point?  Our Hitler Youth Pope certainly is no fan.  And, I have no leg to stand on, given that I can’t morally accept religion as anything other than a ludicrous vestige of a very silly, if necessary groupthink.  But maybe it’s not even religion that’s the problem.  Certainly, Tea Partiers and much of Congress have the same failing.  Maybe it’s not the solution, either.  Maybe it’s time I picked up my guitar.

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