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by Carl S. ~

An article, "Papal Economics,” by Leah Mickens, is in The Humanist magazine, May-June 2014. It is more about Catholics than popes. As someone who knows present and former Catholics and their relationships with accepting or not "papal authority," l was not expecting anything new in Catholic laity reactions to the new pope's encyclical, "Evangelium Gaudiium." Quite a few U.S. Catholics were bothered by it though, according to the author.

In her final paragraphs, Mickens addressed some issues I've been thinking about lately, so her words arrived at an "opportune time," as the old saying goes. She writes, "If U.S. Catholics are all picking and choosing from the cafeteria, so to speak, whether it's sexuality on the left or economics on the right, it may be worth asking whether it's even possible to be an orthodox Catholic in the 21st century U.S., or in any other place or time."

And further on she makes the point: "The fact that most of what passed for religion among the masses in the pre-modern West was magic and superstition, sprinkled with a few simple Bible stories, suggests that the average peasant or craftsman living during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, or even the 19th century, would hardly be an exemplar of "orthodoxy" any more than the modern Catholic who augments her weekly mass attendance with Zen meditation or a belief in reincarnation. In short, there has never been a time in history when all Catholics, whether lay or cleric, were in complete lockstep with the official ideology of the Church." She suggests that conservative “orthodox” Catholics realize that we are all heretics in some way.

I read these paragraphs to a Christian woman, especially a sentence regarding U.S. Catholicism, with its ”Catholic-Protestant syncretism, is really no more surprising than the combination of traditional African and indigenous religious practices with Catholicism that characterizes many religious practices in Latin America, other than the fact that those in the latter group tend to be more honest about the nature of their eclectic beliefs." This woman is smart, she is well aware of what ”syncretism" means. Her response was that, of course, not only Catholics, but all Christians do this “cafeteria style." She is the same lady who told me she knew for certain that members of her congregation did not believe everything her denomination posts in its weekly church bulletin under “Statement of Faith."

Last December, our local paper published a pastor's Christmas message. He frequently quoted St. Paul as an authority on Jesus. The following week, a letter writer commented on this and said that Paul, who advised his listeners to have "the same mind as Christ Jesus," never actually met Jesus, ergo, he couldn’t know what Jesus thought. In fact, Paul made "Jesus” his personal interpretation of the man. The next week, a lady remarked that each Christian "interprets Jesus" personally. Where's truth?

On this site, we deal with former believers and those on the fence. While our searches for the truth often deal with our strict doctrinal upbringings and the pressures of trying to make sense of why we got so screwed up trying to live up to them, most believers don't take them so seriously, have picked and chosen what they want to accept, and left the rest in the attic of their mind. I find their attitudes both troubling and hopeful; troubling because they really are indifferent to what constitutes the search for serious truths, and hopeful because, if they really did believe some of the things they profess to, we might have problems such as the Islamic countries are experiencing. (On the other hand, they can always use the excuse, "because my church or religion supports or forbids it - so must I.")

I was brought up Catholic, taught as fact that the Church was the only true one because it was founded by Christ himself. My parents sanctioned all Catholic teachings, and who was I to think otherwise? All of us kids were deceived. We were led to believe that what was told us was TRUE, therefore (insert dogmas here). It makes me wonder if I went from a tightly controlled alcoholic household accepted as normal because it was the only one l knew, to a clerically tightly controlled lifestyle. When l arrived at teenage idealism, the cultish attraction of the monastery my brother was in, with its austerity, self-sacrifice and opportunities for deep thinking, appealed to me. On our family's yearly visit with him, I decided to enter, my parents giving their permission. While there, l was certainly NOT a “cafeteria Catholic," but accepted, without thinking or questioning, the narrow (you might say ”cafeteria-style") rules, based on a founding medieval saint‘s picking and choosing texts from the N.T. We were the "true" followers of Jesus’ teachings. For example, "sell all you have," etc., etc. We had poverty, and although we did not castrate ourselves (as the first monks often did) "for the kingdom of heaven," we did have vows of chastity. And we prayed frequently, as we were told to do, fasted, surrendered our liberty, and, with smiles, suffered bodily miseries. We took seriously, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, and yes, his own life, he cannot be my disciple;" not to the extent of hating them, but we did dump them. Nobody told us that these rules are those of a cult and that Jesus was a cult leader, but they are and he was. We were encouraged to bear with physical discomfort and mental anguish in order to “participate in the sufferings of Christ." No half-measures, no picking and choosing, no hypocrisy. Maybe those who were raised in fundamentalist Christian families will understand what I am leading to. Maybe it was our inability to compromise our dedication that led us to eventually dump the faiths. Maybe, as a wise man once commented, we pursued ignorance severely long enough to become wise. {We wised up?) We cared enough about truth to persist in hot pursuit of the actual facts.

It never occurred to me to be wishy-washy about matters seriously important to reality and life, and religions CLAIM to be serious, so l had to check out not only those claims to truth, but the alternative ones they rejected. (To paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, every man is entitled to his own religion, but not his own facts.) I have not changed. It seems I've always had this melody of childlike sincerity playing through the turmoil of intellectually insulting battles I've fought with the hypocrisies of faiths. I am become the person l was told to despise, and couldn't be happier.

And speaking of melodies: religions make me think of music. I was raised not only with pop music, but with classical, 20th century modern, and jazz music. All music has rules, basics, notes, rhythms, etc. There are themes and variations, a huge variety of instruments and styles, combined in infinite ways. Unlike religion, there never is one TRUE music style, combination, etc. No one has ever been killed or tortured for believing that Mozart is superior to Bach, for not believing that Stravinsky is the greatest modern composer, nor for teaching jazz is the ONLY true musical art form. Today's musical ”heretic" may one day be the next classicist. No one has ever been deprived of rights, had property seized, or been driven into exile because some musical experts teach one style of music is the ONLY TRUE music. And yet, religions are basically no different from music. They are combinations derived from adding their own mix of cafeteria-chosen truths.

There is no TRUTH involved in religions or music; in fact, religions are combinations of syncretism/ habitual lying/pretending/heresies of choice, continually doing variations on these themes and appearing on their shallow surface to have depth. Like music, which is not really "there," but passing, so religions are ephemeral themselves. Believers in them lie to themselves, pretending they are eternal mighty fortresses.

Listen carefully. It's STILL "magic and superstition, sprinkled with a few simple Bible stories.”