When I was a kid, we went to church every Sunday. There wasn’t a moment that I would have questioned my faith in God, or that I needed to go to church and show it. Gradually as I aged, my views on attending church have changed. Some of it was the bad damage the Catholic church took on in that time. Part of it was church now being at 8 am. Part of it was the gradual deaths of family members who I went there to be with every week. It’s been a combination of things, but I go to church a lot less than I used to.
I was raised Byzantine Catholic, and I must say that I’m quite proud of Pope Francis. I still consider myself a believer in God, and I find his version of Catholicism to actually be inspiring and worth preserving. I often find myself facing the pressing questions that any progressive person of faith ultimately finds themselves wrestling with- contradictions with science, problems with patriarchal practices, and issues with the way the church is administered in general. Even so, I still find myself to be a believer, for three main reasons:
- There is enough scholarly work out there that suggests a man named Jesus existed in the land of Ancient Israel about 2,000 years ago. I’m comfortable with the facts there.
- I dig what Jesus talked about in the New Testament- take care of the poor, the sick, the hungry, the elderly and all who need it, while not passing judgment on one another. Jesus message was selfless, and I find it compelling.
- Religious faith is ultimately a belief thing, not a proof thing, and I happen to believe that our existence is not purely random, that our universe and it’s perfect existence is not purely random, and that our lives have value beyond the face value of this world. I don’t run around preaching it to make you think the same, because again, it’s about personal faith and belief, not proving it.
Now with that out of the way, I have to say that I did enjoy attending Christmas Morning mass at my old church. I am not a huge fan of 8 am anything, let alone church, but the couple of times a year I go back actually do have some value for me, if for no other point but contemplating my feelings about even being there. For this Christmas, the priest chose to make part of his sermon about the meaning and reason behind the Old Testament, the book that I fundamentally have my biggest issues with in religion, which I found to be interesting to think about. His basic argument about the Old Testament was that the “hell, fire, and brimstone” portions of it were meant to put the “fear of God” back into the people, so as to guide them on how to live. I think that’s actually a pretty honest assessment of it, one that gets at why it was actually written. It’s also the most awful part of the religion, for me.
First off, I have to say that the Old Testament is both the most fun and ridiculous book ever written. It has 900 year olds in it, instructions on when to stone an adulteress, and claims the world was created in seven literal days (when remember, the sun was just being created, so I’m not even sure how that measurement of time would be kept). I tend to accept that the book has fatal factual flaws, from language translations, to the passage of time, to the fact that it was written in part to govern people who were just figuring out how to be civilized. I take it for what it is, mostly for the lessons, not for the literal facts being laid out in it. This is good, because this also allows me to not cheer for and find signs of the Apocalypse in every thing I see.
Viewing the Old Testament this way also allows me to see the danger in passing any form of religious law. Societies change, as is evidenced in the differences between the biblical world and today’s world. We do not need religion to explain everything about how we need to live together in society today, because in 2017 we have other frames of reference that they had no idea could ever exist. The threat of “hell, fire, and brimstone” isn’t the only reason for me to want to live well, as I now have science, economics, medicine, and other ways to understand the world, and understand the right thing to do. I have a more complex and advanced world to live in and ponder than the people in the Old Testament did.
None of this is to say that I don’t find religion to be a good guide- I just don’t find it to be the only guide. I find the teachings of Jesus to be something that should guide my life and my personhood, perhaps even as personal law. I think there are other motivators that can get people to do the right things though. I’ve found peace with the issues of organized religion, and even of the contradictions of science and religion. I’ve most importantly though, found how I can choose to live within man’s law, and still have my own room for the God’s law that I believe in. I don’t need to be threatened with hell, fire, and brimstone to get there either.