Easter Tears: Stop Crying Over Zombie Jesus

Easter season is upon us, and I am up to my ears once again in stories about people being moved by various prayers and songs and readings of the Passion last weekend. While I respect that it’s the central story to Christianity, the way in which people react to it tends to get on my nerves after a while.

Yes, it’s part of their canonical story that Jesus kicked the bucket to save people from their sins. I know. And I know the story of the crucifixion. It is indeed gruesome. But for those of you who have been practicing Christians for all or most of your lives, why are you crying over this and obsessing over the details of how this character was tortured again, for what may be the twentieth, thirtieth, or fiftieth time? Aren’t you sick and tired of this story by now?

From my time as a Catholic, I’ve learned there are several reasons people typically give for this emotional experience in the days leading up to Easter Sunday. Some people say that the reason they’re still moved is that it’s the power of the Holy Spirit moving through them, and that they’re having a spiritual experience. Or, they’ll say they’re just feeling deeply for Jesus, who suffered all those horrible injuries. The latter group sometimes even has a bit of a guilt complex, feeling that every sin they’ve committed contributed somehow to Jesus’ suffering.

The thing that bothers me about all of these explanations though, is that while I’d accept the “feeling bad for Jesus” one once or twice, there are people who experience these emotions every Easter. I know this because I saw my parents go through it every year, and because once I hit a certain age during my years as a Catholic, it started happening to me too. Catholics will talk about these experiences in a very convincing way because they truly believe they’re having a spiritual moment, but don’t be fooled by this. In my experience, practicing Catholics aren’t surprised by this experience; they know it’s likely to happen. They don’t go to mass on Holy Thursday and Good Friday thinking, “gee, this is just like every other mass.” They come to church craving a religious experience.

These pre-Easter tears are almost an addiction to them. I’d compare it to the strange addiction Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club develops. For those of you who don’t know, he becomes addicted to attending support groups for various ailments he doesn’t have, where he always winds up hugging strangers and crying. That character comes back to these support groups again and again despite not truly having a reason to be there. Many Christians do something very similar. They come back every year subconsciously craving that nice feeling they get when they cry their tears for Jesus: that surge of dopamine rewarding them for participating in a community ritual, for joining others as they do something they’ve been conditioned to believe is good, something that will bring them closer to their supposedly loving, tortured savior figure.

The religious experience in this situation is comparable to the crowd-inspired emotions that I experienced during the Steubenville retreat. You’re experiencing the emotions of the people around you to an extent. As social animals, humans tend to mirror each other’s emotions as a way to relate better and bond. But it goes deeper than that. At these events, you are also acting out the emotions you want to feel. In your mind, these people around you are very religious, and you will fit in better if you act like them. They’re all thinking the same thing too, because of the grandiose expectations religious people have for this time of year, so what you get is this collective hive mind of crazy Jesus love. Better yet, it’s rewarding for everyone present, because you can feel good about yourself for being spiritual like everybody else. If you cried during the reading of the Passion, you were one of the cool kids.

Sometimes it’s subconscious, but sometimes it isn’t. I used to sit in church for hours on end praying and contemplating during Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and finally Easter Sunday masses. I used to go to stations of the cross and TRY to feel sorry for Jesus. It really seemed like the right thing to do was to feel something while reflecting on his injuries. As an atheist though, I know I was just playing into the group think that comes with organized religion. It’s all designed to play with our natural yearning to belong, to fit in, to be special. In a religious community, you’re special when your savior is connecting with you on an individual level. It’s literally a “fake it till you make it” situation.

 

Thoughts on this? Ever cry at Holy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Vigil masses or services? What’s your personal explanation for why that experience happened the way that it did? All opinions are welcome (religious people too!) Just be respectful to others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Catholics on Tubal Pregnancies and Abortion

madonna with child statue

Image courtesy of sritangphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An old friend of mine is now working for a pro-life organization. As children, we were Catholic homeschoolers from the same hometown, attending many of the same co op classes and homeschooling events, so as a result we used to be very close. I even considered her my best friend for many years, but we’ve drifted apart as I became increasingly liberal and she attended a strict Catholic college and became increasingly conservative. We’re still Facebook friends though.

As a result, I see a lot of posts from her that I’m pretty sure are for her work, encouraging people to come to pro-life events and participate in online pro-life campaigns. Sometimes though, she posts articles that are just things she’s particularly interested in–some of them still relating to the pro-life movement. It’s these that tend to spark my attention. I’ve shared some of them on this blog to write about them in the past. This blog has been a great outlet for me to engage with the ideas she’s sharing without getting into an argument on Facebook (we all know how that usually goes). I’ve been in a few arguments with her online and I finally decided that we were both basically getting nowhere. She hasn’t grasped a lot of the concepts I find vitally important for modern sexual ethics (consent being a big one we argued about), and we were basically talking over each other rather than conducting a productive dialogue. She didn’t have any new ideas to offer me either, having been raised with the same background as I was. I knew what she was going to say, and I also knew that many of the “facts” she might spout at me would be from the pool of inaccurate information touted by pro-life activists. So when she shared this article about Catholic teaching concerning tubal pregnancies, I decided to write about it here instead of getting into a heated argument.

First of all, the fact that she had shared that article at all piqued my interest. We had been part of a pro-life organization for teens in high school. (I was briefly president of this organization, I’m sorry to admit), and during that time, various pro-life activists would come in to teach us different “facts” about the issue. We would watch “documentaries” about abortion. We would join prayer groups that protested outside abortion clinics. We held our pro-life stance in much the same way that we held our religious faith. We knew we were right, and that others were wrong. We were only interested in the information that confirmed our bias.

One visitor in particular comes to mind. This guest speaker spoke about the various arguments people make in support of abortion, and how to refute them. There, for the first time, we were introduced to the argument that abortion sometimes needs to be performed “for the health and safety of the mother.” I don’t recall this speaker having any real credentials–no medical background what-so-ever–but she told us forcefully that there simply were no situations in which abortions were medically necessary. Furthermore, she claimed that carrying to term is always safer for the mother than aborting. I now know that neither of those things is true.

Ectopic (often called tubal) pregnancies are perhaps the strongest example of a situation in which ending the pregnancy is literally the only way for the woman to survive. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the pregnancy happens somewhere other than the uterus, usually in one of the fallopian tubes while traveling the path it is supposed to take to get to the uterus. This is a life threatening medical condition. Furthermore,  the treatment is removal of the pregnancy.  That’s it. These pregnancies can end in miscarriage, but if that does not happen quickly enough, allowing a pregnancy to continue inside the fallopian tube leads to the tube rupturing fairly early in the pregnancy. Even the Catholics in the first article admit to that. I believe they said the fetus is at most 10 weeks old at the point of the anticipated rupture. That’s a little more than two months into the pregnancy. We do have a lot of ways of keeping premature infants alive, but at that point, the fetus is not viable. There’s no getting around that. A quick google search revealed that the record for shortest gestation for a surviving premature baby is 21 weeks and 5 days–more than twice the gestation time that is possible in these pregnancies.

So what do they suggest as a way to treat ectopic pregnancies? Keep in mind, this is an article in which a Catholic theologian is attempting to discern the church’s stance on something the church has never directly addressed. Here’s what they say on the matter:

A mother facing a tubal pregnancy risks imminent rupture of the fallopian tube. While the doctor would opt for the least risk and expense to the mother, all the options presented to her involve terminating the pregnancy. The mother, however, must respect both her life and that of her child. [emphasis mine]

There is no treatment available that can guarantee the life of both. [emphasis mine] The Church has moral principles that can be applied in ruling out some options, but she has not officially instructed the faithful as to which treatments are morally licit and which are illicit. Most reputable moral theologians, as discussed below, accept full or partial salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tube), as a morally acceptable medical intervention in the case of a tubal pregnancy. [emphasis mine]

The author of this article goes on to admit that salpingectomy during a tubal pregnancy will terminate the fetus. In what is perhaps the most hilariously brilliant piece of mental gymnastics I’ve ever seen performed by a conservative activist, the author writes:

On one hand, there can be no direct attack on the child (direct abortion) to save the life of the mother. On the other hand, the life of the mother is equally valuable and she must receive appropriate treatment.[emphasis mine] It might be that the only available remedy saves the life of the mother but, while not a direct abortion, brings about the unintended effect of the death of the child. Morally speaking, in saving the life of the mother, the Church accepts that the child might be lost.

I literally laughed out loud when I read that. My friend has read this, and shared it. She knows just as well as I do that this goes against so many of the pro-life narratives we believed in with every fiber of our beings. Firstly, there’s the obvious fact that the author is admitting that sometimes ending a pregnancy is necessary to save the mother, which we were told was never true. Second, we often read narratives about women who chose to do things like forego cancer treatment in order to carry a pregnancy to term, knowing very well that this could lead to their own deaths. These women were celebrated for giving their lives for their unborn child. To the pro-life movement, that was praised as the right thing to do. This does not fit those narratives.

Third, and this is perhaps the best part, the writer is clearly trying very hard to find a surgery that can fix this problem but isn’t designed as an abortion procedure. To admit that a literal abortion using one of the processes currently used by abortion providers can be a necessary way to save someone’s life would be to admit that the church and the pro-life movement is wrong. So it’s not really an abortion, you see, because there is “no direct attack on the child.” Ha! That’s a bit like saying that if in your religion removing a finger is immoral, removing the whole arm isn’t because that’s not a direct attack on the finger. Of course removing an arm involves removing a finger. Why are we doing the more invasive thing when most of these pregnancies are so early that a pill could literally solve this problem? SURGERY IS ALWAYS RISKY. If you can solve a problem by taking a pill that we know works consistently, just take the goddamn pill.

Seeing as most of this information is contained in the original article itself, I was particularly curious to see my friend’s thoughts. She had commented when she shared the article, basically saying, “I don’t know how I feel about this. I guess if they made every effort to save the life of the baby too it would be OK.”

I want very badly to tell her I’m sorry, but it’s not going to make it at 10 weeks. In fact, it won’t have 10 weeks if the mother is to be saved–probably more like 7 or 8 , because the doctors will probably want to do the procedure before the tube ruptures. Click the above link if you want to see what a pregnancy looks like at that point. How viable does that look to you? I know my friend means well. I know that to her, that fetus is a human being who should be given all the chances to succeed in life. But that fetus will literally kill its mother before the pregnancy can continue far enough for it to become viable. This isn’t a save one or the other situation. The choice is between saving the mother and losing the child or losing both. It’s a terrible choice, but it’s a real one that people do face.

I like to think that after reading this, my friend is beginning to reevaluate the issue of abortion. Maybe at least in the case of ectopic pregnancies, she’ll conclude that it should be permitted. I know she probably thinks that’s a slippery slope. I used to think that myself. But abortion, like many of the big issues of our time, is not as simple or clear cut an issue as many like to make it out to be.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Feel free to leave a comment below. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Catholic Church Says Bishops Don’t Have to Report Abuse to Authorities

It has come to my attention that officials of the Catholic Church have decided that Bishops have no obligation to report allegations of abuse to the police. They merely have to investigate them internally. For more information, check out the link below:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/02/15/new-vatican-document-says-bishops-are-not-obligated-to-report-allegations-of-abuse-to-authorities/ 

In a church that is struggling to hold on to its youth and having a hard time convincing  young men to become priests, they have a great deal of incentive to hide these allegations to avoid both the bad publicity that comes with them, and the possible loss of members of their clergy. This must not be permitted to continue. The police MUST be notified if a priest is accused of molesting a child, or abusing anyone in any way. We’ve seen time and time again that the church can’t be trusted to investigate these people and remove them from positions of authority. They tend to simply move them to a different diocese where these people fall into the same patterns of abuse, and more children are hurt. If you’re Catholic, it’s high time you questioned your church’s hierarchy. Are they interested in your well being, or merely in maintaining their positions of power? Based on this decision, which one makes sense?

The Convenience of Mysteries of Faith

questionmarks

Image courtesy of Chaiwat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Growing up Catholic, every so often a question or even a doctrine would be explained away with the sentence, “It’s a mystery of our faith.”

What falls into this category?

Lots of things.

The trinity, for instance, was explained to me this way. That’s the doctrine insisting that the Christian God is 1 God in 3 persons: the father, son, and holy spirit. Are they completely separate minds, or the same person in the mental sense? Neither? Who knows! “It’s a mystery.”

The supposed miracle of transubstantiation, when the communion wafer is believed to literally become Jesus’ body and the wine his blood, is a mystery. Calling it a mystery is also supposed to explain why that’s a miracle–even though the wine still looks and tastes like whatever Fr. Peter always buys, and the wafer still looks and tastes like cardboard.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church claims that Jesus’ whole life is a mystery!

To be fair to Catholics, here’s a website where they’re the ones giving a definition of “mystery” and explaining the doctrine. They say, among other things:

“…a mystery is a supernatural truth, one that of its very nature lies above the finite intelligence.”

 

In other words, not only are humans currently incapable of understanding mysteries of the Catholic faith–they can never understand them. A mystery “lies above the finite intelligence,” [of humans]. Over time, I came to understand that a mystery in the religious sense was something I would never learn no matter how hard I tried. So when someone–a parent, a religious education teacher, a friend’s parent–told me something was a mystery, I  naively accepted that explanation.

As an adult atheist, those explanations of “It’s a mystery of our faith,” seem so convenient. Of course the complicated or particularly crazy doctrines are “mysteries!” That way, no one has to explain them. Except of course to just say that those are the Catholic beliefs. One must be able to picture Saint Patrick using a shamrock to explain the trinity, understanding the concept of the ridiculous belief itself, all the while simultaneously accepting that HOW there can be one god in three persons is a mystery.

The fact that mysteries are defined as something no one can possibly understand makes them perfectly crafted to evade human questioning. Why try to discover what you can never comprehend? With doctrines like this, is it any wonder that religion has persisted so long? It has built-in teachings to discourage people from doing the natural thing when they are given a ridiculous claim. Instead of being encouraged to ask, “Why is there a talking donkey in the Bible,” they’re instead told “It’s a mystery. Some things can’t be explained. But God has a plan!”

The convenient doctrine of the mystery leaves me all the more convinced that more likely than not, some human beings many many years ago wrote a story. And a religion began out of that story, and people who loved power emerged as that religion’s leaders, building rules like this into the faith to keep people from questioning their authority. It makes a lot of sense. Way more sense than talking animals, Noah’s ark, and a virgin birth.

Do any of you have experiences relating to the doctrine of mysteries? Do other denominations emphasize them as much as Catholics do? I’m curious. Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Sense of Purpose and Longevity

I’m a big fan of informational videos on YouTube, and this is one that I found particularly interesting because I see a connection in it to religion and atheism. Check it out at the link here:

The video discusses an analysis of multiple studies that found that a sense of purpose “reduces the risk of death from all causes by 23%” and additionally, “reduces the risk of heart attack by 19%.”

What connects this video to religion or a lack thereof is the way in which the researchers defined the phrase sense of purpose, calling it “A self-reported sense of meaning, direction, and a feeling that life is worth living.”

It reminded me of a dinner I was at a year or so ago, when some conservative friends of my parents began discussing one of my neighbors:  a boy around my brother’s age, who does drugs, drinks heavily, and seems when one converses with him to have very little hope for his future.

As the video points out, for some, a sense of purpose is derived from religion. Thinking along those lines, one of my parents’ friends immediately said of my neighbor, “That boy needs God in his life, and it’s a lack of God that’s causing him to be so troubled.” Nearly everyone at the table agreed, but I, who was already considering atheism, said “Not necessarily. Maybe God will be what works for him, but he just needs some sense of purpose. That can come from a lot of things.” If he could find something he was passionate about–a goal worth pursuing, for example–that might be enough for him. Just because religion is all the purpose some people need, doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone.

That’s why I appreciate this video so much. They talk about other things that can lead to a sense of purpose, three of which apply to me:  wanting a successful career, a family of your own, and to do something creative. Those are all valid reasons for living. Wanting to worship a God is not the only valid one. In fact, I personally see something more positive in the more personal goals because they do not come from an external source, like a religious community. Instead, they come from the individual.

The devout Catholic culture I grew up in valued a strong sense of purpose mainly when it was derived from faith and devotion to God. That’s probably why on religious retreats, I would frequently see people like The Addict (mentioned in a previous post) that claim to have found Jesus to be the solution to their addiction. They often don’t even mean what they’re saying (or think they do in the moment but aren’t willing to put in the work to actually quit,) and fall right back into using after the retreat euphoria wears off. What they’re doing in that moment, when they stand up and testify about Jesus, is using the crowd’s pro-Jesus mentality to gain acceptance from the group. It’s nice to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside because a community is welcoming and loving you, but without a sense of purpose driving you to change, it is likely not going to help you much.

It’s good to know that having a sense of purpose–including a nonreligious one–can help increase the odds of living longer. It makes me hopeful for humanity. The world is a pretty big place and there’s a lot to learn and do and see. There is a plethora of possible purposes out there.

What do you think? Do you feel like you have a sense of purpose? Is it religious or nonreligious? As usual, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

And purpose finding!

-Nancy