Pope Emeritus Benedict tells Catholic Priests to “face East”

Priest Holding HostiaA friend of mine shared this article on Facebook in all seriousness, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the headline alone. Here’s the headline and a link to the article:

“Pope Emeritus Benedict reiterates call for priests to ‘face East’

Yup, it says exactly what it sounds like it’s saying. Benedict says, “In the liturgy’s orientation to the East, we see that Christians, together with the Lord, want to progress toward the salvation of creation in its entirety.” The article describes this step as an “ecumenical instrument.” Basically, it’s a way of unifying the [Christian] worship traditions of the East and West. This does not appear to be a mandatory command, but it is a serious recommendation from a man who is well respected by the Catholic community as a whole.

In Catholicism, the word ecumenical refers to efforts to promote unity between Christians of different Christian worship traditions, and does not include reaching out to non-Christians. However, I see a bit of tension in the ideas of this article–and this is what made me laugh. I can’t help but think to myself, from the headline alone, “Seriously, in what religion does prayer orient towards a specific direction?” Sure, there are probably some Eastern Christian Churches that do this, but come on now, where have I heard this before? Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about Islam.

As Catholics tend to do whenever they’re suggesting a new tradition, they have to make it seem like it’s just an old thing they used to always do, and they’re just going back to their roots (here, they talk about the Latin rite, which yes, did have the priest facing away from the congregation).

But I don’t think that’s what’s really going on in this situation. The question to ask is always why go back to the way things were? The Catholic church is very good at staying the same despite the many valid reasons there may be to change. I think, ultimately, it has to do with the way Catholics see themselves interacting with other religions, particularly Islam.

I see genuine tension right now as Catholics realize how quickly the Muslim world is growing. I think Catholic leaders are afraid of having people abandon their rigid religion for a more extreme, more rigid one. They’re also afraid that their religion isn’t growing fast enough to compete with others. They’re dealing with the fact that the Muslim world is having more kids than the Christian world. Just google birth rates in Europe and North America and compare them to birth rates in the middle East:

us-birth-ratesaudi-arabia-birth-rate-chart

birth-rate-italyiraq-birth-rate

Granted, these are from 2012, but seriously, there were more than 4 births per woman on average in Iraq while Italy, home of the ultra-conservative, anti-choice, anti-birth-control pope and cardinals and other old white men, has 1.4 births per woman. I suspect the anxiety over this is just all the more reason for Catholics to continue crusading against abortion and birth control-heck, even pulling out is a no-no in Catholicism. (I’ve probably shared this three or four times by now but Monty Python anybody?)

But maybe Benedict has managed to break the cycle of thinking about birth rates and babies. If that’s the case–and I suspect it is–he’s trying to give Catholics something in common with people from one of the largest religions in the world. It’s symbolic and does nothing to address real-world issues facing the Muslim world like the Syrian refugee crisis and, you know, ISIS, but I mean, it’s cute.

This is the best Catholicism has to offer, and to me, that’s hilarious.

As always, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Handling Stressful News as an Atheist

praying hands and bible

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When one is religious, as I used to be, the first thing to do when something goes wrong is to pray. It’s almost a reflex. When you see an ambulance drive by, you bow your head. When you get bad news, you fold your hands. When you’re anxious about something, you lay your troubles at the feet of Jesus.

I’ll admit that I haven’t had many difficult situations to deal with since deconverting. Aside from some test anxiety and performance anxiety before giving some solos for my school’s music program, my life had been pretty calm, until a few months ago. I wrote this post long before the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shooting reawakened our nation’s fears of terrorism, but I think now’s as good a time as any to further add to the discussion about prayer and what it really does for both the person praying, and the person the intentions are for.

My fiance, who is a generally healthy person, caught a bad sinus infection over the summer. He has a pretty strong immune system, so when he gets sick it typically doesn’t last long. I’ve seen him have a fever for a day and wake up the next morning healthy, so I wasn’t too worried. Then a few days later, I woke up to a phone call from his parents. He had been hospitalized during the night, complaining of chest pains. It turns out, the infection he had was viral, not bacterial, and it moved to his heart. His heart had been significantly weakened, but it was still going. He didn’t have a heart attack, thank goodness. I went to visit him the next day, and he just wanted to go home. He was worried about his health, and significantly weakened, but he was still himself, and that put me at ease more than anything.

Medical situations are some of the worst to face. I’m seeking work now, but that’s an issue I can resolve with clear steps. I know I’m contributing to a solution even if it takes a while. That simply is not the case when a loved one is in the hospital. Nothing I could do myself would make the problem go away, and when you’re religious, that’s a time when prayer is a particularly accessible source of comfort.

Even as an atheist, I was tempted to pray, given the situation, but I resisted that urge; I knew it wouldn’t do any good. I worried about him almost constantly until I saw him. I was still worried up until the moment he was finally discharged, but once I’d visited him, I felt significantly better. It’s a bit like the way I would feel better after praying. I felt like I did the right thing, and like it was a helpful thing to do. I used to think I’d never feel that relief again, but I felt it when I visited him, doing something tangible. In fact, I felt it more strongly than I ever felt with prayer. I knew I was getting personally involved, not simply asking for someone else to do something. Besides, being in a hospital waiting for test results or for an illness to go away is a slow process filled with periods of anxiety and boredom. While it may not have affected the final outcome–he would have gotten well regardless of whether or not I’d showed up–I was able to sit with him for a couple of hours and keep him company, helping the time to pass and at least alleviating some boredom.

Some people argue that prayer makes people feel better, and I’ll admit that it does. I’ve experienced it myself. But now I know that finding some small helpful thing to do–like visiting a sick friend, cooking dinner for a struggling family, or helping someone change a tire–is by far more rewarding to both the person helped AND the do-gooder than prayer. I don’t just feel like I’ve fulfilled an obligation as I would in the case of prayer. I feel like I’ve done what I can do to help. I feel helpful. And I know that feeling is justified because it’s accompanied with action. When something bad happens, whether it’s headline news or something more personal, I hope that as a community of human beings we can all come together and find tangible ways to help.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Thoughts on Prayer in Schools

I spent some time at home from school for the weekend, and got into a pleasantly civil discussion with my extremely Catholic brother about prayer in schools. Basically, he wanted to know why atheists tend to oppose it. After all, isn’t preventing prayer violating freedom of religion? In the process of answering him, I thought, well, that’s a good topic for a blog post too. Here’s as brief of an explanation as I can muster.

I used to think that preventing prayer in schools (and it must be pointed out that the prayer that is being “prevented” in my country is nearly always Christian), was a terrible idea. After all, God is watching over us, and it can be very important for religious people–students and teachers alike–to acknowledge Him as they start their day, and ask for his blessings and guidance. Now I’m going to say something surprising. I don’t have a problem with people praying. I used to do it all the time, and when I was stressed out, nervous, or afraid, it brought me comfort, and I’m sure it does the same for most believers.

As far as I am aware, the United States has laws against teacher-led prayer in public schools. (They don’t apply to schools with religious affiliations as far as I am aware. I briefly attended a Catholic High School, and we prayed the Hail Mary in some form before most of our classes. They do, however, apply to public institutions, which are not supposed to have teacher-led prayer in the classroom.) If praying isn’t a problem for me, why do I think this rule is important to uphold in public schools?

Because while praying isn’t a problem, forcing people who don’t believe or who worship a different deity than you to pray to your deity is. Imagine you are a Christian student attending school in an Islamic nation, and Muslim prayers to Allah are a mandatory part of your school day. How do you feel? These are not your prayers. This is not your faith. If they are mandatory, then you have no choice but to participate in them, regularly. One can argue that this could be seen as worshiping “false Gods,” something that certainly violates freedom of religion.

Let’s say that prayer isn’t mandatory, and you do have a choice. The school is still choosing one religion over all others, and promoting practice of that one religion among the student body. What about other faiths? If prayer for one religion is to be allowed, shouldn’t prayer for all faiths be encouraged in this way? To do this in a truly inclusive way in a religiously diverse school would eat away at precious class time trying to hold prayers that would appease the people of different faiths. Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone involved if prayer were simply a private matter, which students (and teachers) were of course welcomed to do, but which was not squeezed in to the school’s already tight schedule? This would avoid, at a bare minimum, alienating people of different faiths, and in religiously diverse schools would prevent large chunks of students’ time being devoted to appeasing multiple faiths.

I realize that to some, this may sound like an effort to be too inclusive. Why do these people of other religions deserve to be treated this way? They’re not the majority. A Jewish student who doesn’t want to pray to Jesus is certainly less common in the United States as a whole than the Christian student who wants to. But that doesn’t mean that we should alienate that student in favor of the majority. It’s for reasons like this that our government isn’t a straight democracy. Sometimes what the majority wants actually hurts minorities and limits their freedoms. As an atheist, were I still in high school, I would feel very uncomfortable in my former Catholic school, because those prayers are part of the day, and to pray them would be a lie for me. Even if I did have faith, I would feel the same way as a Muslim, Jew, or Hindu.

Regardless of whether or not you think that this country was founded on “Christian” values, it was largely colonized originally by people seeking freedom of religion, often fleeing persecution in their homelands. There have been plenty of cries for “religious freedom” by the Christian majority, and I support their right to demand it. However, it’s ridiculous to cry “persecution” and demand religious freedom for your own majority without also ensuring that other groups are extended that same freedom. In the nature of fairness, the best way for schools to create an environment friendly to students of all faiths, is to promote none, and allow students to practice them as they see fit. Students in public schools are not forbidden to pray. Saying grace in the cafeteria or praying “Dear God, help me with this test,” will not get you suspended. But that freedom is extended to students of all faiths, and has to be, in order for these schools to be truly religiously “free.”

Happy Thinking!

-Nancy