It’s an interesting coincidence that a new Pope arrives simultaneous with a survey that shows the United States has never had so little interest in organized religion. And that’s here in “The New World”, where despite Constitutional prohibitions against mixing church and state a politician would more likely campaign as a drooling, yellow-eyed pedophile than an atheist or an agnostic.
The study in question, concludes that 20% of Americans no longer have any religious affiliation, (and have no problem saying so), and that among self-described liberals the number spikes to 40%, with only 9% of conservatives admitting to not giving a damn what any minister says on Sundays.
That all feels about right. Although based on my personal bubble culture the no-affiliation/no attendance number probably floats up in the 70-80% range, but only because I’ve learned to trust and enjoy the company of pagans and heathens more.
I was raised Catholic. Not as in wearing horsehair underwear and barbed-wire scapulars. Mom and Dad were more of the small town, “Let’s get dressed up, show our faces and get down to hot pancakes and bacon before the Lutherans break camp” sect of mackerel snappers.
I can tell you the precise moment when “the spirit” of Catholicism left me. It was 1965. I was 14 and still believing what the nuns constantly warned us about. Namely, that if I was having, (or as they phrased it … “entertaining”) “impure thoughts” which, oh yeah, damned straight I was about every sweet and dewy girl in my class, I would for absolute certain writhe in a perpetual furnace of godly retribution … unless I confessed.
But when I tried, in the dark confessional, to an aged, disembodied voice on the other side of the screen, instead of some avuncular bromide about “learning to control our passions”, I got instead a whiff of clerical pederasty. Instead of a penance of a couple “Hail Marys”, I got a wheezy inquisition into exactly what I wanted to do to those tender young things … and to myself, assuming real live girls would remain an elusive prey?
I remember stopping in mid-sentence, processing the blinding realization of what apathetic wretch the guy was, and walking out. I could hear the old guy calling after me.”My son? MY SON?” and then stepping out of his Caligari-like cabinet and scanning the church for the succulent but impudent little pervert who declined the righteous forgiveness of the Lord Almighty.
When our two sons, Uday* and Qusay*, were young and incorrigible we briefly considered “re-connecting” with a parish here in the Twin Cities. That experiment ended on about the third Sunday, when the priest handed the (invariably irrelevant, innocuous and risk-free) sermon over to a local businessman. The guy, tarted up in a $1000 suit (it was the late ’80s) and TV anchor helmet hair, introduced himself as the chair of the newly-created building campaign and, like some Power Point from God, went on for a half hour about the $2 million we rubes were going to be expected to cough up for a new foyer, signage and “community space”.
I believe my first words to my family at that point were, “We’re outta here.” If there was a loose $2 million to be sucked out of that parish, I could come with a list of 2o impoverished Latin American villages and South Dakota Indian reservations that had a more pressing need for the money.
Watching the new Pope do his ritual wave from the balcony at St.Peter’s, I can’t help but be struck (again) by the common miseries of the Catholic church and American conservatives. To reiterate: Aged, predominantly white (to an absurd degree), male (ditto), laden with medieval sexual superstitions, sclerotic responses to science, cultural evolution and the role of women. The Vatican and the Tea Party/Conservative Political Action Conference. Pretty much the same ideological fringy-ness and intellectual intractability. (Although, the cardinals get points for better costuming and pageantry.)
I can still make a case for the role of a massive theocratic infrastructure in the 21st century. But only if that “church” is an indisputable reflection of modern society, with the unimpeachable priorities of re-balancing the distribution of wealth around the world and loudly condemning ideological-inspired warfare and international financial chicanery.
Until that time, (which is a long ways off), I’ll reflect on my innumerable sins while skiing through the forest on Sunday mornings.
* Not meant to be factual statements.