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Religion is strange and mysterious: as a social phenomenon, and in its content and practice. My Portuguese great-grandmother Virginia Rodrigues taught her Catholicism to my grandfather, and him to my father, and him to me. As a child I went to Mass weekly, attended CCD, and received communion and confirmation. From ages 11-14 I was an altar boy, and enjoyed participating in the service. But my interest in science conflicted with what I was being taught at church, and at about 14 I decided that this God thing was just like Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, and had no more use for it. At 15 my father and I had a long conversation about it, the outcome of which was "well it sounds like you've thought about it quite a bit but as long as you live under my roof you're going to participate. You're an example for your younger siblings..." So as soon as I left home I was done.

Thirty years went by with nary a thought to religious practice. But life's challenges require adaptations, and in the course of a prolonged personal crisis I began exploring Buddhism and settled into a Theravada practice. It provides a deeply satisfy framework of ethics, aesthetics, and psychology, with no actual God content required, or even reincarnation. After a couple of years, I became curious again about Catholicism and bought "Catholicism for Dummies." It provided a framework and a coherent context for Catholicism that I had never had, in a conversational and warm yet doctrinally correct way.

But a lot of things make sense now that never did before: the discernment and veneration of saints; devotion to Mary; and the distinctions between divine positive, natural moral, and human positive laws, which all seemed like a long list of "thou shalts." I learned what the Four Pillar were (the Creed, Our Father, Seven Sacraments, and the Ten Commandments). Highlights:

1.    Favorite teaching: forgiveness;
2.    Favorite sacrament, confession; and
3.    Favorite commandment "though shall not bear false witness."

There are other good teachings, many with strong parallels in my current practice. OTOH, there are four teachings I find bizarre:
1.    The resurrection of the body. Not figurative, but literal resurrection? Which version of the body goes?
2.    One God, three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit): why three? One, zero, or infinite I could understand, but three?
3.    Jesus: one person, two natures (human, divine). Seems like casuistry to me, like part of a marketing campaign or political deal making.
4.    Transubstantiation: at every Mass a miracle occurs and the Host becomes the body of Christ, literally. Echoing a longstanding complaint against this one, it seems like cannibalism. How does this help anyone?

I asked my father, who is still very much in the Church, about them a couple of years ago, and he just shrugged. Religion is strange and mysterious. Many of us like it that way.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    There's a million ways to laugh; everyone's a path.

    by Tom Lum Forest on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 11:43:21 AM PST

  •  Sometimes I think when literalists say that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joy of Fishes

    certain passages of the Bible or interpretations are "literally" true they really mean "more concretely figuratively" or "figuratively with more feeling" and can't really muster the rigorous reason it would take to be honest because that would pierce their armor of "faith".

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 12:47:15 PM PST

  •  Everybody has Tri-partite entities, not just the (9+ / 0-)

    Catholic Church. Even Taoists have 'yin / yang / tao.'

    It has to do with the reality, much noted in Buddhism, that descriptions are not the 'self-arising stream' of awareness. Saying 'donut' will not fill your taste buds with wonderful sensations, nor fill your belly.

    But humans like to communicate. Once we're down to words, we've already imagined. We can't do the function of imagining without a foreground object, a background against the foreground object, and the fact of the difference. Three things.

    As a Russian philosopher pointed out 'Words not to explain; words to point to center of gravity.'

    As in the Taoist -- non-theistic, 'spoken not true' etc -- Yin and Yang (either one in the 'foreground' at any given moment) who's action together is representative of the Tao.

    There's also, for light on the Catholic Trinity, found in both Buddhism and Taoism, the phrase 'presence, attention, intention; these appear as three distinct modes but are the same thing.'

    In short, reality happens, void of content. The structure of human communications as we find it spontaneously arising requires a Trinity of one sort or another. Though one element might be highlighted in a communication, the other two are intrinsic to it in living space-time.

    How the Trinity is described depends on local variations at different times of history.


    Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

    by Jim P on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 12:55:09 PM PST

    •  Now there's a deep comment! (9+ / 0-)
      Once we're down to words, we've already imagined. We can't do the function of imagining without a foreground object, a background against the foreground object, and the fact of the difference. Three things.
      •  My very first understanding, about 12 yrs old. (5+ / 0-)

        Always been querying both, how reality and human being-ness work. Makes me feel very good that you appreciate the fundamental nature of the observation. Thanks for saying so.


        Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

        by Jim P on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 04:33:28 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Back in my youth of endless hubris, I almost (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jim P, Joy of Fishes, Tom Lum Forest

          pursued a Ph.D. in philosophy.  I did not major in philosophy as an undergraduate and never took any philosophy courses as a postgraduate.  But I read a lot and thought a lot.

          I used to think that if I wanted to know my thinking on any issue of philosophy, I just had to do a deep think about it, trusting my own mind better than what I read.  (Haven't believed that in a long time, alas.)

          One day in the 1980s I went to see the famous dean (Jude Dougherty) of what I think is the best philosophy department in the hemisphere (at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.) and told him I was thinking of entering his Ph.D. program.

          He was impressed by my boldness, and the quality of my thinking in those days, and was very favorable, sending me out to spend the rest of the day with some of the professors.

          But I had an unusual event (miracle I think) a few days later that led me back to law.

          Your deep posts make me wish I could have had a chance to pursue both paths.  But I've probably done more good as a lawyer than I could have done as a mediocre philosopher.

          •  Thanks for sharing your story. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Timaeus, davehouck, Joy of Fishes

            I'm not sure you're not a philosopher though, from your many posts I've noted over the years. I know you are an observant, moral, and deep thinker, so what shall we call that?

            I've never thought of myself as a philosopher. Always afraid I'd drift off into fantasy, so made sure I was involved in the ordinary world of relations, duties, arts, and pleasures. Actually won the Brooklyn Diocese Science Award when I was a kid (and Brooklyn was the 3rd? 5th? largest 'city' in the US in those days). At the same time, I'm also having (non-drug) experiences which could be called mystic, or schizophrenic, depending on one's bias. Had to reconcile those two realms just to stay sane and functioning.

            There's a couple of solid traditions I've had the fortune to encounter over the years which hold that you can't really grasp the, hmmm, inner realities without full involvement in the outer ones. One guy I worked with wasn't admitted to a group we had until he had gotten a regular job and held it for three years.

            People stumble into people pursuing these approaches, if they need them.

            I do wish I could have been of more value to humanity than I am. When I have a chance to do it all over again, I might well become a lawyer. Or soil scientist. Something which helps. Now I just mostly listen to people; throw in an observation if it seems useful to their requirements. And make jokes.


            Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

            by Jim P on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 05:42:32 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  regarding the resurrection question: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joy of Fishes, joegoldstein

    http://www.ted.com/...

    Stephen Cave, Four Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death.

  •  I traveled a similar road.... (6+ / 0-)

    in 8th grade I was sure I wanted to be a nun.  By 14 I was sure I did NOT want to be a nun.

    But my courage to question it all, came much slower.   In my twenties, I was a still mostly a "good catholic girl"  despite all my 60s lip service to "make love, not war".   But the nuns had done a good job of instilling fear in me, and my mother's was really good at guilt.   My bff who was Jewish (she is deceased now) and I used to say,  "The Jews invented guilt; the Italians made an art of it."  LOL  

    But my mother died when I was still in my early twenties, and so the guilt factor lessened.   And I met a cute pro hockey player.
    Then I waited for lightning to strike.   It didn't and slowly but surely I began to look elsewhere for my spiritual needs.   A good friend introduced me to Zen and I began reading.

    I cannot say I am a Buddhist, but I continue to use Zen readings for comfort and guidance.   Overall I consider myself and agnostic, and I believe there were some wonderful things I did learn in catholic school.  I still love the beatitudes.   I believe the preaching of the man named Jesus was on the right track toward improving things for the commons.   I believe that "religions" have either distorted or completely missed his message.

    I like that this new Pope is emphasizing the words of Jesus and reminding his church that it is the people Jesus hoped to help, not some church power.

    As for the whole Trinity thing, I just saw something recently where the point was made that in many ancient cultures, three was a big deal.   Have not researched it myself but who knows.

    “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.” Louis D. Brandeis

    by Jjc2006 on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 01:18:15 PM PST

  •  re: 'Jesus: one person, two natures ' (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joy of Fishes, Tom Lum Forest

    and your suspicion that it was marketing/political.

    Historically, yes. In fact a few tens thousands, some count millions, were killed over whether Christ was purely human; purely God; or a mixture of the two.

    If you get into the history of it, there were wild rampaging crowds running through Alexandria killing each other, as well as at Antioch and the other Christian centers.

    Likely Christ would have whipped the fools promoting this as an important issue, but ultimately it was about who had legitimacy to rule.

    The nuance of the debate boils down to:
    a) if just God, then nobody could hope to 'follow' Jesus' as he had supra-human abilities.
    b) if just Human, then Jesus is just another Judaic prophet
    c) if God and Human, then the other two things are void and each of us has potential to 'reach the God within us'

    Of course, the latter choice has implications for heresy in the form of Gnostic beliefs. In any case, the first two were violently suppressed. The 'just Human' strain did manage to survive in Egypt and the Middle East for a time, and it is thought by some that the Prophet Muhammad was influenced by this version when he was doing his pre-Prophet studies in religion.


    Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

    by Jim P on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 04:47:17 PM PST

    •  Oh yeah the Monophysites (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jim P

      ... and the Arian heresy, and so much 'counting angels dancing on the head of a pin' (which phrase I know was later).  Thank you!

      There's a million ways to laugh; everyone's a path.

      by Tom Lum Forest on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 10:44:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  btw, about those 'angels' (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Tom Lum Forest

        Let's put it this way: Is the Law of Gravity a material thing? Behind all those falling apples and orbiting planets is there an actual thing having bearing on creation? Or is it a human concept to describe nature's doings, non-existant except for language?

        To the scholars of the day 'angels on the head of a pin' was a conscious reductio ad absurdum in a debate about causative agents in nature and human conception.

        (In the mass culture, at least, bigotry against only Catholics is still allowed. The 'head of a pin' mockery being just one example.)

        btw, hooray for Theraveda! Good choice. I heartily recommend it to anyone I know who wants a practice, but doesn't want theology or confusion. May you attain enlightenment and liberation for the benefit of all sentient creatures in this life.

        There's also zen and dzogchen as a practice you can take with you anywhere if one day you find yourself moved to study any of the monotheistic mystical paths later on. But zen is, imo, unnecessarily stressful in its presentation, and dzogchen requires you to cut threw a lot of Tibetan cultural assumptions to get even the basic intention right. So, Theraveda is the most elegant of approaches.

        You might enjoy the author Thomas Cleary if you don't know him. He has a knack for clarifying the cryptic and obscure texts of Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam, turning them into comprehensible and practical language.


        Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

        by Jim P on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 04:42:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you, Tom. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    davehouck

    I am greatly enjoying your posts.  Now following.  :)

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