8) Christianity as interpreted by Man

 

Since I was at a Catholic retreat, the thoughts and reflections below will inevitably by somewhat biased towards (or against, if you prefer) Catholic doctrine and practice. For the sake of argument, a God's existence will be presumed.

 

Ave Maria and other deviations

A common accusation levelled at Catholics by other Christians is that they are obsessed about praying to Mary. Catholics might protest, but a casual observation of their method of prayer puts paid to their protests. When Catholics wield their Rosaries and start praying, the amount of prayers to the Virgin Mary outweigh those to the Holy Trinity combined, due to the former being recited in a decade. Hell, maybe it's not a Trinity after all, but a Holy Quartet. What I want to know is, why is appealing to Mary to intercede so important? The Son was supposedly sent to Earth to die to breach the gap between the Father and his creations. So why is the additional help needed? And why is so much time devoted to it? As far as I know, in fact, nothing in the Bible exhorts believers to pray to Mary, and if the Bible is the Eternal, Unchanging and Complete Word of God, it takes a Catholic not to see that we have a problem here. John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.’"

Besides the unseeming obsession with praying to the Virgin Mary, Catholics also have a whole host of other rituals and practices that other denominations frown on. Now, it's not good for a religion to stay still and not adapt to the times, but some people take the Bible as the eternal and infallible word of God, so addenda are reviled - someone once told me that she decided to stop being a Catholic because "they practice a lot of rubbish that isn't in the bible", and you should have seen my former superior ranting about how Catholics are wrong to pray to Mary.


Sin Revisited

All the sermons we got were about Sin, so it seems that Sin is one of the most important concepts in Catholicism - even more so than for most other denominations.

 

"Give me chastity and continence, but not yet" - Augustine of Hippo, later St Augustine

 

Sexual Sins

 

Sex is bad

It seems that sex is a universal taboo. Probably this is because the puritan and ascetic side of us grimaces whenever we enjoy ourselves - what feels good is not good.

All sex is supposedly sinful. That is why Jesus Christ was allegedly born of a Virgin, so that he wouldn’t be tainted by the Sin of his mother. On the other hand, sex within marriage is supposed to be permissible, so why could Mary not have been a Virgin? Especially since she was wedded to Joseph. So we see we have a problem, again. This could be solved by accepting that the generally accepted interpretation of Isaiah - ‘A virgin shall conceive’, actually was meant to read ‘a young girl shall conceive’, but then this is blasphemous to most. Oops.

However, isn't sex totally natural? The birds and the bees partake in it with no thought of Sin. Humans are born with sexual instincts - it is as natural a part of us as eating, drinking and sleeping. We were supposedly made as such. If sex was so sinful, then perhaps it was made so appealing as a test - a cruel test, like putting spiders into a jar and waiting for them to kill each other. A test with dubitable motives. But I was always under the impression that he wasn't supposed to test us unduly. If anyone is able to control their sexual desires as well as the priest said we should, then they should take up the cloth! If they’re male, at least.

 

Common sexual deviations (Oral sex and positions)

The priest was very conservative regarding various sexual sins. He condemned Oral Sex because it didn't lead to babies being conceived. "If God had meant you to have Oral Sex, babies would be born from the mouth". This brought to mind a similar argument bandied around by conservatives when the Wright Brothers were experimenting with flying - "If God had meant for us to fly, he'd have given us wings".

Perhaps most amazingly, he condemned all positions but the Missionary Position. What century he is living in, I don’t know, but this is the 21st Century and to be puritan to that extent is so ridiculous that only Mormons would fain comply. It is no wonder that Catholic Priests need to be single, unlike their Orthodox brethren, for to advocate such unrealistic and puritan practices betrays a severe disconnect from reality that can only come from not having any - nor ever having the chance to have any - experience. Of course, the priest claimed that Catholic priests are not allowed to marry because they need to devote their lives to God, but then isn’t everyone supposed to do that? So everybody should take up the cloth!

 

Homosexuality

Of course, any Catholic priest worth his salt would revile homosexuality, and this one was no exception. Homosexuality is unnatural, he said. "Unnatural" is usually another way of saying "I don't like it". Anyhow, if it is unnatural, why has homosexuality been observed in so many species of animals? Or if you abhor comparisons with mere animals, how about vegetarians? Humans were made to be omnivores - you can see it by our tooth structure. Isn't is an abomination, hated by Heaven, for Man to reject the fruits of the earth and indulge in Unnatural Eating Habits? Or how about going to the doctor? If God has seen fit to let you get sick, shouldn't it be left to his will whether you get well? Why pervert the course of nature by trying to defy his will and fill your body with all manner of chemicals, besides? Or how about wearing clothes? We aren't born with clothes, so why should we wear any? Adam and Eve ran around naked in the Garden of Eden the whole day, so that is our natural state. How can we deviate from it?

Perhaps the most damning evidence against homosexuality being unnatural - even under Church programmes involving prayer, meditation and fasting, many homosexuals were unable to change their sexual orientations. Some claim that these programmes don't work because the priests "do it wrongly", or try to "cast out the demon wrongly". So it is impossible for a gay to become straight if the praying et al is done correctly - while the criterion for whether the praying is done correctly is that of the gay person becoming straight. A wonderfully circular argument, if you ask me. God is supposed to understand our prayers, and in other instances, we do not tell him HOW to do what we need, just what we need. We are supposed to just pray, and let God do all the work, so how come we need to do the rituals correctly? When you go to a carpenter you tell him what sort of chair you want, but you do not tell him how to construct the chair and poke your nose into his work. He knows how to do it better than you do. If you are sincere, I am sure this God will answer your prayers.

 

Contraception and abortion

Contraception is reviled. Why is this so? Apparently it is because it is unnatural and perverts the purpose of sex - to procreate. Ignoring the many examples of modern practices which pervert nature yet are not condemned by the Church, let us consider what happens if contraception is disallowed. Now, consider a couple who are very religious, and do not practice contraception. What happens if they, as normal couples do, maintain a normal physical relationship? It can be seen that the female will conceive endlessly until one of 2 ends come to pass - she dies in childbirth, or she reaches menopause. Somehow, I think the former is much more likely, and that will leave a single, lonely (since he’s not supposed to remarry) father with a gigantic brood to take care of. The children will grow up without the love of a mother, and the father might go crazy. Is not such an infinitely greater sin than simply using a condom? It could be said that the couple could stop copulating, but isn’t marriage a God sanctioned form of release? It is no wonder that most of those who oppose contraception are those who are likely never to have the chance to use it! Anyhow, if God is upset at the sin in the world, and if the sin is increasing with the population of the Earth, then why not use birth control to reduce the amount of sin in the world and make him happy?

The Church's opposition to birth control and abortion has serious implications. Its opposition to condoms and the Pill means that women have no control over their reproductive systems; the Rhythm Method is famous for its inaccuracy, and anyhow it violates the spirit of the prohibition of birth control. Worse, not allowing men to use condoms means that Sexually Transmitted Diseases infect and kill more people, especially in Third World countries. And on abortion - how about rape victims, or mothers who have AIDS and don't want their children to be born as one of the living dead, with parents who will soon die and be unable to care for them? Some statistics show, too, that the risk of a woman dying from an abortion is lower than that of her dying in childbirth. Something to think about, indeed. Lastly, the evidence against abortion in the Bible is tenuous as best, according to one insightful explanation: http://www.elroy.net/ehr/abortion.html. Personally I think that abortion is bad and should be avoided as much as possible, but in many cases it is necessary to avoid greater sorrow. Abortion is not murder per se as a fetus is not a life - it is unable to survive outside of the womb by itself, for until then it is a parasite, leeching off the mother. It is human - but then so are hairs from your buttocks. It is doubtful whether a fetus, especially in its early stages of development, is even sentient.

Simply put, a potential person is not a person.

 

Interesting material on Catholics' conservatism regarding reproduction from http://www.uctaa.org/Essays/meditations/med015.html: "I do not personally accept this morality - particular with respect to women's reproductive issues. In fact, the Catholic Church's teachings on this matter only date back to 1869 and Pope Pius IX. Along with his declaration of papal infallibility, and his approval of the doctrine of immaculate conception, he declared that human life began at conception. In my view, absolutely wrong on all three issues. In fact, if we go back 2000 years - it was believed at the time when Christ was supposed to have been born that life began a full week AFTER birth - at circumcision. And this was the traditional Jewish belief - and was the Christian belief for hundreds of years after. As evidence, I point to the calendar. Why - if it is based on the birth of Christ - is the birth date set at 25 December? Because the calendar is not based on the birth of Christ - it is based on the date of circumcision - exactly one week later which is 1 January. And to quote the Catholic Encyclopedia on the issue of the Feast of Circumcision "He was, as St. Paul says, 'made under the law'". Under the law as it was at that time that's when he was made - or became accepted as part of the human race."


Self-abuse

"The history of professional and popular opinion about masturbation has been one of ignorance, pseudo-science, and hysteria" (R.E. Butman in Benner 1985:687-688)

Masturbation, or self-abuse, was also bashed. Supposedly, this is because it defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit, and indulging in it creates a hunger that cannot be stopped - like fuelling a fire. However, in response to the first point, since self-abuse pleases the temple of the Holy Spirit so much, shouldn't it be encouraged? The body itself recognises the need for periodic relief - that is why males have wet dreams. Furthermore, it is but a response to urges we were supposedly created with. As for the second point - perhaps it is not so much as an act of fuelling a fire as of releasing water from a dam; if the dam overflows, good luck to the people in the town below.

Safety valves are in place for a reason. Just witness what happened with the Catholic Priests who cooped everything inside and then went to rape their altar boys. We can also see what happened in the Victorian era, when women went to doctors with "hysterics" and were treated with vibrators to relieve their tension. Of course, it can be said that prayer can overcome the instincts which God has given us, but what of those for whom it cannot - and many of such cases abound?

 

Biblical evidence

Of course, finding more dubious evidence to back his case up - since ‘self-abuse’ is not talked about anywhere in the Bible, the priest talked about Onan and how this supposedly showed that masturbation was bad. As with many other "sins", the evidence for divine disapproval of "Onanism" seems to have been gathered after the conclusion that it was a sin was reached.

Genesis 38:6-10: "And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also."

So YHWH committed murder, and then smote someone else. That aside, I think any unprejudiced reading of the above would reveal that was God was displeased at was not the spilling of seed, but his refusal to impregnate his brother’s widow. If he wants to quote the Old Testament so much, perhaps we should, unlike Onan, impregnate our brothers’ widows (all the while ignoring the circumstances in which this habit, gross to modern sensibilities, was practised). Also, following his interpretations, females are free to have fun with their fingers and joy-sticks. I thought the Old Testament was nullified anyway, in any case. To be lazy and quote someone else, "I have no idea why ancient scholars decided to use the story of Onan to condemn masturbation. I can't believe that they didn't understand about levirate marriage - it's all there in print. I'm afraid they were victims of the medieval loathing of the flesh, which taught that spirit was good, body was bad, man was good, woman was temptress, pain was purifying, and pleasure was evil. What a perverted way to look at the world! Those who believe in God should profess that He made all things holy, and pleasure and joy and love are the components of heaven on earth. And though I'm no expert on masturbation (though I do study diligently on a daily basis), I'd say it's a good part of our world."

 

Perhaps to conclude, he related an anecdote, of this 70-year-old man who told him that he couldn't stop masturbating, and that he hated himself for doing so. Perhaps he would feel better if he wasn't indoctrinated with a guilt complex.


Nocturnal emissions

Peripherally related is the topic of nocturnal emissions, also known as wet dreams. The priest was so hopelessly out of date that he even tried to condemn this!

Deuteronomy 23:10-11: If there be among you any man, that is not clean by reason of uncleanness that chanceth him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp: But it shall be, when evening cometh on, he shall wash himself with water: and when the sun is down, he shall come into the camp again.

Well done. Laying aside the question of what ‘uncleanness that chanceth him by night’ actually means, what is a boy to do once he starts having wet dreams, I ask? I wonder what the priests who actually live by these 2 verses do every time that time of the month (or week or fortnight) comes along. Do they have to leave their church buildings and wash themselves and return at night? Or maybe they secretly go to harlots once a month.

 

Porn

And then we have pornography. Personally, I think that it is rather pointless, but if people want to do something in the privacy of their own homes, I don’t see what’s wrong with that. Blue movies were bashed repeatedly, but I find it interesting that Romance Novels weren’t. Where blue films merely have purely carnal content, romance novels corrupt and taint the reader’s notions of love - supposedly a gift of God - by transmogrifying, distorting, mocking and mutating the way real life relationships work. Is that not worse?

 

Leviticus and Sexual Sins

To support some of his proscriptions, the priest used the Book of Leviticus to back him up. Thanks. Leviticus is so ridiculous and contradictory that even the Jews don’t follow it. And if he likes it so much, what about the lengthy instructions on rituals and dietary restrictions? If he wants to throw the book at us, I can throw it back at him.

Leviticus 15:19-24: And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.

Leviticus 21:17-20: Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is broken footed, or broken handed, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken

 

Perhaps to end sexual sin once and for all, we should follow the noble example of Origen of Alexandria who, determined to not sin sexually, castrated himself. Unfortunately this also disqualified him for sainthood as he was then incomplete (what about circumcision - genital mutilation - then, I ask?). Pity. But then some eunuchs do have sexual desires too and some can be induced to produce a form of ejaculate, so perhaps we can never be free.

 

Divorce and other attacks on the sacrament of marriage

The institution of marriage is present in all modern societies, but Catholicism seems to place particular emphasis on it.

 

"Traditional" marriage

Marriage supposedly has been sanctioned by God as a union of a male and a female for life. However, looking at the animal world, we can see that the one male partnering one female for life concept is hardly the dominant form of mating. In some human societies, those not swayed and overpowered by the dominant moral paradigm, we can see too that the traditional institution of marriage is not extant. These are not, in and of itself, overwhelming evidence against marriage, but do consider them.

Implications of a traditional marriage (according to the Catholic Church)

Marriage is supposedly sanctioned by God as an outlet for sexual desires. However, sex in and of itself is a sin, which was why the Mother of Christ had to be virginal. So why not everyone abstain, and let the whole religion die out? Also, with contraception banned, masturbation forbidden and nocturnal emissions sinful (see above, on the ‘sin’ of spilling one’s seed), where does that leave us? A marriage at a young age which will likely later break down? A marriage at a young age, with the couple having children every few years till the female dies in childbirth, then the male having to purify himself every time he has a wet dream until the day he dies? Praying to God which often does not work? Or is a more likely explanation that he is not as strict about trivialities as he is made out to be?

Peace in marriage was advocated during the retreat. Now, in and of itself, that is not a bad thing but the priest seemed to be advocating totally friction-free marriages. The wife is supposed to submit (read: be a slave) to the husband and the husband is supposed to love his wife. That way, no quarrels will ensue. I disagree - healthy disagreement and quarrels are part of a healthy marriage, for without them, how will effective and sound decisions be arrived at? The priest recommended that men look for submissive wives - a sexist statement if I ever heard one. What’s wrong with spunky women? They’re quite fun. I wonder indeed how people who have never been married can lecture on how a marriage should be lived (me included, but then I merely offer suggestions and opinions, and do not mount a bully pulpit and proclaim something to be Holy Writ)

 

Divorce

Divorce is frowned upon. This issue has been a bone of contention in the Catholic Church before - if not for this, England might still be in the Catholic fold. Now, most people get married in their 20s. This is hardly a sufficient time for someone to search for his life partner, but then compromises have to be made - we can't expect people to spend most of their lives searching. Perhaps they believe, at that point in time, that they have found true love. Or peer pressure induces them to get married. So, some years into the marriage, problems crop up. The Church preaches that the holy institution cannot be broken, and that the couple should pray and try to repair their marriage. But what if the couple are not suitable for each other? Or if one has met someone infinitely more suitable for him and has found true love at last? What then? Do the two stay in a loveless marriage? What if prayer and counselling do not work? Surely the Church does not expect the two to waste the rest of their lives together, bound only by peer pressure, moral suasion and religious dictate? I would think that leaving the marriage to continue as a sham would be the greater sin (and that's why I support cohabitation - which is another topic).

 

I think that encouraging conservativism in sexual life is bad. A healthy physical relationship is part and parcel of any vibrant marriage, and straitjacketing yourself with outmoded practices is a recipe for disaster.

 

Conclusion

 

"Whereas you, Galileo... were in the year 1615 denounced to this Holy Office for holding as true the false doctrine taught by many, that the sun is the centre of the world and immovable, and that the earth moves, and also with a diurnal motion... and for replying to the objections from the Holy Scriptures, which from time to time were urged against it, by glossing the said Scriptures according to your own meaning... and in this diverse propositions are set forth... which are contrary to the true sense and authority of Holy Scripture... The proposition that the sun is the centre of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to the Holy Scripture. The proposition that the earth is not the centre of the world and immovable, but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically, and theologically considered, at least erroneous in faith." - Sentence of the Catholic Church against Galileo (1633)

 

Somehow, it seems to me that instead of forbidding everything that is not expressly allowed, the Church should allow everything that is not expressly disallowed.

There are many more troubling points of doctrine but I try not to address them here because I don't want to steal too much and want original (or at least independently arrived-at) content. Please visit some of the sites listed later for more pressing questions.

I am disillusioned with organised and human-interpreted religion, what with its inconsistencies, hypocrisies, flaws, obvious errors which are glossed over, false promises, contradictions and misleading logic. I wonder if even another Thomas Aquinas would be able to reconcile all the paradoxes, as a reading of some parts of the Summa Theologica didn’t leave me very impressed. Who's to say which interpretation is right, with the number extant? They have proved wrong before, like when the Catholic Church proclaimed the truth of a Gaia-centric universe, justifying it with passages from Scripture (see above), and when it prohibited usury - what if they are wrong again? And if Original Sin has stained Man forever and ever, has not the sins of the Church stained it irredeemably? The Catholic Church expounds on how we should live our lives, but its moral high ground been eroded over the ages? Besides the atrocities it has committed in God's name, it has had many corrupt, debauched Popes, not to mention the current spate of child abuse by paedophilic priests and Pius XII's collaboration with the Nazis.

 

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man I put away childish things." - 1 Corinthians 13:11

Somehow, the above applies well to religion itself!

 

Contents:

1) Introduction and disclaimer

2) Me and Religion

3) The Value of Scepticism and Science and Religion

4) Why do people believe? and other questions about Faith

5) Metaphysical questions

6) Basic tenets of Christianity

7) Bible literalism and knowing what to believe

8) Catholic Doctrine

9) Six Nights in Sabah

10) Miscellaneous thoughts on religion

11) So what happens now?

12) Further reading