Sunday, May 15, 2011

Does God Get Angry (Spirituality, Religion and Philosophy Entry No. 7)

When I was in junior high, a priest asked me during confirmation preparation why people shouldn't sin.  I said it made God angry.  The priest corrected me, saying God did not get angry -- that God is in heaven and is always at peace and does not feel human emotions like anger.

This struck me as strange, given the Old Testament, with example after example of God getting angry.  I thought first of the story of Noah and the flood.  Now that I look at the verses, nothing literally says God is angry.  But Genesis says God saw that man's every thought was evil, and God "was grieved to the heart" and regretted he made man.  Genesis 6:5-8.  This is why God decided to destroy humanity with a flood.  Genesis 8:13.  After the flood, God promised Noah, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man...."  Genesis 8:21.  Then there is God pouring down "sulphur and fire" on Sodom and Gomorra.  Genesis 19:24.

The priest's statement that God didn't feel anger reflects, to me, the conflict in many Christian churches between the old and new testaments.  While Jesus does get angry (like when he throws the money changers out of the temple), it's hard to picture him sending fire or flood to destroy a city or all human beings.  Also, it's unlikely he'd have a lot of sympathy for a God that does things like killing all the first born sons of Egypt (Exodus 12:13).  Yet, the Christian religions don't toss out the Old Testament and only focus on the New, at least the Christian churches I've been to read from both books.  Many politically conservative Christians don't hesitate to hearken back to the Old Testament to support views on topics such as war and the death penalty.  When I was growing up in the Catholic Church, on the other hand, I got the impression that the Old Testament was viewed as more allegorical.  While it contained some historical events, was not meant to be taken literally.  In contrast, I thought the New Testament was historically accurate and was written by the disciples who followed Jesus. 

The difficulty reconciling or even understanding varying parts of the Bible is what makes religion both so frustrating and so interesting.  How two different people view even the same translation of the same text fascinates me.  Despite being a non-believer, if I ever went back to school just for the fun of it, theology would be high on my list.

Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Immaculate Conception And Cashing In (Spirituality, Religion, and Philosophy, Entry 5)

In 1854, the Pope declared that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived without original sin -- the Immaculate Conception.  In Catholic doctrine, original sin means the stain all humans inherit from Adam, whose first sin was disobedience.  This sin supposedly is part of the human soul from the instant of conception.  Only Mary, according to the Catholic Church, was conceived with no original sin.
Popular culture, though, misunderstands the phrase Immaculate Conception to mean instead Mary conceiving Jesus without sexual intercourse.  Songs, jokes, TV shows, all use the phrase this way.  So reproduction is assumed to be “immaculate” only if it takes place magically without sex.  Somehow that type of reproduction is cleaner, purer.  In the same way, women (and occasionally men) who are virgins are thought of as pure.
Why the link and who first devised it?  One of my guesses is it was meant to push people to marry and stay together to raise their children.  If sex could be made sinful and shameful, at least sex outside of marriage, both desire and reproduction could be more easily controlled so children would be cared for.  The odd thing about that theory is the punishment and approbation mostly fell upon women, when it was, and still is, far more likely that men would disappear on their offspring than would the women who birthed the children.  Also, women already have much more incentive to control their sexuality and reproduction, since pregnancy happens only to women.  It’s obviously much harder for women to hide being a parent, or to be unaware they’ve conceived a child.  All this leads me to believe the shame heaped on women who are sexually active relates more to the society controlling women and making it easier for men to keep more power.  But that’s a topic for another day. 
Another reason I suspect for linking sexuality with sin is it is a way to control everyone, both male and female.  In one scene in Atlas Shrugged, a government scientist tries to blackmail Hank Reardon, inventor of a new metal, into “voluntarily” signing away his intellectual property rights.  Reardon has broken one of many new laws designed to constrain business and innovation.  He naively believes the government wants citizens to abide by its laws.  Floyd Ferris, the scientist, sets Reardon straight.  Ferris explains that the government’s only power is over criminals.  If there aren’t enough criminals, the government creates them by passing laws impossible to follow.  Then the government cashes in on the guilt. 
If an authority can convince people to feel guilty and sinful over sex or the desire for sex – an innate, intense desire to do something that is an imperative for the human race to survive – then everyone needs forgiveness, expiation, a path to redemption.  And anyone offering it can cash in.
Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Is Confession Good for The Soul? (Spirituality, Religion, and Philosophy, Entry 4)

As a kid, I found the Jesus dying for our sins concepts particularly disturbing.  My parents’ church had a giant crucifix over the altar, with Christ on the cross, thorns in his head, face contorted.  Not uncommon in Catholic churches, though some have a more peaceful looking Christ, or even show him as he is about to rise.  I remember staring at the crucifix as I waited in line to go to confession.  (For those not familiar with concept, in confession a person goes into a small booth, kneels, says some words by rote to open the session, then confesses his or her sins.  The priest, who is on the other side of a screen and, in theory at least, does not know who is confessing, absolves the person.  The priest also provides a penance, often a number of prayers to be said a certain number of items.  When I was older, the church offered face-to-face confession, so you sat and talked with the priest rather than kneeling in the dark.)
The difficulty I had as a kid was finding things to confess.  For the most part, I behaved pretty well.  I rarely told lies, I helped out other people when I could, I shared my toys.  Yet I’d been taught that by virtue of being born, I was a sinner, so I felt deficient that I couldn’t come up with a sin or two every week to tell.  I ended with confessing things like feeling mad at my mom.  (Now there was a topic for a therapy, I believed just feeling angry was a sin.)  I’ve talked to other people who grew up Catholic who said they made up sins just to have something to say, so apparently I wasn’t the only one. 
The sins I did commit didn’t strike me as quite bad enough to warrant nailing someone to a cross.  And I also felt troubled by the concept of a baby having original sin until it was baptized.  The church still taught about limbo at the time.  Limbo was where unbaptized babies went when they died, as they couldn’t go to heaven but hadn’t done anything that warranted to hell.  I pictured all these babies just sort of floating out there.  Kids have a strong sense of fairness, and this seemed monumentally unfair to me.
As an adult, I find the concept of original sin even more troubling.  Why as a culture (or as a part of a culture), do so many people buy into the idea that being human makes us inherently bad?  Some people do terrible things, sometimes unspeakable things.  But by and large, most people go through the day and do their best to treat others well, or at least not to harm them.  Most of the “evil” I’ve seen seems to me to arise from emotional pain, frustration, or ignorance.   And those people who act solely to hurt or torture others, who derive pleasure from that – Manson, Gacy – we recognize as aberrations.  It’s hard to imagine any amount of Sunday school would make a difference.
Confession may be good for the soul because we all need to confide in other people.  And we all find ourselves needing forgiveness at one time or another.  But the idea that before we’ve done anything, we already need to be absolved, saved, redeemed, and the idea that being human means being inherently wrong – that is something else entirely.

Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening

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