I was driving on Interstate 684 this morning, on my way to Connecticut to do some errands in Litchfield. I found a radio station that was playing Christmas songs exclusively, and “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” reminded me of El Paso. Soon I would be back home, with my parents and brothers and sister, and Christmas, and shopping, and the blinking lights on rooftops, and the ceramic mangers in front yards of adobe houses in Ysleta, and our nightly Posada processions, all of it overwhelming me again with God in the world. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday to my ambivalence for and even anger toward the Catholic Church of my fathers. Happy Birthday to the simultaneous and schizophrenic materialism of the holidays. Happy Birthday to my not-so-secret existence, between believing in but not knowing of God, as an agnostic with faith.
I stopped knowing God, as I had in Ysleta, when I went to Harvard. ‘Knowing’ had meant I accepted God unconditionally, as part of the world I inhabited, as unblinking overseer, as heavenly judge, as absolute standard for my good actions. All of that stopped in college, when I met others following, and believing in, and knowing, a potpourri of religions. Why should Catholicism have predominance over these other religions? For me, there was no good answer other than it didn’t. What I assumed to be the true way was perhaps just one way among many. I certainly wasn’t about to label these other believers as ‘heathens’ or ‘infidels,’ because I would not accept that believing in your God meant you had to squash your neighbor who believed in some other God.
I also did not like to be threatened to believe in God, or to follow certain rules created by priests, without any justification other than this was ‘tradition.’ As I grew older, I did not see a reason why there should not be female priests in the Catholic Church, for example. I saw it as a matter of power, not religion, that women are kept out of the priesthood. Women can be just as holy as men. I also believe gays should be able to marry legally, and spiritually, and any other way they see fit, also because of what I have seen: gay couples I have known for years love each other as much as Laura and I do, and these couples, the ones with children, have been exemplary parents to their own children. Why are we denying gays the right to marry and pursue their happiness? There is no good answer other than those who advocate against gay marriage are prejudiced against gays. They don’t know gays, they don’t want to know them, and so they demonize them.
I grew to believe that the Catholic Church, as well as other churches, spends too much time on buildings, collecting money, power politics, and not enough time, at least for me, on helping the individual to understand how to act morally and philosophically in today’s world. Moral teachings have to be beyond platitudes and rote repetitions or scary threats. Why do some religions worship idols, figurines, bloody depictions, as if only these images will shock you into morality? The ‘you’ assumed is a weak self, one that responds to only simplistic, materialistic admonitions. What about a ‘you’ that thinks? What about a ‘you’ that not only believes in God, but wants to strive for God, and wants to do it philosophically? God as a question to answer. In organized religion, there seems to be little room for that ‘thinking, striving you.’
What do I believe now? I believe in taking care of my family. I believe in the work of helping my children everyday, and in their helping me. I believe in responsibility. I believe in being true to my word. I believe in sacrificing for others, yet I also believe in saying no, when I can’t. What will happen when I die? I will live in the memories of others, I will live in the work I leave behind, and I will live in that worm that finds my body and nourishes itself, hungry to be alive.