Fire and Brimstone, Faith for the Cynical, and Unpopular Moral Absolutes

Crucifixion was not this pretty.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life researching theology.  I am wired in such a way that it’s difficult to take anything on faith.  The way that I’m wired, I generally default to Murphy’s Law.  The sad part of that is I’m right way too much of the time when I take my own default and assume the worst.

That might have been the reason why I was terrified of everything when I was a kid.  A good deal of my unrelenting fear was justified.  I did get my ass kicked a lot.  But I also had a certain knack for imagining the worst in a situation, like when Dad’s weirdo friends thought that I enjoyed swinging upside down while being grabbed by the ankles.  All I could imagine, other than sheer terror, was the ass pilot letting go and my sorry carcass flying clean through the picture window.  I don’t like too many people grabbing at me to begin with, but add the elements of my poor balance, centrifugal force, height, and a moderately shady character, and I am good and truly freaked.   Perhaps it is a good thing that I have to be on the verge of death before I can puke.  Then again, if I would have spewed a good one (after eating Spaghetti-os or something else colorful, like lime sherbet) perhaps Dad would have prohibited his buddies from repeating this torture.

Come on down to the Baptist Tent Revival!  Music!  Fun! However, no dancing, and no liquor will be served.

In Christian traditions the Pentecostals and Baptists get a bad rap for fire and brimstone sermons, but the Pentecostals and Baptists have nothing on the old-school Catholics.  Pentecostals and Baptists could “get saved” and then they’d have a “get out of hell free” pass.  In traditional old-school Catholicism, you don’t just “get saved.”  God is keeping score, and hellfire awaits the person who Dies In Sin.  The only way to clear your slate is to go to Confession and then do whatever Penance the priest assigns you.  It was always better to get a laid back priest who would give you easy Penance.  Father Furey was everyone’s favorite because he was pretty easy on the small stuff and he had a sense of humor.  The other ones could be downright scary and mean about it and you’d be saying Hail Marys and Our Fathers for days.

Yes, you are headed straight to Hell for setting your Mom’s tape deck to the “Like a bat out of helllll!” portion of the Meatloaf tape.  And for flipping the bird at the bug eating kid at school, and for calling your sister an “asshole.”  You get to be bunkies with Beezelbub unless you say 400 Hail Marys, 1000 Our Fathers, and clean the toilet with your toothbrush every day for a month without being asked to do it.

It was usually my luck to end up with whichever priest hated kids the most.

The worst thing about Confession is that it would only be a matter of minutes before sin would rear its ugly head again.  Almost everything I did or thought could be considered a sin, so it was a vicious cycle. Sin-confess, sin-confess, etc. and so on.

Mom was really good at dragging us kids to Confession at least once a month if not more often.  I understand her logic- because if a Catholic Dies In Sin, you at the very least get time in Purgatory, and at the very worst, if you have a Mortal Sin on your scorecard, you go Straight to Hell.  And you don’t have to actually do the Mortal Sin- you just have to want to.

I can admit I never had this problem.  I always had plenty of sins on my plate.

Sins were everywhere when I was a kid.   Using swear words- even the word “fart”= sin.  Taking the last fish stick on the plate= sin,  unless you were sure no one else wanted it.  Giving my sister’s Barbies buzzcuts= definite sin.  Hanging out in the farmer’s field behind the houses across the street (even though the farmer had a 12 gauge and dogs and he and his dogs would chase kids if he saw them) was also a sin.

So by the time I was about five I was terrified of sin, and even more terrified of Mortal Sins even though at age five I had no idea what “adultery,” “fornication” and “apostasy” truly meant.  I did know if anyone was going to die with Mortal Sins, it would be me, even if it’s not even really clear to me at that point what they are, and I would probably be on the toilet, which means I’m partially naked, and being naked is a sin too.  I had some pretty scary logic as a child.

Believe me, Catholic kids were taught a lot more about hell than one might think, at least back in the day.  At least on the rare occasion Mom would let us go with Grandma to the Baptist Sunday School (it amazed me she ever did, because at that time Protestants were considered “heathens,”) we sang “Jesus Loves Me” and made crafts with popsicle sticks.  I always wondered why Jesus loved us at the Baptist church, but at the Catholic church he lived in the little gold box on the altar -when He wasn’t out making rounds with His scorecard, marking down our sins.

I’m surprised that I ended up having any kind of faith at all, but that is where the grace of God comes in.

The apostle Paul, (who strikes me as a fellow rational thinker) in his letter to the Philippians, puts it as “working out your own salvation with fear and trembling…for it is God Who is at work in you.” (Philippians 2:12-13)  God, not me.  God, not inept leaders.  God, Who isn’t primarily occupied with keeping score, or for sending people to hell for having naughty fantasies about Steve Perry in spandex, or for having the bad fortune of being on the toilet and partially naked at the hour of death.  The challenge is to slow down and listen to God’s voice- not my own, and not the talking heads.  It’s not as easy as one might think.

Yes, he did have one hell of a voice!

It’s comforting for me to understand I’m not in charge, and neither is Mr. Murphy, no matter how much Murphy’s Law seems to prove itself out.

I do believe in the perseverance of the saints, though maybe not in a strictly Calvinist sense, (I’m not a Calvinist but I do agree with certain elements of Calvinism) because it’s God doing the transforming, or the saving, if you will.  It’s not about me trying to be good- because I’m not.  If I had to explain my theological position it would be that of Molinism.  God knows, but I don’t, if you take it to its Cliff’s Notes version.   It’s OK that there are some things I’m just not going to understand.

Even though I believe that salvation is by the grace of God and is not contingent upon how much penance I attempt to do, there are still absolutes.  The rules are there for a reason- mostly to act as boundaries to keep us from doing more damage to ourselves and others than we would were we left unfettered.

Anarchy always fails.  While it might sound good to have freedom from rules, when society breaks down it’s not a good thing.  Simply take a look around and see what all the drugs and violence and thievery have led to.   Free love bought society broken families, rampant VD and AIDS.  The decline of traditional social mores and the prevailing moral free-for-all where there are no absolutes has turned society into a freak show, that I can’t necessarily say is a good thing.

Cosmic Crap Shoot, Happenstance Cathedrals, Everywhere and Nowhere

If Asthma cigs are so great, why deny the kiddies?  Or do they just have to suffer from the paroxysms like the brats they are?

The more that I study the evolution of science, I am amazed regarding how much we don’t know, and how much of what we thought we knew that has been proven wrong.  Personally I would like to see if any of those three-pack-a-day Camel smokers from 1950-whatever are still alive, or if they all ended up dying from emphysema like Aunt Sam.  Aunt Sam (short for Samantha, no, she was not a former dude, even though her voice was so trashed and raspy she sounded like one) died back in the late ’70’s- thankfully she didn’t take anyone out with her.  She went out presumably the way she wanted to go: gagging on an unfiltered Pall Mall as she lifted up her oxygen mask to take another hit.

Sure, Sam, you keep on smoking these mo-fos and you’ll live forever!

Then again, not so much.  Aunt Sam was only 59 when she died.  She looked about 318.

Medical science has evolved quite a bit in the last century, but it’s too bad that a good deal of that crucial knowledge came too late for some people.   Jerry’s Dad still believes that kerosene is a hemorrhoid cure, and he’s also under the assumption that women have prostates.  I can only hope that he doesn’t think you have to buy boxes of Tampax to go swimming and horseback riding.

I could only safely wear white after the hysterectomy- nice try guys!

A good number of astronomers, physicists and other scientists who have achieved notoriety or academic acclaim (because they could understand the math that I just am not wired to get) are atheist or agnostic in their belief systems.  Even Carl Sagan, who had so much insight on astronomy, was a self-described agnostic.   Cosmology (not to be confused with cosmetology or cosplay) is the science of the origin and the evolution of the universe.  I would have to attribute the origin of the universe to something other than random chance.  Maybe it’s just me, but whenever “random chance” is involved in my life it’s never a good thing, and is almost always indistinguishable from Murphy’s Law.

Perhaps to maintain my mental stability I have to trust that there is a higher power or a supreme being, because I could never get the math, but even I get enough math to understand that the odds of coming up with the universe, life, and Steve Perry in spandex are pretty much so astronomically high as to be statistically impossible.   I find it hard to believe that a cosmic crap shoot is all there is, even if the placement and timing of the universe and life could be proven to be random.  Tell me, Who is throwing the dice?  Perhaps it is my own human limitation to assume that if something is created, that it necessarily had to have a creator behind it in some way.

I don’t necessarily take the Garden allegory literally, (and I don’t believe the Genesis account was meant to be taken at face value,) but it would have been cool to wander about naked in a garden all day with wild animals.  Just sayin’.

I don’t necessarily take the Flood story at face value either.

Blaise Pascal (and I’ve outlived him by four years so far) was a mathematician and also somewhat of a theologian.  He put forth the notion (Pascal’s Wager) that even if you can’t prove that God exists that the odds that He does are strong enough that it’s worth your while to live as though He does.

The only problem with living like there is a God is that it’s impossible to do so aside from His grace.

This being said, I am definitely not the greatest example of piety and selflessness out there.  Mother Teresa, I ain’t.

I tend to connect more with things spiritual in happenstance cathedrals- places that seem unlikely and that are often temporary.  If it’s quiet, if it’s secluded, and if there’s a sort of chaotic beauty, those are the kinds of places where I feel closest to God.

I loved places like this abandoned railroad bridge.  It was destroyed in the early 1990’s for its scrap iron.

I’d have to say there is some kind of solace in the chaos of entropy, and in the patterns to be found in the disorder, as strange as that sounds.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been to one of those convergence points that seems like everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  There are simply some places where time isn’t what it is everywhere else, and I find those places to be amazingly spiritual and amazingly renewing.  I don’t have an explanation for them just as I have no way to effectively convey how I know God not only exists but is present in and through everything.  That’s just about how metaphysical I can get, and then I simply have to say I don’t know.

Torrential Rain, Self Evaluations, and Other Unpleasantries

I like self-evaluations about as much as a one legged man likes being invited to an ass kicking contest.  Usually our esteemed fearless leader forgets about the yearly evaluations that are supposed to occur in June (fine with me) until the last minute and then he hastily goes over the paperwork and signs off on it.  I like it when he puts as much thought into our performance evaluations as I do into football season.  I am not a terribly big fan of the scrutiny of others, especially if they are going to compare their scrutiny of my performance alongside my own.

This year by some stroke of bad luck he actually remembered evaluation time in May which is unprecedented.  So we have all had plenty of time to peruse the self-evaluation portion of this yearly torture, and he will have plenty of time to grill us all to see how closely our version of our performance evaluation lines up with his.

I don’t know where to land.  On one side it’s not good to come across as a braggart tooting on your own horn, but on the other it’s not good to be so self depreciating that it’s the intellectual equivalent of donning a hair shirt.  I may not be the greatest thing since Steve Perry in Spandex, but I am good at what I do, even when people get on my nerves.

The happy little form we have to use sucks, too.   I would prefer a modern, on-line form because my writing has devolved into an almost shorthand scribble type script, and I am pretty much the only one who can read it.  It didn’t used to be that way, but I can type three times faster than I can scribble.  Efficiency, you know?  The other benefit of typing is that it’s harder to see the frustration and angst in typewritten fonts than what is angrily reflected in my scrawling.

Oh, to find a happy medium on that one!

I never knew Michael Jackson owned a Honda dealership in Wisconsin.  WTF was Michael doing in Wisconsin, where it’s cold and there’s nothing but snow and cheese and the Green Bay Packers- where Liz Taylor wouldn’t have been caught dead (even before she really was dead)?  Dude sure got around.  I saw this unfortunate Honda CRV on Morse Rd. the other day and just had to get a pic of it. I should have gotten a pic of the dead deer right next to the Stabbing and/or Shooting Weekly UDF & Mobil Station  on the corner of Morse and Sunbury Rd.s too, and the abandoned clothes and shoes in the turn lane across from the Goo-Goo Car Wash.

I can’t believe some of the names I’ve seen plastered all over dealerships.  Some of them sound like social diseases rather than places you would want to plunk down thousands of dollars to buy a new car.  If my last name were Fagnilli or Butts, or some other double-entendre type sounding moniker, I certainly wouldn’t advertise it, let alone use it to promote my business!

I know May is still Monsoon Season here in Central Ohio but come on!  It’s supposed to rain all freaking week again which sucks, especially if you’re a large dog who wants to go outside.

The illustrious Miss Sheena will almost inevitably be in for another surgery which also sucks.  I found another small mammary growth that I’m having the Vet check out Saturday.  I know what her answer is going to be.   The growth will have to be removed and biopsied at the very least.  My personal preference- if I am given one- is since she has had mammary growths before it would probably be more prudent to remove the mammary chains and associated lymph nodes as a precaution and also to avoid future surgery.  My fear is if the growth is removed and biopsied and if it is something serious, then the mammary chains and nodes will still have to be removed later, requiring a second surgery and another episode of anesthetic.  I will have to trust the Vet’s judgment, but if I am given the choice, my gut feeling is to do the radical surgery now, get it over with, and only put her under anesthetic once.  Large dogs have a higher risk of anesthetic complications, and mammary cancer is very common in dogs, especially ones like Sheena who had several litters of pups and were spayed after two years of age.

The SOS clinic said she did well with anesthetic for the spay and partial mastectomy surgery back in December, which is good- and our Vet had no problems with Clara and anesthetic, which is amazing given that Malinois are notorious for being difficult under anesthetics.  I am still nervous about it though.

Poor Steve-o.  In a way, maybe.  He freaks out so easy over the weirdest stuff.  Today he calls me freaking out over $10  because he thought Mom wrote him a check for $35 instead of $25 (her writing is painful to read too) which I thought was a major crisis- until I discovered he hadn’t bounced any checks or anything really sucky like that.  It’s still a good day if your bank balance is positive, but he’s not old enough to have the life experience to know that yet.  My son has lived a sheltered life indeed.  The POMC strikes again.

So Saturday is not going to be much fun- shlepping Sheena to the Vet and inevitably making her surgery appointment, getting the sticker for Steve-o’s rail buggy (more money down the drain) so he can have his summer fun.   It makes me almost wish I could get drunk.