Take a ride

Thinking more about religion, I’ve always been quite mistrustful of the Catholic church while having a sneaky admiration for the ritual and ceremony with which they did things. Church should be a place of spiritual mystery, somewhere believers could go and be immersed in the lore of the religion. In this place, they give themselves over to a higher being.

Confession is part of that, I think. Enter with us, give yourself over, and open up for a chance of absolution…

I don’t know when it happened, but the Roman Catholic church cottoned onto the principle many centuries ago while the Protestant church quite deliberately set itself apart. Minus the frills and the mumbo jumbo of Latin liturgies, austerity was a more direct route to God, or so it went.

It was a reaction to the greed and intolerance of the Catholic church that had Luther nail his theses to a church door all those centuries ago. The church theocracy was out of touch with the devotion of the common man, caught up in its persecutions and building an empire of God within Europe and beyond. It had moved beyond the simple teachings of Jesus and become a thing unto itself, powerful and wealthy and corrupting its nature to sell indulgences to those who could afford it.

It’s no wonder that Protestantism caught on among the poor and powerless, the devout who were denied a simple passage to heaven because they couldn’t afford to pay for it. It led to bloody war back then and division since.

I am no theologian, though I find theology interesting. I’m not even a believer. I have a simpler view of devotion because I’ve slipped the ties of religion.

I have a visceral – even sensual – reaction to the trappings of the Catholic church, but not for a minute do I believe it truly reflects the life of Christ. Can you imagine if Jesus was among us today that he’d wear the robes of a priest?

The Jesus we know from the bible was humble and generous. He shunned wealth and lived simply. He was kind, gentle and self-sacrificing. He didn’t go about in finery. He didn’t seek power, though he might have had it. Instead, he preached tolerance and peace. He embraced the poor and the powerless. He healed the sick. He accepted one and all.

What is the true message of Jesus Christ? From my outsider’s perspective, it appears that the church is all about faith and devotion, but the message and meaning of Jesus are lost along the way. Go to church on Sunday, sing your hallelujah, and come out feeling good about yourself.

In a just world, what need is there for a fine church around you to show your devotion and belief? Belief should be something private, held close in your heart and sincerely felt – and I say that as a non-believer.

I think that misses the point of religion as it’s used today. It’s on bumper stickers and t-shirts, and God has his own 1-800 number. There’s nothing shy or personal about it. That’s a cynical view, but then I don’t know how many good churchgoers and Christians I’ve come across who are nasty pricks of the worst type. They say that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel – well, I think it applies equally to the self-proclaimed religious, though often it’s the first stop.

Back when I looked at it, I was drawn to the Franciscans because they seemed nearer to God. Unlike other orders, it seemed they preached and lived by principles closer to the teachings of God. They took a vow of poverty and sought to do good for others.

Still, it’s a tad histrionic to a plain man like me. You don’t need to be a signed-up Christian to do good things, and much of the Catholic church seems outlandish. I think it’s perverse, if not destructive, that priests take a vow of chastity (and the cost of that is clear). I can think of nothing worthy of sacrificing your God-given individuality, though I suppose that’s the point – the same way that nuns become brides of Christ, servants of church and God. I pity the sacrifice.

Like so much, it’s marketing, particularly the Catholic church. Tradition, ritual, mystery and lore – it’s a rich mix that should signify something of meaning. Yet, Jesus was not one for these accoutrements. His message was simple and intimate. The church has added layers to that until true meaning is lost in the ceremony. It’s a theme park – you pay your money, you take your ride, and at the end of it, you’re blessed by God.

I wonder what he thinks of it.

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