Thursday, April 3, 2008
Krista Tippet, host of public radio's Speaking of Faith, makes me cringe.
I'm not sure why, but I think envy could well be part of it.
Would I be so critical if she didn't have a job I should have, interviewing the most interesting people in the world?
Or if the self-satisfied manner in which she interrupts her guests didn't remind me of me when I'm puffed up with what a cool life I'm leading?
Or if she didn't have such gorgeous hair?
For whatever reason, I rarely listen to her show, but my sister was late on Sunday, and as I waited for her, I happened to catch Tippet interviewing Greg Epstein, a Humanist rabbi and chaplain at Harvard, on "the New Humanism."
Wow. A humanist rabbi! Someone who doesn't believe in God but has studied the faith of his culture as deeply as a religious rabbi. Someone who looks at holy scriptures as literature, and at some modern literature as holy. And who looks to religious people for all the good things we share, unlike the movement toward blaming religion for all the bad things humans do.
I'd never heard of such a thing, but it gave me a new term for myself:
I am a humanist Catholic.
I've tried other terms: cultural Catholic, freelance Catholic, borderline, etc., but this fits better. It's more about what I love than what I lack.
(I don't know if there are others who use this term--a quick Google didn't turn it up. But I know I am not unique.)
The thing is, I love Catholicism (more even than I hate its sins).
I love wrestling with its stories and its history, and the whole sexy, musical mess of it, which I recognize as the mess of me, the mess of my people (not to say all of us Terrans).
I feel a personal, almost genetic tug toward Catholicism, arising from my family on my father's side, who came from Sicily, an island that sits smack in the middle of the comings and goings between the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. I'm not Episcopalian or Unitarian or any of those tidier religions people are always prescribing for me; I'm Catholic.
But I don't believe in the Christian God.
God knows I tried.
I studied theology in my thirties, and completed my BA in Religious Studies and Latin; and then I went and got baptized in the Catholic faith--the whole deal, immersed in a hot tub, anointed with oil--ten Easters ago.
Prayed, volunteered, attended daily Mass for a year after my mother died, worked for a while as a sacristan (schlepper of holy knick knacks), raged against the pope, everything.
Then, last summer, I went to a conference of religious sisters, whom I love and was, at that time, considering working with more closely. I wanted to get to know them better, because I had some big reservations about the Church. Right away the first morning, something was off. After a couple sessions, I went up to the monastery garden to get clear. I sat on a rock in the cool shade under pine trees, and it came to me, like a revelation:
I don't believe in God.
I went home, feeling bereft and unsure of what to tell people, including the sisters. I didn't want to disparage much less throw out the religion which had meant so much to me, political insanities notwithstanding. But I'd been feeling out of place, and I didn't want to keep translating "God" into "Love" or other words, when I knew that most people around me at church meant God really as God, a sentient being outside ourselves, not as a metaphor.
So I went away, for the time being.
But, like Epstein, I still believe all the good things I used to attach to "God":
I believe, as I always have, that they rest with and in us, and that we are spiritual beings. It is within us to marvel at mystery, to cultivate love and hope, to practice compassion, and to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves...and funny to boot!
Which is pretty much the Humanist belief, I gather.
So, I say thank you, Ms. Tippet. Grudgingly.