19 February 2005

Politics and the Church

My first schooling took place in Caracas' Colegio Francia. Up to third grade. My family then moved to the Basque country where by grandmother put me in a school of the Antonian's order. Of course I was not accustomed to the brutal way of teaching employed by the Antonian priests or "Los Frailes" as every one used to call them. My grandmother is a devoted catholic. To this day she believes with all her heart that the Church is the house of god and its representatives, i.e. priests, nuns, etc, are holy creatures incapable of harm. The first time one "fraile" gave me a beating, for misbehaviour, I remember having rushed back home to tell my grandparents what had just happened. The rage I had was so oppressive that only swear words and curses came out of my mouth, I was 8 years old. My swearing to refer to 'holy people' made her very upset and without further ado she gave me another beating for she thought I was disrespectful towards the Church and my account could be nothing more than lies. Moreover, she said that if indeed they had hit me it was well deserved for probably it was due to some mischiefs of mine. I just couldn't believe it. There I was, just 8 years old, abused by 'representatives of god' and betrayed by my own family. That day I learned that none of my arguments would ever convince my grandmother about the malicious nature of those who were in charge of my education. And so time went by. About three years ago in a visit to me grandmother I brought up in casual conversation the subject of the abuses I had to withstand during my six years in the Antonian's school. I said to her "grandma, now I'm a father and I can tell you that if ever any of my beloved children comes to me with similar stories I would personally go and beat the crap out of whomever dares to abuse them". She was shocked; she just couldn't believe what I was saying, much less my position, fully shared by my wife, in that respect.

The point is, a devoted catholic will never doubt the integrity, holiness and good intentions of the members of the Church. Historical records show that indeed the Church has had its hands behind much of the wars, conflicts, scandals, assassinations, destruction of entire civilizations, conquering campaigns and so on. Imperialism, power, oppression of dissent are, in my view, only synonyms of the Church. But regardless of how clear and revealing the evidence is my grandmother will never cease to believe in it. Such is the level of conviction, reinforced by years of sermons and unquestioning belief, that the issue is firmly anchored in rock solid faith terrain.

Equally disturbing is the stance of people that have decided to surrender their intellect and reasoning capacity to political ideologies or charismatic leaders. Someone immortalised the phrase "a lie repeated one thousand times becomes reality" however a controversial reality repeated a million times and shown to the converted and the faithful is swiftly dismissed as a lie for it undermines the faith upon which their whole system of values is built.

Thus I held the opinion that it is entirely worthless to even engage with either religious or political fanatics unwilling to begin to question the bases of their beliefs. My grandmother continues to think that I am on the wrong...


AB said...

Educating is one thing, instilling fear and abusing is quite another. Fortunately said practices have been eliminated even where I used to live.

A.M. Mora y Leon said...

Can't there be bad people inside good churches? I have long learned to disregard the individual behavior of awful people who can be found in our Church.

I never went to Catholic school but I went to Catholic university and upon meeting communist priests, who preached from the pulpit the glories of communism in El Salvador, and reading the hideous letters of our local bishops, who similarly endorsed communism and criticized our beloved and brave President Reagan, and then going to school at Oxford, where I heard priests in guerrilla boots and combat fatigues under their priest garments tell me of the glories of Liberation Theology in Nicaragua as well as condemn the missiles my own father designed to safeguard our and their freedom at Greenham Common and Upper Heyford near Oxford - I have long learned to disregard the disgusting ravings of individual priests and bishops.

I listen to who's good, ignore who's bad, and never ever abandon the real contributions to civilization and salvation of the Catholic Church. I treasure it too much.

The Catholic Church, to me, has a unique hold over space and time on earth. What do I mean?

When I can walk into a church in Quito Ecuador or in Penang Malaysia or in Mataram Sri Lanka and worship alongside the locals as true equals with the exact same beliefs in need of the same salvation, in full realization of our common mortality and our common brotherhood, knowing we are exactly equal before the eyes of God, instead of me being some artificially exalted denizen of a superpower, I know I am in the right place. Same feeling with history - if I share the same faith of Isabella of Castile or Joseph Conrad of Poland/England or John Carroll Patriot of Maryland, USA or St. Katharine Drexel 19th-century billionaire heiress/nun of Philadelphia - I know I am in the right place. The connection in our common humanity is extremely critical to me.

I can't abandon Catholicism merely because I meet a few bad Catholics. I have even met bad Catholics among rightwing priests, people who were far too harsh on me when I was a student. But what about the good Catholics? I can't abandon them.

If Catholics are bad, I prefer to think of what God will do to them when they die. If they are cognizant of how bad they are, I smile with pleasure because they are going to get it. There is no such thing as injustice in eternity. Everyone is going to get what he has coming to him.

Better yet, I forgive them on the grounds that since I've sinned myself, maybe not even knowingly, I get forgiveness for ME by simply forgiving them. To me it's a good bargain.

Bad as the Church is, I can't stop being Catholic. Bad Catholics come and go but the faith of the faithful, the real faithful, seems to save it every time.


AB said...

A structural geology professor of mine said to me not long ago "at this stage of advancement of science and civilization any person claiming the true existence of a god should be sent to the psychiatric wing without delay..."

To be brutally frank, I couldn't agree more with that predicament. Humans need to have faith in something, that by no means signifies that the depositary image/icon of their faith is real. Weak people have an even bigger espiritual necessity. I have had very many problems in my life for having such an irreverent approach with respect to themes that are considered sacred. According to the Bible, which is nothing more than a human tale replicated ad infinitum, we are a replica of god. Hence, if I am but a creation based on the image of god, why should I worship him and not myself?

I am absolutely convinced that the solving of all the problems that affect me is my exclusive responsibility and only my ability to properly identify said problems in order to correct them will spare undue hardship. There's no god that't going to solve anything for me, not will I find solutions by kneeling in Church and praying to someone who can not listen or talk back. It is me and only me the sole being in charge of my life and destiny. Solely my actions dictate what I get in return.

But then again this is a very personal view; I am yet to meet another mind that thinks likewise.

A.M. Mora y Leon said...

Those Brits are atheists! Well known fact in savvy intellectual circles! It's a Brit thing, we wouldn't understand! And that line about believers belonging in the madhouse is as old as Matthew Arnold - part of an intellectual tradtion that goes back to 1830. Or this being the Brits, earlier. Alek, you've just been subject to some old English beliefs. They're all like that. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury is an atheist. It's just the way those Brits are. You don't have to follow them. To me, it's all nonsense. ;)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your points. I would add to your comments that perfection only comes from God. And the Church is an institution made by men, that is imperfect by all means. And evil is always very close looking for men of God to fail, but not because of that people should lose faith. Fail is human. Evil knows what to do and is constantly looking for all humans to fail, but more so when those humans are priests, nuns, etc...

Very good point about the way a communist defend their idelogy without questioning like sheeps, like a religion!.
Of course they are very important differences between a religion and an Ideology. Another important point is that the more you get into the catholic faith, and the more you questioning it, the more you amaze yourself by the love of God for us. Contrary, the more you question communism, the more absurd it becomes.
Catholicism is all about love, communism is all about hate. What a difference!

AB said...

Alek, you've just been subject to some old English beliefs.You don't have to follow them.AM, it is preposterous and disrespectful to argue that I am under the influence of some British atheist movement. I'm following but my own feelings and beliefs that I have reached after very many years thinking about such subjects. I'm hardly your typical chap that is easily tricked into bullshit, and to me the whole issue of god, church, religion, etc is just nonsense.

And remember; I'm as entitled to have that opinion as you're entitled to yours.

A.M. Mora y Leon said...

Alek, of course you are entitled to your beliefs - indeed, by the teachings of my own religion, you are compelled to follow your conscience, as Thomas Aquinas has written.

I'm just debunking your cited authority for your beliefs, some Brit who talks like other Brits of a certain recognizable type whose ideas appear very much to be a product of a certain culture.

His claim that science and progress have nullified the need for a belief in God is extremely 19th century - and awfully nasty on believers. His claim that I belong in a madhouse because I believe in God is one of the cliche ideas that led to the rise of totalitarianism around the time of World War I and is frankly not a good argument.

AB said...


1) I never argued that I held that belief due to any authority. I provided an historical account of personal events that led me to the position I'm standing in at the moment vis-a-vis the church, religion, god and so on. The fact that a teacher commented something that somewhat reflect my own feelings does not mean that I am under the influence of some atheist cult.

2) You can not debunk a personal opinion on religion.

3) Good that you've mentioned Thomas Aquinas (ver para creer). What I have seen and experienced leaves them in an undefensible position.

A.M. Mora y Leon said...

If the guy says I belong in a madhouse because I'm a believer, he's prime material for debunking. Belief is pretty normal in the human condition around the world, regardless of whether one has any belief oneself or not. It just is. This guy is proposing to put most of humanity in the madhouse just because it does not see things the way he does. Stalin had the same idea. Cripes, I don't propose doing the same to those without faith. I am tolerant.

As for personal experience determining everything you think - I still have a hard time understanding this - what is going to happen when you meet a Bad American? Or a Bad English person? Or a Bad Atheist? Will it make you reject all Americans, etc? I know it must be more complex than just encountering that lousy priest in Spain. How would it differ? I am just trying to understand, because my Italian atheist friend often makes the same case.

Not sure what you mean by Aquinas - when you say 'them' do you mean the Church? If that is the case, you've got even stronger allies than merely Aquinas who's a lowly campesino in the universal scheme of things - don't forget that Christ Himself said that whoever misleads little ones would be better off hurled into the sea with a millstone around his neck. Very strong words from God Himself on that front. Obviously, God understood something about this phenomenon much better than I do.

AB said...

Come on AM you could do better than that. It's not one lousy priest (there were many of them BTW) it's the Church's whole record of manipulations, war, mass assassinations, come on mate it's in the bloody books. Christ was a man; we are yet to see evidence of a woman getting pregnant by the holy spirit.

Having no evidence to the contrary you've got a pretty weak case to defend. We are not talking about the existence of human faith, which is a given, but rather about the credibility of the Church and the existence of a figure that no one has ever seen.