So, last weekend, I went to this giant conference in Anaheim, CA called RE Congress (http://www.recongress.org
) It for Catholic Religious Educators. As I've said before, I still spend a good part of my time helping my mom out in the church, and this including going to conferences such as these.
To tell the truth, I had a great time. Of course, it was only a five day trip, with 1.5 days spent at the conference, 1.5 days spent sight seeing in and around LA, and the other two days reserved for travel.
So, there was surprisingly little conference time to be had.
But I didn't exactly have a problem with going. As I've said, I have something of a not-so-secret love for liberal churches, and I think many would be hard-pressed to find a more liberal Catholic church than the Diocese of Los Angeles.
So, I mostly signed up for classes that I would enjoy, or which would challenge me as a nonbeliever.
There was a very academic class on the history of the Bible, taught by a priest who wasn't afraid to admit that most people who wrote the Bible changed it to their liking while transcribing or translating. While I did have terrible jet-lag, combined with Daylights Saving Syndrome, the parts that I was awake for were very interesting. I'm looking into buying a recording of the lecture on CD, since I couldn't really be there in spirit.
I also went to a class wherein the speaker said he was going to try and disprove atheism with astrophysics. There was a lot gibberish about multi-verses and bubble-verses, but not much about atheism. I was pretty pissed when he spent and fifteen minutes of his hour and a half time setting up his situation for how he was going to disprove atheism, then in the last fifteen minutes presented his argument. It boiled down to: "If things were different, then they would be different (and we would probably all be dead!)"
That last part is very important. He spent a lot of time telling us how, if we didn't have carbon, or alluvium, or any other random element he could think of, we would all horribly die. Or at least not be here. That was his whole argument.
So, afterwards, I talked to him, and told him that I didn't care about all the ways in which I couldn't be here, only that I was here. I also said that we were here because of the universe; the universe wasn't here because of us.
He chose to repeat his statement, practically verbatim.
I chose to leave him in his ignorance and get on with my life.
Then there was the one class that I absolutely loved. It was aimed at young adult Catholics, and was hosted by my favorite speaker at the conference, Dr. Tom (he has a last name, but it's French, I think, and I have no idea how to pronounce it, so I never learned it.)
The talk consisted of a panel discussion from a small handful of young adults. There was a Jesuit Priest-in-training, a lesbian who started the first Gay, Straight Alliance at some Catholic university whose name escapes me, a cop who was basically the stereo-typical good-Catholic-family-man. There was also a woman who had, supposedly, left the faith, and then come back, and one other person I think I'm forgetting.
The talk was too in-depth and long to get into here, so I'll just summarize.
There were a lot of good points that any reasonable person would agree with, and only a small handful of points which made me cringe. Mostly from the cop. He told the story of how he was in a car accident and survived, and right before the car hit, he just tensed up and said, "Oh God." Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to expect, given the situation. Not rational, not smart (tensing up can make the accident worse) but it's a completely natural response to a very bad, and very uncontrollable situation. You just go, "Shit, this'll suck," and get ready to bite the bullet.
Only he survived, and considers that little involuntary "oh god" a full-fledged prayer, and the fact that he's not dead yet as proof that prayer works.
But there were other parts of the talk which were great. One girl said that to be a good Catholic, you didn't have to go to church or read the bible, you just had to be nice and do some charity work. I don't know if that makes you a catholic, but I like her plan. Less church, more actually useful things.
By the end of the talk (and this is the best part) the panel came to the consensus that, no, you don't have to be a catholic, and the only reason you have for staying in, is basically community, and because you don't want to abandon your family. It can be debated whether or not that's a good reason to stay, but it seems like they're on the right track.
At the end, I tried to ask a question, but I worked up the nerve one question too late. I was literally the next in line, when they said, "Sorry, out of time, no more questions."
So, I went up to the panel to talk to them individually. The word to describe everyone trying to talk to them at once after the lecture ends: clusterfuck. It was like this with every lecture, though. The speaker is always swamped, and it's a pain in the ass to get a serious question in to him, unless you're a dick and just step all over everyone else to get your question heard and answered.
So, the only one I got to talk to was the Jesuit. I asked him why I needed to be a Catholic, since I could be an atheist and not go to church and do charity. While he never said it, I got the impression that given the chance to seriously address the question, he would have placed value on the Eucharist, or Jesus' resurrection, or God's Love (TM) or something like that.
So, once I got out of there, I made a beeline for the Diocese of LA's Gay & Lesbian Catholic's booth to look for more answers on why, exactly, I needed to be Catholic.
And by a beeline, I mean I waited a full day until I was almost certain I would be alone. Being in the closet to my family about both my non-faith and my sexuality, and being surrounded by cousins for the first time in my life (Two. That's my idea of surrounded. I have too many cousins to count, but never see them, so when my family decides to bring two with us to CA, I'm suddenly overwhelmed with family members) I had to wait until everyone was at a different lecture than I was, and then sneak off to the booth section of the conference.
So, I walk up to the booth, an instantly fall off the wagon. I'm a full blown Catholic again, still trying to find acceptance. There's just something about finding someone who doesn't just say, "I'm here, I'm Queer" but seems to say "I'm as gay as a sweater-vest, and it's fucking amazing!" It's intoxicating. It just seems to be so much more than just acceptance, even more than pride. It's in-your-face, it's whatever cliche you want it to be.
So, I start to talk to this guy who works there, a real FOG (fine older gentleman) and I just tell him how awesome it is that these guys even exist. Then he starts asking me if I'm involved in this one website, I forget the name, and he asks me offhandedly, "you're a catechist, right?"
Now, I vaguely remember what that word means, but I'm pretty sure that I'm not one. So I tell him, I have to confess, I'm actually something of an atheist. (It was unfortunately wishy-washy, but it got the point across.) To be honest, I can't remember his immediate reaction, but it must have been a little concerned, because I quickly pointed out that it had nothing to do with my sexuality, and that in just reading the Bible, I was able to almost immediately come to terms with my being gay and Catholic long before I ever lost my faith. (I use gay here in the general sense of, essentially, "not perfectly straight" but that's neither here nor there).
This gets him off and rolling on a long discussion on all the parts of the Bible that blatantly show scenes of homosexuality, from David and Jonathan, to Jesus and his "favorite" disciple. So, that helped us move on to more important topics than something as trivial as whether or not I thought prayer really did anything.
As I was leaving, he said that "God still loves you, even if you doubt his existence". That normally would have annoyed me, but I was in too much of a good mood, and just shrugged it off.
On the plane ride home, I spent some time thinking about why I was so attracted to liberal churches. A few red alerts went off in my head when I had the sudden terrifying idea that I the only reason I was finding this church so much more intoxicating than the church I have at home, is because I was thinking with my dick. I had done this before, typically to fairly poor results. It has caused me to enroll in an acting class and a dance class, neither of which I was qualified for, just because I wanted to try and find a boyfriend.
So, even if it's a false alarm, I tend to actively avoid anything that perks the interest of my Lizard brain more than my Vulcan brain. (Sorry, mild Star Trek reference).
Although, I think the real reason I approve of liberal churches, is the same reason I approve of things like Pride Parades, which are often decried as giving the LGBT community a bad rep. (One person once described Pride Parades as such: "Imagine the only time you ever see straight people are in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. You'd have a pretty bad image of them, too). It's not that I especially like Pride Parades, and it's not that I don't like them. That's not why I support them. It all boils down to this: "We'll stop flaunting our gay pride when you stop telling us not to."
It's not that I think they're correct in the God department, or that I would ever want to participate in a Pride Rally, aside from maybe just watch. It's that people are telling them they shouldn't be allowed to be gay and Catholic. Or gay and Jewish. Or Gay and Muslim. (I would extend outside the Abrahamic Religions, but the problem doesn't seem to extend that far. Or I need to do better research.)
I don't care if you want to be a Catholic. I don't care if you want to be an Atheist. I'm not going to say I would prefer that people would be Atheists, although I do prefer they would be Rationalists. But the point is, whatever you are, no one should be able to say that, because you're choosing to be in a certain group, that you have to forgo your natural impulses towards love. Even Catholics deserve the right to be true to themselves, even if they aren't being true to their logic.
So, I've pulled myself back up onto the wagon of atheism, but my feet are still dangling over the edge. To tell the truth, I think a part of me would give anything to just be Catholic, like the kind of Catholic I met in LA, not the kind of Catholic I meet every day here at home. But I know that I can never turn my brain off. I'll always laugh when someone wants to pray to make things better, or when they say "God will take care of you" and then go on to talk about free will.
I want to be a cafeteria Catholic who's there to help other kids who were like me once. That my nature. I feel the need to help people, and I especially feel the need to help people avoid the same pitfalls I ran into at their age.
But I also have a misfiring of wires that tells my brain, if I'm not a part of a movement, I can't truly know what it's like, and can't truly help them. My brain (probably the lizard side) thinks that I have to be a Catholic to even converse with Catholics, let alone help Catholics. To tell the truth, that probably plays a part in my identifying as pansexual. In the front of my mind, I say I just don't know for sure yet, but in the back of my mind, I say I want to have all my bases covered, just incase a situation arises and I need to identify with it.
So, for now, I'm calling myself a Rationalist, and leaving it at that. I still see no point in prayer, and probably still scoff at the idea of god, but I want to have the community of a church. The acceptance of a parish. Why? I don't know. I plan to go to a UU church that's here in town, I just need to get off my ass and do it already. And really, even Univeralist Unitarians aren't the final answer; I know that. They're one of those half-way houses I talked about before. But I just want to see how it is. To be honest, I'm not too sure. It still feels too overtly Christian. Maybe there's a Buddhist Temple around here, or something like that.
Anyway, this is way too long and I'm starting to notice that I've been rambling. So, good-night.