May 24, 2004

Right on the heels of Life of Pi I read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, another book about faith, but in an entirely different way. If you haven't done so already, READ THIS BOOK. Sure, it's a bit dramatic and may not be defined as classic literature, but it had enough intrigue to keep me up way past my bedtime, reading "just one more chapter" over and over again. Also, the conspiracy theories about the Christian church are incredibly interesting and, as I learned from a little internet research, quite credible.

I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who hasn't read it, so I won't say more about the novel's theories. But I do want to post two passages from the book that struck a chord, as well as share some of the thoughts that keep coming back to me....

       "The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever."
       Nobody could deny the enormous good the modern Church did in today's troubled world, and yet the Church had a deceitful and violent history. Their brutal crusade to "reeducate" the pagan and feminine-worshipping religions spanned three centuries, employing methods as inspired as they were horrific.
       Women, once celebrated as an essential half of spiritual enlightenment, had been banished from the temples of the world. There were no female Orthodox rabbis, Catholic priests, nor Islamic clerics. The once hallowed act of Hieros Gamos—the natural sexual union between man and woman through which each became spiritually whole—had been recast as a shameful act.
       The days of the goddess were over. The pendulum had swung. Mother Earth had become a man's world, and the gods of destruction and war were taking their toll. The male ego had spent two millennia running unchecked by its female counterpart. The Priory of Sion believed that it was this obliteration of the sacred feminine in modern life that had caused what the Hopi Native Americans called koyanisquatsi—"life out of balance"—an unstable situation marked by testosterone-fueled wars, a plethora of misogynistic societies, and a growing disrespect for Mother Earth.

It is difficult to, as suggested in Life of Pi, "believe the better story," especially when organized religion feeds people the story to believe. There is not much choice in organized religion; it's all or nothing. Mythology is presented as history, and the figurative is presented as literal. Though I come from a reasonably liberal family, I was a self-appointed devout Catholic when I was young. I truly believed in my heart of hearts that when I received Communion I was receiving the body of Christ. When my friend Lucas cursed (and he swore a blue streak) I apologized to Jesus for him. Through Confession I believed I was absolved of sin, and because I was Baptized I knew that, unless I screwed up pretty bad, I would make it to heaven.

There was no chance for me to believe the better story, because I was only given one to believe. And, when I entered my teenage years and began questioning the story, Sunday's mass told me that "this is the Word of God"—believe this or believe nothing.

When I was about five years old, I remember my dad telling me that there are people who aren't Catholics. What are they if they're not Catholics, I asked, incredulous. My father went on to explain the idea of other religions, but I remained dubious. The Catholics are the right ones though, I said. Everyone else is wrong. My father gently tried to dissuade me from the terms "right" and "wrong," but I didn't really believe him. I hadn't heard anything about other religions from our priest and, though I trusted my dad implicitly, I knew that he just wasn't as holy as Father Ed.

Even after my decision to deny Confirmation, therefore renouncing myself as an adult member of the Catholic community, I remained relatively ignorant about different religions. When I learned the name of my freshman year roommate—Leah Scherzer—my mom said told me that she was Jewish. I was offended, thinking that her remark was somehow anti-Semitic. I asked how she could possibly know Leah's religious upbringing, and she patiently replied, "Scherzer is a Jewish name. So is Leah."

It wasn't until college, amid the University's exceptionally large Jewish population and a myriad of comparative religion courses, that I began to finally wake up. I already knew that Catholicism wasn't really for me, but I had yet to learn much about other religions, about the other stories.

Books like The Da Vinci Code get me thinking, aiding in my refinement of my own personal beliefs. My own faith—the Church of Kerry—becomes more and more clear as I learn from both myself and the people I meet every day.

So what do I believe? I believe that Jesus Christ was a man whose teachings of love and peace inspired many people, and continue to do so today. I do not believe, however, that he is "seated at the right hand of the Father." I do not believe that he is the son of God. I do not believe that God is a person. I choose to believe a different story which is, in my mind at least, a better one. I believe in the energy of living things and the history of what has never breathed. I believe in the goodness of nature and the infinite, incomprehensible nature of the universe. I believe in both the insignificance of human life in the great timeline of events, as well as the utmost importance of human generosity and spirit. I believe that there are no answers, and that everything and everyone is connected by something we may never understand. I believe in awe and beauty and love and relativity.

So do I want all Catholics to do as I did by leaving the Catholic church? No, of course not. There are infinite pathways to goodness. And this brings me to the second passage from The Da Vinci Code that I would like to post here...

       "The Bible represents a fundamental guidepost for millions of people on the planet, in much the same way the Koran, Torah, and Pali Canon offer guidance to people of other religions. If you and I could dig up documentation that contradicted the holy stories of Islamic belief, Judaic belief, Buddhist Belief, pagan belief, should we do that? Should we wave a flag and tell the Buddhists that we have proof the Buddha did not come from a lotus blossom? Or that Jesus was not born of a literal virgin birth? Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical."
       Sophie looked skeptical. "My friends who are devout Christians definitely believe that Christ literally walked on water, literally turned water into wine, and was born of a literal virgin birth."
       "My point exactly," Langdon said. "Religious allegory has become a part of the fabric of reality. And living in that reality helps millions of people cope and be better people."
       "But it appears their reality is false."
       Langdon chuckled. "No more false than that of a mathematical cryptographer who believes in the imaginary number 'i' because it helps her break codes."

Enough said, for now.