Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Lent Project #2: Brainwashed Cradle Catholics

 "You know you're allowed to believe something different than your parents, right?" I was once asked by a friend who assumed the only reason I'd be a weird religious person was because of the brainwashing of my youth. Kinda like this meme:

It's an understandable assumption. In so many ways, we are a product of our environment, from whether we think bright pink silk bridesmaids' dresses are gorgeous or hideous, to whether feeling like aunties commenting on your weight as soon as they meet you is perfectly normal, or freakishly insensitive, to whether we consider arranged marriages a reasonable way to find a spouse, or an archaic unthinkable tradition. It's obvious that the religion, and values, and even prejudices of our family are often our default position, especially if we're intellectually lazy, or we are emotionally very attached to our families (love me, love my beliefs).  It could feel almost disloyal to believe anything different.

 Hideous or gorgeous?

But there are a lot of faulty assumptions connected with this belief:

That the religion of your childhood MUST be untrue, simply BECAUSE it is the religion of your childhood: If objective truth exists, then something must be true. Whether atheism, Christianity, or Islam, or any one of the many conflicting systems of belief. So it's very possible SOMEONE has got it right, and has raised their children to be predisposed to accept this true belief. In fact if you continue to follow the belief system of your family, it might even be that it has produced good fruit in your family that has made its truth more convincing to you.

That only religious people influence their children's beliefs: As if growing up in an atheist or agnostic household makes you a blank slate, and leaves you free to 'decide for yourself what you want to believe' as an adult. Believe it or not, the idea that every belief is as valid or true as any other (all gods are one) is itself a particular belief... which a parent can teach their child. Maybe it's influencing them to believe that you should help the poor, not be unkind to people, not be cruel to animals, value education, assume religious people are narrow-minded, to value independence and autonomy, to eat healthy... parents and teachers are constantly teaching kids SOMETHING.

That all religious people are only religious because tradition/childhood brainwashing: Though that may be true for many, many people, it can't be true for all, because of conversions. As adults many, many people re-evaluate their beliefs, and re-align themselves either to what makes more sense to them, or what sounds more socially acceptable, or what suits their lifestyle or position. If baptized-as-babies Christians haven't been convinced or touched in an experiential way by the truth of the Person of Jesus, they will very likely choose the agnostic label.  I've heard of Christians becoming Muslims, Catholics switching to a non-denomination church, evangelical seminarians becoming Catholic, Muslims becoming Catholic, fundamentalists becoming atheists, etc.

So the real question is, HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS TRUE?

The easiest position is to say everything is true, or no one can know, or it doesn't matter. But that too is a belief.. based on what? Intellectual laziness? Convenience? Societal norms? Even if you say that, you probably don't really believe it. If no one can say what is true or morally good, then who can tell rapists or adulterers or pedophiles they are in the wrong? Is everything permissible? You do believe something, but perhaps you haven't looked deeply into why you believe it.

What I have done in my own life as I grew from a child to a teenager surrounded by the Catholic Charismatic world, is learned what the Church taught, and then tested those beliefs against reality. Not always consciously, but I'm an INTJ. It has to make sense!

(This doesn't work if you just test what you THINK the Church believes. Like, all non-Catholics are going to hell. Or that Catholics are obligated to hate or fear gay people. Or that Catholics must be anti-science. None of these are true. Thankfully we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church that tells you exactly and poetically what the Church DOES believe. so you know what to test, and what to challenge.)

But where to even begin? There are so many beliefs encompassed by the Church. G.K Chesterton says, "The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, “It is the only thing that…” As, for instance, (1) It is the only thing that really prevents a sin from being a secret. (2) It is the only thing in which the superior cannot be superior; in the sense of supercilious. (3) It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. (4) It is the only thing that talks as if it were the truth; as if it were a real messenger refusing to tamper with a real message. (5) It is the only type of Christianity that really contains every type of man; even the respectable man. (6) It is the only large attempt to change the world from the inside; working through wills and not laws; and so on."[Read the rest here.]

So many angles from which to approach. Let's pick one. How about the big one-  
That God is PERSON who cares about providing for my needs, and is someone I can be in relationship with, as a child with a Father. That is fairly easily testable, right?

Today's first reading from Mass, was an excerpt from the book of Esther- a fascinating story, oh the drama. In it, we see Queen Esther-

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the LORD. She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening, and said: "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you. Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O LORD, my God."

Like Esther, I had heard from others that this Jesus was not just a name, a historical figure, a power, but a Person, a God who hears and answers, a God who does not wait for me to ascend to a certain state of consciousness to know Him, but who enters into my troubled human situation to come to my aid in a very real way when I call out to Him. But I could only KNOW this if I tried it, if I asked this Person to reveal Himself, and answer my prayers.

And I did. Many different times, different ways, different stages of my life. At a young age, I started praying for many couples who had been unable to conceive for years, and asked my family for prayers. It was my special responsibility to pray for them. And almost all of them conceived within a year of our prayer.

At 17, I wanted to do a teacher's training course, but realized my parents didn't have the money to pay for it. They told me, "Don't worry, if God is calling you to do it, He will provide." And out of the blue, a great-uncle sent my family a large gift of money that was more than enough to pay for it.

My fellow-volunteers and I prayed for healing for a woman suffering from a stomach ulcer, and she was healed- no sign of it when she returned to the hospital. A close friend had a lump on her breast that eventually needed surgery... and we prayed, and when she returned to the doctor months later, the doctor said, "This is a miracle- it has shrunk, and doesn't need surgery." A friend and his wife had no money to pay for food one day. They had a newfound faith in a Father God who could provide.. so they asked, and the same day the husband was invited to join a talent contest.. which he won, and received a cash prize for, that was enough not only for their own needs, but to share with others too.

Sounds very shock and awe types, right? Can't believe you hear an INTJ saying such things? (Actually I just realized that I had already shared some of these stories here.)

What about the less spectacular, but even harder-to-answer prayers- like for people to change, family relationships to be restored, bitterness to be washed away, patterns of years and even generations to be undone? I've seen it! In me, in people close to me. Situations that seemed impossible to change... changed.

Again and again I have seen, in my life and others', like Queen Esther, that those who ask for what they need with childlike simplicity and humility and faith and persistence, receive what they need... and more.

It's almost as if Jesus meant it when he said, "Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. knock and the door will be opened to you... If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.'

So, Lenten challenge: Whether you're a Christian or not, growing lukewarm in faith, or not at all sure if any of this stuff is true... Take a risk. Open the door.

Say "Jesus, you say God is a Father who cares about my needs. Dada God, if this is all true, (and I'm not just talking to myself) I need some help. I really need ____________. (A solution for a complicated situation/ X amount of money for a real need/ a job/ healing in this relationship/ the strength to do this hard thing/a real experience of your love/ to know if you are for real/ meaningful friendships/ the strength to overcome this disgusting sin/ peace in my troubled, anxious, neurotic heart/ physical, emotional or spiritual healing/ a way out of this unjust or abusive situation) If some attitude is blocking me from knowing You and experiencing You, show me what it is. I'm opening the door, if You are out there, come on in."

You aren't losing anything if nothing happens. And you are gaining EVERYTHING if something does.

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