Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Guest Post from the Cynical Nymph: Death and Belief

catholic, atheism, death, christianity,
Cynical Nymph (you should recognize her from hell's comments) asked me to post this in hell because this doesn't fit the theme of her own blog, and I am quite delighted to oblige. Enjoy.

On Tuesday I went to Mass and received the Eucharist for the first time in twelve years. My completely devout yet utterly nonjudgmental Nana passed away Sunday morning, and I went through the motions out of respect for her. It was her dearest with that all her children and grandchildren who had "fallen away from the Church" would eventually "come home to it," and while that will never happen for all of us, I thought she'd appreciate it if I at least gave the sacrament of the Eucharist the ol' college try. Techincally I should have abstained out of respect for the Church, as Catholicism teaches the mystery of transubstantiation, and also since my husband and I weren't married by a priest, so we're still living in sin in the eyes of the Vatican. I figured respect for my Nana was more important to me than respect for some German guy living in Italy.

Some people find faith again through death. If anything, I feel more confident than ever that Catholicism is constructed of man's trappings, and that Christianity in general just sounds... well... silly. In all my years of reciting my parts at Mass by rote, I don't think I really stopped to listen to what I was saying. When you're raised in a tradition or activity from birth (be it a religion, a political or ideological belief system, or hell, even certain sports), it's easy to miss the opportunity to examine the discrete actions and proclamations that make up part of who you think you are.

I went to 13 years of Catholic school and my mother would sporadically drag me to Sunday Mass, but my immediate family wasn't particularly devout (e.g., my mom's "don't have sex" talk centered around not getting pregnant, as opposed to not sinning). I stopped taking communion at school Mass in sophomore year of high school. I was floored - floored, I tell you - by how much of the ritual of Mass came back to me automatically. At this Mass, I believe I considered more deeply than I ever had what I was actually saying in response to the priest, and what the various kneeling/standing/etc. cues most directly symbolized. Ironic, I guess, that it took full participation while not believing for me to really pay attention - and for me to reaffirm what I believe now. All the talk of paradise and pearly gates cemented my newfound ambition of getting my MSW or some kind of psychology training. I mean - and I know many of PF's readers will agree with me here - that right there is a deep well of rejecting the unknown. And that profession of faith in rejection of the unknown is what's in the Bible. It's what makes the Mass, especially the funeral Mass. I for one find it hard to fathom an omnicient, omnipotent deity working in terms of pearly gates and physical bodies after death, and other things so easily identifiable in the human experience. Maybe it's just me (no, it's really, really not), but it seems rather more logical that whatever happens after death has more to do with the expanse and atomic intricacies of the universe that totally pass human understanding. And that, to me, is an utterly comforting thought.


  1. You're speaking for me too, Cynical Nymph. I've got 13 years of convent school education too, and a profound disbelief in any kind of god. Have you read Philip Pullman's "Golden Compass" series? Towards the end, as one character finally dies, his consciousness disappears as his atoms pull apart from each other and disperse into the universe. I found it to be the most compelling and comforting image.

    We have taught our children that we come from stardust (along with the whole Big Bang story - there's a strong scientific basis to it all) and that eventually, after we have died, the atoms that make us up will become stardust again.

  2. Deborah, that passage in The Amber Spyglass is so beautiful and so peaceful. The entire third book is really just exquisite. I can't wait for his forthcoming book, which can't find an American publisher. :P I'm having a friend send me one from the U.K.


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