Thursday, February 10, 2011

Transforming Attitudes

Ten years ago, spiritually speaking, I have to admit that I was a bit of a hypocrite.

By that point in time, I'd been a practicing Pagan for about four years.  I admit, I still wasn't quite out of that stage in my life when I was extremely disillusioned with the faith of my childhood.  I believed that most Christians were closed-minded anti-Pagan fanatics who wouldn't hesitate to persecute the Hell out of me in the most literal sort of way, should they possibly suspect what I was.  Furthermore, at the time I started hearing the first mentions that I can remember of sexual abuses perpetrated by some priests against some altar boys, and when I first heard about how the priests had simply been moved to other parishes and the whole thing had been swept under the rug, that cinched it—I was never going to be able to call myself a Roman Catholic again.  I won't say that I hated Christians, exactly, but I felt a real distrust of them and a disgust for the closed-mindedness, misogyny and hypocrisy that I perceived in every aspect of Christianity at the time.

Yet at the time I was still attending a Catholic school.  (I graduated from high school in 2001.  Until about 2003, most Ontario high school students could look forward to five years of high school, though they could elect to graduate after four years if they were going to college or straight into the workforce; as a teacher, I have to admit that I wish that the fifth year hadn't been eliminated for quite a lot of reasons.)  I was a member of the school choir, which meant that at least once a month, and sometimes twice, I actually had a fairly active role in the school's spiritual life, and—unlike a fair number of "real" Catholics in the student population, I might add—I never missed a school Mass.  Not seeing any way out of it, I also took communion every time it was offered, which I really shouldn't have done for several reasons which I think are probably pretty obvious—not the least of which is the fact that by then I was technically a heretic, even if I didn't talk much about it, and in Catholic doctrine, that's grounds for automatic excommunication.

Furthermore, even in my broader social circle (mostly within my community choir, I admit), I was well-acquainted with several committed Christians, and I had nothing but respect for them personally.  I even loved the church where we practiced when I first joined the choir, and occasionally even after we'd moved to another church if our usual practice space was unavailable.  (Incidentally, that church is the one in which one of my aunts was married when I was a child and in whose choir I ultimately ended up singing.  Odd coincidence, that...)  And of course, not long after there were the two choir trips in which we sang Evensong for a week at an English cathedral (Winchester the first time, and Lincoln the next), which—though we went at a time in my life when I was thoroughly Pagan and hadn't yet allowed that much of my Christian past to seep into my spiritual life—were a couple of the most overwhelmingly spiritual experiences I've ever had to date.

Suffice it to say that I am not particularly proud of that period in my life, spiritually speaking.

And yet I can still easily understand why I held such a poor attitude towards Christians in general.  Not a week goes by without my hearing about something that some Christians have done that casts such an awful light on so many others.  There's that pastor in the States who was going to burn copies of the Koran on September 11 last year, though he later decided not to.  There are those people who harrass women who go into and out of clinics which, among other things, perform abortions—sometimes even physically attacking those women.  There's that Baptist minister who refuses to baptize babies in the church if their mothers aren't married.  (Odd in itself, since Baptists usually don't baptize people until they're old enough to know what they're agreeing to.)  Every day, particulary of late, I hear about people, many of them presumably Christians, who want to take away a woman's power to choose whether she has an abortion—and of some who would even deny her that abortion if it was needed to save her life.  Recently a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for a woman who needed a medication to stop excessive bleeding on the grounds that she "might" have had an abortion.  And hardly a fortnight goes by when I don't hear about something else that the Pope has done which underscores how truly out-of-touch he truly is with the times and even with Basic Humanity 101.  No denomination is immune.

This, I suspect, is largely because every group of people has a few loudmouthed (and unfortunately quite powerful) assholes no matter how well-intentioned the majority may be.  For a period of several years in my life, I let those assholes define how I saw a very large group of people.  As William Blake once said, "To generalize is to be an idiot..."  Though in this context Blake was utterly eviscerating Sir Joshua Reynolds' Seven Discourses on Art (and making a lot of good, and sometimes hilarious, points while he was at it), and he was making something of a generalization of his own in saying that, I do think that he was right.  I generalized.  I was an idiot.

Now, I'm not going to extol the many virtues of Christianity, or claim its superiority over all other spiritual paths, because that would just be wrong as well—and also hypocritical, because although I know that I don't speak nearly as much about the Pagan part of my spirituality (a habit I'm trying to break, by the way, though I'm not sure how, possibly because in my mind I don't actually compartmentalize my spiritual life even if it seems that way in my blog posts), it's very much a deeply-cherished part of my life.  But what I am saying is that it's not right to make sweeping generalizations about other groups of people, and that if you do, it just might come back to bite you in the butt one day.  And it likely won't be just a slight nibble.  I'm talking "big painful chomp" territory here. know, especially since embracing Christo-Paganism, I have often thought that if more Christians—especially the loud ones—spent as much time acting like Jesus as they do talking about him, the world might be a very different place, maybe even a better one.

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