Monday, April 23, 2012

A Lesson from Augustino
This is a familiar map to many people, and one we've shown here before. It's produced from measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, the residual energy from the Big Bang event in the modern cosmological model. From such measurements we were able to calculate the age of the universe, and also, in many ways, to map it.

I bring it back because, as ever, it fascinates me. I consider cosmology to be the pinnacle of the sciences, answering the most fundamental questions which can still have empirical answers. No new development has come about in it. I wanted to talk about something totally unrelated, as a matter of fact.

Well, perhaps not totally unrelated. Most of you know that I underwent RCIA and became a Roman Catholic in the Latin Rite late last year, and a lot of you probably know my track record with this sort of thing by now. I'm irreverent and hopelessly liberal, one of those antireactionary "live-and-let-live" liberals who can't reasonably make an argument in favour of any law with a primarily religious motivation, and who uses some of the very best in mental gymnastics to weasel my way out of a few moral sticking points I just can't bring myself to accept. These mental gymnastics are perhaps endemic of other problems, but who am I to say.

I like to think I'm pretty good at studying religion and philosophy. The problem is that I'm not very good at retaining anything. I mean sure, I pick up facts and object-lessons and can explain them as reasonably as can be expected of someone with no formal training, but they don't terribly alter my behaviour. Understanding philosophical arguments in favour of eugenics is unlikely to make me a eugenicist (though it is very useful in combating eugenicists).

At the root of it all is a sort of mental or behavioural inertia, which I've probably talked about before. Like many people of all ages, I am a creature of hard-worn habits, habits that neither like to be broken nor readily altered. In many cases, these habits are as frequently about not doing something as they are about doing something. Some are genuinely harmful, like an inclination to sleep past my alarm. Others are actually quietly helpful, like my inclination to write everything down. Some habits are neither, particularly, like favouring button-down shirts and sweaters over t-shirts.

In any event, many of these habits are habits I'd like to change. In lots of cases, I do change habits, for very good reasons. But I need that reason, and somehow, somewhere in the road, I'm lacking that reason in a lot of places I shouldn't be.

Take, for example, a habit I developed since the winter cold set in, of missing mass. Sure, I made it to mass on Easter Sunday. But I've missed the two Sundays after that, for reasons that are emblematic of my usual mental gymnastics. A big part of it is that I'm not so sure that the Catholic Church has the monopoly on truth. When it comes to spirituality, I've always been the "do it yourself" type, which has made working through the parables a lot more rewarding when you finally "get it" in a puff of logic. Lectio Divina is the practice.

Now, I'm not saying that there's no truth in Catholicism, either. The Vatican is making fantastic strides in attempting to erase the schismatic past of the Church and bring Christianity back into (relative) unity, which is what the bible makes pretty clear that Christ intended all along. I feel that ultimately it is "more good" to strive to be a good Christian than to be a good Catholic. I'm certainly thankful for having read through much of the Catechism line-by-line and examined its sources. In more cases than otherwise, I agree with it, especially on theological grounds and the nature of genuine spiritual events, such as the transubstantiation (though my brain hurts a little when I comprehend that a thing can change from one thing to another without an empirical marker), the nature of the sacraments, the value of virtue, and the generally-corrupting power of sin. I can even swing believing in the full and literal ressurection of the body at the end of time, though I have difficulty at the moment picking out biblical support for it.

A somewhat dated picture, last summer or just before, of my
darling and I overlooking the river. Happy 4/22, Love.
It's when we start getting close to issues of liberties that I begin to disagree. Unlike the Catholic line, I actually support birth control. While we certainly have a planet capable of sustaining much higher populations than this one, we lack the infrastructure, and if condoms can stem the tide of STIs and help reduce the rate of otherwise unwanted pregancies, I am all for that. Now, I know, the obvious counter-argument is that the marital act is intended to be procreative rather than recreational. and that relying on Artificial Birth Control is demonstrating a "closedness to", whereupon one may insert Life, Creation, the Will of God, or whatever other moniker you want to attach to the logical consequence of the sexual act. Certainly I agree that pregnancy follows sex as alcohol follows vegetable fermentation. But psychology studies from around the world generally come to the consensus that an absolute avoidance of the act is unhealthy in relationships.  Not that it's remotely all of what a relationship should be... but it is a part.

As I said before, I have a big problem with being asked to restrict liberties on purely religious grounds. I learned pretty early on not to dive head-first into anything, no matter how much you trust God. Even if you think he's calling you to something, you have to discern a while before you're really sure that he's calling you to do what you think. For example, I have the utmost respect for monks, and even briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a Benedictine. But it would be giving up entirely too much, and a man of my sincerity would do more harm than good in such a brotherhood. I still admire the monks and their disciplines, but I'm no monk myself and I probably never will be. I've had as clear a sign as any man will ever get that I'm called to marriage, and I think that it's fairly clear what His plans are in that regard. Relationships like ours don't last these six years without being very, very serious.

And all that having been said, I'm very open to the idea of being more devout. There's a part of me who really wants to be that guy. I've tried all sorts of formulaic devotions and felt good with a number of them, but I've never really formed the habit. Considering the money I've wrapped up in some of them, I wish I really could. Thing is, I always feel just a tiny bit off balance when I actually put my faith into practice. There's a feeling of having an audience, even if I have the house to myself, much like how I feel when I'm trying to do my work with a manager in the room.

I guess we can chalk that one up to fear of God, then. Cheers to those of you who recognize the titular reference.

1 comment:

  1. ‎"If it feels forced or fake it's not where your power lies." - Unknown