Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Morality Trap, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust God

Sir Nigel don't care!
When I was in the ludicrously informal process of RCIA at my local parish, and indeed, long long before, I used to frequent a particular website, a forum for Catholics, which I won't directly link to because I am about to be not very nice to it, and I don't want to direct an angry mob of three or four people, or expose myself to some sort of weird liability problems. Not that I don't doubt they'd notice, or that they'd care, but thems the breaks.

In the beginning, the website was actually pretty useful - I have a problem with depth-first searches for things, so when I started looking at denominations, I went "Okay, let's learn everything Catholicism has to offer". And the website's extensive forum system was perfect for that. I could ask any question, from the most fundamental to the most inauspicious, and get answers, usually at least half-way thought out, which were at worst tangentially relevant. It was a useful tool, and it's where I found about half of the reading list in my Blogger account - ultimately, the community there is what convinced me to become Catholic.

However, as fora go, this particular one was hard-right Traditionalist with a capital T. That's fine. Traditions are good, and the logical reduction of strong faith in a doctrine is a traditional enforcement of the same. However, that sort of environment is not good for a person in my circumstance. I'm a centrist by European standards, but over here in North America I lean left, at least in terms of social policy. You take a guy with unpopular opinions like that and put him in an environment where his default mental state is "student, here to learn", and it leads to some unhealthy places.

I've been on Fora pretty much my entire adult and subadult life. The vagaries of conversing anonymously on the internet are nothing new to me, but... when you're in an anonymous state, you can espouse any belief without threat of exposure or concern for actually believing it, and that was the trap I was falling into on this forum. AS it always happens for me, the account became a character, posting things, on occasion, to just conform with the Trad masses, to avoid the inevitable string of "corrections".

A big part of this website was discussion on whether or not action X or precept Y was moral. A baited question if ever there was one, but Catholics by nature are moral absolutists in doctrine, so it was easy to get mired in the idea that, for example, yes, Harry Potter is all bad all the time. That was where I spent most of my time, when I wasn't sticking my neck out in the chain-letter-like group prayer threads, which were genuinely the most enjoyable and most genuine part about that website.

Moral discussion is bad territory for me. I wouldn't say I am a relativist, for even I have a few doctrinal no-spots that no amount of justification can leverage. I am, however, for lack of a better word, Liberal. I have learned this silly aspect of relationships called Trusting Other People, a subset of which is Parents Trust Their Children, and by extension, I trust the hypothetical children I am yet to father to be able to distinguish between reality (A Brief History of Time) and fiction (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). I'm not the sort, however, who believes magic is inherently bad in anything - I've done my share of fantasy roleplaying, thrown my share of imaginary fireballs, and I know enough to know you've got your arcane magic (Ouija Board looks an awful lot like 1st-Level Wiz/Sor spell "Augur") and your Divine Magic (Transmute Wine to Blood). A bit of a satirical way to look at it perhaps, but one group can't make claims of the supernatural while damning another group for doing so.

It was that sort of nit-picky morality that made me mad, and between external pressure, and pounding my forehead on the desk with the eighteenth discussion of how magic in the work of Tolkein and Lewis was okay, but Terry Brooks should go do terrible things to his digestive anatomy, that I realized the whole website was a place of extreme cognitive dissonance and that I needed to take one massive step backward.

Which I did, thankfully, and for a time, I lapsed as a Catholic, if full truth could be told. Not being in a place where I had to defend my liberal theology put me in a place where I didn't feel a need to. So I started putting aside the things I "didn't believe". No more confession... but that horridly awkward feeling of "I shouldn't be here right now" in Mass eventually meant no more mass. No more mass because not needing nightly prayers, became not needing any prayer at all.

And I lived that way for about a year. I'd be lying, actually, if I said it was a bad year - a few roadblocks aside, the last year's been pretty good to me. Then, it started coming back - that missing-something feeling. So I started praying again. Started reading more of the bible and less of the fora. My copy of the Catechism is so aggressively dog-eared it makes me want to puke, but I'm out of book-darts and those little postit flags are just so... tacky.

I still don't like confession... but I can't say I don't believe in it. It's therapeutic, for one thing. Can be for anyone. So this week, I might go back. When I do, it won't be with a laundry list of the things I might have done wrong. It will be with the things that genuinely were.

I trust God enough to inspire me to talk about whatever I need to talk about.

No comments:

Post a Comment