The morning hour in religion was my favorite class. As we advanced through the grades, it began simply, in memorizing chapters from the Baltimore Catechism, and concluded in eighth grade with the four lives of Christ as told in the New Testament. We made a side tour through Genesis, observing it’s “all the Jews have,” but cautioning that it was written as a fable not to be taken literally. Some Protestants took it as fundamentalist truth, but not Catholics or modern Jews.
That led us toward the Theory of Evolution, which in its elegance and blinding obviousness became one of the pillars of my reasoning, explaining so many things in so many ways. It was an introduction not only to logic but to symbolism, thus opening a window into poetry, literature and the arts in general. All my life I have deplored those who interpret something only on its most simplistic level. I grant you that artworks like Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” are hard to embrace and you will never find it displayed in my home, but I understand the impulse behind it….
It was from these nuns, especially Sister Nathan and Sister Rosanne, that I learned my core moral and political principles. I assumed they were Roman Catholic dogma. Many of them involved a Social Contract between God and man, which represented classical liberalism based on empathy and economic fairness. We heard much of Leo XIII’s encyclical “Rerum Novarum”–“On Capital and Labor.” When I hear self-appointed Catholic “spokesmen” like William Donohue of the Catholic League, I wonder if he has come across it in his reading.
Through a mental process that has by now become almost instinctive, those nuns guided me into supporting Universal Health Care, the rightness of labor unions, fair taxation, prudence in warfare, kindness in peacetime, help for the hungry and homeless, and equal opportunity for the races and genders. It continues to surprise me that many who consider themselves religious seem to tilt away from me….The great scandal in today’s Church is of course child abuse. I have no idea what such surveys mean or what they’re based on, but given how much I’ve read about it I was surprised to learn that only a little more than four percent of today’s clergy seems to have been involved in it.
Birth control? Here I subscribe to an unofficial “double” loophole often applied in practice by Catholics faced with perplexing choices: Do that which results in the greater good and the lesser evil. I support freedom of choice. My choice is to not support abortion, except in cases of a clear-cut choice between the lives of the mother and child. A child conceived through incest or rape is innocent and deserves the right to be born.
I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God. I refuse to call myself a atheist however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable. My beliefs were formed long ago from good-hearted Dominican sisters, and many better-qualified RCs might disagree.