August 20, 2010


Around the time of the Kennedy-Nixon campaign in 1960, I had a brief, adolescent fling with a girl who was both Irish and Roman Catholic. I'm Protestant and not Irish. In the northeast of that time ethnicity and religion mattered a lot, so we were pioneers of ecumenism. We had a little fun together until the subject of religion came up. As I recall it ricocheted off her parents' infatuation with JFK.
She said it was "easy" to be a Protestant because we had so few religious requirements, and hard to be Catholic because they had a lot. She intimated that I would probably go to Hell. I knew a little about Catholicism, so I let her have it. Protestantism was hard, I said, because we didn't have the escape hatch of Confession, or Hail Mary's, Purgatory for the semi-bad, Limbo for infants or any "mumbo-jumbo" - a poor choice of words. I lied that we Protestants encountered God face to face, without intermediaries.

That pretty much ended our relationship, and not much later I had a fistfight with her Italian cousin because she reported my heresies to him. I resented that, but I wasn't surprised. To be clear, I didn't get my opinions at home. My parents were largely prejudice-free. I'm pretty sure that I just picked them up, in the post-war ethnic hothouse of old industrial Connecticut.

There were also some hard facts in my head, like my horror at an open-casket, Catholic wake I attended in 1959, for one of our football players who died of a brain injury suffered in a game. The kid was Polish. He lay in his coffin with a white linen cap covering his shaved head and surgery scars. Rosary Beads were coiled around his hands.

His wake, what we Protestants call "viewing" or "visiting hours", was scary, with lots of praying, sobbing, bead-fondling, kneeling, crossing, and prolonged painful viewing of the body. Protestant visiting hours were as they should be, with visitors as apparently dead as the deceased, and quieter than a catnip mouse.

There was also a nunnery in our town, at the Italian parish on the east side. It sent squads, platoons, companies of nuns to the Saturday streets, looking for any of my Catholic schoolmates who might be in line for a banned movie, or smoking a cigarette; swearing near the open windows of the YMCA gym, or in a variety store browsing the mags.

And there was the Friday fish thing, First Communions, Confirmations, the secretive CYO and the fey priests at Little League games. Protestants had none of this. We were free to smoke, swear, watch horror films, read "Cavalier", sit during the Doxology and lose a baseball game manfully, without consoling prayers.

I moved away from there, and learned much later that my girlfriend was radicalized by the ethical sham and humanist platitudes of The Age of Aquarius. She went off to some precious ladies' college up north. If I wonder who she's making miserable today, she was right about Protestantism then. It was easy; even easier now.

The "mainstream" Protestant churches in the suburbs of my old home town offer an insipid poster-art Christianity. Denominations no longer matter, because having nothing controversial to assert, they agree on everything and cook up a bland theological slurry to feed victimized groups rather than plainly ministering to sinful individuals.

The old forms of self-disciplined, personal Protestant belief are preserved by the members of independent churches, some of whom I know and respect, and most of whom (as I was), are Baptists. Attend a service in one of their little building-block sanctuaries and you hear none of the cant that dilutes The Gospels for temporizing clerics and ambivalently repentant sinners. They refuse to make it easy, and I admire them for it.

The old urban American Gothic Protestant churches are about all gone now. The uptown, white-steeple Protestant churches hang on, but like Anglicanism, their days are numbered. And lo, the urban parishes of Italian, Polish, Irish, Latino (and others)Catholic churches are still there and thriving. They've outlasted several architectural cycles, countless assaults by the world, liberalism, Guido Sarducci, Pope-on-a-rope-soap, priesthood scandals, and some have revived the Latin Mass. They labored on, in spite of the odds, and their flocks kept coming.

I've been thinking about this a lot. In this world, the penalty for spiritual sloth is your own cold, indestructible rationalism. You're free of religion but imprisoned by your ego. In the next world, if you're lucky, the mild penalty is just non-existence; if you're not lucky, it's Judgement Day. During his lifetime, the morally apathetic man will, if he's lucky, be simply superseded and not conquered by enemies who will subdue him without breaking a sweat. You don't prevail by just sticking around. I was lucky to have been superseded by devout Catholics and anti-establishment Protestants. It could be a lot worse.


sig94 said...

My great love in high school was a devout Lutheran. She was, in fact, a Catholic Lite: all the guilt and only half the rituals.

T. F. Stern said...

I'll invite you to read the Book of Mormon and have the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints enlighten you on the fullness of the Gospel.

Toaster 802 said...

I was born a Lutheran, and was confirmed an Anglican in 04. But let me tell you, I am not sure about where I am now. It seems like everything is becoming the UCC, and social justice is Gospel. Well, The Gospel of Christ is the Gospel of Christ, Not the message of Orginizing for America, Damn it.

Is it too much to expect to go to church and hear the word of God, instead of Demo-rat talking points?

Do I have to start my own church to be able to go to the church of my youth?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post very much, Rhod. You kind of run the Rhod gamut here. And the writing is brilliant and truly enjoyable to read.

As an anti-establishment Protestant (I guess), I tip my cap to you. I have a lot more respect for men such as you than many that we see masquerading around as "spiritual" today. For one thing, you are real ... and make no excuses.

For me, one thing I take away from your comments is the intoxicating prison that is legalism. All human systems of religion tend toward concocting some sort of scheme whereby man must do this or that -- go to confession, pray 5 times a day, be a missionary, read your Bible, be a "good" person, etc. -- to make yourself acceptable to God. We feel better about ourselves that way.

Jeus's message was indeed a hard one. He is the Way. He did it all. So, stop striving and believe. And then things change from the inside out.

No church is even required. Only Him and what He provides.

Just my thoughts. There are a lot of great people in churches, both Catholic and Protestant (as you point out). And there will be a lot of SOB's in heaven by His grace. Thank God for that.

Anonymous said...

That was Jesus I was referring to ... not Zeus, or whatever ... You all probably figured that out, but ... Tim might check back in and think I was talking about a Jewish Zeus or something.

Okay, good night all, and thanks again, Rhod.

Rhod said...

Sig, the urban Lutheran church in my town is still there. When I was very small, someone said "..that's where the Germans go to church". It's hard to imagine German Lite.

TF, thanks. It's not for me, although it's powerful and satisfying for many.

Toast, If you had to devise a strategy to destroy Christianity, Jesus As Social Activist would be the way. No one was ever saved by generosity, political correctness or good habits. That kind of religion is a spiritual Bowflex, building mental muscles to resist actually knowing yourself. It's garbage.

DC, Liberalism is our moral disease. It's sanctified the benevolent state and made it easy, even okay, to be a rotten person but a good citizen if you accept its demands and assumptions. This is just the old battle between Him and him.

Thanks, as always, for your perspective and goodness.

Anonymous said...

I recall someone asking me how one can make God laugh. The answer: Tell him your plans. That pretty much describes the movement to remove Christ from the churches and replace Him with a cadre of social workers.

"I wonder who she's making miserable today..."


Rhod said...

Nick, it was that or "I wonder who's dissing her now" or "I wonder who's hissing her now".

Anonymous said...

Goomba, when is your vacation over? I am going on strike to voice my grievances. In the meantime, pls speak to my agent -- Sir Rhoderick Lovecraftalot.

Anonymous said...

Rhod, is the chick pic above your old flame?

Rhod said...

Alas, she flew away from me just as I was about to convert. I have the Kevorkah.

Speaking of representing you, DC, that Elvis gig was a sure thing, but you got the jump suit on backwards. We'll never hear from the Austin Chuck E Cheese again, thanks to you.

Rhod said...

BTW, my brother owned a '58 Lovecraft Constellation, but it caught fire and sank. He loved that Lovecraft; he called it his Love Craft.

Anonymous said...

Sister Mary Miserable. I'll never forget her.

Rhod said...

Zio, was she the one who taught you about The Golden Ruler?

Gorges Smythe said...

Like Phillip Robinson, from whom I stole the phrase (I don't remember who HE stole it from) I consider myself "post-denominational." It seems the wiser choice.

Rhod said...

George, in other words, you're a UNitarian?

Starsplash said...

A Catholic Priest said to me one day back in the days where I lived in in Catholic dominated Superior Wisconsin;"there are saints in the Protestant Church as well".

I guess I should answer that today here. I reciprocate that there are Saints even now in the Catholic Church.

My first Crush was a Catholic girl. My friends and buddies were all Catholics. My best friend was a black Catholic, I didn't know any differnt. Still don't.

Teresa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teresa said...

I really enjoyed your post, Rhod!

Both Traditional Catholicism and the number of Traditional Catholics is on the rise and fighting against those who pervert the true meanings of "social justice" and the "common good" today.

Some of the Catholic practices may be considered unusual to non-Catholics, but as a Catholic I like the various routines and having structure in my life.

Rhod said...

Star, a modern priest.

Teresa, you point out that Belief requires the habits of Belief, and I know what that means after a lifetime of thinking freedom is habit-free. This subject would make an interesting post.