What do you think about when somebody mentions Roman Catholicism.
Go on – be completely honest. I’m guessing that a number of things wander through the mind – child abusing priests – bizarre icon worshipping cult – exclusive – judgemental – misogynistic and so on.
Not withstanding my childhood flirtation with sectarianism, I had some of these thoughts dancing through my mind as I entered a church for the first time in years last week.
A friend of Ella’s had taken her own life. This was her funeral lead by a Catholic priest.
I felt genuine concern that he would make an arse of it. That he would perhaps latch on to one of the ancient doctrines that she had committed a mortal sin and would be condemned to eternal Hell and damnation.
It turned out that I was the fool.
He spoke of his own sadness – he spoke in gentle terms of her ‘choosing to leave the stage’ – he spoke of an illness that had been difficult to manage – he talked about the internal mental struggle of life against death that resides in us all – he normalised it.
He didn’t quite state ‘there but for the grace of god…’ but his words implied it.
He also understood people’s response to such an act. He spoke of the need to allow the flow of any emotions – including anger – in everyone attending.
Such a huge contrast to the words that I heard when my own mum died when I was 12, where well meaning friends and family told me I had to be ‘strong for your dad’.
I felt the whole sad story had been beautifully dealt with. I hoped that this would be the launchpad required to ensure future help and support for her bereaved husband and boys.
My second brush with Catholic church later in the week was equally enlightening.
I had the good fortune – and I do mean the good fortune to attend the confirmation of a friends daughter.
I can’t pretend to understand the religious ramifications of this act – all I can talk about was how I saw it.
I spoke to my friend who had only recently converted to the faith –
“What does it give you?” I asked.
He spoke of community, of friends, of support, of peace.
He told me that he knew that, every week, he would have a peaceful time and place – no matter how crazy and wild the outside world was, he knew this place would be there for him.
I’m an atheist.
It would be so easy for me to mock this whole event as some weird ritual.
What I saw was inclusion and the active involvement of everyone there – I saw community, I saw society.
I didn’t see war, hatred of others. I saw the excited faces of children, the happy faces of parents as they watched and greeted their friends. I listened to the choir of children singing joyously throughout.
As an atheist – as atheists – we don’t have such community. We don’t gather in places to rejoice in friendship and kinship. We shout that we are without judgement although we do allow ourselves a little sneer at the poor deluded religious types.
In all religious writings you will find hatred, anger and fear. At the same time though, you will find love and tolerance.
Walk a mile