Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Losing My Religion lyrics

Oh, Life is bigger. It's bigger than you, And you are not me.

I grew up a Catholic boy on Long Island, NY. Achieving the first two sacraments, I was Baptized, and made first Communion. Another milestone was penance, the first time you confess your sins to a priest. I remember I took Catechism classes one afternoon a week after school during elementary school and junior high. I couldn't stand going. I don't remember a lot about the classes, but I'm pretty sure I was in one of these classes when we found out the space shuttle Challenger exploded.

Around age 14 or so, Catholics will participate in the sacrament of Confirmation. It was explained to me that this is when you publicly affirm yourself for God. I remember the Sister who taught the class saying something to the effect of, if someone held a gun to your head and asked you to revoke the name of Jesus, you would refuse to do so, that you would rather die than say you did not believe in God. I wasn't sure about that, but then I wasn't too sure about my Catholicism in general. I never felt comfortable in church. My grandmother worked for the St. Boniface Church in Elmont, and as a child I would accompany her when she would go to work. I would play in the pews, and I remember actively looking for the "magic," evidence that God was present there. I think my expectations were too high - during mass, when a bell would ring I thought it must be God letting us know our prayers were being heard. I was disappointed when I stumbled across the bells one day, and realized it was actually an altar boy who was ringing the bells at the proper times during mass. When I saw the Communion wafers come in the mail in a plastic bag it wrecked the aura for me for some reason.

However, the real turning point for me in my Catholic lessons was when the aforementioned Sister told me that pets don't go to heaven. Dogs don't have souls, she said, and Heaven is only for people. I didn't like that at all, and pretty much decided then that I wasn't interested in continuing with this church. There's an article in Newsday this week that explores what apparently is a great debate among religion experts, whether animals go to heaven.

Some excerpts:

"The Catholic Church does not teach that animals have souls," says the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. "However, if one broadens the definition of the soul to include some level of intelligence and the capacity to give affection and to bond with human beings, then to that extent that they do have souls."

"Aside from a few interesting exceptions, I don't think there is a view of an afterlife for animals in Jewish theology," says Eliezer Segal, a professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary in Canada. One of those exceptions would be the Hasidic tradition, which believes in reincarnation - hence its exacting laws of animal slaughter, to ensure that fellow souls are dispatched with care and precision. "You'd have to assume that any animal - even a gnat - that's around you could be an incarnation of someone."

Richard Foltz, an associa
te professor in the department of religion at Concordia University in Montreal... notes Islamic law forbids "all forms of animal cruelty" and mandates that thirsty animals be given water before humans. And certain Islamic traditions hold that the prophet Muhammad had a particular affinity for cats. But on the spiritual plane, the odds are again stacked against animals. "The classical Islamic intellectual tradition is that they do indeed possess souls, although there is disagreement on whether these souls are eternal or not," Foltz says. While the majority say animal souls will be "extinguished," a strong minority viewpoint, centered mainly in Baghdad from the sixth to the 10th centuries, "argued that animal souls are eternal, that animals can have eternal life and that 'good' animals can go to heaven."

Debra K. Farrington, author of "All God's Creatures: The Blessing of Animal Companions" (Paraclete Press, $14.95), says she believes that the issue remains open to debate. "I don't think God made a bunch of stuff and then decided he only loved us," she says. "I think after death, God continues to love all that God created. I have a hard time
with the idea of God quitting." In the end, she concludes, "We just don't know." As for whether she will see her dog and eight cats in the hereafter, "I'm willing to give God the benefit of the doubt."

As an adult now, I'm less concerned with whether animals will get to enjoy paradise in the afterlife, and more concerned with whether organized religion in general works for me. At this point, I would say I'm an agnostic, in that I do believe in a higher power, but unsure whether any church that purports to show the true way to God actually is in touch with that entity. I tend to believe that the essence of God is too complex for our mortal minds to comprehend, much less to explain and preach about. Of course, God is personal to each and every one of us, and I wouldn't tell someone who devoutly believed in anything that they were wrong. However, it is comforting to me that the debate over whether dogs go to heaven continues, and that I was not alone in my refusal to give up on my dog's chances of getting to heaven. Rest In Peace, Scruffy!

Link: The Rainbow Bridge

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