Purple Magazine
— S/S 2015 issue 23


religious education
the hypocrisy of belief

text by JEFF RIAN


I’m a lefty-atheist-pragmatist. I see life as a complex network of relations and relationships that are materially driven, starting from cells to ourselves and passing through a variety of mutations. In the best case, an acceptance of difference abets a tolerance of diversity. Which, of course, is wishful thinking.

We survive via community and some kind of order — rites, rules, laws, habits, and so on. Many seek a higher order of expression in organized religion, which promises a metaphysical continuity that remains unproven but is affirmed by belief, often from the strict authority of charismatic leaders. Religions are divisive when belief and authority are dogmatic, and more so when leaders are charming and physically attractive. Belief in general, or any mental representation of ultimate truth, such as a consistently just world, is delusional. Life is built on evolving relations that can’t be predicted. However, it’s possible to follow a collective belief system in which one is not a believer. People go to church for communal benefits and may keep doubt in a private or unexpressed part of their minds.

In his 2005 Kenyon College commencement address (recommended), David Foster Wallace submits that everyone looks for some kind of deeper metaphysical projection, whether in God, money, or human betterment. I get it from friendship and tolerance. But I’m sick of denying the expression of my disbelief to those who refuse it, particularly the zealots of religious bent. This irritation may be the dilemma of tolerant pragmatists in general. But why is disbelief so frightening to believers?

I had eight years of Catholic education from the sisters and priests of the ghoulishly named Order of the Holy Precious Blood. In the spring of my eighth year, four friends told me they would enter a Catholic seminary the following September, a place in Ohio, about 10 hours by car from where we lived. They would visit the place. I accompanied them. I liked taking trips. A youngish priest from our parish drove us there.

The seminary looked like a well-appointed English manor, a gated château-like structure down a long lane, lined with trees and overlooking a vast green. We eighth-graders slept in an attic dormitory sufficiently isolated so that anything might happen in the communal bathroom. Maybe I exaggerate. I don’t remember the food or much else, except winning at billiards and that the drive to and from was pleasurable. I went because I wanted to know what my friends were getting into — giving up girls and parties for God! I’d begrudgingly attended mass six mornings per week for eight school years because it’s how we were raised. I don’t remember believing in God or thinking that being Catholic and American were the be-all of earthly experience, which was an implied part of my education / indoctrination. But the seminary was a separate reality, a training camp for religious dogma.

Near the end of high school, three of the four had abandoned the calling. I ran across two; neither wanted to talk about their experiences, which irritated me, and reminded me of how my father never talked about what he’d been through as a serviceman in the Philippines during WWII. Both seemed like an example of experience wrecking hope, thereby raising the flag of caution and instilling a quest for security. This can include becoming a churchgoer, but not having to be a believer, which is what I suspect was the case for my father. The third kid to leave the seminary had been my closest friend. I was told he was a psychological wreck, and I never saw him again.

Years later, while studying art history, I befriended an ex-seminarian (from a different branch of the church) who mustered the courage to “come out” and enter civilian life. I remember his relief the day he told me he was gay, which I’m not, but I told him I knew that he was. It may have been why he suggested we visit his former seminary.

Seminaries are as cliquish as high schools. His was dominated by a caste secretly referred to as the “clerics.” They wore black robes with little white collars and hovered in somber quietness like the cloaked sisters from my grade school. They seemed overtly gay, which was what my friend had suggested about the seminary — an all-male environment, separate from the rest of society, forcing pubescent boys to deny sex entirely through prayer. That thought outraged me, even as a kid. Both seminaries seemed like bastions of barbaric hypocrisy.

I speak here of the Catholic Church’s hypocritical treatment of male sexuality. I can’t speak for the sisters who taught me. They had secrets, too, I guess. Anyway, I’m reluctant to criticize belief because it’s generally as deeply ingrained as a political affiliation. My parents were Pascal’s believers, dream believers, hopeful and optimistic. The exaggerated demands of a Catholic education may have abetted my atheism since my parents didn’t add to the indoctrination.

Religious conservatism has been on the rise since the late ’70s, decreasing tolerance, increasing violence. Charismatic religious leaders project otherworldly illusions to the point of death. Do imams condone suicide bombing? My reluctance to express openly my disgust may be endemic to pragmatic tolerance, which is the cornerstone of my belief, if tolerance can be called that. Worse, the growing intolerance worldwide serves to increase the cynicism of lefty-atheist-pragmatists like myself. Retreating into cynicism only quickens the advance of intolerant beliefs. Live and let live has become the Bond theme, “Live and Let Die.” That’s no joke.

[Table of contents]

S/S 2015 issue 23

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS






purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple TRAVEL

purple SEX


purple TRAVEL

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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