Individualism and Infallibility

In my previous entry, I discussed the tendency of modern Catholics to adopt Protestant attitudes toward theology and proclaim the autonomy of the individual in determining religious truth. During my deconversion, however, I realized that even the most conservative Catholic must also necessarily implicitly hold this position because of the inescapable fact that it's always an individual who chooses to follow a religion and thus always an individual who act as the final authority. Catholics attempt to avoid this issue by claiming to recognize an infallible pope as the final authority, but the individual still must be the ultimate arbiter between who is fallible and who is infallible! All Catholic dogma does is reduce the number of personal judgments to one, but this judgment still must be made by each fallible person. It would be circular and thus invalid to argue that the pope is infallible because he claims to be, so in the end, each Catholic really only says, “I think the pope cannot possibly be wrong.” So much for building the church upon a rock.


Protestant Catholics

Although there are far more atheists than professed Catholics in this country, I felt more alone intellectually when I was believer because only a small percentage really thought like I did beyond their basic belief in the divinity of Jesus. I thought that miracles and logical arguments proved the authority of the Catholic Church and I accepted absolutely everything that the church taught for that reason. The majority of self-identified Catholics, however, even those who attend mass regularly, don't truly recognize that authority (if they dissent from even one teaching) and are essentially Protestants in that they consider themselves the ultimate arbiter between true and false, right and wrong, good and bad. I felt especially alone because all these people who supposedly shared my religion really didn't; at most, they shared some superficial beliefs, but they lacked the core principle that I considered so important to my identity. As an atheist, this is not the case. I fully accept the primacy of the individual conscience, and my reasons for disbelieving generally align with those of others: lack of evidence and the meaninglessness of religious language. The general populace might look at me with suspicion when I say I'm an atheist, but at least I know that I'm not alone in my thinking.



Perpetual Adoration

Catholics believe that the bread and wine consecrated during the mass “transubstantiate” into the body and blood of Jesus, that is, truly become God without changing their outward appearance. As such, they become proper objects of worship within the mass and, sometimes, outside of the mass. In some parishes, there is a practice known as perpetual adoration in which a consecrated wafer is placed in a monstrance and displayed in a chapel twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year with volunteers scheduled such that at least one person is always present in the chapel offering adoration.

Volumes have been written criticizing the belief in transubstantiation and the reception of communion, but my intention here is only to indicate the absurdity of asking people to keep God company around the clock, even within the context of church teaching. The practice is supposedly voluntary, but it's rather more complicated than it seems because of the goal of continually uninterrupted worship. First, in order to set up and then maintain the practice, the organizers need people for every time slot throughout the week, so parishioners could feel guilted into participating. Second, if someone cannot come during their regular time slot, because of a vacation, a new work or school schedule, sickness, accident, etc., a replacement must be found, even if it's for two o'clock in the morning. And if the person following someone doesn't show up, they're not supposed to leave until someone else can replace them. I fully realize that it's supposed to be a sacrifice, but I object to asking people to make sacrifices which put the elderly and the sleep-deprived on the road in the middle of the night, all to visit a deity who is supposedly present in every corner of the universe. As is typical with religion, it's just absurdity upon absurdity.



The Day I Almost Deconverted

Although my actual deconversion several years ago was a rather thoughtful and deliberate process, there was a memorable day approximately eleven years ago when I seriously considered becoming an atheist in the matter of a single day. It was the summer after I graduated from high school and I was working at a supermarket as a bagger. I remember that I had recently had conversations with a couple of friends who were atheists in which they had refuted the apologetic arguments that I had presented to them, even though I didn't really recognize the validity of their responses at the time. As I carried the groceries out of the store to the customers' cars and brought back the shopping carts, I imagined how it would feel to be an atheist. I can't seem to recall the particular issues that I was pondering, but I do recall the surge of emotion that I felt, a mixture of excitement and fear. At home at the end of the day, I decided that I couldn't ignore the arguments from miracles and the peacefulness of the religious, though it was certainly the fear of hell which provided the greatest motivation to remain a believer. It seems truly strange that I almost rejected a lifetime of belief with hardly any thought and I wonder what could have happened if I had deconverted that day. If it had stuck, I might have saved myself from a lot of grief that I was to experience in later years, but if it hadn't, then I might have ended up worse than I actually did.

One of those friends correctly predicted that I would eventually become an atheist because, in his opinion, I was too smart to remain a believer. I haven't seen him since high school and I have occasionally wondered whether he would even remember his remark and whether he would be pleased to learn that he was right. If I ever talk to him, I will be sure to ask and probably report on it here.