I was perusing online during my daily Internet Hour because I’m a millennial and that’s just what happens when I wake up at 10 am on a Saturday. I never really quite know what I’m looking for during Internet Hour – I just need something to satisfy my soul, to know that the world is still in a pleasant churn of chaos over which I have a modicum of control. A piece of gossip about someone I don’t like. A news item that affirms my world view. Dark humor that validates my self loathing perspective on life.
On this particular Saturday, however, what caught my eye was yet another article on the Catholic sex abuse scandals. I was raised in a conservative Catholic household, and, well, I’m sure anyone who has read my writing can accurately surmise that I have fallen far, far from that tree. Which is probably why I clicked the article – talk about affirming my world view that the Catholic Church is an evil institution!
I’ve read many of these articles before. I remember when the first news of the sex abuse scandals hit. I was in high school in Richmond, California at the only Catholic high school in that city. It was jarring, really, and as time has gone on and we have learned more about these scandals, well – I mean, I have a lot to say on how all this shit has been mishandled and what should really be happening, but that’s not what I want to write about today.
What I want to write about today is what transpired during the Internet hour. I can’t say that I’m particularly shocked about what I read in the article, but I did let out quite a shriek when I read: yup, that shit was happening at my high school, too. The KQED article confirmed that while I was at that high school, a lawsuit was settled against someone who worked there.
While I’ll admit that reading about all this shit has on some level lost its shock value because, duh, the Catholic Church is fucking corrupt and disgusting, this news brought all the way back home. It had been easy to read about these scandals and think, “Yeah, but it didn’t happen here or with anyone I know.” Wrong. It did.
Having known about these scandals for decades, I want to expound less on the emotional trauma of knowing that this shit transpired and more on the long term impact on a sense of objective morality. Because it’s strange to grow up Catholic, to learn the rules, to be obedient, to know the difference between right and wrong, to have a strong sense of what makes a person good, and to look back on one’s relationship with the church, with priests, and with nuns. The thing about these scandals is: they try to act like it’s a few bad priests in the dioceses, and everyone else is free of blame. But that’s not true. We have learned that these scandals went all the way up, and I wonder if these molester priests’ peers had any inkling or suspicion, too. Or if they were blinded by a false sense of morality and their own power, hence making them unable to pick up on the fact that the men they shared quarters with were fucking creeps.
So what does this do our sense of collective morality and also community? People balk at organized religion as the genesis of so much of what is wrong with society, and the sex abuse scandals are the nadir of these human evils. But organized religion wouldn’t be a central theme throughout the history of humanity if it didn’t offer something tangible and valuable within our communities. Sure, organized religion is the mantel upon which the chaos of our collective existence is foisted. People conjure up arbitrary morality for certain people to abide by and then those with power within the religion turn their backs on that morality.
Morality is the guise under which organized religion operates. Morality is the set of rules that allows the idea of religion to function. Morality brings rhyme and reason to a collective group of people, but perhaps morality is just sham, a ruse. Morality is the bait, the foundation of religion that is actually just quicksand. Organized religion is ultimately about two things: community and the transformative power of beliefs. Which in turn translates into collective beliefs, which fosters communal accountability, which then fortifies and insulates the community. Morality is just a regulator – it is not the core of what makes religion function. Morality is the lowest barrier to entry, a random set of laws. It is the act of believing that inspires hope, and the ability to believe together that knits a community together.
We see this in society – both laws and morality only apply to certain people. They apply to the lowest people within the system of religion or society. The lowest people in society are the most useful, the most profitable, and morality is the tool with which people are kept in the lowest echelons of their religion. It keeps people obedient, it keeps them cohesive, it turns them into a fantastic social weapon. They become soldiers of morality, and while they think they are soldiers for the sake of morality, they are really just soldiers for the powers that regulate morality. It’s simple social control.
What I fail to understand time and time again when I look at the corruption of power is: why this? Why use your power for this shit? Just as with Russia – why is your utopia a fascist state? And likewise with the Catholic religion: y’all controlled half the world through religion for centuries, and you used that power to rape children? Really?
Man, fuck that shit. I understand that the perpetrators of these crimes (for the most part) don’t set out to explicitly inflict pain on people. It’s about their own pleasure. But after reading all that Catholic doctrine, priests can’t move beyond their basest animal desires? Isn’t that what the elevation of almost any religion is supposed to address: how we move beyond our animal selves and become closer to God? Or whatever.
Basically: fuck the rules. Also, I don’t really understand how a religion that is mostly just known for raping kids can tell me I’m a sinner for getting an abortion, but, hey, I’m not dumb. I know that the Catholic Church was targeting poor, inner city kids and orphans, and, well, if women in poor, inner city areas had access to birth control and abortion, who would these priests target?