Tag Archives: religion

A Very Garrison Keillor Christmas

12 Dec

This post is written in response to Garrison Keillor’s mewling whine Leave Christmas Alone published in the Baltimore Sun. it’s from 2009 but has been once again making the rounds on social media.

Hello, and welcome to the Keillor family Christmas celebration. Emphasis on the Christ. As in Jesus Christ. If you don’t believe that Jesus Christ is our saviour, then you can leave. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that in an hour or so god will peer into my house and incinerate any non-believers and, well, I’d just rather not clean that up. Plus I don’t really feel like risking my own precious soul by allowing infidels into my house. You know how it is.

I bet those politically correct Cambridge elite won’t even tell you that the word Christmas is derived from the Old English Crīstesmæsse, or Christ’s Mass, a fact which I blame on that dilettante of the intelligentsia, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Did you know that Emerson once preached at a Unitarian church that has since tried to remove all references of god from “Silent Night”? Because both of these things happened in the same building, Einstein’s law of Cause and Effect and Spooky New England ghosts proves that they’re indubitably related.

Did you know that there’s a war on Christmas? Why, just yesterday they were burning Christmas trees in the town square. A mob had the mall Santa bound and gagged and were threatening to burn him at the stake, only to spare him at the last minute. Last week a little girl was sent to juvie for singing Jingle Bells. There’s been talk of making all of those who celebrate the birth of our lord Jesus Christ wear manger-shaped patches, the better to round us up when the real campaign of terror against Christians begins. Of course it goes without saying that when we must worship in secret; we all live in constant fear of the government coming into our churches and forcing us at gunpoint to say “Happy Holidays” instead of the good ole fashioned “Merry Christmas.”

Have you ever seen a grown man have a full-on tantrum? Well, prepare to be dazzled by the one I’m about to throw over Christmas Carols! It is wrong, wrong, wrong to re-write Christmas songs to get rid of religious stuff. How dare you steal our sacred music? I mean, it’s fine when Christians do it, like when William Chatterton Dix wrote “What Child Is This” in 1865 to the tune of “Greensleeves,” whose previous lyrics are an Ode to Henry VIII’s boners. Dix was obviously only trying to improve an unworthy ditty, whereas when you change the words to “Silent Night” you are literally ruining my life.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard the term “cultural appropriation,” but Christmas is a classic example. Did you know that lots of Christmas carols are written by Jewish men? And that sometimes non-Christians put up trees and exchange gifts on December 31st? This has nothing to do with the oppressive cultural domination of Christmas in the west and everything to do with Jews and their ilk trying to horn in on our holiday. Do I celebrate Yom Kippur or write songs about Rosh Hashanah? No, I don’t, because I for one know what it means to be respectful of other religions, unlike you and your spiritual piracy.

We Christians have been Christ-like about your “cultural elitism” long enough. And by Christ-like I mean that we have a history of killing, torturing and ostracizing those who don’t share our beliefs, stuff which is very similar to the acts performed by the actual Jesus Christ, like healing lepers and caring for the poor. Regardless of all that, it’s time we Christians stood up and said no more! Yes, all of you non-Christians are forced to endure two months of Christmas crap colonizing practically every public space, but don’t you dare try to participate! Get your own damn holiday. Celebrate Yule instead which, admittedly, looks a lot like Christmas since many of the old pagan traditions were incorporated into western Christmas celebrations. But really, I have no idea what Christianity’s history of appropriating other religions and cultures has to do with anything.

So please, come in, and let us begin our celebration. We will sit by the fire in a circle of rough-hewn wooden chairs, eat seasonal nuts and tubers, and smugly remind each other that Christmas is ours and ours alone. While you’re here, we’ll probably pull out my old notebook, bound in a leather hide I tanned myself, and completely re-write the last 2,000 years of history so that we Christians somehow come out looking like the oppressed minority. Later, we’ll come up with a list of synonyms for the word “elite” – so far I’ve got “Jews,” “Unitarians,” “People Who Say Happy Holidays,” and “That Harvard Dude.”

The nice thing about being a white American man is, well, literally everything. I’m able to be outraged by only things that directly affect me without having to think about how any of my actions or words hurt others. Everyone treats me as if my thoughts and beliefs are precious jewels to be cherished forever. I get to lull myself with some kind of weird myth about how everyone is equal now, which allows me to bellow like a cow in heat every time I feel that the status quo, which prioritizes me over literally everyone else, is becoming even slightly more inclusive. Being a white man means that, even though I’m a serial adulterer who has been married thrice, I’m allowed, nay, obliged to lecture all of you on morality and Christianity. So come in, and bask in my light. I promise not to play any awful Christmas songs –  none of that dreck like Rudolph or Jingle Bells. Here we will have only the classics, like that one carol all about killing babies. That one always puts me in the holiday spirit.

To finish, let me end with what might be the most petulantly White Dude statement of all time: if you’re not in the club, buzz off. This also applies to gentleman’s clubs, country clubs, and sock-of-the-month clubs. Buzz off, and take your faux-hymns with you. Quit trying to steal back all the stuff we righteously stole from you.

Merry Christmas, my dears. If Jesus were alive today, I’m sure he would have written a blog post just like mine. Because celebrating his birth isn’t about peace on earth or good will towards men, it’s about fighting over who owns what.

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On Women, Religion and York University

10 Jan

When I first heard about the student at York University who asked to be excused from a group project for religious reasons, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I’m still not, to be perfectly honest.

The student, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons, enrolled in an online sociology course. After learning that he would have to participate in an in-person student-run focus group as part of the course, he sent the following email to his professor, J Paul Grayson:

“One of the main reasons that I have chosen internet courses to complete my BA is due to my firm religious beliefs. It will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of women (the majority of my group) to complete some of these tasks.”

Grayson forwarded the email to his faculty’s dean and the director of the school’s Centre for Human Rights, expecting that the student (who the university is referring to as Mr. X when speaking with the media) would have his request denied. Grayson was shocked when the student’s request was permitted, with the reasoning being that students who studied abroad were given the same accommodation when it came to in-person meetings.

Grayson’s response was as follows:

“York is a secular university. It is not a Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Moslem university. In our policy documents and (hopefully) in our classes we cling to the secular idea that all should be treated equally, independent of, for example, their religion or sex or race.

Treating Mr. X equally would mean that, like other students, he is expected to interact with female students in his group.”

Although the the dean ruled that an exception should be made in the case of Mr. X, Grayson and the other professors in his department passed a motion refusing any student accommodations if they marginalize another student, a faculty member or a teaching assistant.

The student, whose religion has not been disclosed, did end up participating in the group project, and writing Professor Grayson that,

“I cannot expect that everything will perfectly suit what I would consider an ideal situation. I will respect the final decision, and do my best to accommodate it. I thank you for the way you have handled this request, and I look forward to continuing in this course.”

In spite of this fact, Grayson may wind up facing disciplinary action for disregarding the dean’s ruling and creating a new departmental policy.

Now.

Before I get into the meat of this issue, I have to admit that there are a few things about the story that strike me as being odd.

First of all, I honestly can’t think of a major religion that forbids men from meeting in public with a group of women. Even the most orthodox sects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam that I am aware of do not have such restrictions. And seriously, if this restriction existed, how would you even function in the world? How would you go to the grocery store or the bank or even leave your house if you cannot share a public space with women? And while I understand that it would be possible to set up a religious community where total public avoidance of women would, technically, be possible, it seems odd that someone from such a community would seek an education at a secular university.

It also seems strange that someone with such strict religious beliefs would be so quick to set them aside and participate in the group project once they realized that they were not going to get their way. Surely if your religious sect was so adamant about you not meeting publicly with women, you would fight even just a little bit harder to avoid that?

A third point that seems worth mentioning is that most organized religions (especially Judeo-Christian religions) do not restrict the activities of men; rather, they tend to marginalize and even oppress women. This isn’t to say that all religions everywhere are anti-woman, but rather that in most major religions the interests of men are typically elevated above those of women.

Maybe I’m much too cynical, but I honestly can’t help wondering if Mr. X, a student enrolled in a sociology course at a secular university, decided to organize his own sociological experiment – both to see how far he could push student accommodations made for religious reasons, and to stir up the media. It’s pretty easy to put the feminist blogosphere into a frenzy (and this is said by someone who participates heavily in the feminist blogosphere), and I could definitely see someone getting their kicks that way. If that’s the case, then Mr. X has wasted York University’s time and money, as well as putting a professor’s career in jeopardy.

But let’s assume that this isn’t some sort of hoax. Let’s assume that a student is making a legitimate, religious-based request to not have to work with women. Let’s assume that Mr. X’s religion, whatever religion that might be, actually does forbid him from meeting women in public.

Actually, you know what? Regardless of whether the student’s request is legitimate, let’s talk about the fact that certain people quite high up in the university’s food chain were willing to grant the accommodation that the student was seeking. Even if this was some kind of covert sociological study, let’s talk about how quickly York University was willing to throw Mr. X’s female classmates under the bus in order to make life easier for him. A secular university – I seriously cannot stress that point enough – was more than willing to make an exception based on a religious belief that women were ultimately so different from men that the two genders could not interact in public.

I wonder how differently the university would have reacted had Mr. X’s email read something like this:

“One of the main reasons that I have chosen internet courses to complete my BA is due to my firm religious beliefs. It will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of homosexuals (the majority of my group) to complete some of these tasks.”

Or this:

“One of the main reasons that I have chosen internet courses to complete my BA is due to my firm religious beliefs. It will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of Muslims (the majority of my group) to complete some of these tasks.”

Would they have been so quick to accommodate the student and cite religious freedom in either of those cases? I’m going to wager that they probably wouldn’t. So why is it any different where women are concerned?

Let’s consider, too, what the end result of such requests could be. One potential outcome could be the creation of male-only academic spaces – as if the dearth of women in academics isn’t already a problem. Another could be the physical separation of men and women in the classroom, perhaps divided by a curtain the way it’s done in certain orthodox synagogues. Whatever we can imagine, it would certainly be a step backwards for our nominally secular country.

Objectively, it will be fascinating to see how this plays out, both in the long and short terms. I’m interested to learn what, if any, consequences Grayson will face for his actions. I’m also interested to see what other religious accommodations will be requested after this incident, and which of those will be granted. Most of all, I’m interested in seeing what impact this will have in the long run on women in academics. Because I can’t imagine that this case bodes well for the rights of women in higher learning.

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Men and Feminism

19 May

I’ve been doing a bunch of thinking lately. I mean, most of it has been about, like, cat videos and comic books, but over the past week a significant part of my brain has been occupied by the following question:

What place do men have in the feminist movement?

First of all, let me straight up say that I think that they for sure have a place, and an important one at that. I like dudes, I think they are super great and that many of them have important, valuable things to say about feminism. And I don’t think that we have a hope in hell of achieving equality if only self-identified women are welcome in the feminist movement.

But.

BUT.

I don’t think that men have any place as leaders in the movement. I don’t think that they should ever, ever lecture women on how to be feminists. And I sure as hell don’t think that they should claim to support equality while at the same time decrying things like the term “privilege” as a silencing tactic.

There have been a few things this week that have kept this issue at the forefront of my thoughts. First, there was this article that a friend of mine wrote for the Huffington Post about Charles Clymer, the man who runs the Facebook group Equality for Women. Clymer styles himself as a feminist and supporter of gender equality, but has been known to silence women (deleting their comments if they disagree with him, banning them if they question these deletions), and has also written troubling things like this post on why “bitch” and “cunt” can’t ever be reclaimed by women. Even worse, Clymer wrote this email to one of the women who was unhappy with his behaviour:

Stephanie, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that, apparently, no one has had the guts to tell you up to this point in your life: having a vagina does not grant you magical powers of perception and nuance anymore than my penis magically blinds me from the horrors of the world.

You have to earn respect for your opinion. I’m not going to hand it to you because you’re a woman talking women’s rights.
And yes, I am the leader of this page. These are my moderators, who I have selected for the page that I created and into which I have poured money for advertising, and make no mistake: I do hold executive privilege (your favorite word, apparently), and I do have the final say on decisions. However, I trust my mods, and instead of being a dictator, we work as a team of equals. They let me know when something’s off, and I listen to them and heed their advice.

I run this page, a feminist blog, write a column for another feminist blog (under a woman editor-in-chief who respects my writing and invited me to contribute articles), and on top of all that, I volunteer 30-40 hours a week at a feminist lobbying firm.

Here’s a good question: what the fuck have you done for women’s rights, lately, other than troll the page I created?

You want to talk about privilege? Fine, we’ll talk about privilege. What about your idiot privilege? It would seem you’re so used to people not calling you out for being an absolute fucking moron that you’ve become blind to how your asshat actions affect others.

So no, after us reaching out to you, you decided to insult me, and, more importantly, my moderators with your bullshit, half-hearted, tongue-in-cheek apology.

Supposedly, you’re an outstanding feminist but have no problem telling my women moderators how they’re supposed to think and feel.
Please accept my invitation of hide-and-go-fuck-yourself.

And one more thing: If I ever see your name on my page again, I will report you for harassment and block you.

Feel free to relay this message to the 1% of women feminists out there who foam at the mouth and put their bullshit on everyone else who disagrees with them.

Charles

I just … I’m not even sure that I have the words to explain how fucked up this is. Wait, no, here are a few: a man who is purportedly trying to raise women up is using his position of power and influence to belittle and silence women. He’s disrespectful, condescending, and seems to think that because he took Feminism 101 that trumps any kind of lived experience that women might have had.

Another thing that’s got me thinking about men and feminism is the discussion that this article inspired on The Belle Jar’s Facebook page. In it, a few men (men that I know and really like!) mentioned that they find the feminist movement to be unfriendly towards men, and that they believe that women should “make room” for men in feminism. And you know what? I honestly do think that men have a place in the feminist movement, I swear to God that I do. But I think that place is, as my friend Ryan would say, at the back of the room. If you, a hypothetical dude, really want women to achieve equality, then you do whatever you can to give them a platform. You stand back, let them speak, and you fucking listen. And above all, you let women shape the direction of the feminist movement. Dudes, you know I love you, but this ain’t about you.

The final thing that really got me going this week was this speech given by Ronald Lindsay at the Women in Secularism conference. The talk starts out fine-ish, with some discussion of the history of the subjugation and subordination of women, but then, somewhere towards the middle, things become problematic.

This brings me to the concept of privilege, a concept much in use these days. Let me emphasize at the outset that I think it’s a concept that has some validity and utility; it’s also a concept that can be misused, misused as a way to try to silence critics. In what way does it have validity? I think there is sufficient evidence to indicate that there are socially embedded advantages that men have over women, in a very general sense. These advantages manifest in various ways, such as the persistent pay gap between men and women. Also, I’m not a believer in a priori arguments, but I will say that given the thousands of years that women were subordinated to men, it would be absolutely amazing if in the space of several decades all the social advantages that men had were promptly and completely eradicated. Legislation can be very effective for securing rights, but changing deeply engrained patterns of behavior can take some time.

So, basically, it’s fine to talk about privilege as long as it’s only in a general, societal sense. That’s totally kosher. But calling a specific male out on his specific male privilege? That’s apparently called “silencing critics.”

But it’s the second misapplication of the concept of privilege that troubles me most. I’m talking about the situation where the concept of privilege is used to try to silence others, as a justification for saying, “shut up and listen.” Shut up, because you’re a man and you cannot possibly know what it’s like to experience x, y, and z, and anything you say is bound to be mistaken in some way, but, of course, you’re too blinded by your privilege even to realize that.

First of all, you can’t listen if you don’t shut up. Pretty much physically impossible. And guess what? If you are a man, then you fucking don’t know what it’s like to experience x, y and z, and if you are actually interested in learning about, then yes, you have to shut up and listen.

This approach doesn’t work.  It certainly doesn’t work for me. It’s the approach that the dogmatist who wants to silence critics has always taken because it beats having to engage someone in a reasoned argument. It’s the approach that’s been taken by many religions. It’s the approach taken by ideologies such as Marxism. You pull your dogma off the shelf, take out the relevant category or classification, fit it snugly over the person you want to categorize, dismiss, and silence and … poof, you’re done. End of discussion. You’re a heretic spreading the lies of Satan, and anything you say is wrong. You’re a member of the bourgeoisie, defending your ownership of the means of production, and everything you say is just a lie to justify your power. You’re a man; you have nothing to contribute to a discussion of how to achieve equality for women.

Dude. We’ve tried reasoned arguments, and you (general male you, not you, Ronald Lindsay, specifically) didn’t want to hear them. We’ve tried explaining ourselves and you called us hysterical and accused us of overreacting. We’ve tried to engage and include men in the feminist movement, only to be told that we’re not going about it the right way. We’ve been pushed around, condescended to, belittled, and much, much worse. And now? Now we’re exhausted. If you’re not interested in shutting up and listening to what we have to say, then you’re not interested in gender equality. Not really. Not in any meaningful sense, anyway.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think the concept of privilege is useful; in fact it is too useful to have it ossified and turned into a dogma.

By the way, with respect to the “Shut up and listen” meme, I hope it’s clear that it’s the “shut up” part that troubles me, not the “listen” part. Listening is good. People do have different life experiences, and many women have had experiences and perspectives from which men can and should learn. But having had certain experiences does not automatically turn one into an authority to whom others must defer. Listen, listen carefully, but where appropriate, question and engage.

No one is saying that you can’t “question” or “engage,” but you need to understand that at the end of the day, yes, women’s lived experiences make them an authority on the inequality of women. I can’t believe that I have to say that, but apparently I do.

I started my talk with that reading from the New Testament which unmistakably assigned women a subordinate role.  Both the symbol of that oppression and the vehicle for enforcing that oppression was silence.  Enforced silence is always and everywhere the enemy of truth and progress.  If someone is forbidden from speaking, you are obviously not going to hear what they have to say.

Good lord, no one is silencing you. And this time I am specifically talking to you, Ronald Lindsay. Do you even know what the word “silencing” means, old white dude? You have a huge platform, your organization has 14,000 fans on Facebook, and you have so many people listening to you. Just because someone reminds you of your privilege does not mean that you are being silenced.

As my grandmother would say, Jesus, Mary and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

(I added in the Gordon-Levitt part, in case that wasn’t clear)

But enforced silence is also a way of robbing someone of their humanity.  Part of what allows us to give meaning to our lives is the ability to exercise certain core freedoms, such as freedom of conscience, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and reproductive freedom.  We need these freedoms to take control of our own lives, to give shape and direction our own lives; otherwise, we are just going to be forced into a role that has been assigned to us.

You are not being robbed of your humanity. No one is trying to rob white, middle class men of their humanity. All that we’re trying to do is continue to assert our own humanity, which is apparently something that you want as well. But if you’re really interested in giving women a hand up, then you need to listen, even when it gets uncomfortable for you. Even when you don’t like what’s being said. Even when the word privilege comes up. And if you can’t do that? Then get the fuck out of the way, stop speaking at feminist conferences, and make room for someone who actually understands how equality works.

Look. There is certainly a place for men in the feminist movement, but that place is not in a position of leadership. Men should never, ever tell women what feminism is, why it’s necessary, and how it works. In the same way, a heterosexual person should not lecture LGBTQ folks on how to advocate for gay rights, and a white person shouldn’t be telling People of Colour how to fight against racism. It just doesn’t work that way. Privilege is a real thing, and it really does blind you to what an oppressed person’s life is really like.

If you want to be a good feminist man, you need to learn to be challenged. You need to learn to feel uncomfortable. Above all, you need to shut up and listen.

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Easter Is Not Named After Ishtar, And Other Truths I Have To Tell You

28 Mar

If there is one thing that drives me absolutely bananas, it’s people spreading misinformation via social media under the guise of “educating”. I’ve seen this happen in several ways – through infographics that twist data in ways that support a conclusion that is ultimately false, or else through “meaningful” quotes falsely attributed to various celebrities, or by cobbling together a few actual facts with statements that are patently untrue to create something that seems plausible on the surface but is, in fact, full of crap.

Yesterday, the official Facebook page of (noted misogynist and eugenics enthusiast) Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science shared the following image to their 637,000 fans:

Neither Reasonable Nor Scientific

Neither Reasonable Nor Scientific

Naturally, their fans lapped this shit up; after all, this is the kind of thing they absolutely live for. Religious people! Being hypocritical! And crazy! And wrong! The 2,000+ comments were chock-full of smug remarks about how naïve and stupid Christians were, accompanied by pats on the back for all the atheists who smart enough to see through all the religious bullshit and understand how the evil church had slyly appropriated all kinds of pagan traditions.

And you know what? That’s fine, I guess. I’m all for questioning religion and examining the sociological, historical and anthropological reasons that help explain the hows and whys of our lives today. I’m actually super fascinated by that kind of stuff, even if I do think that there’s a way to discuss it without making yourself sound smarter and more enlightened than the people around you.

But you guys? The image above is rife with misinformation. RIFE, I say.

Let’s start from the top:

This is Ishtar …

Okay, great. So far things are fairly accurate. The relief pictured here, known as the Burney Relief (also called the Queen of the Night relief) is widely considered to be an Ancient Babylonian representation of Ishtar (although some scholars believe that the woman depicted might be Lilitu or Ereshkigal). This relief is currently housed in the British Museum in London, but originates from southern Iraq and is nearly 4,000 years old.

… pronounced Easter.

Actually, in modern English we pronounce it the way it looks. A case could be made for pronouncing it Eesh-tar, but I have yet to come across a credible source that gives the original pronunciation as Easter.

Easter is originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex.

Ishtar was the goddess of love, war and sex. These days, thanks to Herodotus, she is especially associated with sacred prostitution* (also known as temple prostitution), which, in the religions of the Ancient Near East, allegedly took on the form of every woman having to, at some point in her life, go to the temple of Ishtar and have sex with the first stranger who offered her money. Once a woman entered the temple of Ishtar for the purpose of sacred prostitution, she was not allowed to leave until she’d done the deed. I can’t imagine that sacred prostitution sex was ever very good sex, but hey, what do I know? Probably some people were pretty into it – I mean, if you can imagine it, someone’s made porn about it, right?

Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that, yes, Ishtar was associated with fertility and sex. However, her symbols were the lion, the gate and the eight-pointed star; I can’t find any evidence of eggs or rabbits symbolically belonging to her. And Easter has nothing to do with her.

Most scholars believe that Easter gets its name from Eostre or Ostara**, a Germanic pagan goddess. English and German are two of the very few languages that use some variation of the word Easter (or, in German, Ostern) as a name for this holiday. Most other European languages use one form or another of the Latin name for Easter, Pascha, which is derived from the Hebrew Pesach, meaning Passover. In French it’s Pâques, in Italian it’s Pasqua, in Dutch it’s Pasen, in Danish it’s Paaske, in Bulgarian it’s Paskha, and so on and so forth.

In the Christian Bible, Jesus returned to Jerusalem from his forty days in the desert just before Passover. In fact, in the Gospel according to John, Jesus was killed on the day before the first night of Passover, at the time when lambs were traditionally slaughtered for the Passover feast (because Jesus was the Lamb of God, etc. – SYMBOLISM, Y’ALL). There are a few differing accounts of when Jesus actually died, but most Christian texts, philosophers and scholars agree that it was around the time of Passover. Easter is still celebrated the week after Passover, which is why it’s a different day each year, because the Jewish calendar is lunar rather than solar.

Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?).

Actually, according to Jacob Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie, which he wrote after journeying across Germany and recording its oral mythological traditions, the idea of resurrection was part and parcel of celebrating the goddess Ostara:

OstaraEástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy … Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing … here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess.”

Spring is a sort of resurrection after all, with the land coming back to life after lying dead and bare during the winter months. To say that ancient peoples thought otherwise is foolish, naïve and downright uninformed. Many, many pagan celebrations centre around the return of light and the rebirth of the land; these ideas are not new themes in the slightest.

And yes, rabbits and eggs are fertility symbols, and they are, in fact, associated with Eostre.

Ostara by Johannes Gehrts

Ostara by Johannes Gehrts

After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus.

Hey! Guess what language Constantine, the Roman Emperor, spoke? Not English, that’s for sure! In fact, when he was alive, English didn’t even exist yet. He would have spoken Latin or Ancient Greek, so would likely have referred to Easter as Pascha or Πάσχα.

But at its roots Easter (which is pronounced Ishtar) was all about celebrating fertility and sex.

Look. Here’s the thing. Our Western Easter traditions incorporate a lot of elements from a bunch of different religious backgrounds. You can’t really say that it’s just about resurrection, or just about spring, or just about fertility and sex. You can’t pick one thread out of a tapestry and say, “Hey, now this particular strand is what this tapestry’s really about.” It doesn’t work that way; very few things in life do.

The fact is that the Ancient Romans were smart when it came to conquering. In their pagan days, they would absorb gods and goddesses from every religion they encountered into their own pantheon; when the Roman Empire became Christian, the Roman Catholic Church continued to do the same thing, in a manner of speaking.

And do you know why that worked so well? Because adaptability is a really, really good trait to have in terms of survival of the fittest (something I wish the present-day Catholic Church would remember). Scratch the surface of just about any Christian holiday, and you’ll find pagan elements, if not a downright pagan theme, underneath.

Know what else? Most Christians know this. Or, at least, most of the Christians that I’m friends with (which is, admittedly, a fairly small sampling). They know that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th, and they know that there were never any actual snakes in Ireland, and they know that rabbits and eggs are fertility symbols. But they don’t care, because they realize that religions evolve and change and that that’s actually a good thing, not a bad thing. The fact that many Christian saints are just re-imagined pagan gods and goddesses doesn’t alter their faith one iota; because faith isn’t about reason or sense, it’s about belief.

Look, go ahead and debate religion. Go ahead and tell Christians why what they believe is wrong. That’s totally fine and, in fact, I encourage it. A little debate and critical thinking are good for everyone. But do it intelligently. Get to know the Bible, so you actually know what you’re disagreeing with when you form an argument. Brush up on your theology so that you can explain why it’s so wrong. And have some compassion, for Christ’s sake – be polite and respectful when you enter into a debate, even when the person you’re debating with loses their cool. You want to prove that you’re better, more enlightened than Christians? Great, do it by remaining rational and level-headed in the face of someone who’s willing to stoop to personal attacks. To behave otherwise is to be just as bad as the people you’re debating.

Anyway, I hope you guys have a fantastic long weekend, no matter how you spend it. If your holiday involves chocolate, then I hope you enjoy that. If not, just enjoy the extra day or two off work and the (hopefully) warm weather. No matter what you believe in, I think that we can all agree that the end of winter and the rebirth of spring is worth celebrating.

And also? Richard Dawkins? You need to fact-check yourself before you fact-wreck yourself. Spreading this kind of misinformation to your foundation’s 637,000 fans is just plain irresponsible, especially coming from someone like you. Get with the program, buddy.

ETA: The post now seems to be removed from The Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Science and Reason’s FB page. Thanks Richard! 

ETA Part Deux: Oh. It looks like it was deleted from their timeline but not the photo album. Welp.

*It should be noted that the only actual historical evidence that we have of sacred prostitution comes from Herodotus (I’ve included an excerpt from Herodotus’ Histories below) and no one is really sure how accurate it is. Herodotus is known for making shit up, like giant ants for example. But it makes for an amazing story and people still make the association between Ishtar and sacred prostitution, so I decided to mention it here.

The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to mingle with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and stand there with a great retinue of attendants. But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, “I invite you in the name of Mylitta” (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfil the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus.

That crack about ugly women was totally unnecessary, Herodotus. I am just saying.

**The first written reference we have for Eostre dates back to the 7th century AD and can be found in Venerable Bede’s Temporum Ratione, in a passage explaining that April was often referred to as Eostremonth:

“Eosturmonath” has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month.

Jacob Grimm said that he found further evidence of Eostre and her associations with Easter, eggs and rabbits when researching his Deutsches Mythologie, although he was unable to discover any written records about her.

Obligatory Christmas Post

21 Dec

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written here. I mean, four whole days without a blog post – that shit is, as they say, crazy.

Part of my lack of posting has been because I took some time to write a piece for the Good Men Project about rape culture, and how it affects men. The editors really liked my article (squee!), but shit kind of got real in the comments. Let’s just say that many, many people disagreed with me (there were nearly 200 comments at last count), and found me to be of questionable intelligence. Oh well. It is what it is, it takes all kinds, and so on and so forth, you know? If even one person read it and was like, hmm, maybe rape culture is a thing, a thing that seriously contributes to the fucked up ways we talk about male rape victims then hey, I guess my job here is done.

The other reason that I haven’t been posting here is that I’ve been writing honest-to-goodness fiction. Like, not even a thinly-veiled autobiography, but an actual story about things that actually never happened to me. This is the first time that I’ve been able to write about pretend things for nearly three years, so I am kind of stoked. I just hope that I’m not jinxing myself by mentioning it here.

I don’t really have much else to say. I think I’m a little politicked-out, and I’ve also realized that I’m way happier when I write about things that don’t make me go into a blind rage. I’m sure I’ll be back tomorrow being all YOU GUYS DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE LATEST ATROCITY, but tonight, in the spirit of the upcoming Christmas holiday, I want to share with you one of my favourite Christmas stories.

When I was in high school, I worked at Tim Hortons. Several times a week I donned a maroon and white striped polyester shirt and a pair of extremely flattering maroon polyester pants so that I could stand behind a counter and sell donuts for a couple of hours. While it wasn’t as bad as, say, the time my dentist didn’t give me enough anaesthetic before drilling into my tooth, it wasn’t exactly the highlight of my life, either.

One of the things Tim Hortons used to do back then was make custom cakes (they might still do this, I actually have no idea). You could fill out a sheet specifying what type of cake you wanted, what colours of icing, and what message you wanted scrawled across the top, and then a few days later you could pick up your very own delicious cake baked and decorated by minimum-wage earning teenagers.

One day towards the end of December we received what was probably the strangest order we’d ever seen. This customer wanted a vanilla cake covered in white frosting with “Happy Birthday Baby Jesus” written on it. Their requested pickup date was December 24th.

We duly made the cake, of course, snickering over it as we did so. We tried to figure out what kind of person might have ordered this cake. Was it a local, zealous religious group? Someone’s idea of a funny way to end Christmas dinner? Was someone actually planning on having a child on Christmas and naming him Jesus?

When the customer arrived to pick up his cake, I went out back, yelled, “GUYS, THE JESUS CAKE DUDE IS HERE!” and waited as just about every single employee came out front to see who this person was. He looked pretty normal, maybe a little sheepish, but really, nothing out of the ordinary.

Naturally, we asked him what the hell was up with the Jesus cake. His answer was one of the best things I’ve ever heard.

His daughter had turned three that year, so he and his wife had decided to explain the Christmas story to her. She’d been appalled that Jesus, a poor defenceless baby, had been born in a barn. After hearing the basics, she’d begun to pepper her parents with questions.

“Did he have a bed?”

“Did he have toys?”

“Did he even have diapers or bottles or a pacifier?”

Finally, she asked what seemed to her to be the most important question:

“Did he have a birthday cake for his birthday?”

When her parents answered that no, he didn’t have a birthday cake for his birthday, she’d started crying.

“That’s not fair,” she’d said. “Everyone should have a birthday cake, especially Baby Jesus”

A few weeks later, when her parents had asked her what she wanted for Christmas, the only answer she would give them was, “A birthday cake for Baby Jesus.”

After telling this story, her father had laughed, saying that he figured he’d take this chance to enjoy the fact that his daughter wasn’t old enough to ask for a long list of toys. He thanked us, paid for his cake and left. Those of us who were working that day cooed over the adorable story and then quickly forgot about it; it hadn’t been nearly as interesting or as scandalous as we’d imagined.

Thinking back, though, I wonder if that kid didn’t understand Christmas better than most of us. Because it’s not about the giving or the getting, is it? It’s not about stuffing yourself with food, or drinking too much wine, or watching corny old Christmas specials. It’s about giving to those who have not, about loving one another and, most of all, it’s about family. That kid, and her reaction to the unfairness of Baby Jesus and his lack of cake, was on to something. She knew what was really up with Christmas, probably more than I ever will.

Happy birthday, Baby Jesus. Whoever you were, whatever you were, if ever you were, I’m glad I get to use your birthday as an excuse to be with my awesome family. So thank you for that.

Niccolo_di_Tommaso-St_Bridget_and_the_Vision_of_the_Nativity

See? Definitely no birthday cakes.

Saint Catherine’s Day

26 Nov

Today is the feast of Saint Catherine, a fact which really means nothing to me now that I’m a bonafide adult living in a secular, anglophone world. When I was a kid attending French Catholic school, though, St. Catherine’s Day was one of my red-letter days. Back then, every month seemed to have a holiday or feast day; these little celebrations and diversions helped us make it through the long school year. For anglo kids, the big November holiday was probably Remembrance Day, but for those of us at École Cardinal Léger, November 11th was always overshadowed by November 25th. This was true for one reason and one reason only: candy. Lots of candy.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria is mostly famous for the terrible way she died. Born to the (pagan) king and queen of Alexandria, Catherine converted to Christianity at the age of 14. The reason for her conversion was a mystical vision in which the Virgin Mary gave Catherine to Jesus as a wife, and the two of them joined together in a holy union – I mean, you know, the usual. Catherine went on to convert hundreds of pagans to Christianity which, naturally, angered the Roman emperor at the time, Maxentius. Maxentius, a big fan of persecuting Christians, decided that the solution to his problem was to marry Catherine. When she refused (because she was already married to Jesus, duh), he tried to break her on the wheel. God, naturally, destroyed said wheel, so Maxentius just beheaded Catherine instead. I’m unsure as to how God could destroy the wheel but still allow her to be beheaded, but, um, I guess he works in mysterious ways?

Naturally, you want to know what the hell this all has to do with candy.

Relax. I’m getting to that.

The key to our modern celebration of Saint Catherine’s Day is Marguerite Bourgeouys, a nun who came to Canada in the 1600s. Marguerite opened a public school for girls in Montreal in 1658 (yay!), which marked the beginning of public schooling in Montreal (double yay!). She then decided that the First Nations children should also attend her school (problematic?) and began to devise ways by which she could lure them to her schoolhouse (definitely problematic). Her solution was to make taffy and then leave a trail of said taffy all the way from the local First Nations settlement to her schoolhouse (SUPER PROBLEMATIC). Oh, and apparently she made this taffy on St. Catherine’s Day, and young French Canadians have been doing so ever since.

I mean, at least her intentions were good? That has to count for something, right?

Marguerite Bourgeoys and her First Nations friends: 99 Problematics

Anyway, Marguerite Bourgeoys is a saint now, so at least she’s got that going for her.

My sister was born on November 24th, 1988. I remember the day of her birth pretty clearly; my mother came into my room early in the morning to tell me that she was going to the hospital to be induced, and then my principal pulled me out of class around noon with the news that I was now a big sister. My principal let me sit in her office and make my mother a card, probably assuming that I would produce the standard “YAY BABY” Hallmark-type fare. I, naturally, had other ideas in mind. Most likely influenced by the fact that Christmas was only a month away, I ended up drawing my mother as the Virgin Mary and my new sister as the Baby Jesus. Being a student at a Catholic school, I, of course, had heard the term virgin thrown around. However, being only six years old, I had no idea what it meant. I thought that “virgin” was synonymous with “good person”, which helps explain why, on my card, I wrote, Maman, tu es une vierge [Mama, you are a virgin]. I think I remember indulgent smiles from the grown ups at my school; at any rate, they didn’t immediately seize my card and burn it, so it couldn’t have been too blasphemous.

That night, I went to visit my mother in the hospital. There was an earthquake while we were there; a small one, but big enough that it made the glass tremble on my mother’s bedside table and the tacky framed prints sway on the wall. My parents laughed, and joked that it was an omen portending that my sister would accomplish great things. That one remark was a watershed moment in my life; for the first time, I experienced that complicated, emotionally charged state that we call sibling rivalry. What did they mean that she would accomplish great things? Had they said the same thing about me at my birth? What had my omens been?

I asked if there had been an earthquake the night I was born. No, my parents said. How about a full moon? A thunderstorm? Anything? My parents just rolled their eyes and laughed. Meanwhile, I glared at my fat, red, wrinkled nemesis.

The next night, when my father brought me back to the hospital for another visit, I proudly announced that we’d celebrated St. Catherine’s Day at school by making candy. My parents, who hadn’t yet come up with a name for my sister, gave each other this look like, WHOA, ARE YOU THINKING WHAT I’M THINKING? WE ARE FOR SURE GENIUSES.

Needless to say, they named her Catherine.

Catherine, which I thought was probably the bossiest name I’d ever heard.

Catherine, the perfect name for someone who would accomplish great things.

As if to rub salt in the wounds, my parents insisted on telling everyone that my sister’s name had been my idea. Whenever they said this in my presence, I would yell, THAT’S A DAMN LIE, I WANTED TO NAME HER SOPHIE, and then, naturally, immediately get sent to my room. I spent a lot of time in my room after my sister’s birth, mostly because I couldn’t understand how my parents could equate my casually mentioning a name in their presence with suggesting it as the word that we would ever use when referring to my new sibling. In retrospect, I’m sure that my parents were trying to help me adapt to having a sister after spending more than half a decade as an only child; at the time it just seemed like they were wilfully ignoring everything I had to say.

When Catherine started school, her teachers went out of their way to make St. Catherine’s Day a big deal for her. They would make her a paper crown, and spend the day treating her like a princess. At the end of the festivities, she would bring home a bigger pile of candy than anyone else.

Did I have a special saint’s day that gave my the chance to wear a crown and bring home an exceptionally large pile of candy?

No. No, I did not.

Probably because I wasn’t destined to do great things.

Throughout Catherine’s early years, I found various ways to torment her. I stuck clothespins in her hair. I called her ridiculous names. I made faces at her at the dinner table. Nothing I did was overly terrible, but then, it didn’t need to be; Catherine threw tantrums as if she had a calling for it. Catherine screamed and kicked as if it was her vocation; she once had a legendary meltdown over the fact that her toast was cut  vertically instead of diagonally. This meant that it was both easy and satisfying to provoke her.

When I entered my teen years, my mother developed a fascination with mediums and psychics. She began having her tarot cards read on a regular basis.

“The psychic says that Catherine is the Queen of Pentacles,” she told me once in the car, as she was driving me to a dance class.

Naturally, I was more interested in what she’d had to say about me.

“Oh, she says, you’re boy-crazy,” my mother replied dismissively, “as if I didn’t already know that. But she says that Catherine is the Queen of Pentacles.”

“What does that even mean?” I asked

“I don’t know, but I’d better not hear you making fun of her for it,” my mother said in her most threatening tones.

Why would I make fun of her for it? I knew exactly what it meant. It meant that she was destined to do great things, while I was destined to be a pathetic, boy-crazy teenager forever.

Catherine and I continued to have an adversarial relationship throughout the rest of my time in high school, and my first few years of university. I can clearly remember bringing Matt home to meet my family for the first time, and whining to my mother about how Catherine was being rude to him. I don’t remember what she was being rude about, mind you, just that I didn’t like the way she talked to him. Catherine told me constantly that I was old and boring, and that my music sucked. While I was nearly always single and lonely, Catherine had a steady stream of boyfriends from the time she was 13. Instead of abating, our rivalry seemed to be heating up. On top of all that, I was deeply embarrassed by that I was jealous of someone who was six years younger than me.

This continued on for several years, until, sometime in my early twenties, we had a fight. Like, a big fight. I don’t even remember what it was about, I just remember yelling, even screaming at her. I was furious. Beyond furious. Somehow, having run out of things that actually had to do with what we were fighting about, I got around to the anger and jealousy that I’d been harbouring all these years.

You don’t even like me,” I yelled at her. “Why do you even bother talking to me? You don’t have anything to talk to me about! You think you’re better than me! You think you’re going to do great things!”

At this point, Catherine burst into tears, which, if you knew her, you would know how highly unusual that is.

“What do you mean I don’t like you?” she wailed. “I love you! You’re my big sister! I look up to you for everything!”

That stopped me dead in my tracks. How could it possibly be that my sister, my destined-for-great-things, Queen-of-Pentacles sister could ever look up to me, failure that I was, for anything?

That night was a turning point in our relationship. We’ve been close ever since; she even lived with us for a few months this year. Now that she’s back living three hours away, I miss her, even though we talk all the time.

I hope she had a good birthday.

I hope she knows how proud I am of her.

I hope that this year she continues to do great things.

I hope that she had some candy today, in honour of St.Catherine.

Catherine with her cat, Chairman Mao

Happy birthday, little sister.

p.s. Here is a recipe for St. Catherine’s Day Taffy, if you want to try making it yourself.

On Faith

20 Nov

A few years ago, when we still lived on the east coast, Matt and I drove to Prince Edward Island for a long weekend. We booked a room in what was maybe the coziest bed and breakfast of all time, and in spite of the raw, grey November weather we were ridiculously excited by the chance to explore and get lost in a city that wasn’t our own.

Matt was still a student back then, and I was making minimum wage working retail, so little getaways like this were few and far between. This meant that I’d planned for our three day mini-break with the same focus and attention to detail that others might apply to a two weeks tour of Europe. I bought a guide book and filled it with highlighter marks and post-it notes. I spent hours poring over travel websites, trying to plan our every little detail of our trip. I talked to (at?) Matt endlessly about the things I wanted to see, trying to convince him to use the highlighter and post-it notes with as much enthusiasm as I did. My excitement grew to such a level that I was basically banned from mentioning the words “Anne of Green Gables” or “Gilbert Blythe” in his presence.

One place that I knew I definitely wanted to visit was the All Souls’ Chapel, which is attached to Charlottetown’s St. Peter’s Cathedral. All Souls’ Chapel is designated National Historic Site and, I learned from my guidebook, a good example of the High Victorian Gothic style of architecture. I especially wanted to see the interior of the chapel, whose walls feature sixteen paintings by local artist Robert Harris. The only problem was that the chapel was only open during services, and the only service held in the chapel was evensong. We decided to sneak into the back and ogle the artwork during Saturday’s evening service before heading downtown for a romantic dinner.

Late Saturday afternoon, Matt and I fell asleep on our room’s giant, king-sized bed. We woke up to find that it was dark outside, and realized with a start that it was nearly time for evensong. We thought that if we hurried we might still be able to make it. We were wrong, a fact that we realized as soon as we stepped into the chapel’s entryway and heard someone chanting inside.

We peeked in through the door, and before us lay one of the loveliest, heart-in-your-throat sights I’ve ever seen. The room was lit by just a few candles, leaving most of the chapel still in darkness. The flames flickered and occasionally grew strangely, eerily tall in the close chapel air, throwing grotesque, menacing shadows on the painted walls. In the middle of this little cave of light stood an old priest, his long robes faded to a greenish-black and his collar slightly wilted. He was all alone, this priest; no one else had come to evensong. Still, though, he stood in front of the lectern and recited from the huge crumbling book that sat there, repeating the same words he must have said on a near-daily basis for years and years and years. They were nice words, too – the text of the Anglican evensong is strikingly, intricately beautiful, a sort of poetry, in a way.

I thought about this man who, in spite of his lack of parishioners, went on with his service and turned it into a private communion between himself and his god. I wondered what he thought of the words that he was sending out into the darkness, and what personal meaning they might hold for him. I watched this man, who, unaware that he was being watched, slowly wended his way through the service, speaking at length to a god who never seemed to answer him. I thought to myself, this is what faith looks like.

I grew up in a pretty secular household. My mother usually dragged us to the local United Church on Sundays, but that was more boring than it was religious. I spent my time there sprawling out on the shiny wooden pews, making up stories about pictures in the stained glass windows and harassing my mother with whispered demands to know when Sunday School would start. Sunday School meant a craft, a game, a snack, and little else. Oh sure, we would read Bible stories, but they didn’t seem to me to be much different from Grimm’s fairytales, or the stories found in my giant Hans Christian Andersen book. Meanwhile, my father, an avowed atheist, would stay home to sit in the basement and burn incense while listening to classical music on vinyl.

I went to a Catholic school, so I did receive some religious instruction there, but because I was Protestant, no one really thought that it was necessary to indoctrinate me. I was often left out of things, either because my teachers didn’t think it was appropriate that I be included, or because they thought I didn’t care. I was curious, though –  and to be fair, who wouldn’t be when your classmates’ religion means that the girls get to dress up in lacy white dresses and partake in a secret ceremony to which you are not invited? After my class did their first communion, they got to eat the strange, flat, holy bread and drink real wine – meanwhile, in the United Church, there was no special initiation ceremony, and our communion was nothing but regular bread and boring old grape juice. School made the Catholic religion seem mysterious, fascinating and a little dangerous, whereas my time at the United Church had taught me that that institution was the opposite of all those things.

Super secret confession time: I have a thing about churches – a dark, guilty, secular thing. I love churches, especially old ones, especially Catholic ones. The right kind of church makes me feel quiet and awed and sort of holy. Maybe it’s because I love history, or maybe it’s the antiquated architecture. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for symbolism and ritual, or maybe it’s my love of Latin. Maybe I’m a closet Catholic. Whatever it is, it made me drag Matt into church after church when we went to Paris; it made me stand in the middle of Sacré Coeur Basilica, eyes closed and totally blissed out, listening to a choir of nuns chanting, well, I’m not quite sure what, but whatever it was, it was beautiful.

If I were Catholic (which I’m not), I would basically be the worst Catholic ever. I’m pro-choice, I use birth control, I had sex before marriage, and I think men and women are equal. I hate the Catholic church’s backward stance on pretty much everything, and I can’t stand the Pope (although, much like Kate Beaton, I have a great deal of fondness for JPII):

You know what’s terrible, though? Even though I know that the Catholic church is awful, even though unspeakable things have been done in its name and its leaders have been complicit in terrible crimes, I still love a lot of things about it. I love the singing, and the smell of the incense. I love the big old stone churches with their colourful windows and dark, mildewy corners. I love the priest’s fancy outfits, and the slow procession down the aisle at the beginning and end of every mass. I love going into an empty church and lighting a candle for the sick, or sad, or deceased. I love the tacky religious statuary. I love communion, even though one of my grade school teachers told me that if a Protestant eats a host that’s been blessed by a priest, it will burn a hole in their tongue. I love the idea of midnight mass, of staying up with a group of strangers until way past my bedtime; there’s something so ancient and lovely about staying awake with a group of people, waiting together amidst wreaths and bows and candles and music to make sure that Christmas Day is, in fact, going to come.

The thing is, if I’m a bad Catholic, then I’m an even worse atheist. Even though I know, logically, that there’s nothing out there, that science and evolution explain life on this planet, not some faraway magical spirit with a beard and a white robe, I still sort of believe. Even though I know that religion is awful and whatever good there is in the world comes from people, not from some godly presence, I still sort of believe. I’ve tried really hard not to believe. I’ve dabbled in other religions; like most people, I had a pagan phase in high school which involved chanting nonsense in the woods and spelling magic with a k. My childhood best friend was Jewish, and I tried my hand at that, too. But I still, embarrassingly, kept coming back to the Catholic church.

Why is this? I mean, the fact is that I disagree with their stance on, well, just about everything. Public religious displays make me deeply uncomfortable, and people who try to preach at me annoy the crap out of me. Once, a few years ago, Matt and I went with his mother to a Good Friday service at the Catholic church in Keswick, and they did this bizarre thing where they brought out a giant crucifix and made everyone line up and take turns kissing it. People were looking at Jesus and sobbing, I kid you not. I wanted to yell out, SPOILER ALERT BUT GUESS WHAT YOU GUYS HE GETS RESURRECTED THREE DAYS LATER. It was ridiculous. But still, I sort of believe.

We had Theo baptized in the Catholic church, and my reasons for this were pretty lame. I wanted an excuse to dress him in a frilly white dress and throw a big party for our family; I guess we could have had a special Baby Transvestite celebration, but a baptism seemed like something my grandmother was more likely to understand. I also know that he will likely go to Catholic school, and I don’t want him to feel left out like I was. Another thing is that in a weird way I think that it’s important to raise a kid with religion, so that they have something big to question later on, when they go through their philosophical existentialist phase in high school. Also, I sort of believe, so there’s that, too.

Sometimes I think about Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, and how Sarah, the unfaithful wife, becomes strangely, almost unwillingly religious. There’s this really beautiful passage near the end of the book, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it really resonates with me:

I believe there’s a God— I believe the whole bag of tricks, there’s nothing I don’t believe, they could subdivide the Trinity into a dozen parts and I’d believe. They could dig up reasons that proved Christ had been invented by Pilate to get himself promoted and I’d believe just the same. I’ve caught belief like a disease. I’ve fallen into belief like I fell in love.

Mostly I just wish that I believed in something, anything as much as that Anglican priest on Prince Edward Island did.

Plus, you know, Theo looks really, really good in a dress.