I had always considered myself to be a Christian. I was baptized when I was an infant in the Catholic Church— a recognized world-class Christian religion. According to my dearest friend, a member of one of those religions that came out of the Reformation, she was a Christian but I was not. Being baptized as an infant did not count. I had not been saved nor made the personal choice to be baptized. From what I understand, once you’re saved you’re assured of a place in heaven, even if you murder someone (that certainly would explain why a lot of prison inmates become “born again”). Assuming heaven is a particular locus in time and space, why could I not have a reservation, too? I mean, could it be that easy? I was never given that option at my Church.
Each religion has its own criteria for getting to heaven. I suffered through catechism every Sunday for what seemed like decades. I endured four years of Catholic girls high school. Surely tolerating Nuns should count for something. There should be penance points and a tally kept by a neutral party, like Switzerland. I think I just described the Church dogma, except for the Switzerland part (that’s for banking purposes).
I was six or seven when I began catechism (religious instruction), taught by Nuns from the nearby convent who ran a private high school for girls. I had never been around a Nun before, so I spent most of my first year of catechism staring at the Sister. Over the years, through parental coercion, catechism prepared me for the milestones every good Catholic kid accomplishes.
The last required was Confirmation, sort of Catholic Bar/Bat Mitzvah, boys and girls together. My confirmation made me a Soldier in Christ, a defender of the Faith. So, where was my reservation? Would I have to find a scalper hanging around a churchyard to buy a ticket? If only it were that easy.
.Christians, according to Christians, are people who are Saved. They’re separate from the rest of us Philistines christians– the ones who have to earn our salvation. But if this was Rome in, say, the time of Nero in the first century, I would still be thrown to the lions, because the hated, underpaid, syphilitic Roman soldier who’s dragging me off, kicking and screaming, to sure death, does not know Christian from christian. I would be better off telling him I was from Mars than trying to explain to him that I was christian with a small “c” and not a member of the group targeted for persecution (since Mars was one of the Roman gods, he might have thought me sacrilegious, so let’s make that Pluto).
Note: I acknowledge that there is some controversy regarding lions’ role or lack of it in martyring Christians or christians but I’m taking a little license in that area.
What if an angel shows up while I was being dragged away, and smote the soldier and gave me the keys to his chariot? Now that’s being Saved. Wrong kind of saved?
Same scenario. This time the angel tells me to die for Christ and I’ll go to heaven. Knowing me I’d want to know what he means by heaven because the literal and figurative architecture of that construct, which could be a destination or some state of spirituality, or an alternate dimension, can differ widely between individuals, especially among religious leaders. I mean, if I’m going to be eaten by lions, and it’s going to hurt, a lot, I’d really like to have a few guaranties and at least one condition. This is where Faith comes in.
Faith was a classmate of mine in the Catholic girls school for feminine domination (I believe I mentioned the convent in passing). It was a boarding school and we had girls from various parts of the world. Parents, desperate to put their daughters in a convent did not have to be Catholic if they had money. Because the school was private it did not get money from the Church and Nuns never turned down cash. Faith wasn’t Catholic. Nobody in our class seemed to care– we were taught that everyone was equal (and then we went out into the world and learned differently). I don’t know what religion she followed, if any.
Faith attended religion class with everyone, every morning, first class of the day, taught by a Nun, of course. Sister Contraceptive (it’s just a name we lovingly called her, there’s no such saint from whom she would have taken that name) was talking about heaven and how to get there. Catholics have a road map to heaven– put out by AAA, I believe. Sister stated that the Catholic Religion was the one and only true religion and therefore, guess who go to heaven (if they have enough penance points or something like that)
Usually I snoozed during Religion but I saw an opportunity to make myself the royal pain in Sister Contraceptive’s — well to make her uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as she was when we saran-wrapped the toilet bowl of the locked water closet she used. She taught all the maths, from algebra to calculus, and was a veritable drill Sargent. We all thought she was heartless. We were teenagers. We could pick locks.
After she made that statement about heaven and who would go by right of belonging to the one true religion, I piped up that it was horrible news– it meant that Faith would not be going to heaven. I could be quite the drama queen and put on a show. Faith was a good sport and equally talented and wailed on about why should she bother to live a clean life if she’s not going to heaven–she might as well rob a bank , blah, blah, blah. Everyone in class put in their two cents– the liberals, conservatives and one communist. Sister looked flustered.
I got more out of that debacle in Religion class than just picking on a Nun. It’s years later and still I remember the moment when I realized that the religion I had spent so much of my young life learning and living, was arrogant. I felt it was hubris, conceit and just plain unchristian for a religion to claim to be the only way to heaven and the only true religion. And so, in that cloistered school for female defenders of our friend, Faith, I began my career as an agnostic, refusing to go to chapel, refusing to pray on demand, and other benign delinquencies. But that’s another story , and it was long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.
- Pope Francis: “Today there is an ecumenism of blood” (lifeondoverbeach.wordpress.com)