My Father’s Cult

It’s a memory that has been locked in the back of my mind for a while now, the church my father used to go to. Faith Christian Fellowship, FCF, a large church on the outside of the county line that was a trek every Sunday to go to. We were one of the few black families in a predominately white church and the earliest memories I have of it was that it was radically different from the Catholic church I went to with my grandfather and aunts. It was always loud and rambunctious but personable and welcoming. It didn’t feel like the clinical ritual of the Catholic church but something expressive and bright. I thought things were fine and I was mostly just glad that it also gave my mother; sick with kidney, heart and lung failure something to do and have faith in. 

That was the beginning. 

Sunday school there was different. We said a pledge not just to the flag of the United States but also to the Christian flag. We only took communion every other service as they said catholics ruined it by taking communion so often. The children there didn’t play video games and didn’t watch TV like I did. They didn’t read the books I did or even lived like I did. They were sheltered and that was coming from a kid who was already excessively sheltered. I made friends, sure, but all the friendships felt surface level, even as a child. 

Dad blended in perfectly into the community of mostly older white men, something most black men simply didn’t do. Mom was welcomed in with open arms as as a unit we were accepted but I wasn’t accepted. I was quirky and strange thanks to unseen turbulent home life and due to the restrictive nature of children around me. I liked all the things they were told not to like but that friction didn’t stay in place for long. 

Faith Christian Fellowship was an anti-science church. They thrived off of faith healing and creationism and showed videos that explained that Genesis was a real factual account of how the world began and that dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time and had “proof” of it in the form of footprints and ammonites and pseudo-science and it was there that I began to fall in line. I was a lover of dinosaurs and paleontology and a naturally curious child so being able to see this as a giant puzzle that was some secret conspiracy that others did not want us to know was tantalizing to my little mind. I was able to make friends that way though I never gave up Pokemon and Harry Potter

I was willing to tell my Catholic aunts that they were wrong and that they took communion too often and I found my the church that I was baptized in and received my sacraments in boring and stuffy and wanted the cheap thrills of Christan Rock and pseudoscience and speaking in tongues and people just falling out after being touched by The Holy Spirit. I rejected Catholicism with my mother and we fell deeper and deeper into the church. 

Tithing was also incredibly important to the congregation as was just general monetary support. Pastors Force sold CDs, books, Bibles, all kinds of things and 10% of a tithe was the bare minimum accepted. We were told that the more we gave, the more we’d receive and as Pastor Force flaunted nice suits and nice watches and nice shoes my parents ignored bills and medicine to keep up with the Joneses and continue to pay the church. Pastor Force always made it sound like the church was one dollar away from closing despite the fancy earthly pleasures he had and that was enough to keep my parents engrossed and giving along with the rest of the congregation. 

There was a dove hunt one year that I never understood. I am still shocked by how many evangelical churches that have dove hunts. Aren’t doves God’s messengers? Why are they being shot, wrapped in bacon and grilled for the congregation to eat?

I spent many a formative Sunday at Faith Christian Fellowship with my parents learning and unlearning things and one thing that actually popped into my mind not too long ago: a latent memory that made me realize something that I had known all along but dared not to say. 

My father was in a cult.

Rapture Drills. There were Rapture Drills. We were preparing for the Rapture. You know, the event where God just decides He’s done with it all and yoinks up all the humans on Earth that are good and leaves those that are bad on Earth to suffer. Think the Left Behind series but somehow worse. We would prepare for the Rapture by praying and climbing under a chair for safety. 

A chair. 

That is what was meant to protect us from Divine Intervention and Rapture. A chair. 

I’m not sure why we needed protection from the Rapture; in theory, we were supposed to go up to Heaven, too. I think it was meant to protect us from earthly debris but we regularly held these drills. They were at random, of course, because we never knew when this would happen and they happened often enough to form a memory of them that remained locked in my mind for over a decade. 

My father died while we were at that church and the church quickly flocked around me and my mom. The church supported my mother even as she gave up her child, dated a drug dealer and told me that I was to be obedient to my mother even though she was willing to risk her safety and mine for the sake of tainted love. 

The church did eventually abandon my mother as she fell away from really all organized religion as her agoraphobia grew. I had also fallen out of love with most organized religion, mostly burned from the experience in my father’s cult and still disillusioned from what I knew about Catholicism. I made a choice to bury my mother Catholic as she was baptized, married and had her other sacraments within the Catholic church. I found much more solace and peace burying her within the church she was married in than I ever did at even the thought of dragging my family into FCF. 

I don’t think I’m a cult survivor or anything grand; it actually didn’t take long for me to either bury the memories of this place with maladaptive means and frankly just suppressed those memories. It wasn’t until recently that they started to become unlocked that I realized the gravity of the situation I was in. And to be clear I’m not some kind of anti-religious person; I don’t think Christianity or even Evangelical faiths are inherently cultish; just saying that if it acts like a duck and quacks like a duck and flies like a duck; you may be in a cult. 

The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness: Critical Examination

When I scoured the expansive list of topics for one that seemed the most interesting I came across, in bolded letters “Sin”. I chose that and raided the library for books on the same subject matter and came across The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness edited by Michael J. Taylor, a large compilation book with pieces written by priests and other theologians. The book seemed simple enough, a thorough examination of sin and how to properly atone when we sin.

I chose sin as a topic for discussion and further inquiry because no one wants to think about that; sin is that dirty word that we use about others and not about ourselves. Sin is a word thrown around a lot but isn’t understood fully by most.

In a section of the book contributed by Kevin F. O’Shea, sin means “saying no to God” (90) and he goes on to say that “Sin is in the heart of man and disrupts the personal communion he must live with God in every action.” (91).This is a definition that most of us grew up with; sin was in a way a defiant act. A more theological definition comes on page 92 saying “Sin is a refusal of love in and through a detailed human action.” And that sin is a “violation of this covenant” The covenant being that which was made between God and the Israelites during the Old Testament times.

In mentioning sin we must consider that there are different types of sin, original sin and the seven deadly sins. Original sin is the sin that Adam and Eve first committed in the Garden of Eden. To us now original sin can be most aptly considered to be distant curse, placed on mankind thousands of years ago and we have no choice but to accept this reality. The best definition of original sin can be said on page 255 “They are born with original sin that is to say in a state contrary to God’s intention.” God loves us and as stated in the definition above is that “sin is a refusal of love”. I find this to be fairly accurate and that chapter to be true. Original sin has been a burden placed on us and that we have to live with. Modern philosophers have debated on whether original sin exists or if it is simply a modified mass version of determinism and indifferentism.

In the book there was also mention of determinism which states “that all of our actions, despite our illusions of freedom, are in fact dictated by the drives, urges and complexes that lie buried in the dark pit of the Unconscious of each of us.” (7) this doctrine much like predestination removes completely freewill and forces us into a “collective guilt” (7) this collective guilt is fueled by a sense of helpless due to the overbearing influence of original sin and a strong deterministic secular cultures. I have a problem with determinism, I was raised Catholic, so in being raised that way I was taught that God gives us freewill. Granted, I have no scientific proof to either effect, that life is determined or that I have choice in my life and my choices, be that to sin or not to sin. Determinism at its very worst removes personal responsibility and therefore removes the need for sin. If one has no say, then there is no sin because sin is a conscious choice to reject God’s covenant.

The book also mentions indifferentism (6) in which the attitudes towards anything is merely indifferent. The book also then says that under indifferentism “the act of sexual intercourse is indifferent as drinking a cup of coffee.” (6) .Under indifferentism it does not matter if we sin or not, we face a similar fate and either point of doing good or evil is irrelevant. The issue I have with indifferentism is that is removes love and passion from life and any other emotion that one can name. Indifferentism removes guilt from sin and from life itself and asks to have the same emotion for any event. Most would agree that the birth of a baby is considerably more significant than a cup of coffee. Indifferentism is a common way to cope with a feeling of insignificance and sadness in the world.

Sin also has varying levels of severity such as “venial” sins and “light” sins (105), these include but are not limited to little white lies and sin that only affects ourselves in a very small way. There are also “serious” and “mortal” sins (107) Mortal sins involve death most commonly. This class system is fairly typical of what most of us in the Catholic faith grew up with. The book emphasizes that each level of sin is still sin, saying that just because one is less severe does not make it acceptable though it can be agreed that murder is a more significant sin than a tiny white lie. There are ways to commonly skew the lines and rationalize those lesser sins. We brush off those occasional white lies and vow to say a few extra Hail Mary’s that night. Shrugging off the small sins is just as dangerous, such a disregard for any violation of the Covenant is precarious that can lead one on a slippery slope of rationalization and denial.

Another notion in the book that struck me was the opening line “The modern word has lost its sense of sin.” (3). I disagree with this idea completely. Especially as a modern Catholic, I feel as though we live in a world riddled with guilt and preconceived notions of sin and what sin is. We go to confession during every major liturgical season, we pray each time for the forgiveness of our sins. The secular culture is just as guilt-ridden but not in the same sense as Christians. The secular culture has some of the perspectives listed above, indifferentism and determinism. The secular culture uses those above perspectives to cope with the overbearing nature of sin without the Christian concepts of faith, grace or repentance. Without the concepts of faith and repentance one can either turn to despair or nihilism to cope with the overwhelming sense of remorse brought on by the unyielding burden of sin.

The second half of the book dealt with forgiveness. The only antidote for sin is forgiveness. In the book’s title forgiveness is under the title of mystery. I pondered on this choice in words for a while. For most, I believe that people generally do not think of much of forgiveness until they have to forgive. I believe that forgiveness is one of those words, like sin, is thrown around without much meaning. We casually toss around “I forgive you.” But we often do not understand the true meaning of forgiveness.

As Catholics we see formal forgiveness as Penance and this quote in the best described it best “When one of the faithful confesses, he comes to the Church to win by its mediation full reconciliation with God.” (158) this is a comforting notion to Catholics. I know I go to Confession when I can and I admit to a bit of a disconnection when I do miss the occasional service.

The book also noted that “The Church mediates grace through the priest, through the power he has received from Christ, with the bishop, and in dependence with him.” (207) this of course, chimes directly in with the Catholic notion of apostolic succession which gives power to the pope directly from Christ through the apostles and through the teachings of the Church. The other section in which the Church is mentioned the novel mentions that the Church body itself does not have the power to forgive but they do through God. I find this to be accurate. The Church body by itself cannot give Penance aside from on a personal level but on a sacramental level, the priest can authenticate the Penance.

Considering the mystery of forgiveness though is odd. I thought about it for a while and did my best to understand why they would consider forgiveness to be a mystery. As a Catholic, forgiveness is synonymous with Penance, so it seemed easy. I go into the confessional, I confess and the priest says a prayer and tells me what to do for my personal Penance. The book even had an explanation that more was more in-depth than that and makes my views of confession seem rather shallow “In confession the sinner addresses himself to the Church. He confesses to the priest because he sincerely believes he encounters Christ through the Church…By his repentance he expresses his desire to take his place in the community again, to live more faithfully as a Christian, and to participate more deeply in the life and mission of the Church.” (161) the book also stated that “Confession is the frank and candid disclosure of what is most intimately our own: our aspirations, our thoughts, our secret desires, our hidden actins insofar as they fall short of the ideal before us. Confession is the ultimate in human communication and self-disclosure.” (188-89) I am sure that this is one of the most accurate assessments of Confession provided by the entire book. The book also states that Confession is an act of self-improvement and I could not agree more.

But to say it was a mystery was a bit confusing. It had always seemed so simple. But then I considered personal forgiveness. How easy would it be of me to forgive someone who caused my family or my person physical or emotional pain? Therein lays the mystery. What allows us to forgive? Some evolutions believe that human forgiveness is almost like a fluke. No other mammals seem to have a concept of forgiveness as open as humans do. Theologians believe that forgiveness is passed down through the Church and through Jesus Christ. “The divine plan can be carried out only through Christ, the head of the new humanity.” (157) The answer to the mystery lies within this quote “By his Incarnation and the mysteries of his life, the Son of God becomes Lord in the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit. The essential relation between Christ and the sacramental actions of the Church should be realized in its full import.” (159).

In closing, the book The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness fully explained and the definition of sin and forgiveness while also providing a deeper understanding behind the Theology, psychology and sociology of sin and forgiveness from both the Catholic perspectives and the secular perspectives. After reading this novel I found a deeper perception of the topic at hand. Each part of the book I comprehended and found to be useful in coming to understand this complex topic and assisted in answering questions I did not even know I wanted to inquire further into the subject and did not want to explore further until now.

Works Cited

Taylor, Michael J. The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness. Staten Island, N.Y.: Alba House, 1971. Print.

The Nearly Paranoid Concerns and Worries of a Roman Catholic

“What the mind doesn't understand, it worships or fears.” ― Alice Walker

Catholicism is pagan in its roots. Most Western religions are pagan in its roots. If the story of a charismatic teacher bathing in rivers, being born of virgins, saying a bunch of cool things and then dying (sometimes coming back) but for sure dying and then saying more cool things from that either post-death life or from the clouds it’s because it’s a story that has been told for literally thousands of years.It is Osiris, Shiva and many many more deities (Religulous had a pretty comprehensive list and that’s just a great movie so for reals watch it.). The fear and aversion of snakes: pagan. The allocation of owls as evil: pagan. Sun worship and aligning positive figures with the Sun: pagan.

So here’s a good place to define the word “pagan” because I’ve used it a lot and many people probably have different ideas of what pagan means. Let’s go over what I don’t mean. I don’t mean Satanism in its current form. I don’t mean other dark arts or dark forces. What I mean by Pagan is exactly what the word means: the religion of the people of the hills. This does include Witchcraft both New Age and Ancient. It does include Druidism. It does include the religions of the First Peoples to this great continent. It includes many of the folk religious heroes and figures that are often spoken of but now only as a whisper. That’s what I mean by Pagan and yes: Catholicism is very Pagan. The statues, the stained glass, the smoke, the draperies, the extravagant costuming…yeah, I’m talking about a Catholic mass and not a Samhain gathering. This very pagan looking service is exactly what caused a huge schism in the church. The color and statue symbolism alone could convince you that the average Catholic service is a Celtic romp through Stonehenge (And if you ever want to talk Catholic imagery…oh boy, please feel free to comment.).

I keep bringing that up for a reason: superstition is the antithesis of faith. Now, for those of you that know me I am a somewhat neurotic little thing. I worry about a lot of things. But I also grew up in a very spiritual household. My grandma and parents were staunch believers in ghosts and the paranormal and I’ve admitted plenty of times that I’ve had supernatural and paranormal experiences. Friends of mine have experienced similar paranormal things and many others think it’s senseless nonsense and that I’m crazy to believe in this “Ghosts roamin’ ‘round” junk. But as Catholics and even many evangelical Christians have a very strange view of ritual, religion and superstition.

The biggest example I can think of when it comes to going through the motions for the sake of purity is the intent of the Eucharist. It is said that if you approach the Eucharist during mass with less than pure intentions: like you aren’t caught up on your confessions or reconciliation rites or if you break the fast (yes, your pancakes are not holy enough to sit in your stomach at the same time as The Body of Christ) then you in fact ruin the sacrament for everyone. Think about it. Your salvation and dedication can be rendered entirely useless and ineffective because of someone else. And we as individuals wouldn’t know until Judgement Day comes. So we all do our best. We collectively try our best to be pure to avoid being that ONE person who ruins Heaven for the rest of the congregation by breaking the fast or by thinking about Scandal while in line before taking the bread and wine.

We’ve talked a lot about theology and it’s been really really fun to talk about this stuff in a somewhat safe space. Want to learn a little about things that I am somewhat superstitious about? Let’s find out!

  • I bow to cats.
  • There are places that have a weird energy to me and I now try to avoid those places.
  • Numerology, astrology and symbolism all mean a lot to me: remember, horoscopes used to be a normal part of daily life for quite a long time.
  • I do tend to avoid haunted places. Not because I always assume these places are haunted but just for the risk of pissing off any ghost or demon that could be lurking around.
  • I do not however believe too heavily in possession. Not that I don’t think it exists at all but I don’t think it’s the ultimate cause of all things that are bad or even a few that are good.
  • I do believe in soul mates.
  • I almost want to believe in reincarnation but that’s a pretty iffy issue for Catholics since some saints are said to be “of” someone else but scholars do struggle with reincarnation in its Asian incarnations like in Buddhism and Hinduism.
  • I’m not much one for miracles or signs. I’m a Deist, remember? God is busy.
  • I do though almost superstitiously believe in the power of the Saints.
  • I find prayer meditative and I do have a few personal favorites which are you are welcome to ask me about respectfully.

This is a pretty short list on this and it’s been fun to go over. Let’s chat theology and superstition again really soon!

The Personal Theology of the Awesome Me

“In our country religion is not different from philosophy and religion & philosophy don’t differ from science.”

I was raised Roman Catholic and I tend to say that a lot. I don’t much think of its impact because most of America still believes in some kind of higher power. When I was a kid, being raised Catholic was a bit of a novelty: it was difficult to explain my very pagan-looking religion and the rituals attached to it but it was a quiet religion and I enjoyed Sunday school and going to Mass on Sundays with my grandfather and family. But we’ll jump back to that in a minute: I wanted to talk about personal theology not because I’m a masochist but because I realize that despite me just saying that I’m Catholic there’s plenty I’m leaving out.

Roman Catholicism is a serious, somber and intense religion. It follows ideas that are ancient and in fact it is the seriousness of Catholicism that keeps me attached to it. God is busy. God has a lot to do. God created everything and He doesn’t always have time for my flighty concerns like relationships and how many cupcakes I should eat.

When I was 9 or so my father took me to his more energetic evangelical church and I felt incredibly uncomfortable with this. I felt unsure and afraid of people jumping around and flailing about, speaking in fake languages. I was worried about a God and a Jesus that were in each and every detail of my life: always watching. I didn’t find comfort in the all-seeing, all-following eye of God: it terrified me. They were also anti-science and anti-Pokemon, Harry Potter and other video games: we’re gonna get to that in a minute.

My dad died when I was 12 and I talk about that a lot because it did shape my life. I returned to Catholic school and Catholic worship but my father’s funeral was at his overzealous church. While coping with my father’s death I heard plenty of things that at the time and do still now seem callous and did shape my personal theology.

Your dad’s in a better place.

Was our home not good enough? Why take him?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

That’s incredibly mean to say to a child. Does punching you make you stronger?

God never gives you more than you can handle.

I’m 12: I can barely handle my classwork and extracurriculars. Boys are also very confusing.

God has a plan for all of us.

And this one apparently means I don’t get to have my dad?

Needless to say, I did what most kids did during that time: I turned away from God. I didn’t like His world of indifference and bad things and I didn’t like that He stood by hanging out in a tree or something just watching me suffer (as I imagined God did at the time: I was an angsty kid, we’ve been over this.) I didn’t find much comfort in anyone’s theology but still went to Mass (mostly because I had to) but it was in 7th grade in my Catholic theology class that I discovered a doctrine I did understand: Deism.

Deism’s main tenant is that God made the universe and world (He’s known as The Great Watchmaker) and set the world in motion and just let it go. He backed away. He’s off now doing other things: probably knitting, maybe? But He doesn’t impact the day to day life of an individual. This kept my free-will issues in check and helped me cope with a world that took a relatively young man from his family. The overactive daily involved God of other religions just seemed like Superman or Batman: a selective force who seemed too active in some people’s lives and not active enough in others.

But Deism didn’t take away my Catholic nature. I am baptized and such in the Roman Catholic Church (working on Confirmation: I have my saint name picked out and you’re welcome to ask me what Saint I wish to take on) and I never really let my religion change how I felt.

Being Catholic doesn’t mean I can’t be a fangirl (clearly). Being Catholic doesn’t mean I have to be Anti-Science: if anything Intelligent Design is one of the most faith-affirming things I’ve found (the Universe is vast, indifferent and we are moments from falling into utter chaos and distress but yet we float on perfectly at least for now). Being Catholic doesn’t mean I have to ignore evolution: Pope John Paul II said that evolution in the Neo-Darwinian sense was fine. Being Catholic doesn’t mean that I have to be content with intolerance or ignorance of other faiths in fact I’m charged and encouraged to learn about other theologies and ways of worship. Being Catholic in general doesn’t mean I have to support senseless hatred or cruelty: if anything to me it’s the most peaceful of religions if applied in certain ways (and this is a very current statement: being Catholic for many years meant LITERALLY taking up a sword and LITERALLY fighting for your beliefs). But it also meant having to unfortunately cherry-pick some of my personal theology: I’m fine with birth control and contraception and my ideas concerning LGBT issues and rights are to say kindly and mildly not conservative, at all.But knowing that I can be liberal with my social policy and still be a backyard astronomer doesn’t mean I am unaware of the trials of what being Catholic meant to those even a few years ago: Lookin’ at you, Giordano Bruno and Galileo.

But my personal beliefs in a God that is somewhat busy and absolutely too busy to be bothered by the concerns of one tiny fangirl is even at odds with my family. My aunts believe in, despite also being Catholic, that very personal God: a God that is always with you. Always hanging out. Always there. Like Odin (we’ll touch on paganism and Catholicism WAY later, trust me.) And there’s nothing wrong with that: it’s just not my personal theology.

So there’s a shallow dive into my personal theology: it may end up answering a few questions you may or may not have about me, your humble author.