Posts Tagged ‘Religion

03
Apr
10

Saint or Commie?

As I’ve written before, I dropped out of the Catholic Church when I was a teenager. I haven’t become an atheist, although I see nothing wrong with that philosophy. It’s just that I prefer to keep my distance from religion. However, I’ve also been upfront about my belief that one reason Latinos don’t make bigger social and economic gains is our overreliance on the Church.

So perhaps I should excuse myself from a debate taking place across the Hispanic community, Latin America, and the Catholic Church. The cause of this debate is that old rabblerouser himself, Archbishop Oscar Romero.

For those of you who don’t know, Romero was the head of the Church in El Salvador from 1977 to 1980. During this time, he spoke out against the brutality of the government and the oppression of the poor. For having such crazy ideas, he was assassinated, presumably by members of a right-wing death squad. Following his death, a civil war ripped the country apart and killed tens of thousands of civilians, including members of my mother’s family.

In the thirty years since his death, Romero has been lionized as a martyr for the cause of social justice, or criticized as a dupe for communist agitators, depending on whom you talk to. The Catholic Church has been considering him for sainthood for years, but weirdly enough, they can’t seem to go ahead and canonize the guy.

The debate over Romero goes to the heart of the Church’s standing in Latin America. Is it an institution that upholds the traditions of the culture, even if those traditions include exploitation and enforced poverty? Or is it a force for peace and compassion, which is what that famous hippie Jesus espoused?

The perception of the Church in Latin America has a direct impact upon U.S. Hispanics. Many of us who are first-generation, for example, saw an organization that gave lip service to helping the poor, but supported corrupt regimes in our parents’ home countries. Priests like Romero, far from being supported, often earned Rome’s disdain. The dichotomy (some would say hypocrisy) was not endearing.

But Romero’s legacy may finally be thwarting the establishment culture that shunned him during his life. In a truly surprising moment, my mother’s home country of El Salvador has finally gotten around to acknowledging its most famous citizen.

The LA Times reports that “For the first time, the Salvadoran state is publicly commemorating Romero. Through most of this month, marches, concerts and debates have honored the priest.”

Furthermore, the country’s president, Mauricio Funes, recently asked forgiveness on behalf of the state for Romero’s assassination. Funes said, “This is something that should have been done a long time ago” and added that his government would “end the decades of silence” that have been Romero’s official legacy.

If El Salvador can finally acknowledge that Romero was killed because of his strong drive for justice, maybe the Vatican can get around to saying that he was a pretty good guy.

By the way, and at the risk of taking a cheap shot, it seems like the Catholic Church’s current issues prove that it’s not the best judge of morality and saint-like behavior. But then again, what do I know? I’m just an ex-Catholic.

10
Feb
10

Mazel Tov!

A few years ago, I took one of those internet quizzes that pinpoints your real religion, based on your actual beliefs and not the lip service that you espouse. Like all internet quizzes, I’m sure it was of dubious validity and reliability, and it probably had a questionable theological basis on top of that.

Still, I couldn’t argue with the result, which said that I was, in reality, a Reform Jew. By the way, the religion of my childhood, Roman Catholicism, ranked around twenty-eighth or so on my personal scale, which sounded about right (but I’ll refrain from picking on Catholicism just now).

These days, I consider myself more of secular Buddhist agnostic. But the Jewish angle isn’t that far off.

I’m not sure why I relate to Judaism. It’s not like I had a lot of Jewish friends growing up. My neighborhood was primarily Hispanic (and therefore, incredibly Catholic) while my home state is overwhelmingly Midwestern white (mostly Protestant). So not a lot of Goldbergs and Silvermans appeared on the scene.

Perhaps I picked it up when I lived in New York City, where Jewish culture is everywhere. Within just a few years of arriving in NYC, I was ordering bagels with lox and talking about people’s chutzpah and obsessing about death. So maybe that’s why I came up Jewish on the test.

But I think there’s a larger issue. It seems that Hispanics and Jews have always gotten along pretty well. Perhaps both groups know what it’s like to pass for white, but not really. Maybe our mutual focus on family lines up nicely. Or perhaps we just admire each culture’s long history of suffering.

Regardless, I was intrigued to read about a group of Hasidim Jews in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. A small but thriving population traces its ancestry to Spain and Latin America, and as such, members of this group consider themselves Hispanics.

Spare me your jokes about Juan Epstein, the NYC Puerto Rican Jew from “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

There’s a man in Crown Heights with a real-life cross-cultural headspinner of a name, Moshe Nunez, and he says that “There are a lot of Latin American Jews here…. Many non-Jewish Latinos are surprised to see Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn who speak Spanish and carry on their Hispanic traditions.”

I suppose that would be an attention-getting sight. But still, I’m not really shocked that some people would adopt both cultures. The overlap goes back decades.

For example, when my mother moved to America, back in the 1960s, her first job was helping out an old Jewish woman on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The woman was a Holocaust survivor, and she brought that horrific period to life for my mother by rolling up her sleeve and showing the number branded into her arm. This simple display provided quite the education for a young woman from Latin America.

The old woman was very kind to my mother, and she introduced her to the opera and nice restaurants and the finer things in life. According to my mother, the old woman was adamant that bigotry against any group was evil. She said that anyone who would discriminate against a Latino would bash Jews as well.

In the old woman’s mind, we’re all one and the same.

21
Apr
09

Believe

Now would be the perfect time for me to find religion. As I’ve stated in previous posts, my recent downsizing has put me in a pissed-off mood that would likely be alleviated from the comfort that faith provides.

But it’s just not taking.

I’ve written about it before, but I’ll state it again. There is no kind of bitter ex-Catholic like a bitter Latino ex-Catholic. I spent the first twenty or so years of my life obsessing on God, and now I am spending the ensuing decades obsessing on how religion is messing up the world.
 
As you can see, Hispanics are not casually Catholic. You are either into it, or you recoil from it. The whole concept of being laidback about religion is alien to most Latinos.

My wife, who was raised Methodist, doesn’t share my preoccupation with religious dogma or interest in Dante’s “Inferno” or creeping fear that “The Exorcist” was actually a documentary. She is far healthier in her relationship to religion.

As a child, I skipped Mass just once. I had the flu that day, and as I sat on the couch hoping that God didn’t strike me down for missing church, I stared at the television in disbelief. Programs continued to play on TV, even during the time that we were supposed to be in church. I had always assumed that the television went off the air from 11:00 am to noon because, after all, nobody was watching because they were all in the pews. My mother had to explain to me that some people did not go to Mass, and I found this more shocking than discovering there is no Santa Claus. She was talking crazy. Who didn’t go to church?

This is not to say that I blame my mother for my upbringing. In fact, she showed the kind of trust and parental responsibility that more adults should display.
 
When I was sixteen, it was time for me to sign up for confirmation classes. Presented with this opportunity, I took a moment to deliberate and then, as if I were choosing chocolate over vanilla, I told my mother that I didn’t want to be confirmed.
 
“Why?” she asked.
 
“I just don’t believe it,” I said.
 
She nodded and said, “No one can make you believe anything. If you don’t want to do it, then you shouldn’t do it.”
 
I didn’t recognize the magnitude of her support until later years, when even the most ardent atheistic of my friends admitted that they had been forcefully confirmed in the church of their parents’ choosing. My mother had the right idea: If you don’t believe it, move on.
 
No, I don’t hate the Catholic Church. Rather, like many Hispanics, being raised Catholic has left me with a spiritual nagging that forces me to ponder the big questions, fruitlessly, when all I really want to do is analyze the odds of my team making the World Series (by the way, those odds could be better).
 
Neither am I an atheist. It is far too definitive of an answer for me, so clear and simple in its certainty that I have to be skeptical of it. If forced to describe myself, I go with “secular Buddhist agnostic,” and this mish-mash appears to suffice. Or perhaps I am a rationalist like Bill Maher, he of the biting wit and self-satisfied smirk.

Still, the fact that I even address Catholicism in these posts is telling. I can’t seem to let it go.

Of course, there are reasons beyond my own neurosis to revisit this topic. The interplay between Christianity and Hispanic culture has larger societal ramifications.

For example, as I mentioned in a previous post, younger Hispanics are turning away from the Church. What does this mean to the future of Latino culture? Will it be less Catholic, or are these norms so ingrained that there is no altering them, regardless of their direct relevance to the latest generation?

Going further, one could also ask what this means to a country that is, like it or not, getting more Latino. Will this have an impact on, for example, the scary stat that just 39 percent of Americans believe in evolution?

By the way, let’s set aside the point that a better way to phrase the question is, “Do you understand evolution?” rather than making scientific fact a question of belief.

In any case, I don’t know if the poll results are broken down by ethnicity, but I have to assume that several Hispanic Catholics continue to distrust Darwin, even if the Church (to its credit) has said that the theory of evolution is not a threat to spirituality. Will Hispanics still be weary of science in another decade?

If so, it makes me want to cross myself and say a Hail Mary.




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