Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tough Religious Question

I'm kind of tired of the serious. I've been wanting to share this semi-serious anecdote for a while though.

We attended a baptism not too long ago. It was the baptism of the oldest son of one of our good friends, another family who was put in legal limbo with Proposition 8!

Okay, okay, I know. Focus...

We've tended this boy since he was a baby and he's been a friend to our boys and so we wanted to be there to support him. Also I wanted to show the boys what a church service is like, to address the eventual curiosity.

We are not Episcopal, though I've respected them for their strong focus on the teachings of Jesus. Also, I was impressed with the minister's understanding of the origins of the Bible (is that what they are? Ministers?). He actually admitted imperfections in the text and gave examples of scribe-inserted changes, books about Jesus that the early Catholic Leadership left out, and conflicting accounts that were left in when they compiled the Bible, but only to emphasize that the exact wording and assurances of inerrancy were distracting from the core of the teachings of Jesus. None of us left interested in becoming episcopal--I know we'd still have many differences regarding what can be a justifiable belief--but I left with a new respect for them.

Anyway, we're sitting there waiting for the baptism, trying to do all we can to be respectful in our participation, but not disrespectful or patronizing in participating too far into something we don't hold true. Eventually they got to the Eucharist and the minister, along with the congregation, begin talking about the blood of Christ and the flesh of Christ as they prepared the sacrament up in front of us all. Then people began filing up to perform this ancient ritual of bread and wine (Which they all drink from the same cup! Score one for the LDS and their hygienic, if-not-totally-green individual paper cups.).

I felt a tug on my arm as we were waiting for the ritual to end. It was Alan and he asked, "Papa, are they eating a person?" :-). I hadn't noticed how unusually quiet he had become next to me. He paid attention to nothing there but that, of course.

Now, this is not an easy question to answer, and this was not a conversation I anticipated, as I probably should have. This breach of such a strong taboo was likely chosen to be shocking and thereby powerful, and it is, but over the years it's lost shock value... not, though, for a person hearing it for the first time apparently. Do episcopals believe in transubstantiation, anyway? I doubt it. Nevertheless, people have been killed over similar questions, and early Christians were hunted down like witches for their practice of "cannibalism".

I just told him "No, it's symbolic. That's just bread and wine to us." Then realizing another can of worms opened up... "Symbolic is kind of like pretend but it has important real meaning to them. It's important to them. But yeah, eating a real person would be disgusting." (I wanted to make sure I didn't come off as condoning cannibalism :-))

Anyway, I thought that was cute... and a bit disturbing. Did my kid really think I'd take him to a place where they ate human flesh?

One last thing: we've been to a couple churches for several reasons in the last couple months. From the episcopals to even the New Age temple we visited they're all a lot like a LDS church, but for one thing: cry rooms. I never noticed this before but I remember the Baptist having cry rooms for fussy babies as well. They're nice too, with a sound system piped in from the pulpit, toys for the kids, and a glass window to watch the service along with the congregation. LDS parents IIRC go out into the hall and listen. There's got to be some deep sociological reason behind it. Something to do with baggies of cheerios and back rubs :-).


kevin said...

I might be wrong, but I don't think that Catholic churches included crying rooms until after Vatican II.

And I'm still trying to figure out if the pros of Vatican II outweigh the cons. In order to save your comment board, I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to open up a debate...just pointing out that the hard thing about religion is you can't move on without leaving the past. You can't have progress without nostalgia.

Queers United said...

It would be scarier if he was like oh shucks, I was hoping to see some gory fun.

Ophidimancer said...

Aren't magic rituals of different cultures fascinating?

Scot said...

kevin "just pointing out that the hard thing about religion is you can't move on without leaving the past. You can't have progress without nostalgia."


"It would be scarier if he was like oh shucks"

Sill, for him to have to ask... he must think some adults are strange.

Ophidimancer: "Aren't magic rituals of different cultures fascinating?"

Speaking of Dionysus, the torn apart and consumed son of the head god and the god of wine :-). This reminded me of Justin Martyr's claim that demons had copied God's play book (centuries before Jesus) due to the fact that elements of the Eucharist existed in the traditional pagan religions of his time.

Rituals are fascinating, along with their histories, and it's also fascinating how mundane, say, eating human flesh and drinking blood can become in ritual; it's a good thing each generation can remind us :-).

Ophidimancer said...

Through the eyes and mind of a child you can find magic in just about anything.

Java said...

Interesting story. I love Alan's curiosity.

When our kids were small we sometimes sat in church in front of another family with a child the same age as my oldest son. They were maybe 3 or 4 years old. The mom always brought a bag of cheerios for her daughter. Pretty soon the sound of the bag rattling and the girl chewing would drive me up the wall. As much as I liked these people, I tried not to sit near them in church.

Amanda said...

I guess I dont' know when Vatican II ended, but when I was a kid in the 80s, my parents took us to the cry room in our Catholic churches. Not all the churches had them, but many did. I always liked the cry room. I didn't have to listen, I could play, and I loved the knowledge that I could see through the window, but no one could see in to us.

Scot said...

"Through the eyes and mind of a child you can find magic in just about anything."

That's so true. I'm SO excited for Christmas :-).

"They were maybe 3 or 4 years old. The mom always brought a bag of cheerios for her daughter."

Hey, you weren't LDS, right? That's our thing!

"I always liked the cry room."

That's what I don't get; they seem to be a perfect invention for a universal problem for parents in church and so why did the LDS never adopt it? Maybe the cry room is patented? :-)