The Church of Arbitrary Rules


* Originally composed & posted March 17, 2017

Do you pray to the Holy Ghost when you suck your host? Do you read who’s dead in the Irish Post? Do you give away the cash you can’t afford on bended knees and pray to the Lord? Fat pig priest, sanctimonious smiles. He takes the money, you take the lies. – Public Image, Ltd.

Before launching into this mildly blasphemous harangue, I feel it is important to note that I love Pope Francis. He is a true Bodhisattva with balls of steel, and I don’t believe he would take nearly as much offense at what I’m about to say as would my father. And my father’s brothers and sisters. And their spouses. And most of my cousins. Basically, every person in the Loughman family except for me and my sister is a rabid Roman Catholic and this makes for very uncomfortable family gatherings, which is one reason I live over 2,000 miles away from my nearest relative.

A full exposition of everything I find loathsome about the religion in which I was brought up would be impossible to compose, what with the misogyny and the predatory priests and the homophobia and the insistence on being vehemently opposed to both abortion AND birth control when easing up on the latter prohibition would obviously leave a lot more fetuses intact. And then there are the rules. Holy shit, the rules! I’m pretty sure that in some dusty tome sitting on a shelf in a Vatican library, there’s a Latin-rendered interdiction telling me that I just committed a venial sin by scratching my nose on a Friday.

If you were to assume that the Catholic tradition of forgoing meat on Fridays during the 40 day period of Lent has an interesting history of ancient and apostolic orthodoxy, then you’d probably be quite disappointed to learn that it was really just something that Pope Paul VI thought up in 1966, on what I suppose must have been a particularly slow day in Vatican City. In 1983, the Church codified the ban, adding yet another random way to offend Jesus to the Catechism, bringing the total number of acts the Catholic Church deems sinful to a googolplex plus one.

Dreaming up new sins with which to guilt trip the faithful seems to be the raison d’etre of cardinals and popes (sorry again, Pope Frank, you are clearly an exception to this rule). However, as we all know, many Catholics are of Irish descent and if there’s one thing the Irish hold just as dear as religious self-flagellation, it’s getting a good shithouse on while wearing green cardboard hats, harassing gays who want to march in their parade, and eating corned beef and cabbage on March 17th. So this year, since God in his infinite wisdom allowed St. Patrick’s Day to fall on a Lenten Friday, several American archbishops have waved their magic staffs and created an exception. They don’t call it an exception, of course, because that’s a fairly pedestrian word and as such does not live up to their self-important standards. No, this is a dispensation. So the Archbishops of Chicago and San Antonio were apparently so concerned about the cruel plight of their alcoholic Irish parishioners that they had to specifically grant them church-sanctioned permission to eat a plate of dry, disgusting, beef brisket basted in cabbage sweat. Hallelujah!

Of course, there’s a hitch. Those Catholics who do decide to partake of corned beef this St. Patty’s Day are urged to atone for this indulgence by taking on an additional bit of self-denial the following day (fuck that, hangover!) or performing an act of charity before Easter Sunday. This is because the Friday meat proscription was instated to aid Catholics in performing penance and “imitating Christ”. I didn’t make that shit up; it’s right in some Canonical Law book whose identifying number makes it clear that Canonical Law books are the Catholic version of Encyclopedia Britannica. In other words, the official Church position is that a good way to imitate the life of a man who we’re told cured the sick, raised the dead, was whipped, beaten, fitted with a headdress of thorns and nailed to a cross is to refrain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent.

The reason many Catholics are so defensive about things like this blog post is because deep down, they must know how fraught with absurdity their belief system is and they don’t need to be reminded of that by some punk apostate like me. But really, the only virtuous reason to abstain from eating meat is out of respect and compassion for the animals that must be killed in order to obtain meat. This makes every vegan, vegetarian and PETA member far more Christ-like than most Catholic clergy. Hell, it makes most Buddhists and Hindus better Catholics than Mother Teresa. I think Catholics would have a much easier time of it if they stopped designating hundreds of dead people patron saints of some ludicrously specific issue and instead just prayed to Betty White for divine intercession.

Lifelong Catholic guilt is a real thing, long after people like me dismiss almost every facet of the theology as the illogical hokum that it is. This is why I still delight in chowing down on a just-out-of-the-slaughterhouse-rare steak on Fridays during Lent…because if the guilt won’t go away, then nor will my bitterness. But Pope Francis is awesome. Have I mentioned that already? I probably did, but it bears repeating. Jorge Bergoglio is a rock star. That’s why so many Catholics hate him. But I love him. So I am a better Catholic than practicing Catholics. And so is Betty White.


3 thoughts on “The Church of Arbitrary Rules

  1. I still harbor Catholic guilt.
    I can remember pizza Fridays during lent, no pepperoni for us kids, no can do. Cheese only. And fish fries, macaroni and cheese for dinner.
    The priest at my old church/school liked altar boys and he had his eyes on my little brother. Thankfully, my mom knew something was hella wrong and sent him to public school. As a female, I was safe, so I finished out the 8th grade before making my debut at the public high school.
    The same priest was outed in the early 2000’s. 40 years of sexual abuse, busted.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I was a kid my family was Lutheran. Later when I first started studying Buddhism I noticed the nagging sense that I was going to go to hell for this! Lol It literally took a few years to wipe out this little bit of brain washing from my cranium! Nothing like scaring the shit out of little kids to teach them all about peace and love.

    Liked by 1 person

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