Tuesday, July 17, 2007

So I drove my mom to the airport and...

we got to talking about fundamentalism which she has never understood. She is a Christian who attends an Assemblies of God church, but she is patently not fundamentalist in practice, even if she does tend toward the fundamentals in terms of her theology. She'd be the first to say that she reads the Bible, follows what is written there and loves and trusts God. She isn't about theologizing nor is she about finding practices that she "should" do.

I took the surprising role of defending my friends who are fundamentalists to help her understand how these Christians arrived at their convictions and why they are so devoted to what appears to be folly. And that led to a rabbit trail I might never have discovered otherwise.

"It just reminds me of all that fundamentalist type stuff I grew up with; you know the scapular and the fasting and the making room for your Guardian Angel and stuff..."

"Excuse me? Whoa, what? Did you say, 'scapular'? What on earth is that?"

"You know, those wool patches you wear under your clothes, with the saints' faces printed on them - or Jesus's. I forget."

"Mom, I have no clue what you're talking about."

At this point she proceeded to tell me that when she was a kid (1940s) in Catholic school, each morning children put on scapular. The description given by Wikipedia is better than my attempt so here it is:
It consists of two small squares of cloth, wood or laminated paper bearing religious images joined by two bands of cloth. It is worn so that one band is across each shoulder and that one square rests on the chest and the other on the back. Older forms of scapular exist that have extra bands running under the arms and connecting the squares.
In my mom's case, her scapular was wool and was worn in winter and summer under the clothes directly against the skin. The point? To irritate the skin at all times so that you would remember that you needed God, that you should never be fully content with life and therefore forget that you needed God.

She said they scratched and itched all the time. And in summer, they were hot. She wore these starting in Kindergarten. Not optional.

My mouth dropped open.

So I pressed on. "What is this about fasting and your Guardian Angel?"

She told me that once children had received first communion, they then took communion every day in mass at school. But before Vatican 2, no one could eat any food or drink after midnight before receiving the host. That meant small kids (starting in first grade) would eat dinner around 6:00. They went to bed at 8:30 and woke up, dressed and went off to school without breakfast or even a glass of water.

Communion wouldn't come until nearly 10:00 a.m. Mothers packed jelly sandwiches as breakfast to be eaten after mass. And as my mom went through this dispassionate explanation of what can only be thought of as cruel and unusual religious punishment of children, she commented, "I was famous for fainting. I fainted all the time. The nuns thought I was just not trying hard enough."

I kept driving and had almost nothing to contribute to this shocking revelation of her early childhood life. She added, almost as a post script, that she remembered being in Kindergarten when her teacher, a 25 year old nun that she loved, told them to always sit to the righthand side of the desk chair leaving at least half a chair for the guardian angel who needed a place to sit beside them. Being a 'good girl,' my mother scooted to the edge of her seat imagining that she might not be giving the angel enough room. She never sat comfortably in her chair because she believed her nun and wanted to have a happy guardian angel.

It was at this moment that I finally understood why my mother has no comprehension about why any Protestant would convert to Catholicism. To her, Catholic conversion is equivalent to hurtling oneself back into irrational self-abuse designed by those in authority, disguised as devotion to God.

...whereas Protestant fundamentalism is the conscious and deliberate choice to turn grace into law for the sake of feeling morally superior, more secure and closer to God than the other people in your church. At least, that's how it felt when I was a fundamentalist.


Dalissa 365 said...

Huh... you learn something new every day! Thanks!

Ampersand said...

The point? To irritate the skin at all times so that you would remember that you needed God, that you should never be fully content with life and therefore forget that you needed God.

This reminds me of the little corner of fundamentalist christianity of which I was a part. They cultivate a greater and greater awareness of their sin in order to have a greater appreciation of grace and their dependency on the cross.

That, combined with the presumption that others could see one's sin better than oneself, made it a very scary place to be.

I can't say it ever made any sense to me since it just seemed like a form of psychological and spiritual enslavement.

I can see why your mom feels the way she does. I guess fundamentalism is everywhere, in its own way.

Jason h said...

Hey! i'm going to cali this sunday.. gonna be there for a week, this is the site i was talking about where i made the extra cash. later!

Chuck said...

I read this post a couple of days ago, but thought of it again this morning when I drove by "Touchdown/Big Butter Jesus" on my way to work. (For those of you outside Cincinnati , here's some info on our infamous attraction/eyesore.) Their LED sign had a message to the effect "Don't drive faster than your Guardian Angel can fly." Now what the hell does that mean, even for someone that believes in such a thing (Don't get me started on stupid church signs) So time to comment.

My perception of people converting to Catholicism (or many other "tradition" conversions) is that they are driven more from esthetic motives rather than theological ones. At least the descriptions I see of people shifting to Catholicism (or even high-church Protestantism) comment more on the sensory aspects of the services - smells/bells/ambient room qualities - and not so much on doctrines or historic church stances. Again, it's only my perception - but I do think most of our religious choices are driven more by environment and temperment than we want to acknowledge.

I can't imagine living with such distorted, subjective images of the supernatural world as those so often propogated by religious leaders. It's basically "anything goes", since nothing can be proved/disproved.

kimmy said...

Such a facinating discovery on the way to the airport!

Chuck said...

So, Dave, is that like saying "may you experience some generic blessing, to be determined in hindsight"? A true post-modern expression of faith if I've ever heard one. I'm there! :-)

If anyone's lurking and curious, the Nexis web site is www.nexusucc.org . We continue to learn and grow thru lots of trial and error...

Dave said...

Chuck, are you replying to my email post on the PoMoXian list through Julie's blog? Some kind of strange wiring mix-up appears to have taken place on the internet! :o)

Kansas Bob said...

Thanks for expanding the definition of religious fundamentalism Julie. Many in the RC church don't want to be identified with fundamentalism. Unfortunately Pope Benedict XVI has a very rigid and fundamentalst interpretation of Christianity. He has an extreme and condescending view of Christians outside of the RCC. Never know, maybe he will bring back the scapular along with the Tridentine (Latin) Mass. :(

Chuck said...

Strange about my post - it actually should have been posted to the "She Who Is" thread...I guess Blogger got confused, or it was operator error...

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

WOW! This brought back memories for me. Growing up in the 60's in a very strict Catholic home we had a long list of rules and rituals. I had a huge "Sacred Heart" statue of on my dresser (Jesus opening his chest to reveal his heart which had a crown of thorns on it). I had a scapular but we didn't have to wear them all the time.