How I came to be Catholic... again.
If you wonder about my overtly religious paintings, and my occasional reference to religion in my titles...this is how it came about. If you are not interested, don't care, or think everyone who believes in God is an idiot, you may want to skip this... I may dissapoint you... but I doubt it. (The following is not intended to be an academic style, closely reasoned phlisophical explanation... (though if you really want such a boring thing to read... I can provide it.) The following is more of an effort to shed light on my personal paradigm which is often helpful in understanding an artist)
How I became a Catholic, a Christian, again. (NOTE: this is an extremely brief synopsis of a thought process which began on the walk below and lasted for several years.)
I was a cradle Catholic attending fine Catholic schools k-12. Despite the best efforts of dedicated teachers (no cliche bad-nun or evil preist stories here) and the faithful examples of some family... I completely lost faith in any god and most especially a Catholic view of God in my late teens. "Superstitious nonsense, silly advanced Santa Clause wish fulfillment, pre-wired caveman need." At the time described below I was particularly enjoying reading F. Nietzsche's; "Will to Power" for my upcoming theisis.
At 23 (spring-1981ish) I began to regain that faith on a long nighttime walk alone during a slow summer rain. Besides school and work I was lead singer in a local college band, we had another big argument about nothing and I needed some air. Eventually I found myself walking in the rain while arguing with God, ok so it sounds crazy, heck it was kinda crazy. (No I did not hear voices) The conversation started while thinking about something a physics prof. mentioned, the statistical chances of a gorilla typing out Hamlet, given unlimited paper and as many typewriters as necessary; 10200, sorry my scientific typing is pitiful. It occurred to me that a lucid Creator of heaven and earth (the cosmos) was at least as likely as the series of pure chances that had to occur for intelligent life to develop (a considerably larger number which I cannot now recall but there were a lot of zeroes 10500?). The otherwise extreme statistical odds compelled me to consider the possibility of intention, which led to the idea of a lucid something (creator) that instigated the whole thing. The proposition seemed easier to ignore than to accept (an Occams razor of another sort). That opened the door to wondering... if there was a creator, then it created space/time/matter (the Cosmos). Which meant that this creator/thing with intent had to be outside if it existed at all. Old Occam had a point. Which meant that if this were so; space/time etc. were homemade tools He carried in His pocket. (I grew up in a family of carpenters.) IF that were so Carl Sagan et.al. (very popular at the time), looked rather foolishly self assured. Laughing to myself, I thought of us as brushstrokes on a painting arguing that there was no painter, they claimed to have just grown there, like the mold on the back of the canvas. Which was really weird thinking for a previously rather adept hedonistic skeptic.
I then had the temerity to make a deal with this possible Creator, ok, ok, you bet... I was one arrogant young pup. NOTE: This deal was made in all sincerity, without any sarcasm or intelectual reserve. I said: "Now look, here's the deal, I accept that you exist, or at least existed (I think I was still hoping maybe superadvanced aliens had done the job per-A.C. CLark) aren't you lucky, so you guide me to the faith, and the place you want me and I'll accept it. If not then you're either not particularly interested in me, or us, or I'm an idiot for even thinking this stuff, or all of the above. (I know now that this was a particularly ridiculous proposition, but I was young and didn't know any better, not much of an excuse, huh.) I'll know it's right when I feel just like I did at my Grandma's kitchen table in the summer time, the window fan whirring (no one I knew had air conditioning until I was 11) some ice-cold Cherry Koolaide, a few cheap cookies, us all talking & giggling about nothing in particular... home, home, home!" I figured I'd have some long romantic search through the world's faiths. My imagination ran to some obscure, exotic faith from a far off country, Hindu, Buddhist, or in a small hippie style evangelistic commune in the mountains, something really cool.
I soon learned that walk took place on Palm Sunday's eve; My regular late morning walk to the university studio took me by several churches, the last being a small hand hewn greystone late 19'th century Catholic Church. The people & priest were outside blessing palms. I just sort of accidentally fell in line at the back. It felt natural to just kinda' ease into the back of the line. As we entered I glanced at the crucifix, I swear an overwhelming feeling of welcome, of coming home saturated me. I kept my cynical attitude foursquare, still not sold. It was surprising to realize I was back in a Catholic Church, the very last place I would have expected. Maybe this was just a weird mistake, or a coincidence. I looked around for a place to sit, found a corner where I could hide my paint-spattered jeans and big stupid grin. As I got comfortable the mass began.... I swear I tasted ice cold Koolaide and then caught myself looking around for a window fan... Well... that was it, I was done for.
No long romantic search, no testing of the waters at various Christian churches, no anything just..."wham Ok, here ya go big stuff, hows tHIS!!!"
I'm over fifty now and have rarely, rarely missed a Sunday since, and NEVER EVER a Palm Sunday. However, I'm a disapointing Catholic, as are most of us I guess.
Nowadays... and sadly, many of the arguments for & against faith in God seem rather childish to me. The faithful often insult God by expecting a constant LSD high, or underestimating His true reach, His patience, His existence beyond all time, all space, and thus His unfathomable perspective. Atheists tend to rather energeticly underestimate nearly everyone, but themselves (thinking particularly of Chris Hitchens here). Strangely the Agnostics I have known personally almost uniformly consider themselves deep... which tends to prove my point, or have strange, always un-met, expectations. It's rather easy to tell them apart. Typical of sentient micro-specks like us to set preconditions upon our belief, as if the universe actually needed us to exist.
Floyd Anthony Alsbach
Notes: If you accept that I am intelligent enough to understand Nietzsche, which is addmittedly rare, you may wonder how I made the leap intellectually from a God, to Christianity... the whole Jesus thing... Holy Spirit... the Virgin Birth. Heck you may have concluded that I lost my marbles, have no intellect, or whatever... which is interestingly un-original. Well the Holy Spirit was easy given how I had returned to the faith. Jesus, that was simple enough once I realized that He was either a complete nut, a fatalistic rebel leader with a suicide complex (the Romans, after all, loved crucifying dissidents) or who He said He was. Plus, He walked away from incredibly tempting power & influence more than once. "And as he knew they were coming to take Him and make Him King, He walked off alone into the mountains to pray." (John 6:15) Megalomaniacs don't do that, ever.
The Priest sex abuse cover-up scandal?: Now there is an example of a series of bad decisions made out of fear. There is no excuse for the decision not to involve the police, though I can understand the temptation to avoid a scandal... which inevitably leads to a much larger scandal. However... as a percentage of the population I'll bet there are far fewer priests who have sexually abused people, than men in general, even men in authority positions (ministers, police, doctors, psychiatrists....). I have never known a mean or abusive priest or nun, to my knowledge I know no one personally who has experienced any sort of real abuse by either.
The Catholic Church was a co-conspirator with the Nazis in WWII: Oh you read "Hitlers Pope" by John Cornwell, and you believed it? Mercy... It is a well known hoax designed to sell books, just like Dan Brown. Did you know that approx. 3 million (mostly Polish) Catholics were; machine gunned, worked to death, exterminated by the Nazi's, including at least three Bishops and nearly 3,000 clergy. Yes Hitler was born Catholic. As an adult "Mein Kampf" makes it clear that Hitler was an aetheist, great company to be in huh. There were fallen Catholic Nazi's, and many other denominations, excluding nearly all Jehovah's witnesses who proved exceedingly stubborn, but most Nazi's were aetheist.
Evolution or The Big Bang theory changed everything: There is no conflict between science and religion, except for that manufactured to sell books. Besides: "... and God said; let there be light, and there was light..."
Chesterton: Ever wonder why so many contemporary Aetheist apologists avoid G. K. Chesterton... me too.
Miracles?: The greatest miracle is apparent everyday. The pressure to conform to the secular hedonist saturation of Western Civilization can be daunting. Tacit implications that believers just aren't all that bright are near constant. [An understanding admittedly reinforced at times by some of the more shallow & dimwitted evangelists, plus the Karo Syrup loaded religious art work hawked at Hallmark, Walmart et. al.. Most overtly aetheist art work, Andre Serranno for example, is easily as obvious, shallow, empty, and cynical.] Professional condescenders armed with bucket loads of pseudo-sophisticated thesaurus-rex reasoning such as Hitchens, Hamer, Loftus, Dawkins et. al. ... I can't figure out why they don't rely more upon the master Aetheist philosopher Nietzsche, or at least Ayn Rand... maybe because she was an arch consevative, and capitalist.
Freudian need?: Definitely a gifted writer, clearly quite bright, originator of some highly original terminology and methodology (though some may be borrowed from the Catholic concept of the confessional) which became brand name ideas. However... a guy who cured no one, committed the unforgivable profesional sin of seducing several of his patients, well ok maybe more than several, promoted cocaine like an old west cure-all, and was clearly a sex addict... your telling me because he was an aetheist I should be one? NAH!
-Holy Spirit; well... Gods Spirit gently pushing and pulling things here & there is simple enough if there is a Creator, He is still creating.
-Virgin Birth? (parthenogenesis) The rare & generally unlikely chance of human parthenogenesis is still considerably less than the chance of a gorilla typing Hamlet or life developing from a completely random lightning strike, or intelligent life developing from that first orgnism. Besides if I understand correctly it is biologicaly possible, though highly unlikely. Huh... what do you know... it could be a miracle!
-The Spanish inquisition thing? Lets see over about 350 years the various inquisitions killed roughly 4000 people. 4000 too many indeed. Sadly, human history is full of cruelty & meanness, on every side, (Lutherans killed tens of thousands of Catholics (Catholics did the same) at times at Martin Luther's urging. Luther, Baza, and John Calvin equalled the Catholic intollerance of Potestants with their own intolerance towards Catholics. Henry the VIII enthusiastically killed anyone who stood in the way of his producing a male heir, or his right to dictate religious worship, and of course he took nearly everything owned by devout Catholics and the Catholic Church in England to finance his wars and various other ambitions. Forced conversion was not uncommon during much of human history, and still is common in some Arab countries... it goes on & on in every walk of life). Oh yeah the Inquisition was a bad thing, no excuses, a terrible sin and stain upon the church. There still are bad Catholics, we still do our share of bad stuff. We are all just foolish human beings. Catholic misfortune is that often more is expected of them, as I guess it should be.
The Crusades: The Moors (who became Muslim as the Arabs absorbed them) conquered the Iberian Penninsula, Spain & Portugal (710-753) and influenced much of Europe. The Moors were the most highly educated & sophisticated of Western & Near-Eastern peoples at the time (excluding the Hebrews whose culture of intense education precedes them by a great deal of time). Recall that the Roman Empire lasted far longer in Norther Africa than in Europe. The Moors were finally driven out for good around 1481. These wars across the narrow strait between Northern Africa nad the Iberian Penninsula go back at least as far as the History of Rome. Neither side were innocent gentle rulers. The whole "we came not as destroyers but as enlightened saviors" thing is arrogant propoganda, whenver it is used. The Crusades grew partially out of the desire to drive the Moors further into Northern Africa and regain Christian control of the Holy Lands. They were motivated by the same things all wars are motivated by, fear, greed, revenge, and a desire for power. Religion was just an excuse.
Mary, the wife of Joseph, mother of Jesus: Catholics should not, and generally do not WORSHIP Mary, as in Worship her like a god. They Honor her as the Handmaid of God, the chosen and holy mother of Jesus and so on. Catholics should never equate Mary with God.
-Like most folks I have a problem with self assured fundamentalist's of any persuasion, including Aethists who shun folks with conventional religious beliefs; " Oh your a Unitarian Buddhist that's cool... at least your not a Catholic, or a Fundamentalist!" Which in my experience; being a practicing Catholic, is the begining of looking for a reason to let you go... (get fired).
-The wars for religion thing? (or even more absurd "religion is more often than not the cause of war") This is an example of the shallowest sort of reading of history.. a version of Google-history. The gaping chasm in that argument is that one could easily substitute another major human endeavor for religion and make the same argument, say science for example. After all, hasn't science provided us with ever more efficient means of killing each other? ... or technology, or politics, or literature, or... Religion has often been the excuse for war, the rationale for war, a way to motivte the populus... but rarely the true core reason. Most often the causes were: fear, lust for power, greed, desire for fame (honor), and desperation. When religion has been the core reason for war, the religious have fallen and bastardized their faith.
-Worshipping statues? I'm an artist, I definitely understand the difference between a statue and a being, this is a silly paradigm on every side.
-The Saints? If you accept the possibility of an afterlife, why not ask those already there to pray for you, to mention you to the big guy upstairs who built the place.
Personally I suspect the afterlife is of no real concern, because it is either indescribable, incomprehensible, or... poof your gone... oh well.
-Ghosts?... balderdash I don't believe in ghosts. NOTE: By ghosts I mean spooks, hauntings, shades, vampires, werewolves, et. al. I do believe in the Holy Spirit, Souls, and yes even Angels, but I do not claim to speak to them, hear them, see them, or to understand just exactly to what we are refferring.
-Astrology- I know that gravity & time affect us all... but to the extent proposed by astrology... besides lacking in scientific method, it's sort of a denial of the great lottery within the genetic code. As a predictor of the future... no respectable statistics that I am aware of support it, as a life guide... uhhhh nope.
-Feminism? Jesus was the first great male feminist, Mary is honored above all other human beings by many Christian denominations, probably... men just screwed that up too.
-Conservative? True Christianity as taught by Jesus and his Apostles is the most radical school of thought ever concieved. The Weathermen (why Weathermen with all the women members???) the WeatherUnderground, the Black Panthers, the Communists, Socialists, Atheists, Fabians, Anarchists, avante garde of every ilk are silly self absorbed children by comparison. After 2000 years Christianity is still far more radical than any other movement, it is a highly dangerous ideal, the fierce wild animal in a gilded cage, we just tend to compromise so thoroughly that it looks tame.
-The control of God through prayer & sacrifice? A foolish temptation indeed, a superstition for certain.
-Why Pray? I can't explain real prayer to anyone, especially if you're an atheist. Prayer is a constant conversation, while living, thinking, painting, (painting is definitely a form of prayer for me) working, everything good is prayer. Everything made with devotion, kindness and in goodness of intent is prayer. Every time you quietly, annonomously sacrifice for the good of others you pray. Prayer is a form of meditation, at times a highly sophisticated form of meditation, at the best moments a simple constant journey... See I told you I can't explain it.
-Heaven? I don't know what heaven is but I suspect I know what hell is... Hell is finding out for sure there is an intelligent, omniscient, loving Creator and you have been a disapointing idiot. Who knows. Maybe we design our own hell, and getting a reprieve from that is heaven enough for me.
Creationists vs Evolutionist? There is no real conflict here, if there is a God, the Creator of the Cosmos, then God is beyond the Cosmos... much as a sculptor pours themselves into their work, yet also remains outside of it. Isn't the implication clear... creation is an ongoing process... not once and done. "What about Genesis?" Well grasshopper... how would you explain space/time, the concept of millions, much less billions of years to Bronze Age, semi-nomadic people roughly 3,700 years ago, could you even explain it to the less than ordinary... like Abraham? Most likely the most effective means of explaining these concepts are with a few analogous stories.
-The whole consolation, makes you feel better, or makes life easier... BALONEY!!!! True Christianity is a pain in the neck, a hassle, an inconvenience. It is not easier, nor simpler, not even close. I am often frustrated with God, I argue with Him far more than I praise Him... unfortunately... He always wins. Goofing off on Sunday, avoiding prayer, indulging in revenge, making fun of people who go to church, attacking them, especially online where it is safe (which has often happened to me since first posting this section)... now that my friends... is easy.
-"Religion is the reason for most of humanities problems... the cause of nearly all wars." Huh Whuh? I repeat: One could substitute any number of human endeavors and make the same argument, including science. FEAR, Greed, pride, vanity, lust for power, arrogance.... those are the root causes of all wars. Blaming religion is an attitude at the center of it's own universe, thinking the rest of us are stupid cattle, mere shadow folk, i.e. R. Dawkins, how easy and boring.
-The God Gene (VMAT2)- [One of the funniest things ever said regarding a philosphical argument was said about this hypothesis "It shows the poverty of reductionist thinking" John Polkinghorne, Anglican Priest, Daliy Telegraph Nov. 14th 2004... c'mon think about it... hilarious! ] You mean it's not our choice to believe in God, I just can't help myself because I'm wired that way? How silly is that really... we all choose, despite all of our predilections we still choose every thing we do, every single day. We may have a norrow field of choices due to circumstances, but either we have choices & suffer consequesces... otherwise maybe existential angst is our only option... YUCK!!! I do not do everything I do because of a percieved reward. I do somethings even though I know the consequences will make my life more difficult... like posting this on my website. I am not Pavlov's dog, though if you put me in a cage and give me food & water only at your whim while riging a buzzer, I'm sure I would salivate on demand... until I found a way to escape... then I might be tempted to committ a felony... heck lets just be frank... if I had the means...
-Career move? In the Art World today it is career suicide to be openly Catholic. This section on my website is career suicide. At least for an artist who loves to teach at the college/university level or expects his work to ever be treated seriously. Why else do you think Andy Warhol kept it to himself. (I once attended a mass in NY and saw him in church, kneeling, comunion the whole thing, sans whig. I didn't realize it was an Orthodox church at the time, heck I was just 18 or 19. It was quite a surprise in 1977, he was not happy that I recognized him. He gave me a look that could freeze molten granite, though he didn't say a single word.)
-Sins & Guilt? Oh heck that is easy, sins are intentional mistakes. You can sin by not doing what you ought, or by doing what you shouldn't, we always know deep down when we are erring. Listening to that still small voice is the challenge.
Secularism? The history of the 20th century should be proof enough to the thoughful that strict secularism is not all that it's cracked up to be.
Willfull Ignorance: Ever hear of a religious person being accused of being willfully ignorant? You guessed it... I'm actually just a bigoledumbfathillbilly.
Buddah, Muhammed, Hindu, Krishna, Zoroaster, Hebrew, Baha'i: I think S. Buddah was a very good and deeply wise man. I think Muhammed was highly intelligent and ambitious. The Hebrew's/The Jewish people I admire a great deal, they are role models of stubborn survival and of intelectual achievment, the Elder Brothers of Christianity, of Islam, and Baha'i, respect is due them. I know less about the others... I suspect that they are just not the window I was guided to. I have several serious intelectual problems with Christian Fundametalism (mostly I am concerned about their tendency to underestimate God and over estimate themselves). I also am somewhat cynical in regards to the book of Mormon and The Koran (remarkable literature, both of which seem rather convenient revelations customized to their prophets needs and desires... then again I've only read each of them once, and that decades ago). I have only the most superficial knowledge of Baha'i, Hindu, of Krishna and of Zoroaster so... no comment.
-Whatever happened to Nietzsche? My faculty reader (Arthur Berendsten Prof. of Philosophy Emeritus At UMC and a daunting academic disciplinarian of the first order) had me read every single one of N's books, oh and Croce', Hume... a long. long list. Interestingly he thought I wasn't ready for St. Thomas Aquinas (who is ever ready for the Summa) he didn't write that much about the arts anyhow. Personally I concluded that Nietzsche was an incredibly gifted, brilliant writer, a misogynistic hater of his own rather nice, mild mannered Catholic mother, and the clearly brilliant, enthusiastic prophet of megalomania who ever walked the earth. In "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" and "The Will to Power" I think F.N. helped build the intelectual foundation for Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Hiro Hito, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung (undisputed champion serial child rapist and mass murderer (45 million acording to F. Dikotter in "Mao's Great Famine") and author of the incredibly inane collection of truisms "The Little Red Book"), Pol Pot... et. al. in short the farseeing Prophet of the 20th centuries plethora of murdering megalomaniacs. I've often wondered if he saw Napoleon as a sort of foreshadowing of the Ubermensch? Where would Dante' place ole Freddie N.? "Way down upon the Styx River... far far away..." Oh yeah it's Swanee River now ain't it... oops my bad!