How I became a Catholic, again
If you wonder about my overtly religious paintings, this is how it came about. If not, you may want to skip this.
How I became a Catholic, a Christian, again.
I was a cradle Catholic attending fine Catholic schools k-12. Despite the best efforts of some dedicated teachers, 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 (1981) I began to regain that faith on a long nighttime walk alone during a slow summer rain. I was lead singer in a 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) It started out by thinking about the mathematic chances of a gorilla typing out Hamlet, given unlimited paper and as many typewriters as necessary; 10200, sorry my scientific typing is pitiful(something a physics prof. mentioned). 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 extreme statistical odds otherwise compelled me to consider the possibility that some sort of being had instigated the whole thing. The proposition seemed tougher to ignore than to accept. That opened the door for my mind to wander… if there was a God, that God must have created space & time as the first step. Which meant that God was outside of space & time. Old Occam had a point. Which meant that space, time, the cosmos, were homemade tools He carried in His pocket. (I grew up in a family of carpenters.) In a sense Physics & Religion were two sides of the same coin, it all somehow made perfect sense, and Carl Sagan et.al., looked rather foolishly self assured. Laughing to myself, I thought of them 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 God, ok, ok, you bet… I was one arrogant young pup. I said: “Now look, here’s the deal, I accept that you exist, 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, some ice-cold 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 evangelist commune in the mountains, something romantic.
I soon learned that, that walk was on Palm Sunday’s eve; My regular late morning walk to the university studio took me by several churches, the last being a small 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 still wasn’t completely sold. I was surprised to realize I was back in a Catholic Church, the very last place expected. 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 I swear I tasted ice cold Koolaide. Well… 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 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.
Sadly most of the arguments for & against faith in God seem rather childish to me. Some faithful insult God by expecting a constant LSD high, or underestimating His true reach, and thankfully His patience. Atheists tend to energeticly underestimate nearly everyone, but themselves. Agnostics tend to be lazy, or have strange expectations. It’s rather easy to tell them apart. Typical of sentient micro-specks like us.
Floyd Anthony Alsbach
Notes: 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 have no intellect, which I find kinda funny actually. 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 nut 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.
-Holy Spirit well Gods Spirit gently pushing and pulling thing 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 considerably less than the chance of a gorilla typing Hamlet or life developing from a chance lightning strike, or intelligent life developing from that first life.
-The Spanish inquisition thing? Give me a break. Human history is full of cruelty & meanness, on every side, (Lutherans killed tens of thousands of Catholics, at times at Luthers urging, Henry the VIII enthusiastically killed anyone who stood in the way of his producing a male heir, or his right to dictate religious worship, it goes on & on) from every walk of life. Catholics are still just foolish human beings, only a bit more unfortunate, in that more is demanded of them.
-The wars for religion thing? Read your history more deeply. Religion has often been the excuse for war, but rarely the true core reason. When religion has been the core reason, the religious had lost their faith.
-The statues? I’m an artist, I definitely understand the difference between a statue and a being.
-The Saints? If you believe in an afterlife, why not ask those already there to pray for you, to mention you to the big guy further upstairs.
-Feminism? Jesus was the first great feminist, men just screwed that up too.
-Consevative? True Christianity is the most radical school of thought ever concieved. It is still the most radical, the fierce wild animal in a gilded cage, we just tend to compromise so much that it looks tame.
-The control of God through prayer & sacrifice? A temptation indeed, a superstition for certain.
-Why Pray? I can’t explain real prayer to anyone, especially if you’re an atheist. For me prayer is painting, painting is prayer, everything good is prayer. Everything made with devotion and in goodness of intent is prayer. Every time you sacrifice for the good of others you pray. 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 a intelligent omniscient Creator and you have been an idiot. WHo knows. Maybe we design our own hell, and getting a reprieve from that is heaven enough for me.
-The whole consolation, makes you feel better, or makes life easier… Baloney! True Christianity is demanding. It is not easier, or simpler, not even close.
-Career move? In this age 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 levelor hopes his work will one day be treated seriously. Why else do you think Andy Warhol kept it to himself. However I once attended a mass in NY and saw him there, sans whig. It was quite a surprise in 1978, he was not happy that I recognized him. He gave me a look that could freeze granite.
-Sins, heck that is easy, sins are mistakes committed in vanity. 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.
Buddah, Muhammed, Hindu, Krishna, Zoroaster, Hebrew, various Protestant groups… maybe just not the window I was guided to. Maybe not.
-Whatever happened to Nietzsche? My reader (Arthur Berendsten Prof. of Philosophy Emeritus At UMC) had me read every single one of N’s books. I even quoted him. 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 most enthusiastic prophet of Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini, Hiro Hito, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et. al. in short the Prophet of the 20th centuries plethora of murdering megalomaniacs. I wonder where Dante would place him?