Sunday, February 17, 2008

Spiritual Recovery

When I was in college and preparing for my Confirmation, I was extra careful when I went outside because, I reasoned, if I were to get hit by a bus and died before receiving the Sacrament that December, I didn't know where I would go. Very rational reasoning, I figured, no shades of gray. After all, the priest who was instructing me was "raising" me to think this way.

That brief six month period of spiritual upbringing was enough to scar me to the present day, and I still find myself trying to overcome this way of thinking. I often wonder if I had been instructed by a different priest (a Jesuit maybe?)--one not as orthodox (I was taught masturbation and speeding were mortal sins), religiously maladjusted, socially retarded, or emotionally thwarted--how my ability to relate to God would have been affected. Sometimes little things go a long way, and the influence of spiritual instruction during one's formative years is no exception. I guess this is what makes parenting so frightening, when you think about how much your child absorbs from their environment...and from you. It does not take much to drive someone away from religion.

But this is what motivates me to try to change that. Whenever I hear a God-awful homily, it fuels my desire to preach. When I hear horror stories about people's experiences in Catholic school, or with insensitive evangelicals, or encounters with colonialistic-minded missionaries, it makes me want to get back into the foray of teaching (though no more 7th graders dear God PLEASE!) and part-time RCIA and religious education. And when I hear of people who have been abused by priests (and think about how much the Church's rules on mandatory priestly celibacy might contribute to such behavior), I feel very sad...for both the abuser and the abused.

I dated a woman for a brief period of time who had been raped. She did not talk about it much, but years after it had happened, it was clear that it still affected her relationships, her psyche, ability to trust, capacity for affection, etc. Warring tribes in Africa use genital mutilation as a brutal "below the belt" blow because it scars for life, emotionally, , mentally, physically, sexually, spiritually. Rape, like genital mutilation, is more than just violence: it rolls the sins of theft, adultery, and murder into one horrific act that is worthy of the harshest judgment.

As a man, however, I am familiar with the animalistic impulse that drives men's sexually aggressive behavior. Fueled by alcohol, for instance, a horny college freshman, or lonely trucker, could find himself in a situation which he might normally have been able to keep in check were his inhibitions not lowered to this base level. (One reason why I am an advocate for marijuana reform--or at least a critique of current U.S. drug policy--is because, at the very least, such reform seeks to redress the glaring double-standard that exists in the system: alcohol, a drug so widely used and yet responsible for such a large percentage of assaults, rapes, and deaths, is legally condoned, while a relatively harmless plant is demonized and criminalized. I am not advocating prohibition--just an admission of this inconsistency). When I was in college a freshman broke into a bunch of girls rooms and sexually assaulted them, under the influence. He was sent to jail, and I read about it in the papers. I knew he was very ashamed and scared, and I wanted to ride my bike out and visit him, but he hung himself before I got the chance.

Men are driven outside of themselves with their desire to release and sow oats, so to speak. The violent rupture of ejaculation (how often is the double entendre "shooting"associated with this?) is merely a figurative model of a man's mind. "Wine loosens the tongue," but also the belt. Somewhere, a "no" is misheard...or not heard at all, and the consequences are devastating, and irreparable.

Trying to unlearn the things you were taught is a slow and frustrating process, not unlike some of the adults I tutor who are learning to read, or guys wrongfully accused of a crime trying to adjust to living in society after a thirty year stint on Death Row. "Slowly, slowly." One thing I do know, though. If I get the chance to help people from having to enter spiritual rehab in the first place from a fucked-up religious upbringing, I'm going to take it.

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