I don’t want to get everyone stirred up again, but I must say I’ve been overwhelmed by the response I got to my harmless little commentary on the soon-to-be saint from the Mohawk Valley, Kateri Tekakwitha, and on her supposed father in heaven, whom I irreverently referred to as the invisible man in the sky.
I don’t know when I’ve taken such a battering. I am bruised from stem to stern and may not ever be able to navigate straight again. My grandchildren hardly recognize me.
Fortunately I was also shown some mercy in my dereliction. A reader in Rotterdam sent my columns to a Catholic cousin in Florida, and as a result, I’m told, candles were lit for me, a mass was said for me, and believers down there were going to start a novena for me.
It’s the first time I’ve ever had my own mass, as far as I know, and the news of it lifted my spirits, as did preparations for a novena, even though I’m not entirely sure what a novena is. My buoyed state might just be from the placebo effect, but who knows?
Not me. I know very little of otherworldly matters, though I notice that my indignant readers seem to know everything, and if they don’t know, if they’re as ignorant as I am, they holler “faith” and act as if they know.
Another thing I’ve noticed about these Christians who so bedevil me, they seem to think their religion is the only game in town, and I can’t get through to them that it’s not. I try to tell them there are other religions, whose followers believe in different gods just as fervently as they believe in theirs, but it doesn’t register with them.
They call me an atheist, intending it as an insult, without any acknowledgement of what I just finished saying to them, that they are atheists themselves as regards Allah, Shiva, Quan Am, Huitzilopochtli and battalions of other deities.
I point out to them the shortcomings of their own god, their invisible man, like his disregard of a dying little boy until some long-gone Indian girl came calling and pleaded on his behalf, and they don’t respond to that charge. They don’t even mention it. They just call me an atheist.
For all they know, I might be a follower of Krishna. I might be a Sufi or a Rastafarian or a Zoroastrian. They’re not interested. For them it’s Christianity or nothing. They have that in common with Muslims, who likewise recognize two groups of humans — themselves and unbelievers.
A retired Catholic priest wrote to me, very gently, apologizing for those Catholics who have been other than “kind in word and deed” and even thanking me for “challenging our beliefs and faith,” which was very gracious of him, but concluding, in answer to whether there is an invisible man in the sky, “If there is not, I lost nothing, but those who do not believe lost everything.”
And there you go again — Christianity or nothing. He doesn’t take into account that when he dies he might come face to face with some other invisible man, like Baal, which would be a good joke, or worse yet, Allah, who will consign him to hell simply for believing that he, God, has a son.
Or maybe the Buddhists are right and we get continually reborn at either higher or lower levels depending on our success or failure at freeing ourselves from attachments, until we at last attain the nothingness of nirvana, which would make all those Hail Marys irrelevant.
He says he will have lost nothing, but how about if he gets reborn as a howler monkey? I’ll have the last laugh then.
How anyone can devote his life to the worship of a particular invisible being and say, oh well, if there is no such being I haven’t lost anything, is a mystery to me.
He nailed me on one point, though: If I’m wrong about his loving god, I really will have lost everything. His loving god will throw me into a fiery pit where I will scream in agony for all eternity without any hope of escape, for not having believed in him. And meanwhile he’ll be up in the clouds listening to harp music, feeling pleased with himself.
I don’t know if the Florida mass will be any help at that point — probably not.
They come at me with their one-legged logic, these distraught readers, and assert that if a lot of people believe something it must be true, without considering that a lot of people believe a lot of different things, incompatible with each other, and it can’t all be true.
One reader sought to prove the existence of his invisible man in the sky by pointing out that we have such expressions as “God bless you,” and even, “God damn you,” so there must be something to it.
Another, a Schenectady lawyer, thought to demolish me by saying, “I have read parts of Summa Theologica, and I have read about every column Mr. Strock has written for 10 years. I can digest 10 years of Mr. Strock in less time than I can comprehend three pages of Thomas Aquinas,” which is the most upside-down criticism ever made of me— that I am easier to understand than Thomas Aquinas.
I should hope so!
On some slow day I will entertain you with passages from Aquinas’ theological masterwork so you can see for yourself just how accurate the criticism truly is. I will quote to you at length Aquinas’ answer to the burning question of whether one angel can speak to another, for example, which is really a good one.
Still other writers got all misty-eyed about Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) herself, even though very little is known about her and they were clearly reacting to their own imaginations, in sort of a closed loop, which is how you might describe much of religious thought, including that of Thomas Aquinas. One even compared her to Joan of Arc and had me close to tears, until I pinched myself.
But please note in all their hymns to sweet Kateri and in all their vituperations against me, the believers do not answer my basic questions or even acknowledge them. Here are just a few, to which I cordially invite them to respond:
u Why does your all-powerful invisible man need intercessors like Blessed Kateri? Can’t he pay attention to business himself?
u Why doesn’t he save all gravely ill children? Why favor just one in Seattle?
u Why did he create a flesh-eating bacteria to attack that boy in the first place?
“God works in mysterious ways” won’t do.
That the Catholic Church performs many good works is not to the point.
I want to hear something serious.