My mother had a cedar chest.
My mother has been dead for some time now.
In that cedar chest one time when I was fairly young I had occasion to notice that she had kept my First Communion Candle. It was a rather beautiful thing – obviously bees wax and with decorative flourishes that looked to be of the same type as the cream frosting flowers on a birthday cake.
That cedar chest has been lost, I guess, for some time now.
At least I have no idea where it might be.
So I have no idea where that candle might be - or if that candle even is.
I only mention it to establish a Catholic baseline for my life.
I did get as far in the ritual of the Church of Rome as First Communion.
In fact I even got farther.
The archbishop of the archdiocese of Portland delivered the slap of Confirmation to me somewhat later in my life.
I took the Confirmation name of Mary.
A lot of young Catholic men did that in those days.
I mention all of this so that whatever it is that I am about to say may have some sort of credibility – especially to me.
One of two things – I can’t remember which came first – manifested itself to me as a harbinger of doubt that god was in his heaven and all was right with the Catholic world.
The most likely of the two to have been the first was that I knew for a fact that many of the young men and women of much higher Catholic Church status that mine were fucking their mutual brains out as often as they were able.
At this late date in my life I could not care less who does who or how often.
In those days I was jealous.
Such opportunities never presented themselves to me.
If they had, I would have been unable to take advantage of them because my mother had convinced me that the only thing worse than being slowly digested by a carnivorous plant was to come up with a pregnant girlfriend.
But that mother induced conviction did not allay my jealousy.
However – there was a much bigger issue for me.
Those people – the fucking like minks bunch - were always the first in line for Communion at Sunday mass.
The sixth commandment, I had been taught, had many diverse meanings, but all of them could be summed up in one statement: sex outside matrimony is a mortal sin. And a mortal sin condemns one to eternal damnation.
Eternal damnation in those days meant you went to hell.
The anomaly that I perceived haunted me.
Then I heard about Galileo.
The short story was that unless he recanted on his view of the solar system – the fundamental truth of which has lived with us for centuries – he would have been guilty of mortal sin.
And we all know where mortal sin ends up – see above.
So he recanted.
At the point of perceiving those two facts I also was beset by two imponderables: the pillars of the youth of my part of the Catholic Church were fucking like minks but could partake of Holy Communion every time they went to mass – taking Communion in a state of mortal sin being in its own right yet another mortal sin – but a guy in the distant past who had been the first to discover a truth of how things work would have gone to hell if he hadn’t agreed to say that he was wrong about his perceived truth.
Things didn’t seem to make sense to me.
But at that point I was only troubled by the apparent lack of consistency that those two facts seemed to support.
It wasn’t until I began to ponder the implications of those two things that I really began to wonder.
If Galileo had not recanted a thing which was true and undeniable would he have been in hell for all eternity?
Can a court of old men in weird hats and robes declare a human soul to eternal damnation?
On the other hand can the act of – I assumed they must have done this – going and confessing the mink fucking every week wipe the slate clean for the pillars of the church so that they could partake of the Sacrament sans sin? Could they just live as they chose and go get a weekly application of hell-avoidance forgiveness – from a human being just like the rest of us – and go merrily on their chosen course?
The answers seemed to me in both cases to be yes.
At that point I developed a major theological problem.
And I wasn’t very old yet.
How could men legislate others of their fellows to hell or not to hell?
And I have never been able to come up with any answer but that they cannot.
That is why I just laugh at all the furor and excitement surrounding the current pope’s apparent willingness to reconsider some of the Catholic Church’s ridiculous rules and regulations.
How many of us – now dead – are languishing in the fires of hell due to the whim of this or that hierarch of Catholicism no better or worse than we are?
What a ridiculous question.
Unless you believe the bullshit.