Friday, April 18, 2014

CRAIG EDWARD KELSO, An Atheist's Love Letter to Religion

The actual font at which I was Baptized.

Standing, I bent ever slightly at the waist.

My head leaned over a Baptismal Font, situated near the small basilica’s nave’s entrance.

Unconsciously, it occurred to me the intellectual exercise I’d seemed to be following to its logical conclusion for a few months was indeed concluding right now, right here.

Instead of looking down, I tilted my head parallel to the font, my face angled back at the entrance. 

I can leave and stop this, I thought consciously, purposefully before the Holy Water was to fall from the shell scoop held by the attending priest, by simply erecting, turning, and walking away.

I allowed the water to fall on my head, three times, and the person in Christ helped me to die and become reborn.

My conversion was hurried along greatly by a chance reading of a 20th century American Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, spoke to me as if it had been written directly for my experience. His prose was warm, inviting, introspective, critical, resolute.

Merton’s Christianity was muscular, pre-Vatican II. He would later be consumed by his times, succumbing to gross Hippy culture. But at the time of his writing, his intensity drew me in ways I hadn’t previously considered. 

What a journey it began.

The adventure I embarked on at the end of Lent and beginning Eastertide in 2003 would eventually find me a diocesan certified catechist, lector, Eucharistic minister, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine instructor, newsletter editor, Gregorian Chant enthusiast, armchair liturgical expert, 3rd Degree Knight of Columbus, Benedictine Oblate, amateur Church historian, God Father to a Congolese gentleman named Mumba, sometime social justice volunteer, and ever-adept rhetorical Christian apologist. 

For a shorter period, I even fancied the piety of a Daily Communicant, attending Mass every morning at its earliest offering. Enchantment with the Church’s Extraordinary Rite, its organically developed Mass revealed in the universal language of ecclesiastical Latin, proved to me the perfect form of worship. I made my way through careful rubrics, Missals of traditional form. Whatever the transcendent is supposed to feel or look like, the Old Latin Mass was it for me. 

And if you reached your hand into my right pant pocket during this period, you’d discover a resting Rosary curled up python-like at the bottom – a continual, meditative source of thumbing throughout the day.

A world previously closed to me, opened fully and embracingly. I poured through literature, made my way to monastic libraries, and collected as much head knowledge as I could cram into my pea brain about the ancient faith.

The seriousness of my connection to Christ’s Bride culminated in my assured entrance to the Diaconate, an offer made to me in earnest by veteran clergy … some rather high ranking. I balked for reasons I can guess at now.  At the time my hesitancy unnerved me, and I thought enough of my natural reticence to respect it and ease away from such a commitment as Holy Orders or sacred Vocation.

That's me, bottom left, in cassock, chanting at USD.

But it’s impossible to understate the encyclopedic treasure of Roman Catholicism for Western civilization.





The list is voluminous.

It’s an ever teaching exploration, and I was happily engrossed in its wake.

I had a century old, fifteen set print of the glorious Catholic Encyclopedia, and I managed to get through a great deal of it. I learned more about the developments of states, cultures, laws, science than I had in all my years of formal education.

The time I spent in the Church’s bosom lasted roughly three years.

I enjoyed every second. I regret absolutely none of that time with the great organization.

My final church moment came when I realized I didn’t believe as those around me did, that I didn’t really believe in the rather rational arguments after the acceptance of virgin birth, miracles, resurrection. I had the realization in roughly the approximation, the juxtaposition of my Baptism. Where architecturally my foray into religion began at the beginning of the building, my exit from religion would finalize at another church's steps as I physically existed (and I remember each one of the outside steps as I took them).

It was in a cold mausoleum I understood completely as I meditated how religion answered nothing. Religion was a hospital full of sick, groping people groveling for hope. Religion was the taking of the individual self and smashing it under foot.

I didn’t hate religion at that moment. I didn’t feel suckered in the slightest.

I just felt a pang of sadness at its spectacle, at its adherents.

I needed this graduate course in theology to make straight in my mind, once and for all, how I alone am responsible for my life. I alone cannot be forgiven by anyone other than those who I personally offended. I alone can make of my existence what I will.

And furthering the ideas that morning, I resolved to never want to be a slave, to not love my chains, to not love some invisible Master of the ether.

I arose, taking up from my kneeling position. I closed the Missal. I opened my eyes. I reached into my pocket, lovingly removed the Rosary … and set it on the pew’s rest.

I lifted my youngest daughter to my breast, took the hand of my eldest daughter, walked to my truck, and never returned.

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