When I was a teenager I attended catechism classes at Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church on Sundays before mass. Some of my high school classmates were in these classes with me, sitting in what were known as temporary buildings set apart from the main campus, which had suddenly become overwhelmed with a recent increase in population in my home town. These buildings were nothing more than trailers, and not too comfortable. But the surroundings were not the worst part of this journey. One particular instructor assigned to us heathens – Oh I forget his name, but I’ll call him Mr. P – well, Mr. P was terrible at his job, which wasn’t his real job. He – like many of the amateur educators who take up the task of imparting wisdom to people slightly younger than they, and perhaps just as educated – endowed himself with the authority to tell his students about all the various ways we were going to be damned to the eternal flames of hell.
As it turns out, just about everything humans do is a mortal sin. In fact, Deuteronomy 23 outlines a few things God doesn’t want us doing, like taking a shit in our neighbourhood or being a “temple prostitute”. However, you are permitted to eat raw grains and grapes from someone else’s fields while you are out there. That’s good to know. I think this ought to apply to supermarkets, too.
Mr. P left quite an impression on me when he said that all music, no matter what style, was “bad” or from Satan if it made you even so much as tap your foot. Nevermind that Gospel music makes me want to really move. That’s bad, according to Mr. P. I’m almost sure he misspoke, and perhaps he was thinking of the Devil’s own rock ‘n’ roll. Jazz was thought to be evil decades earlier. Some people still don’t understand it, and as such, they condemn it.
Mr. P’s intentions were unclear. I don’t think he was terribly ignorant. I’m sure also that he enjoyed the occasional vice in his youth. I’m not suggesting he smoked weed or anything like that. But that wouldn’t be so bad, anyway. Maybe he liked beer or wine. Maybe he even listened to Miles Davis. But now he was standing in front of a class telling us that all the things that brought us pleasure were going to curse us to perdition, our souls in jeopardy. If you want a teenager to do something, tell him it’s forbidden.
30 years later, I still think about Mr. P. I hope he’s had a good life. Maybe he’s retired in Florida now. Or maybe he has a lot of friends he goes out with from time to time. I hope he has learned that if God wants anything for us, it’s for us to have a joyful life. I’ve found that some religions look upon pleasure as something abhorrent. I can see that overindulging is not good, but also depriving oneself can’t be the answer. We would not have been given the capacity to experience joy if we were not meant to receive it. Why do we crave and ache and yearn if not ultimately to feel satisfaction, if we are so fortunate?
Good religious educators are hard to find. If you take this on, please do not tell your students that everything they feel is wrong. We were all young once, some of us continue to be young at heart. It’s easy to forget how to enjoy life, what with all the stresses and responsibilities and headaches. Sometimes, we need to be reminded that there is a beautiful world out there with sights and sounds and tastes and smells, delights that pale in comparison to Eden’s. The God I believe in would say, “enjoy, celebrate, run like children through my fields.” It’s very sad that religion had to mess things up like it has.