Last Sunday I laid aside my Seventh Day Agnostic status to perform as a navipascua – one who goes to church mainly on Christmas and Easter. I did this to share the holiday with my wife but also because I believe that one’s intellectual evaluations should not interfere excessively with cultural traditions. When someone noted a horseshoe over Einstein’s door and asked, “You don’t believe in that, do you?” the scientist responded, “Of course not, but they tell me it works.”
My own sloppy view of such matters stems in part from having been an anthropology major. Anthropology teaches you, among other things, the power and significance of mythology even as one is examining rationally the culture that embraces it. Myth is universal and exists even if what it claims doesn’t. Myth can either strengthen a culture or weaken it, but it doesn’t go away.
I am also the product of Quaker education, a religion that shares with existentialists the notion that action is more important than faith. Or as I sometimes put it, I don’t give a shit what you believe; just what you do about it,
This mushy approach towards religion has stood me in good stead. During the 1960s, for example, I had quite a few good friends who were priests or ministers in part because we had too many things to do together to even talk about the possible theology behind it.
And despite my agnosticism, attending the service last Sunday raised some minor issues in my own mind fostered by having been brought up in the Episcopal Church. Despite having no residual loyalty, I couldn’t help but recall that I had to go through the pain and suffering of confirmation classes in order to qualify for communion while the little kids at Sunday’s service were allowed to participate simply by being there. I also felt slightly annoyed to see the ministers cross themselves, something they left to those Catholics back when I was growing up.
So there I was, a non-believer, non-practitioner, being irritated by what seemed the incorrect ritual of a religion in which I no longer had any part. It was one of the things you were taught about religion: you had to do it right. And it was a lesson that apparently can survive belief. After all when I was the age of those kids taking communion without any training, my grandfather, senior warden of his church, had scolded me after a service, “Young man, in the old prayer book, it said, ‘And take thy humble confession, devotedly kneeling ON YOUR KNEES!’” I merely had my butt on the pew. Now parishioners were taking communion while standing. And I find that odd.
The irony of this heretic puzzling about such matters was a reminder of how tradition and myth can hang on even with a Seventh Day Agnostic. The fact that we aim to pursue reality does not mean that we shouldn’t have read Winnie the Pooh when we were growing up, sung hymns on Sunday, or prayed for a friend in need. We still need some magic; we just need to know when to call upon it and when to call 911 instead.