Before anyone gets twisty knickers, let me begin by stipulating that Roger Ebert was a fine, fine man and deserved a glorious funeral fully celebrating his amazing life. But I keep coming back to this essential conflict. Ebert, on March 1 of this year:
I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God. I refuse to call myself a atheist however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable.
Roger Ebert’s funeral was Monday at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.
It so happens his statement pretty much describes me, although I wouldn’t go with the “lock, stock and barrel” part. My morals and values were shaped by my Catholic upbringing, but I can no longer say with confidence there’s a God watching over us all. I, too, stop short of atheism, because it requires the same certainty. If anyone asks, I say I’m a hopeful agnostic who welcomes a sign from on high, as long as it falls short of Job’s. Well short.
This is what I have always called cultural Catholicism, which is like secular Judaism — yes to the Seder, no to the synagogue. Catholics and Jews have suffered historic prejudice, and this may be why people can shed the belief, but keep the tribalism. Whatever. I don’t go to church anymore, ask very little from it and admire the good works the church still does, bringing God to some truly godforsaken places.
But when I made inquiries about having Kate baptized in the One True, I was presented with a series of conditions — membership in a congregation, my marriage affirmed by the priest, and only then would the original sin be expunged from her baby soul’s criminal record.
And I considered this and decided, you know, I don’t even believe this stuff anymore. And that was that. Guilt dogged me into bringing her back for a while when she was around 2 or 3, and still, the flame could not be coaxed to grow. And then the Scandal broke, and it was game over.
I still feel Jesus out there from time to time, but I don’t mistake it for religion.
So Roger Ebert’s funeral was yesterday. I asked the internet, via Twitter, how a man who wrote, “I cannot believe in God” qualified for a cathedral sendoff, and the best answer I got was, “because he was a member.” He certainly lived a life many Catholics would find admirable, full of kindness and charity and love and joy. But every Mass that is celebrated contains the profession of faith, the Nicene Creed, which begins with these lines:
We believe in God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and all that is seen and unseen.
Ebert also said this, about death, in a blog entry after his disfigurement:
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear…I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state.
Those must have been some very strange prayers Monday, for the soul that animated Ebert’s life and consciousness, and especially the Nicene Creed, which ends:
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
I hope someone had enough of a sense of humor to add, “Or, y’know, whatever.”
And if you’re wondering why I can’t turn my head to this mild inconsistency, this is what was going on in the Archdiocese of Detroit yesterday:
A Detroit professor and legal adviser to the Vatican says Catholics who promote gay marriage should not try to receive holy Communion, a key part of Catholic identity.
And the archbishop of Detroit, Allen Vigneron, said Sunday that Catholics who receive Communion while advocating gay marriage would “logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.”
Never ever ever ever ever going back.
Neil Steinberg attended the funeral, and asked much the same question:
Mass was officiated by a trio of priests — Monsignor Daniel Mayall, parish pastor of Holy Name, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina’s firebrand and the Rev. John F. Costello, special assistant to the president of Loyola University, who delivered a homily that showed off his Jesuit training by explaining — without ever drawing attention to the fact he was explaining — a question perhaps on the mind of many: how Chicago’s most famous agnostic and public doubter of all doctrines ended up being delivered up to heaven at the city’s preeminent Catholic cathedral.
The answer: He found God — well, a version of God, Costello said, “a new God, one of ironic compassion, of overpowering generosity, of racial love” — at the movie theater.
Change of subject!
I think I may have mentioned, Kate’s bass teacher, Dan Pliskow, is well into his 70s and a wealth of information about jazz history in this very jazzy city. He played in the house band at the Playboy Club for a time in the early ’60s. He recently started uploading his vast photo archive to the Internet, and I asked if he had any Bunny pictures. He did:
Click to enlarge, gents. But he also had this in the file:
Speaking of Catholic priests. When the club opened, it was announced that the Bunnies would work for no base wage, tips only. The unions responded by picketing the club during its preview run, and a few malcontents slashed tires and convertible tops of visiting guests. They didn’t screw around. Although you should spare no tears for the Bunnies, who earned dolla dolla bills, y’all, for as long as they could tolerate the heels, the smoke and the mobsters.
Everyone always looks at the boobs in those outfits. I think what makes them is the cuffs and collar.
Sorry for no update yesterday. We were invited to a “Mad Men” party and it ran through my blogging time. And so the week begins.