So, what do you believe in?

I work at a catholic private school that has a “strong catholic tradition”. Care and service is emphasized in our programs. Campus ministry staff hold mass daily and staff are encouraged to take that time out for relection whether or not they attend. Birth and death notices and prayer requests for those who are ill are often sent to the entire faculty and staff via email.

When I first started to work here getting these messages was a little suprising to me. This kind of stuff never happened when I worked at the dot bomb. I thought it was nice, the people around here seem to be really caring. Though sometimes folks get a little carried away with the messages and broadcast more details than I feel are really necessary. A recent series of emails about a former member of the campus ministry revealed way more than I needed to know about “Father Joe” who was ill and having surgery.

Since my step-mother knows Father Joe, I had been forwarding her all of the emails I received about him. Here’s the last one I got:

I just received a phone call from Father Joe. He sounded as spunky as ever (thank God). He wanted me to communicate his appreciation for all our prayers and our bundle of love. He felt our presence with him during this rough time. He informed me that he had 2 blockages. He received a stint and in 2-3 weeks will have another stint put in. He was very thankful to have a very attentive doctor and a fast reacting medical team. The surgery on the prostate will be postponed (if at all). He may undergo radiation treatment instead for the prostate.
On behalf of Fr. Joe and Campus Ministry, we thank you so much for your expressions of love.

On the forwarded message I commented:

I hope I never get sick or the Campus Ministry will be broadcasting my woes to the entire campus.

My stepmother replied with:

I guess you have to have the belief in the power of prayer and a belief that faith can sometimes produce miracles. Honestly you, your brother and your father are such heathens! Are you an agnostic or atheist? Your father is an agnostic secular humanist and your brother now claims that he is an agnostic! Trust me over here you could be dying and hardly anyone would notice.

My step-mother converted from judaism to catholicism about ten years ago. She did it primarily because she and my dad had adopted my step-brothers from Columbia, a mostly catholic country. She wanted to be able to raise the boys catholic. My dad is simply non-participatory, always has been. (My mom took my brother and I to lutheran church for a while when we were kids. My dad never went with us.)
But, since she asked, I had to answer:

I’d prefer the specifics of my medical issues to remain private. It would be enough for people to know that I am ill and to pray for me or give well wishes as they desire. I just don’t think the gritty details are necessary.

Miracles happen every day. Whether they’re produced by faith in and prayer to the gods and goddesses depends on your beliefs and your definition of miracle. I just think the miracles of nature are more likely.

I’m not an atheist because I like to leave room for the “anything is possible” scenario. So call me agnostic. Organized, monotheistic worship is not for me. Heathen? Certainly, based on Merriam-Webster’s definition I am “an unconverted member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible” but I am not generically “an uncivilized or irreligious person”.

I prefer Mel’s Wicca and neo-pagan traditions, and enjoy celebrating high days with her and her friends. I enjoy the ritual because it is earth/nature based and less formal than in a Sunday church service. Will I study Wicca and become seriously involved? Unlikely.

As for secular humanism, I admit, I had to look it up:
“Secular Humanism is a way of thinking and living that aims to bring out the best in people so that all people can have the best in life. Secular humanists reject supernatural and authoritarian beliefs. They affirm that we must take responsibility for our own lives and the communities and world in which we live. Secular humanism emphasizes reason and scientific inquiry, individual freedom and responsibility, human values and compassion, and the need for tolerance and cooperation.”

That definition pretty much describes me but I don’t reject the supernatural. I can be skeptical but I’m not as likely as my father to insist on scientific explanation for events that people would term supernatural. I can accept the unexplained phenomenon. I believe in ghosts and life after death/reincarnation. Whether these things are acts of deities, aliens or undiscovered nature, I don’t care. For me, summarily rejecting them based on lack of scientific evidence contradicts my belief that I could be sentient (as myself or not) in some place and some time after my death. Because of that, I also believe in spiritualism to a degree. Remember, James did communicate with me after his death. I was asleep, perhaps dreaming, but I absolutely believe that it happened.

I guess that makes me a spiritual, agnostic, pseudo-secular humanist with a touch of pagan thrown in.

It is kind of nice that my workplace notifies us when we need to be concerned about someone. That would never happen in a corporate setting (law firm!) or public university. While I don’t pray, I have wished for Father Joe’s wellness with every email received. Though I don’t think you know him well either, I knew you would want to pray for him.

My step-mother left me a phone message the next day inviting me for dinner on the weekend. She also said how impressed she was with my response to her and that she had forwarded it to my dad.

Last night at dinner the subject came up again.

“I’m totally with you on what you wrote” my dad said.

“Even about the reincarnation?”

“Uh huh.”

“Then I guess I’ll see you later on the other side.”

“Yeah” he said, grinning. “You will.”


  1. What a fantastic response.

    I think that in the situation of the campus ministry, they should perhaps have an opt-in prayer ministry for the detail-specific emails, while at the same time continuing general emails to the entire community that acknowledge prayer concerns in a more general manner — "Fr. Joe appreciates your prayers as he continues treatment for prostate cancer." "We remember Greybird as she recovers from her recent appendectomy." I think that it’s important to the integrity of the religious community to maintain the general prayer announcements, but the specifics are better suited to opt-in emails (where those in the ministry are opting in to receiving the information and bound to confidentiality and a person representing the prayer ministry can say "Would you mind of I share this information with our prayer ministry?"

  2. I’m thinking about Bhuddism!!! BBC America showed The Second Coming at the weekend which made me think…the premise was if there was no god then there would be no afterlife so we’d have to be that much better in this world….the idea being that there was no point saving it for next time….which really appealed to me….especially given all the madness happening out in the Middle East/Africa…all I have to do now is work out how to get rid of god and then maybe I can run for Governor??? 🙂

  3. "I guess that makes me a spiritual, agnostic, pseudo-secular humanist with a touch of pagan thrown in."

    Great answer, Bird. I believe we’re about the same, spirituality-wise… I just didn’t know there was an actual phrase I could throw at someone to describe it! 😉

Comments are closed.