the diary thing. 03.25.02 .chi
chiIT'S A LOUSY TIME TO BE A CATHOLIC PRIEST. The truth is that it's probably been a long time since your average Roman cleric could walk through his parish with the same stature as a lawyer, or doctor, or high school principal. The fact that I can remember such a time -- vaguely, deep in the shadowy history of my childhood -- is a testament to just how embattled the church has been, since long before the "pedophile priest" scandal hit the newsstands.

I was raised and taught by priests. There were a couple in my family -- and a nun or two, as well -- and I suspect that, as an awkward, bookish, slightly prudish, sexually stifled, apparently devout young boy, my family entertained the thought that I'd be my generation's contribution to the church. I have no other way of explaining why the parish paid for my tuition at the city's (reputedly) best Catholic boy's school. They might, with a bit of foresight, have saved themselves the investment, as it was obviously not to be. I suppose I can thank St. Mike's for that, though a part of me suspects that I was lost to the priesthood during that long, sweaty slowdance with Giusepina Cazale at the grade eight grad dance.

I'm grateful, in any case, that Our Lady of Victory -- a struggling, working-class parish with no particularly generous endowment -- did pay for my tuition to St. Mike's, despite the fact that my memories of those five years are not generally pleasant. It got me out of the neighbourhood, however, exposed me to a wider world than Mt. Dennis, and acquainted me with the mysteries of the class system, a subject that still fascinates me to this day. 

And yes -- the education was pretty decent overall, although I was aware, even then, that it was mostly being wasted on me. I was young and impatient and, having once been the "gifted kid" back at OLV, I retained a certain arrogance that translated into shiftless, inconsistent work. I had, at that point in my life, decided that I was going to be an artist, and that every class except for art and english was treated like what I felt it was: an inconvenience. Math, science, three languages including Latin -- all ignored. What a waste.

"The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning."

- Voltaire
Part two of a three part rumination over my Catholic upbringing. Also known as chapter two of my bestselling autobiography. That was meant to be ironic, by the way.
john scalzi
james lileks
alan zweig
mike reed
lucy huntzinger
warlog: ww3
little green footballs
ken layne
uss clueless
andrew sullivan
sgt. stryker
arts & letters
steve bell
relapsed catholic

John Scalzi seems to have brought down a hornet's nest on himself with this marvellously hostile dissection of American political ideology. As satire goes, it makes up for in sheer venom what it lacks in equivocal slyness. I also happen to agree with him entirely.
THERE WAS ONE SUBJECT, though, that was taught at a standard well below even the most mediocre component of the rest of the curriculum. Religious studies, catechism, whatever it was called from year to year; it was an uncredited course that, nonetheless, was considered an integral part of our education at what we all knew was a venerable Catholic school. It was, needless to say, compulsory. It was also almost inevitably taught by one of the more befuddled, pensionable Basilian fathers in residence, usually at some juncture in his teaching career closer to retirement than the seminary. 

When we weren't snoozing through some uninspired, glancing skip through the "Good News" Gospels -- a colloquial "plain english" translation of the New Testament that carefully leached most of the poetry and all of the mystery out of the life of Christ, so in vogue in those leeward years after Vatican II -- taught in an absentminded fashion that only taxed our ability to stay awake, we were suffering, loudly and strenuously, through Mr. Thompson's near-abstract take on theology. 

Old Man Thompson was a former monk, or so it was rumoured, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Julian Beck in Poltergeist 2. At the time, the most remarkable thing about him was his having fathered a flock of inexplicably lovely daughters. In retrospect, I'll have to admit that the most remarkable, and inexplicable, thing about Old Man Thompson was the fact that the Basilian Fathers allowed him to teach what has to be the most impenetrably abstract theology I have ever encountered in my life.

Mr. Thompson, over the course of two or three excruciating years of classes, proposed a wholly inscrutable system of spiritual calculus based on the chi, or the Greek "X". It was introduced to us as a cruciform, into whose four quadrants he would place aspects of man and God in roughly polar opposition, whose four sides were supposed to create a suggestive whole, a machine of self-propelled spiritual association. Over the course of each day's forty-minute class, he would fill the blackboard with these diagrams, the first of which, at the beginning of each week, or at the first new class of a each year or semester, would inspire a collective groan from all of us, slouching in our seats in stained blue blazers, badly-knotted ties, and gray flannels with the seats worn shiny. It was, we knew, going to be a long week/semester/year.

He seemed disinclined to maintain discipline, despite the free-for-alls his classes would inevitably become. Even at the time I knew, with some faint but unheeded sympathy, that it was because he geniunely wanted to inspire a spirit of debate, to engage us, and felt that forcing us to occupy our chairs in sullen silence would stifle that dialogue. The result was sheer anarchy. Students would climb in and out of the classroom windows; the jocks -- and they comprised a significant, particularly vocal minority at St. Mike's -- would withdraw into a lounging, gossiping knot at the back of the class, quickly losing their enthusiasim for cracking wise and lapsing into sullen disdain. The brighter students would try to grapple with the chi, lose patience, become peevish and frustrated, and were, by the end of every year, the most disruptive element of all. 

I remember Dan Laypa, who sat next to me for at least two years of Mr. Thompson's classes, becoming confrontational, even livid, demanding that Old Man Thompson abandon the chi and actually teach us something -- anything -- that bore some resemblance to practical theology. 

To this day, I've managed to retain a smidgeon of Latin, some Italian and French, scraps of biology, even a few facts and models of Canadian geology from the exhaustively detailed geography classes that, it's plain to me now, were meant to produce future Alcan, Noranda and McMillan-Bloedel executives. I cannot, however, recall a single lasting theological talking point beyond Old Man Thompson's all-embracing, inexhaustible quadrapartite parsing of the cursed and gnomic chi.


Bill Hicks, Philosophybuy it

Jonathan Franzen, The Correctionsbuy it
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