So there’s a sign outside the rectory of a neighborhood church. It’s on a side street--- one of those heavy old glass-covered black felt boards with the white plastic letters that give you a feeling of old-timey smalltown announcement-comfort. It poses a question in all-caps…"HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT BECOMING A CATHOLIC?”
These days I find myself nodding and grimacing in the street, smirking and gasping, and downright talking to myself. Maybe it’s age, isolation, a surfeit of irony that begs public release…whatever. But the truth is, I have thought about becoming a Catholic. I’ve also thought about joining the army, about prostitution, about marrying my best girlfriend in Sweden for the healthcare and companionship… and many other things. But ‘enlightened’ and cynical as I am, I have always had an affinity with cathedrals, icons, Mexican votive paintings on tin—Giotto, Fra Angelico. Personal devotion to a concept of God—of divine love and forgiveness--- as opposed to most of the men I’ve wasted nights over—is appealing.
Maybe it’s the Goth thing, or the fact that my first true Hollywood crush was Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings… but I grew up on a street with Italian and Irish families and my playmates’ objections to their religion fascinated me. As did the rituals, the communion dresses--- the mysticism, the music. We had an Irish nurse who often took us to mass (we got a Good Humor as reward) and I’d pretend the church was my castle and I was a Princess. I loved the velvet plush seats and the smell of old wood and incense. The choir, the organ… and the stained glass….it was magical.
My lapsed Catholic friends seem so ‘grounded’ in their anti-beliefs. And the bad boys were oh, so bad—Jim Carroll, and my first boyfriend who’d been an altar boy and made me have sex with him in a back pew—at night, of course--- the church was empty. I kept waiting for a thunderclap, or for one of the hanging lamps to drip hot wax on us… but nothing happened.
For most of my life, if I feel really badly about something, I visit one of the grand Manhattan churches –at off hours, generally. Whenever I need to ask God for some favor, for some healing or a little support… I go Catholic. I feel slightly closer to the celestial ‘ear’. And unlike Starbucks, or the ‘free’ internet in a café, you don’t really need to buy anything. No one gives you a dirty look if you don’t pay for a candle. You can cross yourself, listen to the choir rehearse, kiss the foot of the Virgin statue, kneel, or have a cry--- you can even drink a coffee and no one bothers you. I feel ‘safe’. I feel calm. I confess and apologize, and leave by the side door.
I used to wonder if there was a website like digitalpriest.com where people could confess and be forgiven…if it would not be wildly successful. An app--- an ichurch, with your choice of music and architectural style… I used to wonder if they installed little confessional boxes on Wall Street, where traders and hedge fund managers could ‘mail’ little anonymous slips of paper, get things off their expansive David-Barton-buff guilty chests…maybe inside bathroom stalls. Guaranteed privacy, guaranteed direct-access to some religious figurehead, like a kind of Oz priest—who would dispense immediate forgiveness for insider trading and general infidelity and lack of compassion. Or maybe they would get an email: Say 3 Hail Marys and send a check to your nearest democratic headquarters. Or to some very edgy and dysfunctional kickstarter campaign. Maybe they would slow down a bit--- maybe they would consider at least the concept of guilt---or right and wrong, the way they do not.
People in church these days look at their phones. They text, and sext and read email. The bandwidth of religion in our lives is not prominent. So yes, it seems simple and clear and pure to give up all of my priorities and convert. To surrender to some version of a path to goodness. But I don’t. I keep my habits and my possessions and my ex-boyfriends and my passions. I cannot give them up. The thrift shops and sidewalk trash piles and the success of ebay all attest to the fact that this is a culture of consumer-hoarders---excessive money, constant clothing changes—make-up, accessories, food of a trillion varieties--- there is not a single person among us who doesn’t own one too many of something.
But most of all, I am sick of the ever-increasing eruption of public confession. I am sick of these ‘me-novels’ and songs and endless memoir-writing and the trillions of instagram photos and facebook posts like a virtual endless dump. I am sick of Miley Cyrus comments and Beyonce’s stupid blond hair and these pathetic TV real estate agents. I am sick of seeing rich housewives cry on camera and the WEN guy and the QVC network ladies. I am sick of narcissistic politicians and the hundreds of botoxed talking heads who create TV shows out of dumb tweets and bad cell-phone footage of celebrities in their bikinis with their gut hanging out, or punching someone in the face.
Maybe if these people went to church and saw a priest they would filter their bleeding hearts and tweets and kiss-and-tell or didn’t-kiss-but-told-anyway. I don’t want to see your 5th engagement ring on my facebook page or your dog’s dinner or your solicitous kickstarter projects. I want to hear the sound of one hand clapping and a legless person kneeling. I want forgiveness and generosity and music that prays. I want every Wall Street fatcat to remove their rolex and place it on the wrist of a homeless person.
And whats-your-name Biden…grow up and pay your rent. We have seen more of you in that ridiculous white sheet than the entire Syrian civil war crisis this week and you need either some true religion (not the clothing kind) or an old-fashioned weekend in the can.