I’ve always been the kind of person who has an obsessive need to know things, a trait that is probably due to Asperger’s Syndrome. Hence, when I decided to convert to Catholicism back in 2005, I read everything I could get my hands on, especially blogs and message boards. These two sources formed a crucial part of my “Catholic education,” so to speak, because I had become convinced that the most of the parishes in the archdiocese were “unorthodox” and would obscure or leave out the “Truth” as I understood it to be. However, as I have mentioned before, these blogs and message boards fed into my pre-existing problems with debilitating anxiety.
Sometimes, during my more melancholy moments, I feel like I “failed at religion,” much in the same way I failed at basketball when I was in seventh grade. My inability to continue in religion certainly wasn’t from lack of trying; I went to the most “traditional” parish in the archdiocese (at least until I got blackballed), prayed the rosary every day, did Louis de Monfort’s “Consecration to Jesus through Mary,” read about theology, liturgy, apologetic, and the saints, etc. But in the end, it still wasn’t enough, because nothing I did could resolve the doubts I had accumulated. I had hoped that “finding religion” would help solve some of my existential crises, as well as my ever-present anxiety and depression, but I soon discovered that adding theology to the mix not only gave me new things to be anxious/depressed about.
I’m going to be taking a brief break from critiquing religion today so I can talk about an issue that’s on the minds of everyone these days: opera and the women who sing it.
One of the biggest “selling points,” if you will of conservative religion and of the Catholic church in particular is the idea of objective morality, that you are being provided with age-old truths that are thousands of years old and can be guaranteed not to change just because of the fashions of the age. Of course, it’s not that simple, but to my younger, more naive self, the promise of objective morality seemed like a welcome thing, especially since I was looking for capital T “Truth.”
In retrospect, I realize that one reason that I made a poor Catholic traditionalist was because of my obsessive curiosity and my inability to shut off my mind and my heart to what I believed to be injustice. Even as a young child, I was always a bit of a killjoy who preferred to obsess over the unpleasant aspects of life, even if doing so made me a less than popular presence. For example, when I was in third grade, the Atlanta Braves baseball team suddenly transformed itself from being just another semi-anonymous sports franchise to a major powerhouse team, causing the inevitable “Braves fever” and the “Tomahawk chop” to sweep the school. I remained curiously immune to this particular affliction, reprimanding anyone who would listen that the very concept of naming a sports team after an ethnic group was racist and that all this time and energy that was being expended towards the Braves would be better spent on searching for a cure for cancer. I’ve never been able to understand where a seven year old girl got these fairly sophisticated ideas about race, sports, and society’s misplaced priorities, because my parents were never keen on talking about race and at this point in time I was still apolitical. I can only assume that it stemmed from my own personal readings about our country’s less than stellar treatment of blacks and Native Americans, combined with my lifelong antipathy towards professional sports. Regardless, this was simply the first instance of many in which I preferred to wallow in the unhappy details of history, rather than accept a happy ignorance.
Throughout my entire tenure at St F, I taught CCD classes at a variety of levels, from pre-school to Confirmation. The last time I went to St F was back in 2009. This means that the little kids I was teaching for First Communion in 2005 are now thirteen and fourteen years old. Although that realization makes me feel “old” in a way, I sometimes find myself wondering what happened to those kids. Are any of them rebelling? Are the boys being roped into considering “a vocation”? Do their families still go to St F or did they jump ship for the SSPX parish or another institution? Is college going to be an option for any of these children? Do they obsess over “life issues” and “liturgical abuses”? Will they ever get the chance to read brilliant but completely anti-clerical novels like Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”? Do they ever interact with kids outside of the trad bubble? I suppose there’s no way to know this, but it’s something I wonder about it.
When I was a freshmen in college, I took a class called “Music and Culture,” which was basically a music appreciation course. More than anything, “Music and Culture” helped to form my current love of classical music. One piece of music that had a particularly profound influence on me was the works of Palestrina and the magnificent Miserere by Allegri. When I first heard Renaissance polyphony, I was still years away from my conversion, but it was hard not to listen to these songs and feel like there was some kind of transcendence out there in the world. Even today, as a born-again secular humanist, Renaissance polyphony holds a special place in my heart. But the point is that being exposed polyphony put the idea in my head that anything that sounded that beautiful had to be a reflection of a supernatural reality, even if I wasn’t sure at that time what that might mean.
If you haven’t been able to read between the lines thus far, I’m just going to explicitly state right now that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Some skeptics seem to think that Asperger’s is a “trendy diagnosis,” especially when you have so many people doing the self-diagnosis thing. However, having Asperger’s Syndrome is only “trendy” if you’re someone like Bill Gates, who is already rich and famous, so any “quirks” can be immediately translated into a sign of genius. Girls and women with Asperger’s Syndrome or who are elsewhere on the autistic spectrum are practically invisible in our discourse. Many people have some clue as to what can be done about a geeky autistic boy who liked computers and math, whereas a geeky autistic girl who can name every post-War of the Roses British monarch and likes to learn Latin (like me) is always going to be an oddity.