Notre Dame Cathedral, an historical landmark and symbol of the catholic church in Paris. Construction of this monument began in 1160 and has been restored, renovated and updated over and over again in the past 800+ years. One of the most iconic and identifiable buildings in France, if not all of Europe is visited by countless millions every year.
Much like other monuments of the catholic church, the Notre Dame was built to support the sick, the poor and suffering masses “in the name of god”. The Vatican, basically the head office for the catholic church is located in Rome, Italy.
I have personally been there- the Vatican. Not as part of my own quest for faith or anything, but as a fan of history. As someone from a country that is younger than many buildings in Europe, being able to stand inside some of these landmarks is a spiritual experience unto itself.
I am not a religious person. I didn’t grow up going to church or Sunday school. I wasn’t quoted text from the bible as bedtime stories and I never have had a fear of god. I never understood a need for it as a child and it wasn’t until my late teens before I started analyzing it. Growing up in a very quiet, very white public school system I wasn’t exposed to a lot of religion.
There were the catholic schools where the religious kids went, but we still said the lords’ prayer every morning after we sang O Canada. Christmas concerts were still very Jesus-centric, always about the baby in the manager and the three wise men, etc. There were those classmates that were absent on the days we had fun stuff like valentines day and Halloween which I eventually learned were from a religion that didn’t celebrate holidays like we did.
Religion was always there in the peripheral but never an active part of my life- but it intrigued me.
As I got older I would start to learn more about religions- not any one in particular, I was always fascinated that there were so many religions around the world, with so many different beliefs and values that nations would go to war over. It made zero sense to me that so many groups of people would have such an unwavering belief in the love of their religion that they would fight with people for having the very same beliefs and values- just with a different name.
In my late teens, my best friend at the time- who HAD grown up with church and religion asked me a question that I never in my life imagined I would be asked, let alone struggle to answer it; “How do you know right from wrong?”
I remember staring blankly at him. What a ridiculous question! What do you mean how do I know right from wrong?! I know what things are wrong, and so I don’t do them. (And if I do, don’t get caught…) Be nice to others, treat them how I would want to be treated. Don’t kick dogs or tie a hundred helium balloons to a kitten to watch it fly away.
“Yes but HOW do you know?” My friend repeated, “Without learning about God how do you know what things are right and what things are wrong?” I believe my answer to him was “common sense”. I knew not to kill someone because somewhere along the way, I learned about values and ethics. My parents taught me right and wrong and consequences. Rewards for good behavior, punishment for bad behavior
I wasn’t beaten or molested. I wasn’t abused physically or mentally, I was taught what a good deed was, how to be a gentleman and how to treat a lady. If someone needs help, help them. If something needs doing, then do it. There was no “all powerful being” watching over my shoulder making sure that I did what I was told, if I wanted to make my parents happy, I did it. All kids grow up wanting to please their parents. It’s who we are.
How our parents react to our behavior growing up shapes who we become as adults.
We want to make our friends happy, our employers, our significant others. If we do something to hurt them, it hurts us. If it feels bad- don’t do it, right? So when I was asked how I knew right from wrong, it felt as if he was asking how I knew when to breathe. As if I needed to be told when it was time to wipe my ass after using the toilet without someone there telling me it was time.
I guess I was raised to be independent. To use my head and my heart and not have to rely on others to tell me what to do. I have never needed a deity to tell me not to hurt others because I don’t like how it feels to do wrong to someone, so I don’t. I have never needed forgiveness from a higher power because I am the one who needs to sleep at night and look myself in the mirror. If I have wronged someone, I ask their forgiveness. They are the one I hurt.
So as I walked the halls of the Vatican, admiring the ancient art on the walls and ceilings, the structure that has existed longer than my country has been a country, I didn’t feel a deep resonance in my soul for God or Jesus, I stood in awe of the people that built it and lived there. People that lived their lives hundreds of years ago never considering one day that the long hallways that had been lit by torch for centuries would one day be lined with electricity and light bulbs.
That their bedrooms, which had been in use for generations would one day become a tourist attraction for commoners to walk through and take pictures of, while eating popcorn and allowing small children to run squealing from room to room.
That this fortress of “all things holy” would one day be used as a backdrop in movies.
Same goes for all churches, mosques, synagogues or temples that have existed much longer than most of us appreciate. But does that mean they no longer hold the same values, ethics and beliefs as the day they were built? Does being a tourist attraction mean you no longer have to know the difference between right and wrong? That you no longer need to serve the people?
Religious or not, I always tried to believe that there was always a place for religion and church in society. Watching movies that saw those in need could always go to the church for sanctuary or help made me feel good about those that needed it could always find it. And I always felt that those that went to church and were not in need, donated money to the offering plates- so that the church would have the resources to help those in need.
I had my family and friends that I could always count on, but some are not that lucky.
There is a lot of negative media right now as the Notre Dame church has received over a billion Euros in donations and support. Several wealthy business people have donated more money than I will ever see in my lifetime because the iconic church in France has suffered a disaster, and people are crying out things like “we could use that money”, “think of the world problems that could be solved with that money”.
People are genuinely angry that individuals would donate to a church rather than to “starving children in Africa”.
To those people upset by this I say: “Give your head a shake!”
There is so much wrong with anger directed towards the church for getting donations that I don’t know where to start. And to those with the argument that “the church has insurance to cover this fire”, I ask you to be patient and stay with me here… I’ll get there.
The church didn’t ask for the fire to happen. At least I don’t believe it did. Say what you will about conspiracies within the catholic church, I do not believe they intended the fire to happen. So if people- and I’ll go out on a limb and say people that have in one way or another been affected by/helped by/inspired by the church want to donate- why not? People donate to the church all the time, right? Isn’t that what the offering plate is for? This just happens to be a little more than the standard five dollar donation.
Could these donations have been given to other institutions? Sure. Anybody can donate to any cause of their choosing at any time. What inspires people to donate to their cause of choice? Well that depends on the person. How they grew up, what life experiences they have had, what has influenced them along the way.
“But all those starving kids in Africa…” don’t have a bank account that we can simply deposit a billion dollars in to. There are a lot of humanitarian aid groups out there, but how many of us are 100% confident that money we donate actually goes to the cause it was directed? Insert whatever disaster or societal outrage you want to help with, there will always be someone ready to line their pockets and send “some” of that money on to help with the cause.
I am not for an instant saying the church is above this. For every story of the church acting as a sanctuary, there is another story of people lining their pockets off the donations of others “in the name of god”. But the church is in a unique position right now. Never in history has the catholic faith been under so much controversy and scrutiny, be it regarding child molestation, condemnation of those who see marriage and love a little bit different, or the age-old argument of whose God is better.
If people out there that want to donate to the church- let them.
These people were likely one day in need of something and the church helped them. This is called paying it forward. That insurance money- you are absolutely right, fire insurance IS there to help rebuild and restore, and there will be more than enough. So what about the billion Euros (and counting) that have been donated, are those to line the pockets of the church?
Well that’s up to the church, isn’t it? If church is truly about helping those in need, then who better to donate to than the largest organized religion on the planet? I certainly don’t know how to get money to starving children all over the world, but I guarantee you the church has those kinds of connections. And with so much negative attention focused towards the catholic religion right now, don’t you think they would like the opportunity to show how positively relevant they still are?
In this day and age of people’s faith in humanity being so darkly lit, now may be the time for the church to stand up and use this opportunity to be what it was always supposed to be; a bastion of hope and help in a sea of despair and hate. The church didn’t ask for the fire to happen, and we all know they don’t need the money to help rebuild. The people donating to the church know this too. Now It’s time to see if the catholic church truly knows the difference between right and wrong with what they do with this money.