The imaginary congregation and church’s history (no online sources) was in the hands of Father Tony, a less holy Priest may have taken the opportunity to increase the attendance of the faithful and concocted a more persecuted past but Father Tony had sincerity and infectious enthusiasm for his faith, congregation and church history. I was informed that the congregation were 75% African and West Indian (with Nigerians and Ghanaians being the most predominant nation) the other members range from being Irish, Polish and from Latin America (Columbia being the most notable country). Father Tony had been Reverend for The Immaculate Heart for 7 years, before working in South America (Columbia and Venezuela) and was brought up in Ireland so his international experience seemed a key facet in working with such a diverse congregation. Interestingly Father Tony never described any of his members as English reinforcing my own prejudice that the Catholic Church is forever the immigrants’ church of England. The history of the East End however would contradict my ignorant assumption with the heavily documented migration of French Huguenots and German Lutherans arriving and building homes around the eastern docks. Yet the Catholic Church has a changing émigré face in its vast history. Father Tony pointed out that in the 1960s the congregation was predominantly Irish and Italian and the first Nigerian does not appear in the directory until the late 60s. I am often been critical of the Catholic service’s routine rituals but with such diverse congregations through the ages you realise the rituals are not just intended to be transcendental but transnational and transcultural. Father Tony informed me that various services range in numbers, the liveliest services being on Sunday at 11 AM gaining 600 members with organ and occasional African drumming while the morning mass held every day except Monday brings in a more modest 10 to 20 parishioners. These numbers are huge in comparison to the Anglican churches I have visited but the Catholic faiths endurance comes from sets of traditions that have thrived despite historical opposition.
Guilt does not create sin, the first myth that Father Tony dispelled for me, he claimed that often during the confessional he has helped his parishioners have a sense of perspective of their own religious morality, claiming some members needlessly worry about the implications of their actions. Not that sin needs religion despite the word’s origins. Below is a definition of sin taken from an online dictionary (sorry its not the Oxford English Dictionary for all cultural snobs).
Sin1. transgression of divine law: the sin of Adam. 2. any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle. 3. any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense: It's a sin to waste time.
Clearly this week’s personal shortcomings qualify with the second and third definition of sin. To shoehorn my morality into Catholicism seems unnecessary as I share different principles (or less rigid regulations) but I was interested in the concept of sin. In my very limited knowledge of Catholicism I knew of venial sin and mortal sin but was unsure what qualifies an action to be a mortal sin. I presumed mortal sin was murder, rape and torture but actually none of these horrific acts qualify unless they are committed with the criteria below.
1. Must be a serious matter
2. Must have absolute Freedom
3. Must have absolute Knowledge
4. Must have desire to offend God
Judging by the above criteria my agnostic sins will not lead to certain damnation until I start to believe in god and subsequently commit sins with the very intention of upsetting him. In answer to what sort of person would believe in God and would want to upset him I suggest people read Graham Greene’ Brighton Rock (as it could only be a person who exists in fiction). Separate from the religious ideas of sin and guilt, I do have retrospective worries around my blog.
My original idea for this week was to confess but after some thought it seemed cheap and offensive to confess to a Priest an action I do not feel guilt or regret about. Instead it makes more sense to confess to you (the reader). I often view my posts as confessionals as they are not inhibited by desire to appease my Christian hosts. So reviewing my own flimsy moral code which I created on my first post I have created a list of my recent blogging sins.
So forgive me Reader for…..
Despite my lack of religious conviction Father Tony did provide the opportunity to face one of my main sources of guilt since I began my blog, the guilt I feel when members of the congregation assume I am a Christian and I do not have opportunity to be honest and correct them. This week I decided a suitable penance is to email all the churches I have visited and ask for their opinion on my blog. Hopefully in future instalments I will be able to garner the opinion of various different churches I have visited and post them for you all to read. I see this as the next step in creating a dialogue between Christians, agnostics and atheists. Now that last statement was guilty of being incredibly pompous and sanctimonious another sin for me for me confess and for you all to judge.