Home » Random Bubbles » The making of a curmudgeon

The making of a curmudgeon

I have often thought that I’m regarded by my friends with a mixture of disbelief, alarm, and chagrin. I seem inexorably drawn to insert my opinion into any and all discussions I stumble upon. I mean well, but I’m afraid I offend too often and too blithely. I don’t regret my propensity to skepticism, but I often regret having offended someone I respect.

I don’t think this is a learned response. As early as the first grade, I got into trouble with the nuns at my school for spreading the word around the playground that there was no Santa Claus. I was dumbfounded. Hadn’t they been teaching us just that day what a terrible thing it is to lie? Apparently, some of my classmates had gone to them in tears, asking if it was true. I imagine the nuns consoled them, “There, there, of course there is a Santa, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!”

I knew better; I had the news on the highest authority: my older brothers. Is it any wonder I started questioning everything else the nuns told me?

I’m a born outsider, literally. I was born in a refugee camp, and have never felt completely in my element, and I suppose this is a major factor in the way I relate to other people. It gives me a kind of distance that encourages my behavior.

To make matters worse, my father was an engineer by training, and a scientist by temperament. Instead of golf or bowling, he relaxed by reading science fiction and doing math problems. The first requisite of science is skepticism, and I learned it well. Too well.

He was also a deeply religious man, a Catholic who gathered the family around the radio to listen to and pray the rosary at the regularly appointed hours on Catholic radio. Naturally, when I got old enough to enter my normal rebellious years, I jumped on this contradiction in his example.

I did 12 years in parochial schools.  Once, in my sophomore year, I flunked religion class, for the sin of asking too strenuously how the Holy Trinity wasn’t just semantic trickery.  A certain native pig-headedness embroiders my skepticism, it seems.  My father was mortified.  He told me that he would rather I flunked everything else, but aced religion.  I briefly considered testing this theory, before coming to my senses; I had no desire to be sent off to a monastery.

Apparently, there were two rules:

  • Question everything
  • Accept Catholic dogma blindly

I could have chosen either of them to avoid the contradiction. For a number of reasons, I went with the first. Dogma is surrounded by walls; walls invariably yield to skepticism. And so, to this day, I am cursed with this compulsion to question everything. That’s not to say I don’t have my own blind spots, my contradictions; I would tell you what they are, but, of course, I don’t know, and wouldn’t recognize them if they jumped up and bit me on the nether regions.

Fortunately for me, my friends generally do not hesitate to help me out.

11 thoughts on “The making of a curmudgeon

  1. Your unabashed offering of opinions is one of the traits that makes me laugh most often. You also have the kind of fierce intelligence that impels me to think before shooting off my mouth. So it all evens out, for the best. 🙂

  2. “Dogma is surrounded by walls…” reminds me of a comment by one of my lecturers in theology. He said that we needed to lower both our walls and our roots; that a theology of walls was defensive, closed, unhealthy; but a theology with deep roots was able to be fruitful, generous, open. It’s a teaching I’ve never forgotten (when much of what was said in lectures has long since been erased!)

    • I am unfamiliar with any faith without dogma, except possibly universalist Unitarian, or reform Judaism, which in some cases does not even insist you believe in God. In my experience the fences are sometimes elastic, but they’re always there.

  3. You made a Unitarian smile just now. You’re right, we UUs have our Seven Principles* but not a creed. What would science do without people who question? And what would religion do without people who don’t?
    *(I supposed it’s possible that a UU could have more than seven principles.)

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