When Reverend Masu Lasu attempts to spiritually heal and help Oielei in his time of need, Epeli Hau’ofa sheds light upon some of the practical problems inherent within Christianity. In his encounter with Oielei, the Reverend draws a parallel between Oielei and Job. He says, “It’s obvious that the Almighty is testing brother Oielei as he tested that great Israelite, Job of the Old Testament. As you know, Job was a wealthy man whose piety was known to all. Likewise, brother Oielei is a wealthy man whose piety is virtually non-existant.” (21) He then goes on to recount he way in which the Lord tested Job’s faith by both obliterating his source of wealth, “his cattle, goats, sheep, and chicken” (21) and by disheartening him in the death of his wives and children. This parallel doesn’t make any sense. First of all, referring to Oielei and Job with the word “likewise” and then describing a their “piety” as polar opposites highlights the ridiculous claim that the Reverend sees as “obvious”. Similarly, some kind of gastrointestinal ailment does not seem at all comparable to the way in which the way in which the Lord is said to have tested Job. The Reverend, as the symbol of Christianity within Kisses in the Nederends, emphasizes the way in which often times organized Christianity demands answers of things that it describes to be beyond human understanding. This paradox implies that either people of faith, particularly those in the clergy, have a divine understanding of that which mere mortals should not understand or that in fact, God’s omniscience is “obviously” available to all.
Christianity’s appreciation of the suffering is also highlighted in Reverend Masu Lasu’s ridiculous comparison of Job to Oielei. When Reverend Masu Lasu describes Job’s further divine testing of “diseases” (21) such as “the kind of boils Brother Oielei suffers from,” (22) Oielei retorts, “I’ve got no fucking boils. It’s stones in the arse.” (22) The Reverend, lying in order to make his point, assures Oielei, saying, “Job had stones in the arsehole too, Brother Oielei. He did. But he neither complained, not groaned, not made song and dance about it…” (22) Using a ridiculous, irrelevant tale to comfort and heal Oielei proves a point Karl Marx once made about religion; he suggested, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.” The Reverend merely uses scripture to shut Oielei up, to placate him, to feed him “illusory happiness”. Both Karl Marx and Epeli Hau’ofa claim that Christianity’s appreciation of the suffering gives a false hope to people that merely acts as “opium”, creating an alternate version of reality so that people remain calm, content, and quiet in face of pain such as Oielei’s or in face of injustice as Marx refers to as a “spiritless situation”. Religion therefore aims to gain control over the masses as it lies in order to maintain the peace present in the status quo.
Within the Reverend’s last words to Oielei, another dilemma is presented; the Reverend preaches, “Everything from now on will depend on the strength of your faith. You must have it in order to endure what’s coming without flinching. It will get progressively worse and may even lead to your early and unexpected departure from your corrupt mortality. But eternal happiness awaits the true believer.” (23) His predictions further support the idea that the Reverend thinks he knows more than the average human being. He does not give possibilities, but instead tells Oielei that things “will get progressively worse,” asserting his omniscient powers, which supposedly only God can possess. Furthermore, though, Reverend Masu Lasu places judgment upon Oielei, saying that his life is one of “corruption”. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, to which the Reverend most desperately clings, is characterized by both the fact that God alone can judge and the command to love, a commitment which cannot coexist peacefully with judgment. Therefore, the hypocrisy of Christianity is emphasized as the Reverend, claiming to walk in the footsteps of Christ, exercises control, omniscience and divine judgment.
Over spring break, I had breakfast with my priest, Father George, to catch up. My own personal faith journey has been a frustrating one, and after a summer that I thought would bring me peace in faith, I gave up on organized religion for the time being. He was deeply concerned about my struggles since I had been fully devoted and therefore excessively involved at my church all throughout high school. My main concerns, like those Epeli Hau’ofa explores, lay in the relationship between shame, guilt, judgment and religion as well as in the tendency of religion to ignore reality in the face of doctrine. For example, here at Loyola no one can distribute condoms due to the fact that this directly contradicts the Catholic view that all forms of contraception are sinfully wrong. We maintain the teaching of abstinence even in the face of the sociological evidence that abstinence only teaching does not work and in the face of the rising rates of STDs on our campus. A survey done here this spring reported that many people both in and out of monogamous relationships do not use condoms when engaging in sexual intercourse. In hearing this, I am appalled at the fact that our need for an appearance to the adherence of Catholic doctrine is endangering students, as it is seemingly a higher priority than our safety. Father George continued to fuel my fire as he replied that a Catholic institution could not “appear to facilitate fornication;” he added that in “private” he would “compassionately” supply contraception for anyone who came to him for advice in their struggle of sexuality. When does appearance become more important that reality? When does doctrine become more important than Christ?
Sharing with me his own struggle of faith, Father George revealed to me that one of his brothers identifies as homosexual, an orientation being currently explored in the Catholic faith. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, homosexual couples cannot be married because man and woman together are made in the image of God, not merely man nor merely woman. Therefore, the Church claims that a homosexual relationship is missing the full image of the Lord; it continues to say that God made man and woman complementary to one another, and that homosexual relationships are not psychologically complementary, which goes against God’s will for humanity. I have two major problems with this logic. First, how does it account for intersexual and transsexual people whose genetic sex, genitalia, and brain sex do not correspond as simply as the dichotomy of male and female (which in my opinion limits all people’s self expression). Second, if males and females are created together in the image of God in order to complement one other psychologically, why then are women excluded from the hierarchy of the Church? Father George replied that although, he struggled with some teachings of the Church, the foundation, the Eucharistic celebration and all its implications, are what keep his faith steadfast. It is a disappointment to me that religion has twisted the spirit of Christ in many circumstances in order to maintain the sense of control, which Epeli Hau’ofa so beautifully highlights within the encounter of the Reverend and Oielei.