Day 155: Confess to a priest.Posted: June 4, 2011
Man, I haven’t been to confession in … hmmm … well, it’s been over a decade.
I was raised Roman Catholic, and confession is sort of their thing. I know I went at least once, before First Communion — a requirement — and my guess is that I was also required to go before Confirmation. It’s possible that I went a third time, voluntarily, but I don’t remember.
Halfway through high school, I started going to a more-or-less Anglican church. I went to confession there a few times, and it was, on the whole, a less-than-helpful experience. I haven’t ever gone back.
I don’t like confession. I dislike it because it’s about one thing, and one thing only: power. The priest has all of it, and the confessor none. The priest hears, judges, prescribes penance; the confessor does (or not) the penance assigned. One commands, the other obeys.
This is a cynical view, I know, and I realize that not all — maybe not even most — particular instances of confession do not embody this power differential. It’s always present, though, in the structure of the sacrament. The confessional derives its power from guilt, shame, and fear, which work to make the confessor more abject and powerless and the priest — the structure — therefore more powerful.
Confession is not for the confessor; it exists to reinforce the structure. That’s why it doesn’t work. I, at least — and I’m betting I’m far from alone in this — always confessed the same thing at confession, and no amount of post-confession Hail Marys did anything to help me quit doing the thing in question (urinating on squirrels, if you must know). If I were to indulge my cynicism, I’d say that confession is like a drug dealer running a rehab clinic: you’re not going to come out clean, because that would be bad for business. They want you to stay hooked. (As an aside: you should all read PKD‘s novel A Scanner Darkly, and/or see the film.)
I won’t indulge cynicism that far, though. I’ll content myself with pointing out that priests are not counselors; they’re trained to hear you talk about pissing on squirrels, but not to help you not piss on them: which is unfortunate, because people need the latter much more than they need the former.
I eventually got help with my squirrel-pissing problem, and several other things that turned out to be related, because I went to a fucking professional — fucking being an intensifier, and not an indicator of her area of specialization — counselor (therapist, psychiatrist, whatever). It worked, because she knew what she was doing, and because we were equals: the sessions were structured as conversations, and not as depositions.
Of course, I still piss on the occasional squirrel, I just don’t feel bad about it afterward. Make of that what you will.