Losing my religion.

You might be surprised to learn that I have only very recently started encountering this sentiment.  I know my husband was.  I mentioned it while we were coming home from work the other day and he just looked at me, puzzled, because it was something he heard quite a bit, and he wasn’t even raised in the same faith as I was.  Here it is:

“Catholics aren’t Christians.”

Things you maybe should know before reading on:  I was raised Catholic.  I went to Catholic school up until 7th grade, at which point I transferred into the public school system.  Did Confession, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation (I chose Kateri Tekakwitha as my “name”).  I actually even attended a Catholic college for my undergraduate degree, although it really didn’t tout itself as such.

My siblings and I didn’t grow up in predominantly Catholic neighborhoods.  Until I was around 10, our neighbors were mostly Jewish.  My parents let us go to Temple and Hebrew school with our friends; similarly, our friends accompanied us to Mass.  My parents were “different” in that they felt we should be able to explore other belief systems, in order to better understand others, as well as ourselves, while raising us with the traditions that they themselves had been taught.

The town in which I spent my adolescent and teen years was a mixed bag of various denominations.  Our neighbors next door were Episcopalian.  Our neighbors across the street were Mormon.  My friends were Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, and Unitarian Universalist.  As we got older, some of my friends became atheist and agnostic.  By the time I got to college, I also counted Buddhists and Muslims among my friends.  We never criticized one another or attempted to convert anyone to our individual points of view.

Maybe that’s rare, and maybe I’m fortunate.  I don’t know.  I was never told that I was “wrong,” or that I wasn’t a Christian.  Not to my face, anyway.

These days, I no longer consider myself a member of any organized religion.  I consider myself a “spiritual skeptic.”  I am not anti-religion, insofar as I feel that if your religion is helpful to you, you should be free to practice it, so long as everybody understands that religion should never, EVER be allowed to dictate legislation.  We’re not a theocracy.

I don’t feel that most religious people are brainwashed, hoodwinked or somehow intellectually inferior to non-believers.  That kind of total dismissal is completely obnoxious to me; it’s every bit as annoying as rigid fundamentalism.  The refusal to consider situations outside of stark dichotomies makes for very, very boring conversations.  So forgive me if I don’t jump on your “Christianity Is Stupid” bandwagon.

But to get back to the point – I am genuinely puzzled by this “Catholics aren’t Christian” thing, which I’ve even heard from people I’m generally friendly with.  And even though I don’t consider myself religious (I don’t even remember the last time I went to Mass), I still feel kind of…insulted by it.  Like I spent all that time reading the Bible and learning about Jesus and being encouraged to act in a “Christian” way, and yet I wasn’t a “Christian”?  Who knew?  Certainly not me.

OK, maybe puzzled is the wrong word.  I do understand the history behind it.  I get that Catholics are understood to be idolaters who worship statues and do nutty things with the communion wafers.  Now, how that’s any “nuttier” than anything that any other denomination believes is where there is, for me, a disconnect.

Too, I am the first to acknowledge that there’s a pretty long, sordid history of abuse in the Catholic Church.  There’s the rampant misogyny and homophobia to consider as well.  These are the things that led me to choose to find my own path, spiritually speaking.  And yet I understand why many Catholics choose to stay.  That may seem completely bonkers to someone who wasn’t brought up Catholic, but what can I say?  Even now, I can tell you about the comfort there was to be had in the rituals, in the memorization of the prayers and responses, of feeling “part of,” and forgiven, if only for an hour every Sunday.  I get that.

And so I go back to my childhood and teen years, where it was totally okay to ask someone what he or she believed in, and why.  The answers my friends gave were simple (maybe too simple), and I accepted them.  I believe in God.  I don’t believe there should be a Pope.  I believe that Jesus existed, but that he’s not the Messiah.  If pressed to explain all the statues and images which accompanied MY religion, I likened them to having family pictures around the house.  I certainly wasn’t worshipping any statues, and asking a saint for intercession was like asking a friend to pray for me.  At least that’s what I was taught.

To this day, I make it a point to have a working knowledge of all major belief systems.  I have shelves full of religious texts, from the Upanishads to the Torah to the Qur’an to the Confessions.  I absolutely adore Lives of the Saints.  I’ve even got a copy of Science and Health.  I continue to be fascinated by what people believe, even if I struggle to understand it.  I make no sweeping generalizations or condemnations unless I am fully prepared to intelligently argue my case.  But I’ve also learned that there are some people you just can’t argue with.

So here’s this can of worms I’ve opened.  I’m certainly hoping for respectful discourse, but I know that religion unleashes online maelstroms and resultant butthurt that I suppose I’m prepared to deal with.  Or maybe this blog entry will go completely unnoticed.  That’s okay, too.

5 thoughts on “Losing my religion.

  1. So…I dont think I understand the “spiritual skeptic” thing, and I’d like to. Can you help thick headed me to understand?

    I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t explain what I AM, it explains what I’m NOT. It’s like saying I’m a non stamp collector… and not terribly useful in that way.

    What I AM is s secular humanist. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism and I read a great deal of stuff by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, AC Grayling, Michael Shermer, and the dearly departed Hitch, and with this comes a bunch of exposure to the major world religions beliefs..

    If you have an interest in the roots of belief, I really recommend “the believing brain” by michael shermer. Fascinating.

    Im down. lets chat! 🙂

    • I suppose it’s a fancier way of saying that I’m “religion free” while not 100% rejecting the notion of the mystical or spiritual experience.

      I’m skeptical about any claims of any one way being THE WAY, while at the same time trying to maintain a position of respect. I think there’s good in various teachings, the idea being that they’re not offering a set of answers so much as they’re inviting one to engage in a process of searching.

      • innnnnnteresting. I’m happy to live and let live as long as they keep, for example the teaching of “creationism” and “intelligent design” which are the same thing, out of schools… and of course I personally reject all notions of fairies, ghosts, and other mystical shit like that without evidence.

        As soon as there’s some good peer reviewed evidence though, I’m all about checking it out!

      • Heh. The theatre where I work is alleged to be haunted. There’s for sure some creepy shit that goes down in there. It’s funny; I have a friend who doesn’t believe in ghosts, but fully admits she wouldn’t spend the night in that theatre if you paid her.

  2. I was raised Lutheran, lost faith in my teens, and now I’m an igtheist. I vaguely recall being told that Catholics thought that doing good works was enough and that any of them that neglected the John 3:16 part were going to hell.

    What I didn’t find out until I was about 30 is that “my” branch of Lutheran offically considers the Pope to be the Antichrist. It’s on their website!

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