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.
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.