Archive for October, 2012

How’s Your Faith These Days?

I saw a follow-up to this article today and it annoyed me. I’m not sure if the author lives in a cave or a some other utopia cutoff from human interaction and news. Surely not if he’s writing for CNN.

But he goes on and on saying the reason people abandon religion is because they don’t want to subscribe to anything or commit to anything. And in the follow-up article he even mocks those who say they’re “recovering” from Catholicism. Clearly this guy has never been a Catholic. Or at least a Catholic whose fallout from the religion feels more like a really awful breakup from your parents, who you had to get emancipated from because they were terrible caregivers. That’s how I feel about the Catholic religion. And much like an abusive parent, I have a hard time completely letting go or moving on to another religion.

Here’s how it went for me. As a child, I was super, super, super religious. My family went to church every single weekend, despite vacations, sickness, etc. I even remember one night I was recovering from the stomach flu and rather than staying home (when I was “mostly better”), Mom suggested we go and sit in the back in case I was still sick. Don’t get me wrong. Had I actually been throwing up that day, she probably would have had me stay home, but if I was well enough to go outside and play, I was well enough for church. Beyond that, I grew up in Catholic Town, America. We went to church every single morning before school. And a few days a week had religion classes. I also never missed religion. And I only missed church when I was in about 7th or 8th grade. And at that point I was only allowed to miss because the way to rebel at that age was to skip church and go to the gas station and buy junk food. My mom didn’t want me walking around town unsupervised, so she said, “If you’re going to skip church, I’d rather you simply stay home. But you have to go to religion. And you have to be to school on time.” So occasionally I skipped church. Not every single day, and I always made it to religion. Let’s be real. Church every single morning from first through eighth grade was a lot.

I even ASKED my mom for permission to participate in Totus Tuus, and loved it. I didn’t mind the bible stuff, and actually took a lot away from it. The college students leading it were great. They had just the right mix of fun activities (like water balloon fights) with religious studies brought down to our level and easy ways for kids to deepen their faith. Plus, I got to hang out with my friends more in the summer!

I think it was in eighth grade my older sister got confirmed. I thought it was such a cool thing. Since Catholics are baptized as babies and do their first communion in second grade, there’s not a lot of grown-up thought that goes into those decisions. It’s just something you do. Whereas confirmation you were an “adult” (at least it felt like high schoolers were adult, and by eighth grade, I was certainly much more religious and devout than when I was in second grade or a few weeks old). I was so excited for my confirmation. The ceremony was very intimate and meaningful. And I believe her Godparents may have even attended, which was a big deal. My sisters and I saw our Godparents mostly at special occasions. So this was a big deal. And since they did confirmations every three years, I’d get to be confirmed my sophomore year. Oh happy day!

Not so fast. Here comes the first brick in the wall of my Catholicism fallout. Sometime shortly after I find out I won’t get confirmed until my senior year because they’re taking everyone who hadn’t gotten confirmed already and having a really big confirmation. It was going to be so great! But… If it’s big, then will it be at church? Nope. Will the bishop personally baptize me? Probably not. So, how is this good? Because it will be such a huge event! The world is going to know how big Catholicism is! But, my faith is personal. Why do I need the world involved? Why does it have to be a big event? I liked the small event. Nonetheless, I pushed it to the back of my mind. Until senior year. And that’s when I knew the Catholic faith wasn’t what it proclaimed to be. It was a money-hungry, attention-seeking, fame whore. In fact, it’s everything the author claims “spiritual but not religious” people to be: narcissistic. And while I probably would have fallen out of faith eventually with the other things that happened, this was definitely the first real chink in the armour for me. And when I’d ask the priest at our church, his answer wasn’t honesty. Instead he pretty much told me to shut my mouth, not question it, and do as I’m told. As an already rebellious 17-year-old, this wasn’t exactly what I needed to maintain or regain faith in the church. Rather, it made me question it more. What kind of religion expects you to follow along, even when your otherwise committed spirit questions it? And when I’d ask my parents, they’d try to be supportive of my stance, and explain what was going on, but they did tell me, “Whether you get confirmed now or later, we want you to get confirmed. It’s important to us. And it will be easier to do it now, while they’re doing the classes during your time in religion. But if you really don’t want to do it now, we will respect it and go when you do get confirmed.” I should have walked away then. I might have held onto a shred of respect for the religion. Rather, what followed was what my dad used to refer to as “showboating for the sake of showboating” when we’d watch basketball games. He never understood why a player had to be flashy, especially if they couldn’t follow-through on the play. Dunk the ball, but don’t have a big show going up to or following the play. At a very young age I learned ostentatious acts were selfish and not classy. And that’s exactly how I felt about this confirmation. We spent more time discussing the event, than learning anything. I was defiant the whole time. I made it clear I wanted to get confirmed in MY church, in a private ceremony, by the bishop, with people I knew. I didn’t want to get confirmed in a huge venue, with thousands of people I didn’t know, listening to readings in different languages, being a puppet in the Catholic church’s attempt to draw attention (and money) to itself. I didn’t want to be on TV (they told us to expect new stations to be there – I have no idea if they were). I didn’t want to share this moment with the world. For someone who WAS religious, this was like getting married in a huge venue. Sure, SOME people like it, but usually those who are taking their vows seriously want the event to be serious, and meaningful. This was none of those things. In fact, my parents didn’t even have our Godparents attend the event. And it was HOT. Miserable. People were passing out. There was no water (well, there might have been water for sale, I was a high school kid, so for me, no water). And those readings in different languages were even more ridiculous when you’re sitting in 100 degree heat. At one point, Dad even said, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” When it came time to get confirmed, it meant absolutely nothing to me. I wanted to leave. I didn’t care if I EVER got confirmed. And I hated every second of it.

After that, I did try to do things “the right way,” including going to church every single weekend (even on vacations) and on all of the holy days, not having premarital sex, going to stations of the cross on Fridays during Lent. But the start of that decay was leading to the inevitable, my faith was wounded and I’d never look at the church the same way. So some of the stuff the church did suddenly became bigger and bigger problems for me. For example, I don’t believe homosexuality is a choice, but the church openly calls homosexuality a sin, and the person a sinner. I don’t agree with this. And in recent weeks when the church admonished a priest for attending a gay wedding and speaking at the wedding, my choice to abandon the church is only confirmed as the right choice.

Beyond that, of course the biggest reason I have stayed away from the church, probably for good, is because of the corruption. Specifically, and mostly the corruption with pedophilia and sexual abuse by priests. I have always said the pedophile may have a problem that causes him to do what he does. It could be a mental disorder or some type of response to abuse in his past. For some reason, while atrocious and disgusting, I never thought the pedophile was as bad as those who cover it up. Do I think Sandusky is a disgusting, vile human being? Yes. But you know who I think is far, far, far worse of a person? Paterno for covering up his actions. Is it possible Sandusky has some mental disorder? Maybe. But Paterno was an intelligent, fully aware adult who knew what Sandusky was doing was wrong, and he covered it up. He knowingly dismissed the claims and protected Penn State. All for what? A football program? It does not make sense to me, and since I believe in God and in Heaven and Hell, I believe he is or has paid for what he did. To me, the pedophile priests in the church are disgusting. But those who covered it up are far, far worse. And they ARE the Catholic church. The upper echelon of the church. In fact, to cover up these misdoings, they would simply move the priest. To another church with more children. And when he was found out again, moved again. This has been happening for years and is still happening. Allegedly these people, who value children to such an extent they protest abortions and consider birth control a vile substance, are putting children knowingly in harm’s way. They are taking your son, your nephew, your brother, your cousin and putting him in a room with someone they KNOW will abuse him. And beyond that, the child is taught to respect this priest, to not question him, and the priest uses this power to hide what he’s doing. The church knows this. The church is filled with intelligent people. They know these actions don’t just stop because you pray on them to stop. If that were true, you’d pray they never start. Instead, the church, to protect itself, just like Paterno was protecting Penn State’s football program, turns its head. Monsignors, bishops, arch-bishops, cardinals, popes. All of them are in the wrong. A concerted effort was made to cover this up. For HUNDREDS of priest. And it’s still happening. Yet we are supposed to put our faith in this institution. The one that’s shown it’s more concerned with fame and money than with the good of those following it and paying it.

So when you ask why I’m “spiritual, but not religious” that’s why. Why would I keep going back to someone that’s hurt me, that’s betrayed me, that’s only shown selfish ways? Why would I want to tithe to an institution I don’t believe in. Or attend a service of a company I don’t endorse?

For me, the final straw was Easter mass this year. I hadn’t been to church in a long time, but decided I wanted to try to get back in the habit. A few weeks before Easter, another story pops up, close to home, about a priest who was known to be a pedophile left in a parish for over five years. THOUSANDS of children were in contact with him after the church knew he was taking naked pictures of very young children. The church not only didn’t turn this into law enforcement, but outright ignored it. Putting middle America children in direct contact with a pedophile.

Then I go to church and find out there was enough communication, collaboration, and commitment in the upper tiers to decide to re-write mass, changing inconsequential words, and mucking up the routine just enough for someone in the Vatican to feel important, and to make every Catholic re-learn what he or she had done her whole life. Yes, Catholics, you will relearn your routine. Because I say so. You can’t tell me there’s enough coordination to re-write and roll out the changes to every single church in the world, yet they can’t get the pedophile scandal under control?

No, the Vatican and the entire church knows there’s an issue. But just like that priest when I questioned a public confirmation in high school, Catholics are told to shut your mouth, not question it, and do as you’re told. I’m sorry if that’s not the way I want to live my short time on this earth.

And I’m also sorry if I’m not scampering over to another manmade religion, eagerly splaying myself at their feet. I have chosen the stance that religion is man-made, and as with many things man-made and man-run, often times the top is littered with greed and corruption. I don’t need a church to stand between me and God. Even though many people didn’t like Stigmata, I always think of a quote in that movie that came from a scripture the church was trying to hide:

“Jesus said, The kingdom of God is inside you, and all around you. Not in mansions of wood and stone. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me.”

Stigmata was one of those movies I watched when I was young, naive and impressionable. It was one of the few movies Mom actually said, “I’m not sure you should be watching this” when I was in college. For some reason, it was the first time I realized I could have Christianity faith WITHOUT a church or a religion. Without someone standing between me and God, forcing beliefs on me, and demanding money from me. Another quote from the movie that might actually be relevant to why people are spiritual and not religious is, “Hey, you know what’s scarier than not believing in God? Believing in him. I mean, really believing in him. It’s a fucking terrifying thought.” It’s true. It’s such a BIG thought. And when you’re young and part of a church, you’re taught to have blind faith, to not think about it. And to also not think about death or the end of the world. And to not question why, if there’s a god, there are these terrible things like suffering that happen to such great people, and why some of the same people get knocked down over and over and over. Yet some of the truly evil people never seem to face trials, tribulations or even heartache of any kind. And when you question “God’s plan” you’re told God knows your mistakes. So if he knows your mistakes, then is there really free will or is every mistake I made part of the plan? And if so, then why not make all of the mistakes? It’s such a big thing, and it is terrifying. For me, the most terrifying part of believing in God is not that he created everything. But how was God created? And this actually makes me want to delve deeper into my faith, not run away from it. But I can see a question like this being enough to scare someone away. It’s terrifying.

The point is, I realized I don’t need religion to have a relationship with God. In fact, my relationship with God and my attitude at the world is actually better when I don’t feel like a hypocrite or an enabler of the things I don’t believe in. Do I judge those who are still Catholics? No. In fact those who are true, devout Catholics (not the loud-mouthed Catholics I have to hide on my Facebook feed – which is another reason people reject religion, by the way – no one wants to be “that” person. The person who thinks they’re better than everyone. The person who humble brags themselves into oblivion) I am a little jealous of. For me, I feel like there’s this person (a parent, as in my example) who has some good traits but some awful traits. Those who stay in the church are simply choosing to see the good over the bad. I, on the other hand, see more bad than good. And I’ve accepted that. Going back to a bad relationship over and over to try to find the good and hang onto it isn’t good. No matter who the person is or was in your life. I’ve learned that with men. And I’ve also learned it with religion. Just like I’m better off with no man in my life right now, I’m also better off, right now, with no religion. Maybe someday Christianity will be more accepting of more people and I’ll reestablish a relationship. In the meantime, I am a “recovering” Catholic. Much as an abuse victim is recovering. I’m not comparing myself to those abused sexually by the church. Rather, I’m comparing it to a person whose parents neglected and lied to them, and they’re recovering from that experience.

Stigmata is streamable on Netflix. I still watch it occasionally, and get a great sense of peace at the end of the movie. In fact, I think that movie might be why St. Francis is my favorite saint. Another “Catholic thing” I still follow. In fact, I feel like I follow all of the peaceful, loving tenants of the Catholic religion, still. I only reject the parts that, to me, bring more negativity than good: The corruption of the church itself (so therefore the physical part), and the dismissive/angry/judgmental beliefs. It’s no one’s place on earth to judge (that’s one of God’s rules, right?), yet the church has made it their place.

I’ll end with my favorite prayer of St. Francis, which I think sums up MY personal “spiritual, but not religious” approach to spirituality:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

I certainly have a long way to go toward being the person in this song, but this song summarizes my faith, spirituality, and how I TRY to approach life. And I certainly don’t need someone telling me I’m a selfish person because of it. Trust me, I’m my own biggest critic. I don’t need someone else pointing out things that are lacking in me.