That’s me! In the corner!
The book Parenting Beyond Belief was featured this week on MotherTalk, and bloggers were invited to write about religion. The good people of AlphaMom suggested that I tackle the subject, so here I am, attempting to do so.
Religion has fallen out of favor lately. High-profile intellectuals argue that religion is not only an emotional crutch, it is socially dangerous as well. Richard Dawkins is a prominent example of this. Christopher Hitchens has joined the atheism front, expanding his vast pool of contempt to include the God-fearing. He belittles the religious as a “limited and literal” people. This is an extraordinary claim, considering that the religious live every day in a world that marries the mystical and the material. It’s a creative exercise Mr. Hitchens is apparently incapable of. But then, he doesn’t believe that women can be funny, either, so can we expect him to believe in God?
The new consensus, especially in the wake of such terrible religion P.R. as intelligent design (not to mention terrorism), is that faith equals dangerous ignorance. Even here on Wonderland, when a commenter mentions their faith, a knee-jerk reaction ripples through the comments that this person is somehow not worth listening to. As someone who was raised by deeply intellectual people who also value their faith, I find this personally galling. I have the utmost respect for the faithful. I cannot dismiss them out of hand. As for me, I can’t say I’m one of them, but I also can’t say that I’m not.
It’s hard for me to discuss Religion in general, given the myriad ways that God is defined and celebrated and prayed to. To me it’s like discussing Dinner as if everyone enjoys identical plates of gray mush, night after night. So I’m going to change tacks here and discuss my own history with religion.
I was born and raised a Roman Catholic. My family and I went to church every Sunday. I’ve consumed more of the body and blood of Jesus Christ than he probably literally consisted of. (He tastes like manila envelope.) I remember my Holy Communion (wore a lace veil; felt holy) and my Confirmation (wore lip gloss and mascara; felt womanly).
As I grew up, I became increasingly apathetic toward the church. I entertained myself at Mass by scanning the church for my friends. I couldn’t wait to free myself from my religious obligations. I don’t know exactly why. No one from our parish had ever wronged me. I had no bad experiences with nuns; I didn’t go to Catholic school. No one lectured me; we didn’t even say grace before meals. It was just knowing I was expected to live a life of faith that was the problem. If there was something I had to do, I resisted it. (This is probably why I did so spectacularly poorly in high school. )
And yet I was Catholic, and there was no avoiding it. The teachings of the Church were infused in my daily life. I thought about God pretty much all the time. (Are you there, God? I’m sorry about all the beer.) I would spur my dad to expound upon the teleological proof of the existence of God. I wanted to believe. I just didn’t want to work for it.
Then I went to college, where I didn’t go to church, not once. I was aware that I was letting down my parents, and I wore that heavy blanket of disappointment for those four years and beyond, that knowledge that I was failing them.
As I grew out of adolescence, I missed going to church. I missed the ritual, the feeling of a quiet space opening up inside me, the bells, the incense. I considered returning. But every time I steeled up the courage to again declare myself a Catholic, there would be some bit of Church news—new light on the sexual abuse inflicted by priests; the Pope issuing some anti-homosexual decree or proclamation—and I would retreat. I realize the Pope was not trying to hurt me, personally, but it felt like a slap in the face. I had a hard time imagining myself engaging in the church, declaring my faith among the other believers, when I believed that the leaders of the church were entirely wrong.
Still, I thought about going back. And thought, and thought. When I had Henry, I wanted him to be baptised. There didn’t seem to be any other way for him to be. Scott is Jewish but tolerant of my bouts with religion, so the baptism went ahead. Henry beamed at the priest as he drizzled holy water on his tiny forehead, and I had two concurrent thoughts: How can I not give this baby the experience of growing up in the Church? and How could I inflict the church on my innocent baby?
And here we are, several years later, and my internal battle rages on. We’ve attended church a number of times, especially as Henry grows old enough to sit through a mass (with the help of a few coloring books). And every time, my feeling about it is wildly different. There are times that I am practically weeping, it’s all so lovely. Then at other times there’s a priest who’s blathering on about the sins of Sodom and Gomorrha and I’m looking around at the other parishioners and trying not to scream, are you really buying this?
I have a hard time staying quiet. I think this is my fundamental problem, as a Catholic.
Clearly I have some need for religion, but I have problems with the Church, so shouldn’t I look elsewhere? The thing is, I can’t. I’ve tried. For me, being Catholic is like being a New Yorker. It’s hard to take other cities seriously, if you’re a New Yorker, and in the same way, the other religions seem a little…well, not Catholic. They just pale in comparison. I am completely indoctrinated, and thus, doomed.
My parents are liberal Catholics, and they seem to be at peace with all the contradictions inherent in that identity. They don’t consider their Catholicism a choice, after all. They’re Catholic like I’m blue-eyed. I’m not sure that I can do what they do. I think I can learn to love a church, but can I love The Church? Or do I need to, to be a Catholic?
No matter what I do, though, I know that I’m Catholic, whether or not I want to be. I like this feeling. And I worry that I’ll deprive my son of at least this much. Of knowing that he’s part of something larger, whether or not he wants to be.