Losing My Religion
I was brought up Catholic in a small white hamlet in mainland Nova Scotia. This was sort of a given for kids raised in small white hamlets in mainland Nova Scotia.
I was a very obedient child right up until I was a very obedient adolescent. I went to church every Saturday night until I joined the youth choir and started going every Sunday morning instead. Week to week, I was there in both body and spirit.
My elementary school was not a Catholic school. It was a non-denominational school in an overwhelmingly Catholic community. We had religion classes during school hours. When class was about to start, the one girl who wasn’t Catholic would be ushered to some other classroom. I think she spent the time colouring in a colouring book or something. I was never really sure. But the fact that she would get sent to another room always felt strange to me. I wondered how it made her feel to be sent away for not belonging.
This was the first crack in my Catholic shell.
By about fifth or sixth grade, it was decided that religion classes would no longer take place during the school day. They started happening on Sunday evenings instead.
I got the sense that the parents of the non-Catholic kids had “caused a fuss” about a secular school having decidedly non-secular classes. I also got the sense that everything would just be easier if “those people” minded their own business, or better yet, if they wised up and got Catholic, too.
These “others” weren’t Athiest, nor did they belong to some unfamiliar “foreign” religion. They were members of the United Church. They were Christians; a branch next to ours on the Jesus tree.
One day at school, I asked my non-Catholic classmate what the difference was between what we believed. She told me that one big difference had to do with the Eucharist. She said that while Catholics believed that we were eating the actual body and blood of Jesus when we took Communion, that her church instead considered the bread and wine to be just a symbol of Jesus’s body and blood.
From a child’s standpoint, her religion’s view made a hell of a lot more sense than my own.
Throughout my youth, questions about Jesus and God weren’t discouraged, necessarily, but I found myself unsatisfied with some of the answers I got.
One of the big questions I had that no one could really answer was: why can’t women be priests?
I was raised to believe that girls could do anything boys could do but here was a huge glaring example of one thing we couldn’t.
So either men and women weren’t really equal (a notion my inner feminist simply couldn’t accept) or the Catholic Church had gotten something wrong.
I am a philosopher by nature. I think a lot. I need things to make sense. Catholicism teaches that God is infallible, and by extension the Bible and the rules set out by the Pope are also infallible. Logic would suggest that if everything they tell you is true, then anything they tell you is true.
To declare that any one page of the Bible is true because it’s in the Bible is to declare that the whole Bible is completely true. Every page. If one sentence on one page turns out to be wrong, you can’t be sure about any other. On reflection, I found it hard to believe that the Bible was absolutely right about everything. After all, there’s some pretty weird shit in there.
It seems strange to describe my experience as an epiphany, but that’s what it was. By age seventeen or so, I had unlocked a door in my mind, and I knew it could never be closed again. It had taken me that many years to even entertain the possibility that being Catholic wasn’t necessarily the right way to go. That God might not even exist. That the adults in my life had spent years teaching me things that might not be true.
In my teen years, I was discovering sexuality and having no idea I was gay. Any hint of my extreme homosexuality that even approached the surface was promptly squashed down like a whack-a-mole.
Subconsciously, I must have known that this was information my fragile constitution was not prepared to deal with. My religious breakdown was proving challenging enough. But even before I knew I was gay, I knew that I didn’t think it was fair the way the Church perceived gay people.
I could understand murderers and rapists going to hell for murdering and raping. I couldn’t understand gay people going to hell for loving each other.
I certainly couldn’t understand the idea of God hating people. I mean, “God is Love” is one of Christianity’s biggest catchphrases, right?
Religious indoctrination is sort of genius in its simplicity. It is impossible to argue with someone for whom reason is irrelevant. God is all-knowing. God has a plan. The fact that we as humans don’t understand something doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense, it just means that we aren’t as wise as God. Thinking for yourself is arrogant, and speaking your mind is sacrilege.
I’m the youngest of three. I spent my university years living with my parents as sort of an only child. One Sunday morning after church my mother and I went out to brunch together. She was dismayed that my brother and sister had stopped attending church once they’d moved out of the house. She asked me if I would keep going after I moved out. She expected a yes. I told her the truth instead.
A few years later, I would be telling her, by email, that I was a lesbian. I am still sort of surprised that I managed to come out as non-Catholic in person.
What followed was an interesting conversation, the likes of which we had never had before. My mother wondered where she had gone wrong in her parenting. She was genuinely convinced that she had failed us with respect to our spiritual guidance. I didn’t see it that way.
I told her that she and Dad had equipped all three of us kids with the ability to think for ourselves. They had taught us to value and cultivate intelligence. They had taught me that being female wasn’t a limitation to what or who I could be.
I knew I was not a second-class citizen. Unfortunately for my mother, this meant that I could no longer voluntarily belong to a religion that insisted, in little and big ways, that I was.
My parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles are still very actively involved in the Catholic Church. But they accept the fact that I am not Catholic. They even accept the fact that I am a lesbian. I accept that there are good things to take away from this religion. Some of the best people I know are Catholic. They probably feel like I am misguided in my thinking, just like I believe they are in theirs. We are on opposite sides of a fence. But we all still manage to love and respect each other. And as long as we have that, I think we’ll be ok.