A friend of mine, raised Catholic and bombarded early with messages about sin and damnation and a heavy dose of guilt around his sexuality, recently got the opportunity to tell his childhood priest to go to hell. Not in so many words, mind you; he’s a refined sort of chap. But the spirit was there and I was thrilled for him when he told me. How cathartic! How liberating.
I am so thankful that I was not raised Catholic. Although it was there in the background (like through the daily recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public school) religion was not a big part of my childhood, perhaps in part because my parents didn’t quite agree on it.
My father was raised Catholic and my mother was raised Protestant. When they got together my mother considered converting. She even went to Catholic classes with the local priest and everything. But when it came down to it she couldn’t do it.
It was transubstantiation that was the sticking point. She was prepared to accept communion as a metaphor for divine cannibalism symbolizing an acceptance and assimilation of Christ’s teachings. But not that a bit of dried up bread magically became the body of Jesus upon consecration in a real but entirely empirically imperceptible way.
I’m proud of my mom. Instead of pretending to go along with something that she didn’t actually believe in she told the priest that a literal interpretation of the scripture was crazy talk and went her own way, even though joining the Catholic club would’ve eased relations between her WASPy self and her Italian in-laws. I just wish that more folks stuck to their guns when it came to matters of religion.
Earlier this year I attended a confirmation ceremony for a class of Catholic high school kids. It was chilling. Hearing all these young voices affirm in front of the bishop that they understood the teachings of the Catholic Church and were choosing to accept and identify with them and defend them against nonbelievers — to become soldiers of Christ, as it were — filled me with dismay. More so because I was related to one of the kids and was sitting with a pew full of family members who certainly love me but who nevertheless remain committed to a religion that shuns me as a practising homo.
Afterward one of my family members confided that getting confirmed is just the thing you do at that age; that no one really believes in it. I think she somehow meant this to be reassuring, but to my way of thinking it’s actually worse. Why would you encourage young adults to stand up in public, in front of their family and peers, and profess to an archaic belief system that you yourself don’t believe in just ’cause it’s the expected thing to do? Why not just teach them the definition of hypocrisy and be done with it?
There are many people for whom religion and spirituality are integral parts of their lives. Good for them. I may not agree with their particular belief system and I sure as hell don’t want it imposed on me in any way, shape or form, but I respect that they have the courage of their convictions. As one fictional preacher puts it, “I don’t care what you believe in. Just believe it.”
But for all the folks who are going through the motions take a step back and consider what it would take for you to break free and what you’d be standing to gain, as an individual and as a member of society. Without countless bodies half-heartedly propping up tired old institutions they may just give way to a new reality in which hate and shame figure less prominently.