I am no longer a Catholic because it defies reason. And while I feel so very lucky to have escaped, I’m angry that it took me several decades.
My “religious education” began at the “age of reason.” What irony, when reason is the first thing the religious set out to destroy. On the outside, I had a “normal” childhood. On the inside, I was a terrified mess. I learned that I was bad and that I must keep track of all my sins so I could confess them to a priest in a dark box. It was scary and later humiliating: me, a girl, confessing “impure thoughts” to a celibate male! (Was that not sexual child abuse, if nowhere near as horrific as the many incidents that others experienced that also included physical violation?) But it was learning about hell that hurt the worst: if you died with an unconfessed mortal sin on your soul, you would go there forever.
Years later, when I’d try to articulate the pain of being Catholic, people would say, “You believed all that?” or “You were so gullible!”—usually accompanied by incredulous laughter. A more serious response would be, “Your faith is immature.”
Okay, mea culpa. I did believe all that.
Once, as a young child, I kept my eye on my dear mother for a whole year to see if she’d “make her Easter duty” (that is, fulfill the obligation to attend Mass on Easter Sunday). When she failed (then regarded as a mortal sin), I “knew” she was going to go to hell after she died. This was beyond appalling on so many levels: how dared I spy on, then judge, the one person who loved and cared for me the most in the world? The only person who came to try to comfort me on those nights I sobbed in fear because I “knew” I was going to hell because I had “doubted”? Yet, I couldn’t trust her words; only my teachers knew the truth about such things!
Of course, the real truth is that my mother had more wisdom about love and life in her little finger than that whole arrogant, ignorant institution ever did—or will.
Fortunately, like many others, I had a brief respite from terror when I went off to college. There were so many distractions: new things to do, see, and learn; meeting new people; falling in love. Then I met my future husband, and we decided to marry. The priest in his home parish refused to marry us because we didn’t want a full Mass. (More accurately, . didn’t want one; I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and pretend to be a “good Catholic” when I wasn’t.) Fortunately, we found another priest, married in a church without the Mass, had children, and then what did we do? We baptized them, and, when it was time, sent them to Sunday school! (I’ve since apologized, and they’ve forgiven me.) At the time, the people in our parish were so nice, the priest so nice—I resolved to try to be a good Catholic again, too.
As I prepared to return to the fold, I asked the dear woman trying to help me, “So . . . the Eucharist . . . it’s like a metaphor, right?”
“Oh no!” she said, alarm in her voice and eyes. But a moment later, she asked, “Do you believe Jesus comes to us in a special way during Communion?”
I twisted my battle-scarred brain every which way until I could answer, truthfully, “Y-y-y-yes.”
Whew! I was Catholic again—or I was after confession and Communion. And I was so happy!—until I wasn’t, again, because I couldn’t believe, again, and had something akin to posttraumatic stress disorder, again. Shaking with fear, I knew all over again that I was going to hell forever after I died.
Finally, I had a mini-breakdown. I told my husband, “I can’t do this!” and stopped going to church again. This time it stuck, though it would be another decade or more before I was completely free from random episodes of shaking terror. Those episodes only occurred when my energy-draining efforts to suppress them failed. Compared to being consciously aware all the time that I was going to hell, I considered this a great improvement.
Some might balk when I call religious education “torture.” But what else would you call making someone betray her own perception of reality by using fear and threats of severe, everlasting pain? How else could a person be made to believe that a priest, just by saying some words, turns a host into the literal body of a man who lived millennia before? Or that missing Mass, eating meat on Friday (now only a sin during Lent), not making your “Easter Duty,” or using birth control are all on par with committing murder? (Unless those sins have changed, too?)
I want to blame the Catholic Church for all unnecessary pain in my life, but that would be wrong. Maybe my bouts with depression and terror were organic. Maybe they had nothing to do with my being taught that I was bad, worthless, constantly sinning—and let’s not forget that hell thing. But what if, just hypothetically, those “teachings” not only contributed to but directly caused my misery? Convince me, if you can, that there’s no connection between soaking innocent minds in the most pornographically violent concept ever devised and later acts of monstrous violence that bring in their wake pain and suffering suspiciously reminiscent of hell.
Which damages a young mind more, I wonder: the horrors of hell themselves or the excruciating mind-twisting needed to believe that an “all-loving,” “all-powerful” deity would allow them?
I often joke, “Amnesty International, where were you when I needed you?” But I am deadly serious when I ask, now: “Mental health professionals, where are you in all this?” Why do you follow society’s dictate to “respect” all religions, only calling something “abuse” when it’s sexual in nature or causes visible scars? When you strive to diagnose and cure a person’s mental illness, why can’t (or won’t) you start with the set of delusional beliefs a person had the misfortune to be born into? Could you at least speak out against society’s ludicrous requirement that anyone wanting to hold public office must belong to a religion—who cares which?
Oh, right. Sorry. You’d be out of work fast.
I am not a Catholic because it defies reason and because I’m lucky. First, though the man I married was also raised Catholic, he not only supported me but eventually accompanied me on my long, painful journey. Second, I was born in a time when atheists, though still reviled, have more support than ever. Happily—at least, as of this writing—they can no longer be burned at the stake.
I also know this. If I were an all-powerful, all-loving deity, I wouldn’t let a single creature suffer for a second, let alone eternity. And I certainly wouldn’t let thousands of religions spring up, each filled with members feeling superior to all others and gloating that only they know the truth. Sure, most modern religions have stopped slaughtering each other, but every one of them must, often with great kindness and the best of intentions, continue to maim minds, over and over, just to keep themselves alive.
Truthful churches should display this sign: “All reason abandon, ye who enter here.” But you don’t have to stay. Reason can get you out.