We were discussing Lent the other day on Twitter. I was cheering on some friends who are participating in Lent, while explaining that, although I find it beyond admirable whenever anyone goes through Lent, I no longer participate in the practice, because I am a stubborn ass when it comes to Catholicism. This brought up some curiosity as to why this is.
No, not why I’m a stubborn ass. If you could answer that question, you’d win the prize. I can’t even answer that question. Genetics? Nature? Nurture? My most influential role model growing up was (and remains) the most stubborn man I’ve ever come across in the history of ever; I’m sure that plays a part. My brain just being wired that way? I don’t know. I’m stubborn, and I can, and often am, a complete ass about it. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to it. I can’t often explain my actions to myself. Sometimes I even say, “Amy! Stop being such a stubborn ass!” TO MYSELF. It doesn’t often help. I just keep assing along.
No, why I’m a stubborn ass in relation to Catholicism was the question. I’ve touched on it now and again here, a few run-ins I had with various clergy members or things that have happened to me over the years in the church. There was the time I was kicked out of churchschool for standing up to the bully asshole priest who screamed at the Planned Parenthood employee; there was the time I was so mad at the games we had to play in churchschool I refused to participate, and therefore I became an object lesson for the entire congregation.
Neither of these explain why I refuse to go to church anymore. I still attended church after these occurred. I attended church right up until a little after grad school, actually. Then I’d had enough, so I stopped.
Now, before I start this, please bear in mind: I am not attacking the Catholic church, or any church, or any religion (well, except for maybe cults. I’m scared of cults. Or religions that are yelly about things. Or religions that get in my face. Other than that: you go, religion, you go.) This is MY PERSONAL TAKE ON SHIT. If you want to be an asshat and all “YOU HATE GOD” or whatever, you know what, go do that over there, or something, I don’t have time or energy to deal with your shenanigans.
It all came down to this: I could no longer attend an institution that was making me pray, on a weekly basis, for social issues to be resolved in a manner that was opposite to what I believed in.
Sure, there were other things. There was the time there a senile priest chased me out of the confessional screaming “GET ON YOUR KNEES AND BEG FOR GOD’S FORGIVENESS YOU HEATHEN” (wish I was kidding, you guys), there was the evil priest, for whom a special circle in Dante’s inferno is reserved, one where fingernails are pulled out OVER AND OVER AND OVER, who called my mom up at work and called her the Whore of Babylon (yeah, I know, right?) because she and my father refused to donate substantial amounts of money so he could get a new rectory; there was the time that same priest installed a rearview mirror in the confessional so he could see who was making confession even though it was supposed to be anonymous, I assume either for blackmail or gossip purposes. But those were individual incidents, and not indicative of the church as a whole. So I kept going.
Then there was the hypocrisy. I like rules. I approve of rules. I think, as a society, we could benefit from following the damn rules a little more often. But no one was following the effing rules of church, yet people were still GOING. People would be eating Egg McMuffins in their cars in the parking lot, then going in and receiving the Eucharist. THAT’S NOT THE RULE. You’re supposed to fast before you receive the sacrament. THOSE ARE THE RULES. People would only attend a mass here or there, usually the ones where you got goodies, like palms or ashes, and then be all, “Yep, I’m a good Catholic.” You attend ALL the masses and ALL the holy days. THOSE ARE THE RULES. People that I KNEW were horrendous human beings in real life would be at mass on Sundays. I’m pretty sure you were supposed to be at least ATTEMPTING to follow God’s teachings ALL WEEK LONG, not just piously showing up in church on Sunday. RULES. RULES. RULES.
But that was on them, not on me. So I kept going. Good Catholic girl, parents raised me to attend church, I kept going. Not saying I didn’t miss a mass here or there, especially in college when I was too hungover to get out of bed on Sunday mornings, but I made an effort. I tried to do my best. I still believed in what the church stood for, the greater good of it all. I kept going.
Years passed. It weighed on me, more and more. But I kept going.
Then this weird new practice started, and that was when I drew the line.
At the end of every mass, right before we could leave, we all had to stand there while either the priest or a deacon or one of the readers stood up and read off a list of things the church, as a whole, was praying for that week. And we all had to put our arms and hands up in a Sieg Heil salute throughout. No, I’m not kidding. Did I have the only church that thought this was a good idea? There have to be some Catholics reading this. Did your church make you pray for things while Heiling? Was this a thing? Is this still a thing?
So the first time I looked around, trying to catch someone’s eye to share the delicious insanity of “hey, we’re totally doing the Sieg Heil thing, this is cuckoo-bananas, right?” but everyone had dead, dead eyes. Like a cult. Like a dead cult. IT WAS ALARMING. It was grainy WWII news-reel footage of Hitler youth alarming. I did not like it one little bit.
So I just stood there and refused to put my arm up. I wasn’t Heiling ANYONE. I felt like I’d fallen into a bodysnatchers movie.
Then the person reading started reading what we were praying for. Poor people. Cool, I could get behind that. At the end of each statement we were supposed to respond something. At this point, many years later, I have no idea what that is. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, it was “Let us pray.” I don’t know what it was. I barely remember what I wore yesterday. (I’m lying. I wore my Dr. Horrible shirt and it was AWESOME.)
So, poor people. Cool, cool, cool. I mean, I wasn’t Heiling, but I could say “Let us pray” to that. Fine. Then something for more clergy members, or whatever. Some things that I was completely down with and found to be not-at-all-objectionable.
Then we got (and I’m working from memory and imagination, here, so bear with):
“Let us pray for the homosexuals; that they see the error of their ways, and find God. Let them come back to God and realize that the only true love and marriage is that which is found between a man and a woman.”
WHAT THE HELL.
I mean, I wasn’t an idiot. I knew the church was totally anti-homosexuality. But they didn’t usually SAY it. Not in MASS.
I wasn’t “let us pray”-ing for that shit, no no, not me. Not with over half of the people I loved more than anyone BEING those damn dirty godless homosexuals. So I just stood there, refusing to Heil, refusing to let-us-pray.And kind of getting a head of steam, honestly. And an Amy head of steam is never a good thing. They usually boil over. Someone gets scalded.
Then some other filler shit, then we got:
“Let us pray for the aborted babies, who have been killed, through no fault of their own, by their mothers. Let them enter heaven, whether baptized or not. Let the government see the error of its ways and outlaw this barbaric practice.”
AW HELL NO.
OK, first you attack my best FRIENDS, then you expect me to Sieg Heil away my right to frigging CHOOSE? Nope. Not going to happen. HEAD OF STEAAAAAM. Also, separation of CHURCH and STATE. You aren’t supposed to talk about the GOVERNMENT in here. Yes, yes, that’s not what that MEANS, FINE. Either way. STOP BRINGING YOUR POLITICS TO MY ALTAR.
And everyone else around me, dead, dead eyes, were just standing there, arms outstretched, mindlessly, thoughtlessly “let us pray”-ing. Probably not even listening to what was being said. Not even thinking about what they were throwing their words behind.
That was when I realized: there was a very, very good possibility I think too much to attend mass anymore. Because I overthink EVERYTHING. The rules. What’s being said. What the things being said MEAN. Why we’re doing certain things as opposed to others. Why there aren’t any female priests. Why priests can’t marry. Why there is so much pedophilia in the Catholic church. Why we’re Sieg Heiling to social issues that are the VERY REASONS I choose which political candidates to vote for, or against.
But I thought, maybe this is just a special-occasion thing. Maybe this isn’t going to happen every week. Maybe this is going to happen once in a while, and you can just stand here and 1967 conscientious-objector this shit out and all will be well.
Nope. Every week. Every week the same old “pray for the dead babies” and the “pray for the godless gays” and me standing there looking around the congregation for someone, ANYONE, who wasn’t just Heiling away their soul and not finding a single kindred spirit.
So I couldn’t go anymore. It was over for me. Just, over. Done. Other than once or twice (once because the priest mentioned in the link above was in town, and I wanted to see him because I loved him more than almost anyone, and a couple times for Christmas when my parents’ wheedling became just waaaaay too intense, before I finally put my foot down) I haven’t been back since.
Do I miss it? Yes. I miss the gorgeous ritual of it. I miss the routine. I miss the rules. I miss the pageantry and the iconography and the stories. But the magic of it was gone for me. I can’t stand behind an institution that hates women and believes that homosexuality is evil. I can’t. I wouldn’t put up with it from a politician in office, I wouldn’t put up with it from a friend, and I won’t put up with it from my church.
The worst part is, I don’t believe this is what Jesus would have wanted his church to come to, were he here today. Jesus was a progressive dude. He was all-inclusive. Back in the day, he was friends with tax collectors and whores, who were like the dregs of society, you know? He was the original hippie. And you’re telling me that a church, founded on this man’s teachings, wouldn’t change with the times and accept all people, regardless whether their plumbing’s an innie or an outie or who they choose to bed down with at the end of the night? Really? You think I’m stupid enough to go along with that?
I’ve tried other religions, because I miss the magic. I really do. I miss the belonging and I miss the belief in something. But my heart will always be with Catholicism. See, that’s why I say, don’t even attack me, because this isn’t an attack on Catholicism. I LOVE CATHOLICISM. I do. I just don’t like where it is, as opposed to where it could be. And I can’t, in good faith (heh, pun intended) back that horse.
Do I believe in God, I suppose, is your next question. And that’s a huge one, right? One that most people probably don’t even want to discuss. Well, listen, if there’s ever been a place to discuss it, it’s here, so I might as well get it out of the way. I believe in SOMETHING. I think there’s something out there. I’ve seen too many things happen that are too coincidental to be coincidences. I think there’s some sort of master plan, sure. It’s nebulous, but it’s in place. Somehow. What is it? What the hell do I know, I’m not in the inner circle. Is the higher power God? Jesus? Gaia? Buddha? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? I don’t know. I DON’T KNOW. I don’t know if there’s even a name on it, honestly. I just think there’s something. SOMETHING. And I respect the right of everyone else to believe – or not to believe at all – in their somethings, or their nothings. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, and as long as you don’t get too shouty about it.
So yes. I’m stubborn as hell. I won’t go to church with my family when I’m home, which upsets them to no end. But it’s not like they think – because I hate the church. It’s not that at all. It’s because if I enter a church for mass, I’d feel like I was a hypocrite, no better than that guy chowing the Egg McMuffin in the parking lot before mass. I can’t stand behind some of their most basic beliefs, so the church is not for me. If it changes? If they decide to change with the times, embrace the social issues that are dealbreakers for me? Stop railing against homosexuality, accept a woman’s right to choose, allow female priests, and allow male priests to marry? Then yes. I can see myself attending mass again. Because I do miss it.
I’m a stubborn ass. I know that. I know that’s true. But I also know I don’t belong in a room of thoughtless people with their hands raised, saluting and praying for things that they aren’t even listening to, one eye on their watches, thinking about getting home for football. I have better things to do with my Sundays. I usually spend them at a theater. That’s a kind of a church, for me. More all-inclusive. More welcoming. And, if done well? Totally a religious experience.