sent in by Sarah Macias
As a spiritual being, I think I've always questioned the way I've been told to accept the faiths and beliefs of others. I was born into a Catholic family, baptised and raised that way, but I always knew it wasn't right, somehow.
I was a good little girl, pretty, sweet and obedient...except when it came to church. I hated it. I hated the lectures, dressing up, the boring preist, the endless "sit down, stand up, kneel, sit down again," the saccharine songs we were made to sing, and, horror of horrors, being made to touch the people around me when it came time to join hands as we sung the "Our Father" or said "Peace be with you" to the people who happened to be sitting around the pew near us. Sunday school was a joke, ad catechism was worse. Youth group, for high schoolers was the bane of my existance for two years until my parents finally gave up.
I never understood any of what they were trying to teach me. As a second grader, I read books detailing reincarnation and past lives, and promptly decided that this made a hell of a lot more sense than the heaven/purgatory/limbo/hell sequence that Catholics believed in. So, like the innocent child I was, I brought this up to my catechism teacher. After my bold announcement about my belief in reincarnation, my teacher's eyes widened, then softened and a sweet, motherly smile graced her lips. "No, honey, you don't believe that. You're Catholic," she purred. I furrowed my brow and petulantly replied that she didn't understand what I was saying. This was what I truly believed in. My teacher just sighed, shook her head and, with a determined look on her face, growled, "No, dear. You..Are...Catholic. Go sit down." Not another word was said about the subject.
I can't say I remember any of that day's lessons. The entire time I was just thinking about her reaction and treatment of my beliefs. Were my personal beliefs and opinions really worth so little to these people who claimed to be interested in educating me? Why was questioning so discouraged? Why couldn't I explore other options? Why was it assumed that this was my path despite my own ideas?
Yes, at 8 years old I had a crisis of faith. My parents joke now about raising me to be a free spirit without knowing what it really meant. While I think that forcing any one religion down my throat while indirectly teaching me to question everything, including authority and popular beliefs, was a fool's errand, I know they meant well. I simply knew in my heart that it was wrong to deny anyone the right to question an establishment's reasoning. I couldn't stand to let this continue.
So, I started acting out. In catechism, I questioned everything. Loudly. The situation eventually escalated and the funny thing about the whole ordeal is that my parents and the deacon were never told. My personal belief is that the teacher didn't want to look stupid for being unable to answer my questions.
Church was far worse. Every Sunday, my parents forced me into uncomfortable, froofy dresses (oh, did I mention that I also stated going through a tomboy phase around this time?) at the ass-crack of dawn and then seated our family of 8 in the front row of church. First, I fussed about my dress, constantly scratching and fidgeting when I itched. This earned me a smack on the arm. Then I started to try to fall asleep. I was nudged awake. I started giggling at nothing (and got my younger siblings in on it!) Another smack. I kicked the wall in front of our pew. Smack. Played with the baby. Smack. Started to cry, smack. Refused to sing the hymns along with the choir, smack. Sang off-key (I'm tone-deaf,) smack. Crossed my eyes, drooled and tried to look retarded, smack. During the part of mass where we all held hands I grabbed my brother's hand and we started to swing our hands as hard as we could into the wall in front of the pew, effectively playing "bloody knuckles" on it. This was not a smackable offense. My father shot me a murderous look as he moved to sit between us. So, to get back at him, when we went up to recieve the host (that nasty, stale Jesus-cracker thay give you) I chewed it, didn't swallow, and blew raspberries (and Jesus-cracker bits) all over my brother's face. My father grabbed my arm and told me to stop it now in a tone that brooked no arguement. I sat sullenly for the rest of the service, but when it came time to kneel, I made a show of falling don every two seconds since the floor tilted towards the priest. I was also the first person to stand up to leave and practically ran out the door when it was over.
Afterwards, my father grounded me, "...for a week, so next time we go to church you can behave and prove you're not a baby. You'll just be grounded until you can stop." I shrugged, changing out of my dress into jeans and a T-shirt that I'd hidden in the car so that I didn't have to spend one extra minute in the hideous thing. We'd go to breakfast or brunch like this, with my whole family in "Sunday-best" except for me. Once, I was not allowed to change and I refused to eat.
This went on like this every week. My father finally got tired of grounding me and we went to church less and less. My mother began to cry when she thought about the problems it caused our family just going to church and being "good Catholics." She tried to talk to me about being the good example, since all my siblings were younger and did as I did. That talk never amounted to anything. My behavior never changed. I hated not being able to stay up on Saturday night because of church. I refused to let my parents force me into it without a fight.
As I aged, we went to church less, but I was expected to still go to catechism and, later, youth group. As a teenager in youth group, all my questions revolved around sex. Why was it a sin before marriage? Wouldn't only a cruel god give us such a gift and then tell us not to use it? What about birth control? Masturbation? Homosexual experimentation? Casual sex? Why should I marry someone I'd never had sex with? What if we were sexually incompatible? Wouldn't that be awful? Wasn't it better to make sure we were compatible first? Besides, what idiot would refuse to test drive a car before buying?
After a while, my youth group leader went the way of my catechism instructor and let me play pool in the other room until my father came to pick me up. It was a lucky coincidence that my boyfriend lived across the street. I constantly ditched youth group, had an hour of sex with my boyfriend, and returned so that my father could pick me up.
My parents had to listen to my constant complaints about the church, too. Why were we Catholic, after all? My parents had me two years before they got married in Vegas (and mom was pregnant with my little brother on that very day!) We were pro-choice and didn't believe in the samevision of hell and sin as the Church. We were also cool with homosexuality. None of this fit with the church. Why didn't we belong to a religion in which we agreed with everything they taught? Didn't one exist?
They told me our family had been Catholic for generations beyond count (I'm half Irish and half Mexican) and that just because we didn't believe in all the dogma,that was no reason to leave the church altogether.
They were wrong. Eventually it was. At 19 I discovered Wiccan and became the happy heathen I knew I always was inside. No more being told to be ashamed of enjoying sex or of questioning my beliefs. No dogma. I only had to remember two things: The Wiccan Rede and the Rule of Three. "An' it harm none, do as ye will," and "Remeber that all you do, for good or for bane, returns to you three times." Definetly spiritual rules I could live by.
While this weirded my parents out a bit, they'd been going their own way for a few years, anyway. After reading "Conversations with God," my mother became a New Ager and my father a theist. My youngerst sister is Wiccan, and everyone else is basically agnostic. I find it really funny that after all those years of torment at the hands of my own family for my dissent, they eventually agreed with me.
I now read tarot with my mother on occasion and am getting a degree in Studio Art with a minor in Religious Studies. Eventually, I'd like to get my Master's degree in Religious Studies with a focus on non-Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. I've been dating an athiest for four years, and couldn't be happier. I wrote this story because sometimes my absolute anger towards Christianity and its taint on my early years clouds my vision of how good life is right now. This has been an exercise to help me let go.
Became a Christian: Baptized at birth
Ceased being a Christian: 8
Labels before: Catholicism
Labels now: Wiccan!!!!
Why I joined: My parents tried to "bring me up right."
Why I left: questions about reincarnation at 8.....
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)