Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Losing my religion...part 1

Recently a friend on facebook asked my conclusions on religion and I realized that it was time to write this post.  I think that I have had difficulty writing this post as I don’t really feel like defending my lack of religiosity to people who are thoroughly entrenched in their own beliefs.  As you will learn, I love faith and religion and it’s role in humanity.  If you have questions, feel free to comment and ask them, but know that I’m not and will never pretend to be a theologian.

This caveat aside, let’s dive in.  

When I was 8 years old my parents decided to formally join the Roman Catholic Church.  We were, at the time, attending a lovely Catholic school, and my step-father had been brought up in a very Catholic influenced household (German AND Irish, need I say more?).  I once asked my dad about their decision to join the Church and he told me that they (he and my mother) wanted us to have some religious foundation in our lives.  My parents never forced us in any way in our religious upbringing.  We went to Church on Sunday’s and said Grace before meals, and that was about it.  If we wanted to explore, or question we were allowed to, as long and we still went to Mass with them.  By the time I was in high school, I was going to Mass by myself most of the time, which in the end, enabled me to go to other Churches as well.

I still remember the first time I went to Mass (this may have actually been before we were enrolled in the school....I was young and things get moved around in my head over the years).  Fr. Francis a lovely priest with a heavy Ghanan accent was leading Mass.  I did not have a clue as to what he said for the entire hour.  Not because the Mass is such a rich ritualistic prayer celebration, nope...it was because his accent was so thick.  If you’ve attended Mass many times, this isn’t a problem since it is pretty much always the same and you can follow along.  For an 8 year old...it was a little daunting.  I asked my dad if it would always be like that, and he explained to me about the whole accent thing. Like I said, I was young.

My brother and I were baptised together when I was in second grade.  My 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Ryan was my sponsor since  my aunt and grandfather that I had picked as Godparents weren’t able to come. Mrs. Ryan scared the crap out of me. I was too young to even know all of the stereotypical ‘Catholic school-teacher’ myths but she sort of...no, she did fit them.  I went from having a huge public school first grade teacher who was very soft spoken; I don’t remember her ever yelling at us, to this tiny class with a spitfire of a woman that could put anyone back in their place with a single glare.  She even scared my mother! She wasn’t all bad though,  she had a lot to teach us, plus I’m sure we were a rowdy bunch.  During my second grade year I was Baptized, received my First Reconciliation (confession) and had my First Communion.  I don’t remember the specifics but my brother was Baptized and received First Communion with my class.  

Attending Catholic school meant that we had catechism lessons during class, and attended Mass at least once a week.  During the period leading up to receiving First Communion we would hang out in the church a lot practicing. We got to eat popcorn instead of the ‘bread’ served during mass, and let’s just say, the popcorn tasted a lot better.  You’d be surprise at how long it takes 15 7-8 year old’s to hold their hands correctly and respond correctly when there is an entire church to look at.  We also got to go back into the sacristy and see where the Priest would get dressed, and all of the ceremonial garb and accouterments. One thing that struck me was this sink with a sieve.  Our teacher told us that it was in case someone were to throw up after receiving communion they could sift out the host.  I have no idea what they’d do with it then, but vomit was a taboo subject and I might have stopped listening.  

Another thing we learned was that the church was named after St. James, and that in the alter there was a box with a tiny fragment of bone from St. James. At the time I thought, and I still do, that this was a little morbid.  I have never felt the urge to keep the bones of a dead friend close to me for comfort.

After we moved to the great Midwest we still attended Sunday school weekly (at this point I’m not sure if my brother attended) and eventually I was confirmed in the church.  I was also, interestingly enough, an alter server. My dad was the one that trained us actually.  If you go to a church where they ring bells, did you know that this is because Mass was originally in Latin and it was to wake up the people that couldn’t understand Latin and alert them that something interesting (in this case the blessing of the host) was going on? I learned that that day!  

I loved being involved the church, the choir and the community, even if it was small.  I’m a social person, and I didn’t really fit in at school.  

I love the Catholic church and it’s devotion to social justice.  My Catholic university experience really emphasised that.  I love nun’s who devote their lives to service and helping others. I also adore my grandfather who, after my grandmother passed away, became a priest.  He is such an amazing and awesome man and I can’t thank him enough for all of the long email conversations about religion that we had through my college years, and beyond.  

Even if I don’t consider myself Catholic anymore, I have defended the Catholic Church and what it’s dogma stipulates. For many years after, I still felt like a warm blanket was thrown around me and I was held in my mother’s lap when I attended Mass. It was a comfort.  The familiar words and hymns washed over me.  

I just don’t believe it.  In something like religion that, in the end, comes fundamentally down to faith, I just didn’t have it anymore.  I have however always admired people that lived their faith, and had this light about them of belief.  This comfort in their own skin and assurance for what comes next.  This is the next part of my story....

It was during high school that I started studying other religions in earnest, starting with the hundreds of Protestant churches around me.  


  1. I have found these spiritual sites very helpful along my path.

  2. I was brought up in the Apostilic Christian church in Ct. Even though we (my sisters and myself) were not liked very much, because our mother was divorced and that was frowned on by the church, I loved it. I have spent most of my adult life trying to find a place like that church. I am now going to a christian church not far from my house and even though I don't feel the same "warm anf fuzzy" feeling I do feel comfortable enough to become a mamber. I am taking steps now to do that and be baptised. I am happy with my decision and feel religion is your own way that you commune with whomevre you feel is your higher power.

  3. This is a great post. Many people seem to think that being a "believer" is a simple choice. It isn't. I would love to have the faith that some have (not blind faith, just that certainty and comfort). It just isn't something that you can decide.

    I don't know if I have told you this or not, but you are a very good writer, by the way.

  4. I grew up in a norma baptist family, but I am no longer baptist and dont consider myself of any religion actually. Great post, I don't know if i would have th guts to blog about religion...

    AmberLaShell Rants

  5. Eileen, when you say you have defended the Catholic Church and the stipulations of its dogma, is that because you believe in it or simply out of fairness? I've been following closely the recent story about the Vatican's censure of American nuns for being...too liberal.

    I think this idea of not fitting into one's faith or simply not believing in the tenets of that faith frees us to explore other beliefs.

    1. I was referring to teaching people what the Church actually taught, not what they THOUGHT was taught through movie and media. Things like reconciliation, priests not all being pedophiles etc. My grandfather is a priest, I'm not letting ignorant idiots spread vitriol like that.
      I have been talking to my grandfather about what is going on with nuns, and it will be very interesting to see how that situation plays out. My school was founded and still has nuns that dedicate their life to education women and social justice work. They are the type of nuns that are being censured, so I feel invested in this.


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