Sunday, May 26, 2013

Some random thoughts on organized religion on this Sunday

Let me begin with a disclaimer: this post is nothing more than my own random thoughts and whole lot of rambling. Nothing I say here is based on anything more than my own experiences and colored by my own biases. I generally try not to make sweeping generalizations, but sometimes I fail. This post may be one of those failures.

Sundays for my husband and me are so different now that our children are grown and off living their own lives. We have ceased dragging ourselves to weekly Catholic Mass and now we spend our Sundays relaxing, reflecting, and spending time with our family.

I hate to admit this (no, not really), but I get so much more out of my Sundays now than I did sitting in the pews of the Catholic Church those final years. It had become harder and harder to take the Catholic Church's moral authority seriously when just about every day there were breaking news stories about yet another pedophile scandal in another part of the country or world, leaving behind yet another broken child with scars that would haunt him for life, and yet another family trying to make sense of the betrayal of a Church they loved and trusted.

I have already written about the cracks in my faith. The pedophile scandal and cover-up should have been enough, but it wasn't. The Church's medieval stand on women's issues should have been enough, but it wasn't. The Church's rigid stand on keeping women out of the ranks of its exclusive good-old-boys club should have been enough, but it wasn't. We continued to teeter on the edge of for several more years.

It shames me terribly to admit that it took learning we had a gay son and realizing the extent of the Catholic Church's cruel homophobia that finally pushed us to make the decision we should have made years earlier.

Walking into the Church office and asking the secretary to remove any trace of us from their rolls was one of the most liberating moments in my life. Telling them why we were walking away was even more magnificent, but I shall forever regret not doing it sooner.  

We finally realized we didn't need any organized religion to tell us how to think, how to be decent, or how to be moral human beings. But that is not true for every Catholic who has decided to leave the church. I have come to realized that there are still many people who believe they need organized religion.  My estranged brother is one of them.

Like me, my brother was a cradle-Catholic, saturated from infancy in Catholic dogma, rituals, and prayers, educated in Catholic schools, and remaining within its rigid ideological boundaries until he was old enough to realize that the Catholic Church did not meet his needs. And his needs were many.

My estranged brother is what many would call the black sheep of the family, successfully estranging himself at different points in his life from all 4 of his siblings. He began young honing his bullying skills and is a master at it as an adult, he has never been there for our mother but always expected her to be there for him, he is blowhard and a misogynist, and his life is always swirling in a self-created turmoil. A relationship with him will suck the energy right out of you and leave you feeling spent.

My estrangement happened much later in life than it did with my other siblings. For me, it was a slow devolution. Yes, I found him annoying (in a pesky gnat kind of way) but tolerable as a young boy and early adolescent, a lot less tolerable as he grew into his teens and early adulthood and started drinking, and a completely 100% intolerable, blowhard bully when he quit drinking, "found God", and became a right-wing fundamentalist Christian.

It brings me no joy to admit any of this.

This brother has always viewed himself as the victim of an unfair world, never willing to admit that he was simply the victim of his own bad decisions. His life is littered with badly strained or completely failed relationships on both professional and personal levels. His marriage is tumultuous and loveless, his business partnerships are failed, and yet, in his eyes it is everyone else's fault. He is the victim.

He is completely incapable of introspection. Completely incapable of taking responsibility for his actions. Completely incapable of uttering an apology. Completely incapable of feeling anyone else's pain. Utterly devoid of empathy.

Years ago this brother went through an especially bad period in his life. I was there for him as everything around him was falling apart. And it was all due to his own horrible decisions and selfish behavior, though to this day he would argue that point vehemently. But still, I was there for him. I listened to him scream and cry over his failed relationship with his long-time girlfriend who had finally walked away. I was there for him when he had to navigate the legal system and pay his dues for drinking and driving (more than once). I was there for him as his life on every level was melting down. But he still could not see that he was his own worst enemy. He only became more convinced that everyone in the world was conspiring against him. And as frustrated as I was with his inability to take any responsibility for his actions, I was still there for him.

In the end he needed more than I or anyone else could give him. So he turned to the Catholic Church for council and came away disappointed and pissed because he did not get from them what he needed, validation that he was indeed a victim of bad girlfriends, hateful siblings, crooked cops, etc. You name it - he suffered from it. They saw right through him and he doesn't like feeling so naked.

He was furious. How could they not have seen how cruel life had been to him? Those priests even had the nerve to tell him he needed to do some serious soul searching. How dare them?  Well that was it. He was done with the Catholic Church. And he walked away and never looked back as well.

So we both have left the church, but for hugely different reasons. Me because I found I could not align myself with so many of the Catholic Church's beliefs, nor could I forgive the church for the pedophile scandal and the way they chose [not] to handle it or the way they continue to deeply wound the lgbt community and women. And him because the Church actually dared to hold him accountable for his own selfish, despicable behavior.

So where did my brother go next? A right-wing, fundamentalist, mega-church. They were more than happy to give my brother what he so craved: legitimacy, validation, and his very own bully pulpit to preach unto others what he never practiced himself. And what was the price of this sudden elevation from dregs to righteousness? Mutter a few words about accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and voila, he was saved. He was empowered. And he was now an uber-intolerable, holier-than-thou jerk. And best of all --- he could go out preach morality, pass judgement on others, and condemn everyone who did not see things his way. He actually had a direct line to Jesus and could tell you stuff like "All Jews and Catholics are going to hell" and "All gays are abominations", and all kinds of other jeesus-y stuff like that.

He was on top of the world now. His right-wing, fundamentalist church gave him what the Catholic church wouldn't.

Broad-brush, anecdotally-based, sweeping generalization based on my opinion only begins here:  These right-wing churches have done a lot of harm to society by doing this. Yes, very damaged people should have as much chance at redemption as everyone else. But forgiveness and redemption should come with a price tag of at least acknowledging wrongdoings and asking forgiveness. By giving a free pass to people like my brother, these churches are not creating Christian soldiers, they are creating monsters. Noxious, intolerable, hateful, hurtful monsters who use their unearned sanctimony and a bunch of cherry-picked, 3rd grade interpretations of bible passages as weapons to hurt and maim others while building up their own savaged self esteems.

Nothing about my brother has changed. He is still a selfish, damaged soul who will never, ever take responsibility for the hurt he causes others. He will start every sentence with I and end it with me, and he will always be a victim. But now he has the weight of a right-wing fundamentalist mega-church to validate it all for him.

And the scariest part of it all is, I can't help but think there are a whole lot more people out there who are just like him.

Ending my estrangement - Part 1
Ending my estrangement - Part 2
Ending my estrangement - Part 3 



Anonymous said...

(1/2--sorry for this being so long) I came across your blog by chance and I have to say that I have really enjoyed reading your open and honest reflections. You have a perspective that on many levels, I can relate with from my own life experience.

I spent a couple of years of my life in an Evangelical church and witnessed many "transformations" similar to that which your brother had. It pained me to see that "becoming saved" for a lot of people constituted nothing more than an acquired sense of empowerment used to bolster their judgmental views of others who weren't exactly like them; gays, Catholics, Muslims, the poor, single mothers, etc. Most held intolerant viewpoints before being 'saved', but post-salvation, their sense of entitlement for proclaiming to the world how much they felt God hated everyone who wasn't exactly like them was only emboldened tenfold by the newfound sense of theological vindication they felt they had acquired. Apparently, no introspection was necessary prior to spouting such beliefs either, regardless of how unbiblical or unchristian they happened to be; something I found to be quite remarkable. The church leadership loved these folks who would passively accept bronze age interpretations of the Bible that were used to denigrate those they deemed unworthy of God, all while inflating their own pious egos.

As a Catholic, I see this unfortunate trend increasingly occurring in Catholic circles today as well. My Catholic friends are happy to remind anyone who disagrees with Rome on an issue that being a 'real Catholic' requires leaving one's own reason at the door, as one should embrace every teaching of the church with passive acceptance (ok, not exactly how they would phrase it, but the general point stands). Hence, my views on same sex marriage for instance, make me less Catholic (maybe downright un-Catholic) in their minds. In essence, their ideal church is one where people shouldn't think for themselves or take part in serious introspection before forming their views which by effect have an unmistakable impact on the way which we treat and interact with others. Nevertheless, they are more than happy to get behind the church's blitzkrieg on same sex marriage, empowered by their ignorance and futile lack of facts they possess in supporting their viewpoints which have been formed out of nothing more than mere fear and passive acceptance of the church teaching which they use to conform themselves to their ideal archetype of what a 'real Catholic' is.

The part that pains me the most about this is how such 'Christians' are so quick to judge others in light of their own shortcomings. One would think that our own personal struggles and failings should make each of us more open to the experiences of others; struggles that should enhance our human capacity for empathy, love, and compassion, yet this so often doesn't happen. I guess that is what occurs when one uses religion only as a pedestal for one's own self-righteousness or as a free pass to check out of any serious introspective activity with regard to how personal experience and human reality can actually be used to enhance our spirituality as we shape our views and interactions with others. In sum, the last sentence of your post is validated (sadly), at least in my experience.


Anonymous said...

(2/2) I could go on for days, but I'll stop there. I understand your reasoning for leaving the institution of the Catholic church; I've had my own growing doubts over the last year as well. Especially with the same sex marriage legislation happenings and the Supreme Court cases, we observe in full view the vitriol that the hierarchy of the church holds toward gay people. It infuriates me that the church is so passionate about keeping the rights and benefits of others at bay through their lobbying and fear mongering related to this issue. I for one, can find nothing biblical, rational, or thoughtful about their approach on this issue--but then again, I'm a lesser, dirty liberal Catholic having thought about these things for myself in the first place :)

In the end, I'm still in my 20s and hope for change. I don't ever expect the institutionalized hierarchy to do a 180 on this, but I do eagerly anticipate the day when we can take a meaningful step in the right direction and have a respectful dialogue in the church about gay people like your son or I. Just like at another time in history when we as humans came to accept that the world is in fact round rather than flat, so too do we now know that sexual orientation isn't a choice, and its high time for the church to develop a more enlightened and pastoral approach to dealing with those who are LGBT in the church.

I hang in there though because I feel like I have as much a right to the many rich aspects of Catholicism as those in the power structure do. I've been around Catholic culture my whole life and while I've seen its lesser side, there is another side that exists which is undeniably good. Its too bad that side is often drowned out by the bozos in the Catholic League and the bishops who feel the need to spew their hateful garbage in the media every week in a feeble attempt to undermine the Constitutional rights of others. I don't fault anyone though who calls a spade a spade and has had enough; I feel that you have to do what is best for your situation and I really commend you for having the unabashed courage to 'walk the walk' and stand by your convictions (and in turn, stand by your child).

Anyhow, I've really enjoyed reading this and the few other reflections of yours I've had the opportunity to gaze at. Your thoughts are engaging, thoughtful, and genuine. I don't normally leave comments on these things, but I really felt compelled to let you know after reading this and about 4-5 of your other posts that you're a hell of a mom and writer. Keep sharing your views; the world needs to hear more voices like yours.

(P.S. Your tag, "Sanctimonious Frauds" = great; I'm going to start using this in conversation!)


Anonymous said...

I was raised Baptist and then attended a Full Gospel/pentecostal church while in college. I eventually left because of theological issues (I just had a hard time believing in a god who wanted his followers to play in a high stakes game of "us vs. them") rather than having a problem with church leadership. Then again, that's the advantage of being Baptist or one of the other less hierarchical Protestant denominations. There are no popes and cardinals. Sure, men like James Dobson and Alber Mohler may try to act like popes, but they ultimately have no authority. They can say you've "left the faith," but they don't have the same kind of power that someone "authorized" to formally excommunicate you does. At least I don't think so. (Though being declared an outsider can still feel rather isolating.)

Regarding your brother. I remember going to church with my one ex a few years ago. I was very concerned about what garbage (as in validating some of his behavior and attitudes that I found problematic) they were feeding him. The weird thing is, I found that my ex and I came away from more than one sermon with very different impression. My ex was very good at finding those little bits of sermons that reinforced his ego and gave him the tools to rationalize his behavior while completely ignoring those other statements the minister made that (I felt) made it perfectly clear that my ex should not be taking those bits the way he was and using them for such self-centered purposes. Of course, the other problem was that he also went to a mega-church and was very good at "putting on a good face," so I doubt the church leadership ever even realized that what he was getting out of his experiences at their church was very different from what they intended. Personally, I think that's one of the great frailties of such churches.