Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Religion Issue

So I’m not sure if I’m Catholic anymore. I was baptized Catholic, confirmed Catholic, and have always contended that I would be married and buried Catholic. But lately, I’m questioning it, to the point that I can’t bring myself to say the Creed during mass. When I show up for mass, that is, because I rarely attend anymore. Mass feels spiritually empty to me.

I’ve stayed Catholic for several reasons: Being Catholic is more than a religion; it’s a culture. It’s an identity, and much like being a high school nerd or a fat kid, it’s hard to let go of it even when it no longer applies. It is the only major Christian church to venerate a woman (Mary). Vatican II has always given me hope that the Church can open itself to new insight. And many of the spiritual writers and leaders whom I admire are Catholic: Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, John Paul the Great. Because of people like these, I’ve always believed that Catholicism was good at its core .

Recently, the most significant reason for my staying Catholic has been its progressive social policies. With the exception of “life” issues (abortion, contraception, assisted death), the Catholic Church leans far to the left. In a political and social environment that labels liberals as unGodly and perverts Christianity for unholy gains, I thought it important to be an example of a progressive Christian.

But the list of reasons not to remain a Catholic are growing both in strength and length.

My biggest problem with remaining Catholic is the way it limits spirituality by declaring itself the one true and holy Church. I think (almost) all religions are true and holy* and that most religions---and spiritualities---are really different expressions of the same truths.

But my struggle extends beyond just labeling myself a Catholic to labeling myself a Christian. Because that also limits my spirituality. I have a real problem with limiting myself to one narrow view of God and one prophet and one spiritual guidebook.**

I also have some problems with the leadership of the Church. The Church still has not realized the full potential of Vatican II, and the chances for a Vatican III within my lifetime are slim to none. Furthermore, the upper echelons continue to reflect the pre-Vatican II Church: old, white, conservative European men. Spiritual leadership shouldn’t be closed off to anyone based on gender, race, or other superficial qualities. Nor should leadership be based on politics. The Catholic leadership has become as corrupt and bureaucratic as any secular body.

Then there’s my problems with the Church doctrine. Such as the ranking of sins (abortion is unforgivable, but murder can be forgiven). And the hypocrisy surrounding contraception (natural family planning is okay, but the pill isn’t).

Communion is another biggie for me, and it ties into what I’ve already written about limiting spirituality. Partaking in the communion is a beautiful ritual, and I don’t agree with shutting people out from that ritual just because they haven’t signed on to a particular doctrine.

I also have a problem on the small “c” church level with the parish’s attitude toward parishioners. The general attitude of parishes seems to be “Sit in your pew, sing quietly, and write a big check when we tell you to.” And that attitude leaves me feeling spiritually dead at mass.

So there’s where I’m at in a nutshell.***

*Or, at least, all theistic religions. I have problems with cults that label themselves as “religious groups” (for example, Scientology).
**Do I think there are false prophets and false gods? Yep. And often those false prophets are waving the flag of Christianity and perverting God into a false god. I think that humans, when they get in touch with their own divinity, can see through the false prophets.

***The original version of this was about three times as long.


At 12:14 PM , Blogger SUZANNE said...

Hi Lisa.

I think being Catholic believing in Catholic doctrines. The central doctrine is the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross for the sin of mankind and his resurrection. I don't think you can be any kind of "true" Catholic without believing that central tenet.

I think you're trying to fit the Church in a liberal mold. That won't work. I get the feeling you are committed to liberalism/progressivism first, divine revelation second. That's your affair of course, but you can't expect people who believe in divine revelation-- i.e. what God says is always true-- to change and reject their beliefs. Being Catholic is about accepting what God says on his word, because he's all loving and he never lies and he knows what's best for us. That is the reason to be Catholic.

I note that you think the Church believes abortion is unforgivable. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH! No sin is unforgivable. None. Absoltuely positively NONE! Any truly repentant sinner can be absolved of any sin, no matter how many sins, no matter how bad they are. This is the very reason why Christ came to save us-- so we can be forgiven.

I also note you think the Church's teaching on contraception is hypocritical. It's not. The Church allows for spacing of children. The Church does not criticize that result. What the Church is critical of is the method of doing it. A method that does not allow for a natural sex act, with no interfence of the act or of the reproductive organs is what is prohibited.

In order for Mass to be spiritually meaningful, it's important to immerse oneself in Catholic spiritual tradition as it's understood by the doctors of the Church or the Fathers. It's meaning is derived from Catholic doctrine/theology itself, so that's how it's meant to be uplifting.

If you've never read St. Teresa of Avila, you might like her autobiography. She's considered the founder of Catholic mystical theology, and she's a doctor of the Church. She was not a formally educated woman, but she had a lot of insight. I think she could help deepen your attachment to the Church. I hope, anyway.

At 12:20 PM , Blogger Liz said...

M is Catholic and has had some similar struggles.

In the past I occasionally attended mass with M. I felt a little conspicuous remaining in the pew during communion. I always felt the urge to turn and whisper to the people behind me, "I killed someone last week and haven't confessed yet. That's why I'm not getting in line."

At 12:26 PM , Blogger Bearette24 said...

Liz - LOL!

Lisa - Well said. I thought murder was venal, though?

At 12:58 PM , Blogger LostInTX said...

"Being catholic is about accepting what God says on his word, because he's all loving and he never lies and he knows what's best for us. That is the reason to be catholic."

Suzanne: I think that any believer or follower of God would stand by this belief, not just catholics but your comments fall right into what Lisa described as the catholic church believing they are the one true and holy church. We don't have to be catholic to believe that God is an almighty, powerful, and just God. The problem is man's interpretation of what God has stated and whether or not it is accurate. Naturally this changes from doctrine to doctrine among the many religions of the world. No one will ever know which is right. It is not right, however, to criticize or judge other denominations for not believing catholic thought.

I agree with you, Lisa, about communion. I recently told you one night about one of my visits to mass, as a youth, and how excluded I felt because I could not participate in communion. That is God's table and the act of taking communion should be allowed by anyone who believes in God, not reserved for the catholic church. Again, this is another example of how the catholic church singles out members of other religions as not good enough.

I wish you luck on your spiritual journey, Lisa. I know it can be tough but you are smart and have a very good heart and no matter what, ultimately God knows that and will guide you where you need to go. Nothing anyone ever says should make you feel otherwise.

At 1:28 PM , Blogger Lisa said...

I refer to abortion as "unforgivable" not because I believe that God doesn't have infinite mercy but because it is, according to the Catechism of the Church, punished by excommunication. Murder is not. And, according to the Catechism, an excommunication bars the person from the sacraments and precludes absolution of the sin until the person's death.

I think I've made myself clear on my other points.

At 7:16 PM , Blogger Frema said...

I agree with Lost's comments completely. What God says is always true, yes, but God didn't create Vatican II. God didn't lay down the law on birth control. God didn't say that only Catholics should receive communion in a Catholic mass. People did. And I also think it's wrong that the Catholic Church considers itself to be The One True Church. It has a passionate opinion about every single religious issue there is, leaving you no room to make up your own mind. Do you know that after my wedding, I won't be able to take communion during a Catholic service because Luke and I were married by a Protestant minister?

I wouldn't have questioned these issues if I wasn't marrying a non-Catholic, but I am, so we have to figure out which religion will be the right one for our family. Right now, I'm leaning heavily towards a Protestant denomination, whether it be Methodism (Luke's faith) or otherwise, because I don't want my children to think they're morally superior simply because they were baptized into the "right" religion. I want them to go to church and learn about God and Jesus and the Bible, but I also want them to feel good about their spiritual selves and ask questions and not think they have to except every doctrinal statement on blind faith simply because the church said so.

For a while I was feeling guilty about this, and a tiny part of me wondered for a while, "What if they're right? What if I'm leading my family away from the 'right' path?" It took me a while to remember that while my denomination might change, my God won't. I'll just deepen my relationship with him under a different label. And I can't believe that's wrong.

Good luck to you. If you ever want to talk about this--and I mean talk, over the phone--let me know. I'm still learning as I go, too.

At 7:01 AM , Blogger bdogg_mcgee said...

To all you Catholics: I'm wondering how people know if you were married by a Protestant minister? Why can't you just go up and take communion anyway? Do you have to wear a flashing sign or something that says "I MARRIED A NON-CATHOLIC!"

To me, Communion is strictly between you and God, and if you want to partake in the body and blood of Christ, who the heck cares if you were married by a non-Catholic minister? Or aren't a baptized Catholic but just enjoy the services and want to feel closer to God?

You must pardon me, though. When it comes to church matters, I'm clueless. I was raised Southern Baptist and that trauma alone caused me to question my spirituality for YEARS--in fact, I'm still questioning it, although I've kind of figured out who "the spiritual Bdogg" really is.

Lisa, in my opinion, you believe whatever you want to believe. I don't think God cares how you come to him/her, as long as you believe. All of the rules that religious sects have placed upon a person and his or her spiritual journey with God, in my opinion, are just ways to scare you into thinking, "oh--if I don't follow the rules, God won't love me anymore."

Bah, I say!

Ok. That was rambling and possibly made no sense. Great post, Lisa. :)

At 7:13 AM , Blogger Lisa said...

B---They don't. It's an ingrained guilt reflex. The priest isn't going to interview you before giving you the host. But for those of us raised in the Church, that guilt acts as a deterrent. We know we aren't supposed to receive communion, so we don't.

At 7:16 AM , Blogger Lisa said...

And let me apologize to all of you for the fetus picture. I don't want to take down the comment because I don't want to be intolerant or to censor. Even though it is bugging the crap out of me because it's freaky looking (apologies to the moms out there).

At 7:47 AM , Blogger Liz said...

We weren't technically married by a priest, but there was a priest there who gave a blessing. Does that count?

I thought I'd never be able to convince M to marry outside a Catholic church (or I thought his grandmother would have a heart attack). But there were no issues whatsoever.

At 3:13 PM , Blogger LostInTX said...

Lisal: LMAO... the fetus pic bothered me too but you know, I can't claim to tolerate (because for once I will admit that I tolerate, as opposed to accept, right wing religious pro-life fanatics)others if I just want to delete and cast off their comments, right? You'd think, though, that a little research would have shown that this was NOT the blog to post that on. Like you won't find me at any right wing blogs spreading MY message when I very well know it won't be welcome. :) See you tonight.

At 12:03 PM , Blogger Lora said...

Now I see what you mean...

I really don't have a deep understanding or personal experience with Catholisim in order to empathize properly. However, I have sat in Church and felt like a at terrible odds with it before and know that it is a horrible place to be. I truely encourage you to explore other faiths and to see how they fit in with yours.

I view all religion as a social contruct and believe that it must work for you. You are a good person, you honestly try to live a good life and make choices that will be of benefit to others. All religions have their limitations, but sometimes you need to be able to step outside of thier structure in order to come to peace with those limitations, or not. Good Luck!


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