I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to a Catholic school for the first 8 years of my life, then to an all-girl Catholic boarding school for a year. I returned home at 15 and never walked through the doors of a church again.
There are many reasons for this. The first and most important reason I left takes me all the way back to 2nd grade. I remember questioning the nun in our Catechism class about why, if God loves us as his children and made us in His own image, he would send his own children to burn in the fires of hell for all eternity. I was sent to Mother Superior on a regular basis throughout my academic career there. No one could answer this question, especially to satisfy the mind of a 7 year old. Why? Because there was no good answer, it contradicted everything we were taught about God and Jesus.
The stories of the Old Testament were read to us each day with many extremely graphic and frightening details along with lively animation from the nuns. It was terrifying. We were subjected to The Stations of The Cross every Friday and gazing up at the bloody, gaping mouthed statues hanging on the dark stained wood and hearing, once again, the agonizing journey Jesus took carrying the cross to Calvary was equally as terrifying. It is the stuff nightmares were and are made of. It was traumatizing to me and in looking back as a 59 year old adult, I consider it abuse.
The second reason is that as I grew older, I realized that the braided, oval, straw money basket was being passed around three times per service. This money supposedly went to the poor and I am sure much of it did, however, as I sat in the pew viewing the chalice made of gold, the ornate statues of Jesus and the Apostles, the saints, the extravagant clothes gracing the alter as well as the priest, I could not get this one thought out of my mind..... why all the pageantry? Jesus was a simple man. He never requested ornate alters and churches be built for him to preach in, he was always outside with the people; the sick, the poor, the crippled masses speaking of love, hope and helping one another. How did it all come to this?
Yes, things have changed since Jesus' time, I understand that. I am aware that there needs to be a place to come together and worship under one roof but must that roof be built of the blood, sweat and tears of the congregation? The sermons consisted mostly of "the needs" of the Parish such as the necessity to build yet another wing on the Rectory for visitors, or for new statues and gardens. My knowledge then increased to include the vast political and financial power the Vatican wields, how it affects global economics and our political arena. The fact that churches pay no taxes still baffles me. I saw nothing of Jesus in the church I was in, I only heard his name as the priest read a conveniently chosen passage from the Bible to make the parishioners feel guilty about not doing enough for the church.
As a young woman, I continued to be challenged by the Catholic religion's belief that if you are gay or different than their "norm", you are an outcast and are condemned to hell. If you were a person in deep despair, so lost in the darkness and so alone that you took your own life, again, your fate would be eternal burning and suffering in hell. How could a Father send one of his children to hell when their decision to take their own life was made when they were distraught, possibly medicated or in some way impaired? I imagine most felt like they were living in hell already. Wouldn't a caring Father welcome them with open and loving arms wanting to comfort and console? Again, so many contradictions to the teachings I learned of Jesus Christ. So much hypocrisy, love everyone but judge those not like you. Help feed the hungry and the poor but sweep the homeless away with the trash.
So, I left.
Again, let me be clear, there are many Christians out there who do not fit the descriptions above. I am not saying this about each and every Christian. There are members of all religions that are shameful examples of the very faith they supposedly embrace and believe in.
This is MY personal story and MY view. I believe every human has the right to worship and believe in whomever it is they choose to as long as it doesn't involve violence against others. No one in this world can say with certainty that any "god" exists, albeit their own or anyone else's. Therefore, we should all respect each other's choices. And I do.
In a recent article "For Those Who Don't Believe" published here on Huffington Post on 3.29.2015 by Christine Carter (whom I happen to know through my writing and respect a great deal), she told the wondrous and meaningful story of her young daughter waking in the morning exclaiming that she had seen three angels during the night.
Of course as a Christian and a mother, she shared that moment of blissful joy with her daughter and encouraged her little girl to write down the details of her experience so that she could recall it more clearly later in life when she may need that extra boost of strength at a particularly challenging time in her life. I think that was a wonderful idea. How many times do we look back on something amazing that has happened in our lives and wish we had documented it in some way so we could recall it more vividly? As a mother, I could feel the joy both she and her daughter experienced and found it so heartwarming.
I took exception to one paragraph in her story:
I do not understand why those that believe their connection to the Divine also believe that their god, their chosen path, is the only acceptable one to walk to enjoy belief, hope and automatic admission in Heaven's gates. Some choose not to believe in an Omnipotent Creator at all, believing that we live, we die, and that's it. Shouldn't these beliefs be respected and accepted as well?
I am not a 'withered soul who fears the deep waters and I have not built blind barriers of protection that keep me safe and buoyant while floating atop the unknown'. I no longer 'yearn for understanding and search in secret'; that stopped when I left the Catholic Church. The Catholic path is not the path I choose to find my way. Does that make my path any less important or meaningful? Does it make the path of a Catholic's any less important or meaningful? Of course not, not in my eyes.
Life is hard, it's a struggle and we all carry some sort of burden on our journey. If you are Catholic, or any other religion and I see you struggling with your burden, I am happy to help you carry it. If I were gay and struggling with all that entails in today's society, would you, as a Christian, help me carry mine? Would Jesus? I believe he would. I believe many of you would. Sadly, I believe many would let me struggle and falter, and not just those of the Christian faith.
I admire Christine Carter. I admire her dedication to her daughter and to her faith. I respect her right to believe in her own god and to share the joy of angels with her daughter. It is her connection to the Divine, as I call it. Me? My connection comes through Mother Nature and all the miracles it presents each day right in front of us if we only choose to look. My connection comes from holding the hand of someone whose heart is broken by loss or love. My connection comes from laughter with my friends and cherished moments with my children.
So please, for those who do believe, find joy and love in your faith. Do not judge anyone for not accepting your truth to be the only truth. You do not know, nor can you prove any more than I can, anyone can, that your one true god exists. If we examine the origins of most any organized religion, they are all fairly farfetched and outlandish.
Those of us which have chosen a different path do not feel lost at all, we feel the same joy and inner light you do. We feel a strong connection to wherever it is we experience bliss. Many feel joy and happiness believing that this life is all that we get and to make the most of each and every day. And that's ok! All of it, every path, is ok. My bet is, they all lead to the same place and if there is an Omnipotent Creator waiting on the other side, it is a being full of love, light, joy and happiness and will have a home, heart and spirit whose doors open wide to every single person.
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