Thursday, February 5, 2009

I have been thinking a lot about religion the past few months. I think it is because a few of the novels I have recently read have dealt with questioning institutional religion, atheism, and the various contradictions that occur in many religious doctrines. I have been mainly mulling everything over as it affects me personally, but also the world as a whole. How can one not think about it with so many heinous things going on right now that are done in the name of God or Allah or Jesus or any other supreme being? However, the purpose of this post is not to get political, but rather to think about what I have dealt within my own religious life, as well as what I have yet to figure out.

Here are the nitty gritty details of my background. I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. My family went to Church every weekend, I went to CCD classes, and was baptized, had communion, and confirmed in the Catholic Church. I went to a Catholic high school, although it was more for the academic and social benefits of the school than the religious affiliation. I also attended Georgetown University, a Catholic (albeit Jesuit) college. So it would seem that I would be pretty settled in my religious beliefs and values. But right now, I really don't know what I would call myself.

I remember shortly before my confirmation in 8th grade, I told my parents that I did not want to be confirmed as a Catholic. They were upset and asked me to explain to them why I felt that way, but basically there was no choice in the matter. Even at that point, I was not sure that I really believed what the Church preached. I had issues with the fact that the priests I frequently cam into contact with were not the most pleasant individuals, but they taught us to treat everyone as we would want to be treated. I also felt that women should be able to be priests, priests should be able to get married, and that the Catholic Church's view on divorce needed to change. But I went on and completed the confirmation process, and went to mass every week. In high school, we had religious courses, but they were taught mainly as Biblical history classes. We memorized books of the bible, the apostles, and details of the stories we think we are so familiar with. Junior and senior year I took "ministry" classes, which focused on volunteerism, helping others, and looking at personal spiritual growth. These classes were probably the starting point for my career in Social Work, now that I look back on it.

In college, religion fell to the wayside, as it does for many people. But I was friends with people of all different faiths and Christian denominations, and we would talk about religion a lot. I loved learning about the different beliefs and teachings of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and different Christian faiths. Even at a Catholic college, all religions were accepted and practiced on campus. In fact, one of the largest and most active student organizations on campus was the MSA, the Muslim Student Association.

But I really began to question my own religion when I began dating my future husband. Alex is Jewish. And between the two of us, religion was not really an issue until we started to discuss how we would want to get married, and how we each wanted to raise our children. After we graduated from college, we moved in together, and we would travel to each others' families for the various holidays that we celebrated. This was not a big deal for me. I grew up in a very diverse area, and most of my elementary school and neighborhood friends were Jewish. I actually asked my parents when I was going to "turn Jewish" because I thought that was what everyone was! So we celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas together. And there were countless numbers of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs come middle school. I had even learned about Passover in my own CCD classes. So I enjoyed going to Temple on the High Holidays, and participating in a Passover Seder with my future in-laws. Alex would come to Christmas Eve and Easter mass, and have the traditional Italian dinners that followed. Neither of us was particularly enthused about religion, but liked the various traditions that we had in our families, the bringing together of people that holidays provided.

But when we started to plan our wedding we really had to look at ourselves and our convictions very closely. I had wanted to have a Priest and a Rabbi officiate at our wedding. I had many books about interfaith marriage which provided examples of this being possible. I had websites and phones numbers to find out where to start the process. And since there would be a representative from both of our faiths, everyone should be happy right? WRONG!! We had family members refusing to come if one or the other was there. In the end, it was a non-issue. When we did sit down with a priest to see if this was something that could happen, we both decided that there was no way we were going to pursue it. The priest was willing to officiate at the ceremony with a Rabbi, provided we signed a document stating our intentions of raising our children in the Catholic faith. Rabbis that I talked to were willing to co-officiate with a priest provided we sign a statement that we would raise our children in the Jewish faith. So, we would be lying to one of them, which both of the would know, and presumably be okay with. But this was the only way they would work together? Great! Let's start out a young couple's marriage by have them LIE TO A PRIEST AND A RABBI!!!! Moving on.....

We ended up have an interfaith minister officiate at our wedding. He was a theology professor who was a former Catholic priest and left the priesthood to marry a Jewish woman. Needless to say, he was very understanding of our situation and the need to respectfully integrate both of our faiths into one cohesive ceremony. In the end, we had a wedding ceremony that was totally and uniquely ours. We really had to think about everything we put into the ceremony, from the music to readings to which blessings (if any) would be included. It incorporated some of the most meaningful parts of both the Jewish and Christian wedding ceremonies, and I think we honored our families while clearly laying out a new road for the two of us moving forward as a family.

While planning our wedding we had also decided that our children would be raised in the Jewish faith. I was never a gung-ho Catholic, and my family was supportive of us practicing any faith that we believed in. It was much more important to Alex's family that our children carry on the Jewish faith, and since I enjoyed many of the traditions and practices of Judaism, I was happy to oblige. So our daughter has had a baby-naming ceremony, and our son had a traditional bris when he was born, but that has pretty much been where things have stopped. I would like our family to join a Temple so that our children can start to get involved in their religious life. And it would be nice to have some help in teaching them about the various Jewish holidays and traditions that we celebrate. But that responsibility is in Alex's hands, and that is all I will say about that for now.

Personally I am feeling a little lost in the faith department these days. While I am happy to raise my children in the Jewish faith, and participate in all the religious celebrations of both of our families, I frequently find myself wondering exactly what I believe. While I have not officially converted to another faith, I would not call myself a Catholic.....definitely not in the eyes of the Catholic Church, anyway. I think I could get back there, if not for the terrible experiences I have had with them. A while back I was asked to be a Godparent for my cousin's son, a responsibility I was honored to have. But when I went to obtain the necessary paperwork from my local parish, I had a rude awakening. Apparently, I was a heathen in the eyes of the Church. I had to fill out this form and join the local Church before they would write a letter saying I was a Catholic "in good standing." And the form only asked about whether I was baptized, had communion, and was confirmed, all of which I had completed. Easy peasy....or so I thought.

The real problem came on the registration form for the Church. Since my husband did not get married by a Priest in a Church, I was not considered married in their eyes. Fine. The secretary explained that this was a problem they could "get past simply by having us say our vows with a priest in the chapel." Okay, so if this was so simple, don't you think we would have done that in the first place? This led to a bit of a tiff between us which escalated into a battle when she discovered that my kids were not baptized and would be raised Jewish. She told me I would not have agreed to this if I was a "good Catholic." I went ballistic.....crying and yelling about how this was not exactly the Christian practice of loving and accepting one another. Mind you, she was consulting the Monsenior (I have no idea how that is spelled) in the room next door through out our conversation. At one point she told me that maybe if I started coming to mass and handing in my (donation) envelopes, that maybe my request would be reconsidered!!! Complete and utter outrage overtook me, and after having a few more words, I stormed out with tears streaming down my face, vowing I would never join another Catholic Church. But I felt terrible for my cousin, and wanted to be there for her son. So I tried to go through my parents' parish, where I was last a member. I was told basically the same thing. However, when I asked about how my father, who has been divorced, was able to obtain this same letter of "good standing" to be a Godfather, I was met with total silence. Eventually it came out that his good standing had to do with the amount of money he has donated over the years, not the fact that he has not been to that Church in at least 3 years. So basically being a "good Catholic" has been boiled down to whether you financially support the richest religious institution in the world....not whether you actually live by the moral guidelines that you were taught about in all those CCD classes growing up. I have a hard time believing that if Jesus or God were around today, He/She would approve of such teachings and behavior.

Add to these experiences the fact that I am a very liberal person. VERY liberal. I believe in gay marriage, a woman's right to choice, birth control, tolerance and understanding of those that are different from you, taxes that support community programs, universal healthcare, and generally taking care of one another. I don't know how to reconcile this with the Catholic Church's (and many other faiths') stance on many of these issues. And while I don't feel welcome in the Church I grew up in, I don't know that I feel pulled toward any one faith enough to officially convert. So what am I? Where do I belong? I haven't been that bothered by these feelings until recently, thinking about raising my children with some sort of religious education. If they want to reject it later on, as I have, so be it. But I feel that I need to plant some sort of seeds of faith in them now, or they may never find it later on.

Sorry for the rambling, stream-of-consciousness spewing of feelings. I have been muling all this over and just needed to get it out of my head. Maybe get some feedback from people out there if you have dealt with something similar.

So for now I celebrate holidays, and take away the joy and togetherness that they provide. I love the feeling I get when I watch the Christmas tree at night, in the silence that comes after the kids are in bed. It is a feeling of peace, love, and family. But I also love watching my kids light the menorah and say the Hebrew prayers during Hanukkah, knowing that they are feeling that same sort of excitement and togetherness. Together, we are creating a new religious path for our family. One that will certainly have bumps along the way, but will hopefully take us on the most amazing journey that will be uniquely ours. And I hope that I can live a life that shows my children that the most important thing is not to follow a stringent set of rules set down by a group of men however many years ago, but to treat one another with kindness, respect, and love, even if we disagree on a lot of things.



    This website helped me articulate my beliefs much better. Not that it helps other people understand what I'm saying (my parents). So, if someone asked me what I "am" today, then I'm a Christian Deist married to an Orthodox Atheist, with no plans to join any religious organization.

    It sounds like you would have been much better served by a Protestant church. I was raised Methodist, which would still be fine, if I believed in a divine Jesus. Have you looked into Unitarian Universalist? I don't know much about it, other than it apparently welcomes people of all faiths and focuses more on spirituality and service and belief in God. I've also heard it called "a church for Atheists with children." :)

  2. You have stated your feelings very openly something which I have often thought about but never written down. I was also a mixed marriage as my husband was catholic and I wa protestant. I converted to catholic to raise my children with a religious background. The only problem was that when I really got into the catholic religion I found it really wasm't what I wanted either. You stated just some of my concerns in your writings. At present I don't say I have any religion. My religion is with God and I speak to him daily. He guides me and my life and it is within that I feel comfort. My children although raised catholic are as ou with no real religion having not gone to the catholic church in years. It is my feeling as well that religion is a daily thing, not just attending church on Saturday or Sunday. It comes from within and it is the way you live your life that is important to God.