About a year ago, I read a blog post titled “How the Catholic Church Made Me a Progressive” that has helped me shape my narrative. The entire post is worth a read, but here are some parts that I definitely identified with:
I grew up in an evangelical bubble. When I left this bubble to attend college, I found my beliefs challenged. When my evangelical beliefs began slipping through my fingers, I grasped for something to hold onto. I found that in Catholicism. When I first converted I was extremely conservative in addition to being very fervent and devout. I read the early church fathers and the catechism, Catholic apologetic books and the lives of the saints. Of course, this didn’t last. All this is to preface the fact that a young woman I knew during the period I spent as a Catholic recently sent me a message. She had noticed something I posted affirming gay rights on facebook and wanted to know when I went from being socially conservative to socially liberal. As introspective as I tend to be, I had never asked myself that particular question. And so I thought about it. And you know what I realized? It was my time as a Catholic to did that to me.
[…] Just as I found the ritual of the Catholic Church appealing after the bare-bones evangelicalism of my youth and teen years, even so I soon found the Catholic Church’s focus on social justice enticing after the the-soul-is-all-that-matters evangelicalism of that same period. It was like water poured on parched ground.
[…] In addition, as a Catholic I began to widen my circle. For one thing, I began to see Catholics in Latin America, Africa, and around the globe as part of my family. There was something amazing about feeling that sort of oneness and belonging. Sure, as an evangelical I had seen myself as part of “the body of Christ,” but the evangelicalism I had belonged to was fraught with doctrinal splits. There was something amazing about knowing that I could go to a Catholic church in the next town, the next state, or even across the globe, and still hear the same mass and read the same catechism. I felt part of one great united body of humanity in a way I hadn’t as an evangelical.
[…] Catholicism allowed me to turn away from myself and away from the idea that I had a monopoly on truth, meaning, and beauty, and to fully embrace others in a way I never truly had as an evangelical. Catholicism gave me a passion for bettering people’s lives in the here and now and led me to set aside my focus on life after death. Catholicism gave me a passion for social justice, for the environment, and for progressive political goals like universal healthcare and an improved social safety net. Catholicism introduced me to the beauty of a society of interdependent individuals.
[…] The thing is, once Catholic teachings had inspired me to widen my circle and embrace humanity, once they loosened the “saved” and “damned” boxes I had sorted the world into, I couldn’t well limit my circle and shut my arms to my gay friends and colleagues. Once I had opened my arms and my heart, I could not close them. It was Catholicism, with its emphasis on social justice and ecumenism, that served as the catalyst for my transition from social conservative to a social progressive. And when the full results of that transition manifested themselves in me, I no longer felt that I had a home in the Catholic Church.
Ever since I ran into the concept of “secular liturgies” (Rock and Theology has a great series exploring this concept), I’ve been noticing that human beings are liturgical beings. No matter what our religious or non-religious preferences are, we still use liturgical means to express something bigger than our individual selves – music, visual art, ceremonies, recitation of commonly-held values, a lecture or a show where we gather together to try to understand, or marvel at the mystery of an aspect of human existence, and so on.
The thing that has drawn me to literature and music is the way in which they contextualize the human condition. There are two songs that have helped me contextualize my religious doubts – Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Hozier’s Take Me to Church. Both of them use explicit religious language and imagery to simultaneously question the existence of God and to find spiritual meaning in humanity, specifically the very human act of sex. During my doubting of religion and God, I’ve worried about losing spirituality. But, as these (and many other) songs indicate, there is something spiritual in being a part of this thing called humanity. Continue reading
I’m sorry this post is rambling and fragmented, but I’m trying to connect the dots in my shift in religious mindset.
Life occasionally brings those Oprah-style “aha moments.” I remember watching an episode of Rules of Engagement with my wife about two years and one child into our marriage. I never found the show that entertaining or funny, but it was one of the few shows at the time that we both liked to watch. Right after the episode was over, my wife initiated sex, something that didn’t happen a ton at the time. After the sex, I recognized a pattern – she initiated sex after every episode we watched as far back as I could recall. The insecure person I was at the time, I just had to know if it was Patrick Warburton or Oliver Hudson who was getting her all hot and bothered – and of course I couldn’t converse with her directly about this. So, the next time we watched the show, I was tuned in to her reactions to the show. But, I noticed something different, she was more focused on the show when Bianca Kajlich’s character was on the screen. I found Kajlich’s character, while attractive, to be the least funny on the show, but I noticed that my wife found all of Kajlich’s character’s jokes to be hilarious. And then, as usual, we had sex after watching the show. Continue reading
Today, I came across this post on Salon‘s website, discussing a video by Cosmo in which they interviews so-called “side-walk counselors.” There were gems such as this:
“Men and women are made different,” Father Andrew Beauregard explains on camera while protesting at a clinic, “in that women, as the church teaches, reach their full potential in motherhood.” There’s a tight if inhumane logic to this thinking: Women exist to give birth. Thus, if a woman is choosing not to give birth, she is not working as she is supposed to. Which means she must be broken and needs fixing. Ergo, “counseling.”
Despite my functional agnosticism, I still attend an Eastern Catholic parish (side note: if you don’t know much about Eastern Christianity, you should learn about it – it will expand your world as to how broad Christianity really is). During the announcements at the end of Divine Liturgy, our priest always says something along the lines of, “Have a blessed week, and tell someone what God has done for you.” I normally let this go in one ear and out the other, but today I asked myself, “What has God done for me?”
Both growing up Evangelical and later as a Catholic, prayer was very much emphasized. As an Evangelical we were supposed “pray in the spirit” – i.e. the Holy Spirit would supposedly give us the words to say, which apparently included a lot of emphatic sighs and using the word “just” as much as possible (“Lord God, we just come to you to day to ask you to just help [insert person and concern here]”). As a Catholic, prayer was more repetitious – the rosary, ancient prayers written by saints, etc. – even my more free-flowing prayers included the sign of the cross and one or more common Catholic prayer. The thing is, while the emphasis was different, both were simultaneously personal and formulaic in their own way. And, in both traditions, prayer was a big deal. If you want to be closer to God, pray. The adverb “prayerfully” was included in any major (and sometimes minor) decision in your life. And, I prayed. Although, I was very careful to do my best to only pray for “important things” (health, salvation, etc.) and not be so presumptuous as to pray for “stupid things” (football games, parking spots, etc.). Continue reading
In addition to exploring intellectual issues I have with Christianity – whether Jesus claimed to be God, reliability of biblical sources, etc., I want to explore the events in my life that made me question my faith. Among these are LGBTQ people in my life, marriage and parenthood, sex and purity culture, and feelings/emotions in regards to religious experiences. This post is in regards to a couple of my gay friends – I’ll post more in the future about how LGBTQ people deeply impacted my faith given how big of a role it played.
James Davison Hunter, in his now classic Culture Wars, notes of the American cultural conflicts:
The divisions of political consequence today are not theological and ecclesiastical in character but the result of differing worldviews. That is to say, they no longer revolve around specific doctrinal issues or style of practice and organization but around our most fundamental and cherished assumptions about how to order our lives–our own lives and our lives together in this society.
[…] It is the commitment to different and opposing bases of moral authority and the world views that derive from them that creates the deep cleavages between antagonists in the contemporary culture war. As we will see, this cleavage is so deep that it cuts across the old lines of conflict, making the distinctions that long divided Americans–those between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews–virtually irrelevant.
I’m hoping to post about some real life experiences that led me to question my preconceived religious notions. The biggest factor was my experience with LGBTQ people. I came across an interview with David Gushee in Religion Dispatches today that I found very fascinating. The entire interview was great, but this part especially spoke to my experiences:
The last chapter in the book talks in the most detail about that leap, that change in loyalties that has happened; it certainly includes learning about my sister Katy and her suffering as a deeply repressed lesbian unable to claim her own sexuality and identity and learning more recently that a major factor for her was the fear of the disapproval of her church—and actually of her brother, me. I didn’t know all that.
I would say I managed to live the great majority of my life without a lot of exposure to the actual lives and journeys of LGBT people. That speaks very much to what happens in the evangelical world—if you create an environment inhospitable enough you drive people out or underground. That’s how I could manage not to have much exposure until I came to Atlanta and started to be in a seminary setting and in a church setting—neither of which were flag-waving kind of pro LGBT environments, but they were open and safe enough that people began coming.
So, friendships began developing, notably in my church setting and Sunday school class over time, and I went from zero to a fairly decent understanding of what it’s like to be an LGBT person and a Christian in America.
I would say that beginning to learn more and more about the suffering of wounded and closeted and exiled LGBT young people really began to affect me deeply, beginning with Katy. But obviously there’s a literature out there I had never studied; I began to read some of that and began to hear stories of the cruelest kind of rejections from families and churches.
It’s amazing how drastically getting to know LGBTQ people can shatter your world. I think that had I not come to know a few LGBTQ people well, there’s a chance I’d still be a traditionalist. I plan on delving deeper into this in the near future.