(Originally posted on September 23, 2012 at I Dig Your Girlfriend.)
I was brought up Catholic in a small, white hamlet in mainland Nova Scotia. This was pretty much the norm for kids raised in small, white hamlets in mainland Nova Scotia.
I was a very obedient child right up until I was a very obedient adolescent. I went to church every Saturday night until I joined the youth choir and started going every Sunday morning instead. Week to week, I was there in both body and spirit.
My elementary school was not a Catholic school, but it was situated in an overwhelmingly Catholic community. As such, we had religion classes during school hours.
Whenever religion class was about to start, the one girl in my grade who wasn’t Catholic would be ushered to another classroom. I think she spent the time colouring in a colouring book or something. I was never really sure. The fact that she would get sent to another room always felt strange to me. I wondered how it made her feel to be sent away for not belonging.
This was the first crack in my Catholic shell.
By about fifth or sixth grade, we were told that religion classes would no longer take place during the school day. They would happen on Sunday evenings instead. I got the sense that the parents of the non-Catholic kids had “caused a fuss” about a secular school having decidedly non-secular classes. I was given the impression that everything would just be easier if “those people” minded their own business, or better yet, if they wised up and got Catholic, too.
The funny thing is, these “others” weren’t Atheist, nor did they belong to some unfamiliar “foreign” religion. They were members of the United Church. They were Christians; a branch next to ours on the Jesus tree.
One day at school, I asked my non-Catholic classmate what the difference was between our religions. She told me that Catholics believe that they’re eating the actual body and blood of Jesus when they take Communion. Her church, on the other hand, considers the bread and wine to be just a symbol of Jesus’s body and blood. From a child’s standpoint, her religion’s view made a hell of a lot more sense than my own.
Throughout my youth, questions about Jesus and God weren’t discouraged, necessarily, but I found myself unsatisfied with some of the answers I got. One of the big questions I had that no one could really answer was: why can’t women be priests?
I had been raised to believe that girls could do anything boys could do, but here was a huge glaring example of one thing we couldn’t. I was left with two possibilities: either men and women weren’t really equal (a notion my inner feminist simply couldn’t accept), or the Catholic Church had gotten something wrong.
Catholicism teaches that God, the Bible, and the Pope, are all infallible. How convenient to have such a reliable source for truth! If everything the Bible tells you is true, then it stands to reason that anything it tells you is true.
On the flip side of the logic coin, if you find something in the Bible that isn’t true, then you no longer have a rational justification for trusting the rest of it. In other words: if that bit about poly/cotton blends being evil isn’t accurate, how can you know for sure that slavery is ok?
It seems strange to describe my experience as an epiphany, but that’s what it was. By age seventeen or so, I had unlocked a door in my mind, and I knew it could never be closed again. It had taken me so many years to even entertain the possibility that being Catholic wasn’t necessarily the right way to go; that God might not even exist. I was only now coming to terms with the fact that the adults in my life had spent years teaching me things that might not be true.
In my teens, I was not aware of my own gayness. Any hint of my extreme homosexuality that even approached the surface was promptly thwamped down like whack-a-mole. Subconsciously, I must have known that my fragile constitution was not prepared to deal with this info. But even during that confusing time, I knew in my heart that the Church’s perception of homosexuals was unfair.
I could understand murderers and rapists going to hell for murdering and raping. I couldn’t understand gay people going to hell for loving each other. I certainly couldn’t understand the idea of God hating people. I mean, “God is Love” is one of Christianity’s biggest catchphrases, right?
One Sunday morning after church, my mother and I had brunch together. She expressed her dismay that my older brother and sister had stopped attending church once they’d moved out of the house. She asked me if I would keep going after I moved out.
She expected a yes. I told her the truth instead.
Mom was disappointed. She wondered aloud where she had gone wrong in her parenting. She was genuinely convinced that she had failed all three of us kids with respect to our spiritual guidance. But I didn’t see it that way.
I told her that she and Dad had equipped us with the ability to think for ourselves. They had taught us to value and cultivate intelligence. They had taught me that being female wasn’t a limitation to what or who I could be.
I knew I was not a second-class citizen. Unfortunately for my mother, this meant that I could no longer voluntarily belong to a religion that insisted, in little and big ways, that I was.
My parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles are still very actively involved in the Catholic Church. But they accept the fact that I am not Catholic. They even accept the fact that I’m a lesbian. And I accept that there are good things to take away from this religion. Some of the best people I know are Catholic.
They probably feel like I’m misguided in my thinking, just like I believe they are in theirs. We’re on opposite sides of a fence, but we all still manage to love and respect each other. And as long as we have that, I think we’ll be ok.