I feel like my soul is lost in a snowstorm, and it’s because of the political situation.
The religious right is causing good people to leave their churches, or even Christianity altogether. This is because so many churches, especially evangelical ones, have become little more than bullhorns for right wing propaganda that praise Trump as some sort of biblical hero.
Mainline Protestant churches and the Catholic Church have kept a healthy distance from politics, and if they lean any way at all, they tend to lean to the left and preach social justice, especially the mainline Protestant denominations.
The Catholic Church is awkwardly placed in all this. While it’s always emphasized the importance of social justice and helping vulnerable populations, and is headed by a Pope (Francis) who appears to dislike Trump and is decidedly left-wing in his views, the Catholic Church is still vehemently pro-life and is against artificial contraception (even though most Catholic women of childbearing age use it anyway). It also considers homosexuality to be a sin and does not ordain female priests. Many people have left the Catholic Church because they perceive it as being behind the times and out of touch with the needs of women.
Two years ago, I became Catholic, because of all the Christian religions, Catholicism had the most mystery and beauty, and I’ve always loved the liturgy. Although some Protestant churches (Episcopalian and Lutheran) also have a liturgy that’s almost identical to the Catholic one, I wanted the purity of the original one. I also always liked the doctrine of transubstantiation: the idea that the Eucharist is a real sacrament and the bread and wine actually turns into the body and blood of Christ, instead of being merely symbolic.
Catholicism is the oldest existing Christian religion, and I was attracted to all its rich and colorful history, both the good and the bad. I loved the art, especially the serene paintings of Mary and baby Jesus. I liked the saints.
I also was attracted to Catholicism because it was comforting to me. Even though my family is not Catholic (my mother was but she left the Church during her teens), I grew up in a heavily Catholic neighborhood in New Jersey, and attended two Catholic schools between 5th and 10th grade. Every Friday we attended mass in school, and I was so envious of the girls who got to take Communion, while I had to remain sitting in my chair. I also was envious of all the cool stuff they got: the lacy white Confirmation dresses, the Confirmation names (I finally got mine: it’s Catherine), the rosary beads. I was given a set of blue plastic rosary beads one day at school (maybe they forgot I wasn’t Catholic?), even though I had no idea how to use them. They were among my favorite possessions and I liked to finger them like worry beads.
During those years I attended Catholic school, it was like my home away from home. I loved the nuns, who were always so serene and kind to me. Things were very bad at home during those years, with both my parents drinking and fighting, and I felt unloved at home. At school, that wasn’t the case. A couple of the nuns treated me like loving parents, and I also had friends at school. Their families welcomed me as if I was one of them. One girl, Lynn, came from a loud, big, boisterous Italian Catholic family. Her grandmother, who spoke Italian, used to tell stories from the Old Country and they actually had a wine-making press in their basement where once a year they’d have a grape crushing party that all the neighbors were invited to. Her grandmother used to cook a big Italian meal every Sunday after church. What a contrast to my own home, where meals were a silent, stressful affair where my mother constantly criticized me if I wanted seconds and hounded me about my weight, even as a child. When our dinners weren’t silent, they were interrupted by drunken arguments or either my mother or me in tears.
I’ve always been a spiritual seeker. I dabbled in a number of different religions during my adult life, both Christian and not. Still, I always found myself drawn to the Catholic church, and while I never seriously considered becoming one, on occasion I would attend Mass and take Communion whenever I went.
I finally made the decision to become Catholic in 2014, and for a year attended RCIA classes at my local church. At the Easter Vigil Mass in 2015, I was confirmed Catholic (my Methodist baptism, to my surprise, was accepted as valid). I received my confirmation name of Catherine, and my sponsor gave me a set of rose-scented rosary beads. My father was perfectly fine with my Catholic conversion and sent me a crucifix. It was one of the last gifts I would receive from him before he died in June 2016.
Overall, I like Catholic doctrine. I like the idea of Mary and the saints, who are not actually worshipped the way Jesus is, but merely venerated and seen as intercessors (you ask them to pray for you, not pray to them directly). I love the Sacraments, even Confession (penance), which to me seems like a way to unload. It’s therapeutic rather than punishing or guilt-inducing. At the same time, it keeps my conscience clear. I always feel cleansed and relieved when I leave Confession (which is done in a small room facing the priest, rather than in a dark confession box). The “penance” is usually nothing more than saying a couple of Hail Marys or Our Fathers. I always wonder why so many people are so turned off by this sacrament. To me, it’s like an exercise for the soul. More than anything, I love Communion. After I eat my wafer, I really do feel different, as if Jesus is in me. Maybe it’s a placebo effect of some kind, but I choose to believe it really is Christ’s physical presence, and that makes all the difference.
I like the fact that Catholicism is science friendly. Many of the greatest scientists and academics in history were Catholic clergy. I was surprised when I found out during the RCIA classes that in spite of the Catholic doctrine of original sin, evolution is accepted (albeit God-inspired, which I’ve always believed anyway). Most of the books of the Old Testament, including the Adam and Eve story, are regarded as allegorical rather than literal (as they are in mainline Protestantism). I’m not sure how that squares with the concept of original sin, but so be it.
There are still some doctrinal points I have issues with, and becoming Catholic hasn’t changed my feelings. One is the literal bodily assumption of Mary into Heaven. Also the idea that Mary was a virgin and remained so after Christ was born. Since Mary was also human and not divine, I don’t believe she was conceived without original sin.
I also still consider myself pro-choice, although with limitations. Actually, I’m sort of on the fence about abortion. I certainly don’t think it should be used as a form of birth control, or that abortion is okay just because a pregnancy is inconvenient, but I also think there are times it’s the only viable option, especially in cases of rape or incest, if the fetus has a fatal condition and will die anyway, or if the mother’s life is at stake. The Catholic position is no abortion for any reason, ever. I can accept this though, because the Catholic Church is pro-life across the board: they are also anti-war, anti-death penalty, and have a long tradition of helping the poor. There is consistency there and so, to me, their position is not hypocritical.
I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with birth control. As for homosexuality, well, I have always had gay friends and my son is gay, so I just can’t condemn it. Some of my favorite people ever are gay. I also disagree with the Catholic position about women in the clergy, although this may change in time (my priest doesn’t really know why women are barred from the clergy and said there’s no Biblical basis for this other than tradition).
In spite of my issues with some Catholic doctrine, I never once regretted my choice, and until about two months ago, I attended Mass regularly. But lately, I’m having problems with my faith. Not Catholicism in particular, but with Christianity in general. And it’s because of the religious right and the Trump administration. My church has never taken a position either for or against Donald Trump, and in fact politics is rarely if ever talked about during the homily (sermon in the Protestant faith). We are merely asked to pray for our leaders.
It disturbs me that so many Catholics (not necessarily in my church but in general) are Trump supporters. The Trump administration also includes Catholics and I have a problem with that too. Never before have I judged people based on what their politics are or which politician they support, but that changed this year. Because of the politicization of Christianity and its growing association with the far right, Christianity in general has been giving me a bad taste in my mouth, and unfortunately that includes my own faith.
I still consider myself a believer in Jesus Christ and I still pray a lot (mostly for a strengthening of faith these days), but mention the word “Christian” to me and I recoil. I am aware there are Christian leftists and a growing movement toward the social gospel, and that’s attractive to me — but the Christian right eclipses that. I consider myself a “red letter Christian,” which means I focus on the words of Jesus himself that appear in the gospels. Unfortunately, those lessons of love, charity, and tolerance are minimized or even ignored by the Christian right. In this country, the religious right is a lot more powerful and a lot louder than the Christian left, and it’s turning many good people off to Christianity. It seems that these days, the loudest and most powerful voices of Christianity belong to horrible people devoid of empathy or any true sense of morality or grace toward others.
So I find myself being turned off by the whole idea of Christianity, even though I know real Christianity isn’t like that at all. I pray about it all the time, but the doubts still remain. One result of this cognitive dissonance is that I haven’t been to church in almost two months. I’m going to have to call my priest and set up a time to talk to him about these issues, but it’s hard to motivate myself. I feel like a hypocrite attending church or taking communion again until this is resolved. It’s actually occurred to me this is exactly the way Satan would get people to leave the Christian faith. He would hijack the churches and fill them with heartless and judgmental authoritarians and narcissists. He would corrupt faith by making it political. He would use religion as a weapon of hatred intended to divide and create a culture of fear, which is the opposite of what Jesus intended. Good people who otherwise might embrace Jesus would reject Christianity altogether.
Maybe this is just a “dark night of the soul” — a spiritual crisis in which I’ll emerge with my faith stronger than ever, or maybe I really am “losing my religion.” I just don’t know anymore. I’ll keep praying, though.