27 March 2007

Not having had a religious experience, ever.

I think long and hard about these Tuesday Brain Dump posts, often writing them several days in advance of when they're posted, going back and revising, re-thinking, OK, really, obsessing over it. And I was initially going to write about obsession today, (not specifically my Jensen Ackles - Dean Winchester obsession) obsessions in general, with music, with an idea, with a movie that I'll watch over and over, a particular issue, you get the idea. The genesis of that comes from my sister giving me a stern talking-to whilst I was in New York about being insanely hooked on a fictional character. I needed that talk! And I think it was helpful. But then our conversation meandered from my insanity into religion, and that's a much better topic, having the potential for far more controversy.

Thesister identifies herself as an atheist. I identify as an agnostic. Not to split hairs, but there is a difference. Atheists do not believe in any god, any higher power, any spiritual being. At least, that's how thesister defines it. Agnostics, under my own personal definition, would like to believe that there IS some higher power. Cause it would be nice, wouldn't it? I see miracles in small things, a perfect blossom, a sunrise, a tree covered in snow after a heavy snowfall, and I'd like to believe that there's some higher power, some grand design, some thing beyond my ken that is a Creator. I'd like to believe. But I lost what little faith I had when my cousin died in 2005.

Before we get to that, let's talk about the way I was raised, and how that has an impact on who I am and what I believe today. The 'rents raised both sisters and I Catholic. I had no idea how controversial that was with my mother's family until very recently, when Mum informed me that my maternal grandparents had not come to my baptism. What?!? Why not?!? How on earth could you not come to a baby's baptism as a protest? Turns out that my maternal grandparents (who are both gone now, or believe me, I'd have a conversation with them about this, because I'd like to understand) were plenty pissed that mum decided to baptize me Catholic. When mum and I talked about this, I was stunned, because I remember them coming to both thesister and babysis's baptisms. "Guess they got over it by then," Mum told me. Huh.

We went to church sporadically while I was growing up, but I went to CCD every Wednesday (while school was in session) from first grade all the way through eighth grade. CCD stands for Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine, and was a roughly hour-long weekly religion class for Catholic kids who weren't (heaven forbid) going to Catholic school. Thank whatever powers that be that the 'rents DIDN'T send us to Catholic school...CCD was bad enough. I was taught in CCD classes that Catholicism is the only true Christian faith. (Really. No, really. I promise.) CCD was taught by lay people, not the nuns, and each one of my CCD teachers had their own 'issues'. I'm not sure what the screening process the Church went through to find these people, but whatever it was, it wasn't enough. Cause some of them, as I recall, were downright nuts.

It was their difficult job, in one hour a week, to prepare all the good little boys and girls to participate in each of the seven holy sacraments that make up part of the Catholic faith that needed to be accomplished by all 'good' Catholics. In no real order, the Sacraments are Baptism, First Communion, Confession, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Last Rites. Baptism is usually done when someone is an infant, so that wasn't part of CCD. First Communion takes place around the second grade, so that is the first thing they force you to study and understand. Confession and Confirmation vary from Church to Church, but at my hometown parish, Confession was 4th grade and Confirmation was your junior year of high school. Holy Orders are only if you plan to become a priest or a nun, and I think Marriage and Last Rites are pretty self explanatory.

I drank the kool-aide, believing everything that they taught us, and was a good little Catholic girl until about high school. At that time, I joined a Christian youth group and stopped participating in any Catholic anything. The youth group was a non-denominational born-again, very conservative, brainwashing society. And I drank the kool-aide there too. I began listening to Christian Rock, jettisoning anything in my music collection (only for a brief while) that glorified sex and drinking. To this day, I have no idea why my parents allowed me to do this, join this youth group that wasn't Catholic, because I didn't join any church to substitute for the Catholic church. I did spend time only with other youth group members and spouted off biblical quotes to anyone who would listen. And I spent a lot of time reading the bible, going to Christian rock concerts, hanging with other members of the group. Maybe they had no idea how deep I was into the group, or thought it was better than me hanging with the local stoners, I don't know.

At any rate, after two years of this youth group, I left the US, my school, and my brainwashed society behind and went to Sweden to be an exchange student for a year. The only book in English I took with me? The NIV Bible. Once separated from the youth group, however, I began to question the ideals instilled in me by the group, and by the Church. My host family is also Catholic, but were sporadic churchgoers like my own family back home, and I found plenty of other things to take up my time in Sweden.

My Swedish friends viewed my religion as something kind of odd, a curiosity much like being double-jointed. I spent so much time in the first few months in Sweden trying to learn the language, and my religious fervor slipped away bit by bit until it was gone. And when I realized it was gone, not only did I not miss it, but I felt as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. When I thought about faith and religion through the rest of that year, which wasn't often, I began to form my own set of beliefs about what was right and what was wrong, my own code to live by.

In college, I took some Women's Studies classes, and began to understand that the Church was man's creation, and that while not perhaps evil, churches weren't perfect. And that maybe, just maybe, the men who were in charge didn't have the best interests of women at heart.

Time passes, as it always does, and when DH asked me to marry him, I decided that I wanted the whole princess wedding, big church, big dress, big party. For better or worse, Catholicism was still my faith, and as silly as this sounds, I've always felt that other Christian weddings aren't long enough. Because the Catholics? Can't do anything in less than an hour. So I got married in the Catholic church in a ceremony that was both beautiful and long, lasting an hour and 20 minutes. Years of indoctrination by the Church meant that I had no problem reciting all the prayers and responses in the appropriate places.

I still believed in God, although by then, I was having more and more problems believing everything that the Church taught, as the clergy sex scandals were beginning to come to light by that time. And I've NEVER gone along with the Church's stance on women since I was old enough to understand it. We can be nuns? But not preach? No birth control, of any kind? We have no say in how the Church is governed, run, operated? Are you fucking kidding me?

As the clergy sex scandals unfolded, I lost all respect that I'd ever had for the Catholic church, and began to think that maybe all organized religions were as fucked up as Catholicism is. Investigations into several other Christian faiths made me decide that organized religion was bunk, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

And then J died. Several of my high school classmates had passed away before my cousin did, so this wasn't my first experience with the death of a young person, but it was the first experience that I'd had that made me question absolutely everything I believed in.

If there is a higher power, what purpose did it serve for J to be taken from her kids? From the rest of her family, aunts, uncles, cousins, the rest of her community, neighbors, students, co-workers? A benevolent and omniscient being couldn't possibly think that it would be a good thing for her daughters to grow up without their mother. Can you imagine the pain that those children will feel every day for the rest of their lives? Unless you've lost a parent at a very young age, I don't think that you can. And J's husband, his pain in losing not just his partner, but also the mother of his children. A higher power wants us to feel this pain? I reject that.

As I've read more and more feminist philosophy, I now think that all organized religions are a way for the menfolk to control the women, to control what we think, what we do, who and how we are. My personal code, established first when I was 17, still serves me much better than any set of tenets laid down for me by the male Judea-Christian god.

As any code, law, or set of rules goes, it undergoes revisions from time to time. But it starts here: YOU ain't the boss of ME, baby!


John said...

At the risk of raising the ire of self proclaimed empowered woman I would encourage you to take another look at the one around whom much of the religious edifice has been built. Unfortunately the organization all too often hides, or worse, twists the organizer. I am always impressed, when reading the gospels, by Jesus' treatment of women in a male dominated society. No kool-aid here just asking you not to confuse the creation of man with the Creator.

Under the Mercy,


Lucy Arin said...

Hi John-

Thanks so much for commenting. I always appreciate the opportunity to have sane, respectful dialog with those whom I do not share a viewpoint.

That said, you are talking about exactly what I feel...I specifically renounce the Catholic church of my childhood, as a creation of man, it is therefore, by definition, imperfect. I'd like to believe in a creator, a higher power, but I don't know if I can, in light of the things that have happened to me over the past several years.

Is there specific scripture you'd like to site regarding the treatment of women by Jesus? Because I would be interested; any biblical passages that I can site are much more in line with the 'place' a woman should be kept in. Keeping in mind, of course, that the most common version of the bible currently in use, the King James Version, was written by a committee, and as such is open to widely varying interpretation.

Thanks for being part of the dialog.

Misha said...

Rock it, girl.

...Incidentally, I read a book in college called "All We're Meant to Be" that was my first brush with a concept called "Biblical feminism." It had a really big impact on me. I'm agnostic-leaning-atheist now, but I still appreciate the authors of that book for showing me another side of Christianity.

John said...

Hi Lucy,
Can you hear my sigh of relief at not being flamed? I too relish the opportunity to enter into a dialog with someone of a differing view that is both sane and devoid of pointless pigeon-holeing. Thanks for the invite.

As for a couple of prime examples...John 4 is perhaps the highest of high points concerning this subject. It is clearly understood that in Jesus' day (and still to this day in many middle eastern societies) a man did not address a woman in public. Further, a teacher (rabbi) certainly did not speak to a woman as they were not to be taught (reference the movie Yentel with Barabar Streisand for a cultural snap shot of this phenomenon 1700 years after Jesus' encounter in John 4). To make this encounter even more interesting is that it was evident that the woman was of questionable moral character because she was coming to draw water at noon (the 6th hour). Normal water drawing time is early and late - much cooler. All that said, Jesus not only speaks to her but he listens and cares for her. Interestingly this lady becomes the 1st recorded Christian missionary (see vs. 27-28).

I've rambled more than I intended. Other examples can be found in Mark 5:24-34; Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 15:21-28; Luke Luke 21:1-4; and John 20:11-18 (1st appearance after the resurrection is to a woman!). These are just a few.

Don't let the creation of man keep you from the Creator of man. I would also challenge you to remember that though the church is deeply flawed, even corrupted in some places, it is still the bride of Christ. See Ephesians 5:25-27

Under the Mercy,


Lucy Arin said...

Hey Misha-

I'm always happy to get suggestions for new reading material! Thanks!! Oh, and really glad to hear from you!

Hi John-

Indeed, it is POSSIBLE to disagree with someone and have rational dialog. What a concept! I thank you as well for being respectful.

I will look up those passages and let you know what I think soon. In the meantime, I cannot resist commenting on this....

"It is clearly understood that in Jesus' day (and still to this day in many middle eastern societies) a man did not address a woman in public. Further, a teacher (rabbi) certainly did not speak to a woman as they were not to be taught"

That's all TRUE. It does not make it RIGHT. I don't understand that this still goes on. You say in many Middle Eastern countries...I would argue that it goes on here in the good ole U S of A every day.

My contention always has been that the fact that we are male or female should have no bearing on what we can or can not do with our lives. Religion has always been quick to push women into the roles of motherhood, of wife, of homemaker, and it goes almost without saying that I disagree with that. As examples, I site the Catholic church's refusal to allow the use of any method of birth control or abortion, which effectively ensures that any Catholic woman worldwide will be barefoot and pregnant for all of her childbearing years. Or, if you prefer, the Hasidim, who start out the day every day with a prayer that says, in part, "Thank God I wasn't born a woman."

I think the Creator, if there is one, looks down upon us in fond exasperation, wondering how her creations got so far off track.

My work has been, and continues to be, about trying to fix some of the disparity between the way men and women are treated, pointing out that these injustices still exist, even thirty years after the start of the feminist movement.

I will get back to you on those passages.

John said...


Can't wait.

"I think the Creator, if there is one, looks down upon us in fond exasperation, wondering how her creations got so far off track."

Reminds me of the joke about several men discussing what God will be like when they get to heaven and the punch line is, "She's black!"

As for the issue of "a man not addressing a woman". Agreed, does not make it right, however it points up the uniqueness of Christ's dealings with women in a male dominated society. I place those comments for the sake of context.

One final passage that I senselessly omitted - Genesis 2:18-25. Woman is here presented as the crowning creation of God's work.

I firmly believe that man and woman are separate but equal creations. Each with unique attributes that are only fulfilled in the context of a relationship in line with the "manufacturer's instructions".

Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Under the Mercy,


a newbie question - how'd you get the quote from my response italicized? I bow to the one who knows more than I. ;-)

Lucy Arin said...


html tags are wonderful fun. < i > < / i > for italics, < b > < / b > for bold with the spaces between omitted. Beyond that, you'd have to check a programmer's guide cause I'm self-taught on html and that's the extent of my knowledge.

I'll probably respond to you via e-mail.

Lucy Arin said...


I intended to respond via e-mail, but have discovered that you wisely don't have a link to your e-mail address on your profile or blog. So this is the format, then.

I dutifully looked up most of the sections of the bible that you suggested, and while I see that each of them shows Jesus treating women somewhat positively, in some instances they show him being barely civil, which is certainly not the same as being respectful. Also, the passages do nothing to further suggest to me that Christianity in general has the best interests of women at heart.

I have yet to find a single Christian church that isn't a hotbed of patriarchal crap, even those sects which allow women to preach have mostly male leaders.

I am hardly a biblical expert; I'm sure you will find what I'm about to type deeply offensive, and I apologize in advance for offending you, but I know no other way to say what I think. Since learning about a year ago that the King James Version of the bible was written by a committee (of men) and that whole books of the bible were discarded (I believe they're called the Gnostic Books?) by this committee, my belief that the bible is a great work of fiction only intensified. I have a hard time with "This is the Word of God" when the translation errors, the copying errors, the wholesale discarding of sections of the book....you see my problem, I'm sure.

A higher power? Yes, I think so. The Father, Son, Holy Spirit? Not so much. I lean so much more towards Gaea-centered 'faiths' if they can even be called that. The mother, the goddess, the creator as female.

I'm enjoying this discussion with you wholeheartedly, but I'd like to suggest that another format would be a more appropriate place to continue it. My e-mail is lucyarinATgmailDOTcom.