Most – and I mean an overwhelming majority – of my loved ones are religious. I have nothing against people who hold fast to their religious beliefs, whatever they are. I don’t have time to judge or hate theists, even if they share suboptimal memes about hellfire and brimstone in the comment section and repeat the same tired lines about how unbelievers are Satan’s bedfellows. If only my sex life was that exciting. This is just your run-of-the-mill story about how a stalwart Catholic child grew up to be a heathen. Gather ’round, kids. I’m going way back.
If you want to make this more fun, have a shot every time I say “God Army,” “indoctrination,” and “hellfire and brimstone”!
I was born into a Catholic family and was raised in the Catholic faith. I was baptized as an infant and went through the standard series of coming-of-age sacraments. For those who are not familiar, there is one sacrament called “Confirmation” which is kind of like the Catholic version of the end of Rumspringa. A person makes the independent choice to commit to the Church for the rest of their lives, thereby sealing or finishing what was started when they, as infants, were first indoctrinated against their will. It sounds like a great idea in theory because one would think that an organization would only want members who have fully bought into the dogma of their own volition. That’s why the Catholic Church had the brilliant idea of having children aged 12-14 make this commitment. In some areas, children have to be Confirmed before they take their First Communion, which is around age 7-8!
Because 3rd graders fully understand what they’re agreeing to, am I right?
I remember being in the 8th grade, preparing for Confirmation, and being told by the Church leaders that this is the time we make the choice to continue our Catholic faith. Do middle schoolers really have a choice in the matter, though? Imagine if I had refused to consent to this sacrament. My family has been Catholic on both sides for generations. Everyone we knew was religious, and most were Catholic, as well. I was attending a Catholic school. I was a minor who lived in my parents’ house, and they were my legal guardians, meaning that, by law, I did not actually have the choice to make certain decisions about my life. Sure, I could have chosen not to move forward with Confirmation and stood my ground, but the overall effect on my life would have been a disaster. As a child, I was not being medicated or treated for my severe mental health issues; I wouldn’t have been strong enough to endure the bullshit coming at me from all angles.
Naturally, I was all, “Sure, let’s do this.”
Confirmation was cool in that we got “Confirmation names”, which were kind of like new names you picked out from the Bible or other holy texts I can’t remember the names of. I picked Christina the Astonishing because I am both a Cristina and astonishing. That woman was completely bonkers and upset her entire church by interrupting mass by supposedly hanging from the rafters shrieking. I had no idea why she was a Saint at all, but I loved her story and have no regrets about choosing her. It helps that nobody ever mentions the Confirmation Name ever again. I still don’t know why it’s a thing.
One night, I recall asking my mother, “How do we know God exists?” and she said, “You just have to believe.” It was clear that she had no idea, but she was not one to stray from what she herself had been taught her entire life. Despite being a medical professional, she often attributed my childhood maladies to my lack of faith. Imagine waking up from a nightmare and having your mother, a person who is supposed to comfort you and assure you that all is well in the world, tell you that you deserved that nightmare because it is a sign from God that your faith wasn’t strong enough.
Thankfully, having no friends and being an avid reader, I was able to sift through some books to understand some of the symptoms of chronic illnesses from a young age. I knew how to treat a common cold, as well, so I didn’t have to tell my parents that I was sick unless I was extremely ill – I mean, unless I let Satan into my soul. Teeny Tiny Cristina was a smart cookie, so I had that going for me.
This is why it still boggles my mind that I became so indoctrinated after Confirmation. Did I dive headfirst into the cesspool because I had to convince myself that following through with the Sacrament of Binding (not what it’s really called, but don’t I wish it was?) really was my choice? Did I want to prove to myself that the faith I had spent literally my entire life practicing was not a massive waste of my time? I wish I had more insight. All I remember is reading Bible verses and the Catechism (essentially the Cliff’s Notes version of the Bible for Catholics) to back myself up in arguments with people and trying to live a solid Christian life. No swearing, no rule breaking, no pot smoking, no sex, no showing my knees or shoulders in church. I even joined a Pro-Life activism group and became a very vocal supporter of anti-abortion legislation, because what better way to honor God than to slut shame innocent women and girls, am I right?
Side-stepping for a moment, but the whole Pro-Life activism thing is not something I am proud of. I participated in a hurtful campaign for years, which involved protests, marches, handing roses and propaganda out to people, and generally being an asshole to those who either disagreed or had abortions, themselves. For anyone I hurt, saying “I’m sorry” is not nearly enough. I bring up this part of my past from time to time, though, to illustrate this problem with the Church; training young teens to behave in this manner to prove how committed they are to God is t e r r i b l e. There is nothing godly about Pro-Life activism, especially when you encourage and applaud children for participating in essentially a protest against the safety of women and women’s health. It would have been one thing if they had armed us with facts and honesty, but propaganda is so much more interesting to these people, especially when they hand a sign to a kid who thinks they’re doing the right thing.
I became Pro-Choice after I moved out of my parents’ home and conceded a debate with a Pro-Choice person. Let me tell you, internet, it is not easy to come to the realization that you were wrong about something you dedicated your free time to, but in hindsight, I am so glad I lost that debate. The other person didn’t even make me feel bad, either; she was respectful, never raised her voice, never called me names – and I’m the one who came at her with my right-wing beliefs. Props to you, esteemed compatriot.
What ended up sealing the deal for me and ending my relationship with the Catholic Church was when I went through Pre-Cana with my now-ex-husband. Pre-Cana is a series of lessons taught by the Catholic Church on how to have a solid Catholic marriage. Though it is not mandatory, you do get a discount on both civil and Catholic marriage fees if you take the course. I’ll do just about anything for a discount, and I assumed that Pre-Cana would spout the same religious expectations that I’d learned through an entire life of Catholic schooling.
It was much worse.
I don’t have the mental fortitude to list out every crazy thing we were told to believe, but some of the highlights were:
- Using birth control is a sin that will lead to even worse sins, such as child abuse and pedophilia. (They had an infographic to accompany this, too. It went in the trash.)
- Men should be the breadwinners, though some women can work if they really want to.
- Have as many children as possible because having a baby is giving God one more Catholic soldier for this God Army.
- Adopting a child, however, is a bad thing. We don’t accept adopted children into our Church as “real” offspring.
- If you don’t consent to bear biological children, we won’t marry you.
- If it ever came down to having a single-income household, the wife should really step down from her career, because she’s better suited for homemaking, anyway. (I guess having a vagina makes ciswomen amazing housekeepers, because logic.)
It was mostly encouragement to fit into gender stereotypical roles and to have as many biological children as we could afford because God really needs that army, for some reason. Were we going to war against the Buddhists? No one ever clarified why we needed this Catholic militia – dare I say, infantry – but my ex and I were the only people in the room who kept exchanging horrified looks at each other instead of nodding along with the old white guys in robes.
Later on, my ex and I had to meet with a priest to sign off on a contract that stated that we agreed with everything we’d been told. My ex signed it without hesitation because he wanted to get it over with and not have to deal with the religious red tape. Unfortunately for all involved, I could not bring myself to do the same. I had questions. I wanted to know why, exactly, I would be expected to bear a child rather than adopt one if I wanted to become a parent (I am infertile). Why is an adopted child not valued as much as one’s biological offspring? Why on earth do I have to agree to essentially leave the workforce if need be, and become a broodmare? What about infertile couples? He had answers for all these questions, but the only one I remember was that, if either party knew they were unable to bear children, they were not encouraged to marry in the Church. What, and I can’t stress this enough, the actual fuck. If I’d known all this going into it, I’d never have agreed to have a Catholic wedding.
So I guess I had my answer, right there. The Church, even in 2007, was hiding some of its less attractive qualities and then springing it on people when they made the choice to be a good little Catholic and keep in line with the faith as adults. They sell you on how God is Love and how Catholics do good works – and they do! – and how God loves you so much and will always take care of you (this is true of pretty much every religion). But women and children are still property, and the man will always be the superior being. My role, as a woman, was to incubate and bear adorable little soldiers for the God Army. If I couldn’t do that, then there was no use for me. I wasn’t down with that. For the sake of ending the standoff that day, and because canceling our wedding so close to the date would have been a shit show, I signed my name to it while verbally expressing how little I believed in anything on that paper. I crossed my fingers for emphasis.
From that day forward, the only times I set foot in a church were either as a sightseer or for other people’s weddings or funeral services. I never attended another mass. I stopped referring to myself as Catholic. I forgot most of the hymns and prayers I had dutifully memorized as a child. My husband and I eventually divorced, and now I’m living a life of sin with my female partner with whom I am not married. Gasp. Premarital cohabitating lesbian sex? Hellfire and brimstone! (That’s what we call our vibrators.)
(Okay, that isn’t true, but I wish we had thought of that.)
Not long after that, news broke that several priests that had run my high school were accused of… let’s say, un-Catholic behavior towards young men. I was, once again, enraged. These were the people who were supposed to be guiding these deluded little minds into a life of indoctrination into the Church, and there you were, soliciting the D, while also telling us that being queer was a grave sin. This kind of “life lesson” led to a lot of trauma for many LGBTQ+ Catholic youth, but there you guys were, slobbing the knob after mass. They’re all in jail now, those priests, but there are still others out there continuing the tradition of hypocrisy. I roll my eyes every time the Catholic Church makes the news because it’s usually for some bullshit involving prejudice or child molestation. Now they’re concerned at the critically low numbers of their diocese; without attendance, they don’t make as much money, after all. Money for Jesus. I was done.
My descent into apostasy having been completed, I have to say that the last 12 years have not been so bad. The worst that I’ve had to endure is some disappointment and verbal backlash from certain family members, some of whom surely want to keep a safe distance from me, in case God throws down a lightning bolt to zap me out of existence.
I still believe in God – but I don’t think God is an old, bearded man in the clouds. I don’t know what God is, or if I can really call it God at all. But I believe in something. Do I think that this “something” is actively speaking to human beings on earth, interfering with their lives? Do I think this “something” has enlisted Catholic women to have piles of babies for its God Army? Do I think this “something” really cares what we do with ourselves? No, no, and no. I don’t believe that there is any religious doctrine that captures what human beings are supposed to do with their lives – what we wear, how we speak, the choices we make, whether our knees are showing, whether we have kids, whether I ate red meat on Friday. I believe that we’re all supposed to respect each other. If God really was up there in the clouds, I’m sure he’d rather we all reasonably get along and take care of each other and never mention His existence than for us to be doing what we’re doing now, which is to be utter shit while invoking God’s name. I think He’d rather that we teach children to be kind because it’s the right thing to do, instead of “because it’d make God happy”. I think He’d rather see the cishets treat non-cis non-heteros as though their gender identity and sexual orientations were a non-issue, instead of torturing, killing, shunning, and bullying them. The reason we behave so badly is because of religion, or rather, misguided religious beliefs.
Again, I don’t think any religious people are inherently bad people. I don’t care if you are a staunch Catholic who eats Jesus-O’s for breakfast and attends mass 7 days a week. That’s fine. You do you. It becomes a problem when you are using your Catholicism as an excuse to treat people poorly or behave poorly. The Catholic doctrine, which is extremely old, has information that is plainly untrue and, in some cases, dangerously so. I’m sure other religions are the same way, but I can only really speak about the Catholic Church and my own personal journey out of it.
Thank you for coming to my TedTalk! Remember, only quality memes in the comment section if you want to berate me for turning my back on your organization.