Spin Cycle: Former Catholic Speaks Out

I’ve always watched the spin cycle occur over at Sprite’s Keeper, a great blog I love to read, but I’ve never participated. I want to…but the topics are so great and broad I never find the time to write on them.

This week, the topic is religion. And I just can’t stay silent. ’cause that’s been a big topic in my life!

Growing up, my mom was a cradle Catholic and my dad was..nothing. Not agnostic, not atheist, not Catholic, just didn’t know and didn’t put a lot of thought into it. So we were raised Catholic…but not really. It was kind of a silent, background thing. We went to religious education, we usually went to church, but other than that, it wasn’t really discussed.

In late junior high, I started to embrace my faith as my own. There was a Protestant that I went to (public) school with, and we spent several months worth of lunches in friendly debate about the differences between our two churches and if the differences were legitimate or heretical. I learned a lot about Catholicism in order to answer his questions, and started to really take it on as more of an adult, rather than just what my mom thought.

I went to private, Catholic high school, and we had religion classes there. Let me mention that I grew up in Idaho, a very conservative state, and so the Catholicism taught at this school was pretty darn conservative (by “conservative” I mean “lined up with what the Vatican has consistently taught rather than popular American Catholicism”). And yet, I would get into debates with my religion teachers over tenets they were teaching, with me coming down on the more conservative side. Things like, was Mary a perpetual virgin/did Jesus have siblings? I went with the Church position of no, my teachers often thought yes.

My junior year of high school I took an ethics class, like all other students. I was very pro-life, arguing that even in the case of ectopic pregnancy, a woman should not have an “abortion,” because it is a life. God could step in and save them both, and the woman should not take that opportunity away. I was very anti-gay-marriage/lifestyle (though there wasn’t much discussion of this at that time and in my area), very anti-contraception (as is the official Church teaching), thought that a woman should stay home with her children, generally very, very conservative in morality. I would argue these positions whole-heartedly, and really took them as my own.

I went to a private, Catholic college…but one taught by Jesuits. The conservatives used to joke it wasn’t really Catholic, because Jesuits are infamous for being more liberal. I was in the Honors program, which meant we had colloquiums every year. The freshman year of colloquium I remember being shocked, because we would discuss a lot of morality (these were basically 3 hour discussions), and almost the entire class, including the priest in charge, was so “very liberal.” I still staunchly defended my position, and felt disgusted by the lack of official Catholic teaching at this “Catholic” college.

Then I had to start taking the pill.

I have always had really, really bad cramps. Debilitating. Curled up in a ball screaming in pain, unable to really move, for at least a day kind of cramps. I had a miracle drug…which was then removed from the market for being dangerous. For 2 years I went to 3 doctors and tried everything they could think of. Nothing helped. Or at least, not enough help that I could function for that day-plus every month.

So I went on the pill. And even though official Church teaching is that it’s OK to go on the pill if it is for medical reasons and the birth control aspect is only a side-effect and not an intention, and even though I was still a total and complete virgin so I wasn’t even using the birth control aspect, I felt guilty. Horribly guilty. Because birth control was wrong. Sex was intended by God to be wholly procreative and unitive, and thus every act had to be open to both of those possibilities. I knew I didn’t want kids the instant I got married, and so I worried that maybe the birth control aspect was more just than a side effect for me in my heart, and thus sinful.

Like I said, I was very conservative.

So I started looking into anti-birth-control writings, to reassure myself that birth control was wrong. Going on the pill threatened my stance, and I was looking for support in it. I wanted to understand it even better.

And the more I looked into writings that agreed with my stance, and delved into the arguments deeper…the less they made sense to me. I was desperately looking for justification of my position, that “artificial” birth control was wrong, but I couldn’t accept an argument that made no logical sense, just because I liked the conclusion.

So I kept looking. And looking. And looking.

And the more I looked, the less sense it made.

As luck would have it, around this time I was taking a Christian Marriage class (with my now-husband, actually) to meet a religion requirement. In the class, she passed out a lot of information about the Church’s stance on birth control, both for and against it. It was a very balanced, fair view, and justly presented the arguments I held.

But as I looked at the arguments for the other side…they made so much sense.

Sure, sex is intended to be unitive and procreative. But that doesn’t mean every.single.sex.act has to be both. It just means as a whole those requirements have to be met. And clearly, in our world, they are. There are times couples have sex when they are not feeling unified by it because they are trying to procreate, and they are most fertile at that moment. No one has a problem with that. So why is there a problem when couples have sex that is not intended to be procreative, but they are focusing on the unitive feeling that instance? As long as they are open to any child that may result from the union, why is that bad?

For over a year I was dragged, kicking and screaming, from my position that birth control was wrong, and finally I had to admit that I felt it was not sinful.

And that opened the floodgates.

I started to look at why women can’t be priests. And again, found no justification I could stand behind.

If each sex act didn’t have to be fully unitive and procreative, I had no more reason to stand against gay relationships/marriage.

And so on.

I no longer agreed with my Church on many ethical issues…but I still considered myself Catholic.

My senior year, I decided to write my Honors thesis on the history of the Church’s position on birth control. My thesis was that the teaching has NOT been constant in Tradition throughout time, the biggest argument as to why birth control is wrong in the higher-levels of the Church. While the same words have been said (Birth control is wrong), the reasons for the words have changed so dramatically that it cannot be argued consistent. If the early Church taught that birth control was wrong because the sole purpose of sex was procreation, and sex for any goal other than procreation was also wrong, then surely that could not be considered consistent with the current teaching that birth control is wrong because it denies one of two main aspects of sex: procreation and unitive, and that it is OK to focus on the unitive by avoiding sex when you know you are not fertile. Those two teachings are not only not identical, they are contradictory!

In writing this (100-page single-spaced) thesis, I read a lot of first-hand Church documents. A lot of the Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II, and other such things. A lot of documents that supported my former stance. I now found their arguments offensive and diminuative of women. Much of the Theology of the Body I found insulting, and I had a hard time reading it. I realized how much I disagreed with the Church’s view of how all women are, even though I agree that there are general differences between the sexes.

And I read Turning Point, a book which details the work of the Papal Birth Control Commission by people who were on it. The Papal Birth Control Commission was a group of people, called by multiple Popes, to get together and discuss the issue of birth control, and offer a ruling on whether it should be allowed by the Church or not. Despite the widely varied background of the members, after years of work, the Commission decided almost unanimously that birth control should be allowed. Then, the few dissentors, who were close to the Pope, met in private with him and disuaded him. They bragged about how it was their influence that changed his mind afterwards. And the Pope issued Humanae Vitae, a document which upheld the Church’s ban on birth control. This was a shocking blow to the Commission. The book is full of the politics and slimy tactics that are used in the Vatican. And I realized, why am I looking to those people to guide my morality? They are nothing but politicians, using dirty methods to get their agendas through. I was not going to defer to them. I would not look to them for my morality any more

That was the beginning of the end.

I considered myself Catholic for about another 6 months after my senior year. I was getting married in the Church, and attended pre-marital counseling. The awful, judgemental pre-marital counseling we were forced to undergo (and I had really been looking forward to!) was yet another turn-off to me to the Church, as was fighting the Church for ANY personalized touches in my wedding.

I wanted so badly to be Catholic. I always had been Catholic. It was a huge part of my identity.

But I no longer supported so much of what the Church taught. Especially what I considered the most important issues – morality. Stories of God and Jesus and how we get to heaven are well and good, but we cannot know if that makes a true difference at any point. Morality makes a difference now, and any God I would worship would care how we treated each other and lived our lives.

I tried to be Catholic. I really, really did. But I couldn’t go to Church without getting upset at so much of what was implied or flat-out said. Knowing more about the teachings behind the phrases, and the history behind the teachings, made it hard.

I tried being Protestant half-heartedly, but even that was too close.

And then I realized.

I didn’t care.

If there was a God, He did not care if I acknowledged Him. No God I could support and worship would condemn to hell someone who had never heard of Him. So I could not believe in a God who required worship as an entry pass into heaven.

If there was a God, He would judge me by my acts, by my morals, and by my behaviors.

And those actions were not going to be influenced one.tiny.bit by my religion. Catholic or not, Christian or not, it would not change one thing about how I lived my life day-to-day.

So I stopped caring. I stopped worrying about if there was a God. I stopped worrying about which religion was right. I stopped trying to feel part of a group which, in so many ways, I disagreed with.

And I was happy. And free.

And I have never felt more at peace, and more close to a deity, if one exists, than I do now that I am not obsessing about things I flat-out canNOT know.

We cannot understand the workings of an ant, who is so much simpler than us. How can we expect to understand, with full and sure knowledge, the workings of a God who created us?

We can’t. And I am no longer trying.

And I am finally at peace.


Filed under Life, Spin Cycle

4 responses to “Spin Cycle: Former Catholic Speaks Out

  1. Wow, simply wow! You write so eloquently and you know your position so well because you went through the effort to find out! I am in awe of people who take the initiative and cast out the cookie cutters to create their own mold. Why must someone embrace every rule to be considered part of a group? I never understood that.
    Welcome to the Spin Cycle, Eileen!
    You’re linked!

  2. One of the other Spinners said “To thine own self be true” – and you’re doing just that! ;) I’m with Jen – why must someone embrace every rule to be part of a group? I don’t, so I’m no longer part of a group. ;) Great Spin! :)

    SC: Confessions of a Non-Bible Thumper

  3. Way to stand on your own two feet and not bow down to what you couldn’t be sure of. I applaud you. Great Spin.

  4. BE

    Excellent, excellent, excellent!

    I think you have well exposed the “Catholic Guilt” dilemma – making me sad, frustrated and ultimately happy with the result. I married (and subsequently divorced – God forbid) a Catholic girl. Unlike you, I actually liked and appreciated the “marriage indoctrination” – for different reasons (I wish I listened better! LOL). Believe it or not, the Church didn’t fall on my head on my wedding day and I never prevented my ex from teaching my children her religion. I am proud to report that neither are or will be Catholics.

    To put it succinctly as my “beloved” did so well in her blog, “Thou art God”.

    Wonderful post – welcome to the spin. You have friends here!

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