My Mom’s History With Religion (Part 1)

Hi Everyone! Well I have been very terrible at this blogging thing lately, but it’s a phase I go through from time to time. Luckily my mom is here to pick up the slack for me this time! She has been getting some questions in the comments about her experience with religion in relation to my own journey with skepticism and atheism, so she has written a series of guest posts on the subject.

My mom was the first person (besides my husband) that I talked about my atheism with. When I was first starting to question religion and explore atheism I wrote a letter to the editor about science and theology, and this led to long email exchange between her and I on the subject. She has been very supportive and influential in the way I have dealt with my loss of religion, so I think it’s fitting for her to write about her own experiences on my blog.

So…the following is the first guest post by my mom, I hope you find it as interesting as I did!

*****

I was asked how it is that I have been able to be supportive and encouraging about Lindsay’s atheism, skepticism, feminism and activism given my Catholic background. The short answer is that a couple of years ago for several months Lindsay and I emailed back and forth about the very ideas she writes about in her blog. She very eloquently explained to me her reasons for becoming an atheist, encouraged me to read certain books about atheism and suggested some podcasts to listen to. I followed up on her suggestions out of both concern and curiosity. I wanted to know more about whom and what was influencing her towards an atheistic stance. One day she invited me to check out her blog. I couldn’t believe how much thought she was putting into changing her outlook on life. It was obvious this was not a trivial decision; the time and effort she had put in to this process was remarkable. It took some time but I could see the rationale behind her views more and more clearly.  So it really hasn’t been as big of a leap to be supportive of her views as what one might guess. Perhaps even more importantly, is the fact that I have always trusted Lindsay’s judgement. She has never been one to make decisions on a whim and so there was no reason to think this one would be any different.

The long answer to the same question is much more complex and I am very excited and motivated to provide an explanation. As such, it is my intention to write a series of posts focussing on the different threads of influences that have run through my life and how they have combined to form my own somewhat unique worldview (one that strives to be inclusive, accepting and non-judgemental). I hope you will follow me on a journey of self-disclosure as I recall and document how I have arrived at my current worldview. I have always wanted to write some sort of memoir so I thought I’d take this opportunity to kick start that process. Don’t worry, I’ll try not to torture you too much!  If you do find this tedious please let me know and I’ll adjust.  Hopefully, this will simultaneously provide some insights into the ease with which I can accept and support Lindsay’s worldview.

I’ll begin with the role Catholicism played in both concretely and abstractly shaping my life. I want to share my experience of “being Catholic” for several reasons. Primarily, because until now I have never focused specifically on this aspect or thread that runs through my life, so I am interested in discovering where that thread might lead and what I might learn about myself. Second, I hope this exploration may dispel some assumptions and generalizations people make about Catholics (I think this extends to anyone of any religion). I hope it will become obvious that my particular experience and impression of what it is/was to be Catholic is likely entirely different than my siblings’, my mother’s, her parent’s, my children’s, etc. I think it is important to acknowledge that! The third reason for wanting to share my experiences and perceptions is that I believe that the more we share about ourselves in general the more likely we will find commonalities with each other and perhaps even make it easier to bridge our differences.

Many factors shaped and moulded me and there is no doubt Catholicism was one. To what degree? That shall remain unanswered because it is impossible to know. What I do know is that  I was baptized as an infant and confirmed when I was six. So the way I see it, religion chose me not the other way around. Under my mother’s influence, my family of origin (excluding my father because he was a non church going protestant), followed a number of Catholic traditions, customs and rituals. Though, considering the import and influence religion had on my mom’s life, I don’t think my home life differed that much from the non-religious families I knew. Aside from the modest adornments of Christian symbols, saying grace at dinner, observing meatless Fridays, praying before bedtime, and attending church on Sundays and holy days, not much set us apart from our neighbours. My parents drank and partied just as hard as the rest of the neighbours. Matters of a spiritual nature rarely came up in conversations at home though I did receive a couple of messages from my mom. When I was three, my infant sister died, and I was told that from then on she was my guardian angel. Another message my mom impressed upon me was that “God was a loving God”. Those two impressions seemed to be all I needed because I never felt any desire to inquire about God, the bible or any other spiritual matter until an emotional crisis sparked an interest in my early thirties.

Although I attended a public school, throughout my elementary and junior high years, Catechism classes were a part of my daily routine. I guess my mom must have signed me up for them because I don’t recall ever being asked if I’d be interested in participating in such a class. Consequently, during the last half hour of each school day, while the majority of students got free time (or an opportunity to do their homework) I, along with other Catholic students, learned about our faith (at least that was the intention of these half hour classes).  I vaguely recall learning about the Ten Commandments,  mortal and venial sins, how to pray the rosary and I’m guessing there must have been some bible story lessons too. I also remember envying my non-Catholic friends that seemed to be either getting homework done or having fun during that time slot.

Of course being Catholic meant attending Church every Sunday too. As a child, I complied because it seemed to make my mom happy when I seemed willing to go. However, to me church didn’t seem to have any relevance to the rest of my life and I never made any attempts to connect them. Mostly attending church seemed like an obligation to be endured.  I knelt, stood, and sat with my mom and siblings practicing patience and discovering ways to bide my time in silence. Until I was eight the mass was said in Latin but even after the switch to English I still didn’t comprehend much of what was uttered. I recited the words of all the prayers and responses along with other parishioners but I rarely gave any thought to their meanings or intentions. I suppose the repetition of the same prayers week in and week out, particularly the Creed, worked their magic though. Somehow, in spite of how little I seemed to attend to things, a belief in the holy trinity, the Virgin Mary, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting became ingrained in me. In a nut shell, I would say my faith development amounted to going through the motions and absorbing precepts and ideologies through some sort of osmosis, without actively engaging in the thought process. It’s really quite amazing and I liken it to being immersed in a new language. You just pick it up without really being aware of it.

I continued to attend church until I turned 18, mainly to appease my mom. After that, my university and work schedules conflicted with church attendance and my mom didn’t say much about my interlude. However, at age 24, when I got engaged, she set the stage for my return. I was busy taking courses and working so she happily planned our wedding. It was expected that we would get married in her church and my husband (to be) and I complied. The next thing we knew we were attending an Engaged Encounter weekend—part of the church requirements of getting married. That entailed spending a weekend at a monastery with other engaged couples examining our faiths, our expectations of each other, and prioritizing the importance of different aspects of our lives under the direction of experienced married Catholic couples. It was during that weekend that we agreed our children would be baptized Catholic.

So, when I became pregnant with our first, my husband and I attended the obligatory baptism preparation classes and our daughter was baptized at a few months of age. From then on, history began to repeat itself. What you do for one of your children, generally you do for the rest. So each succeeding child of ours was baptized into the Catholic faith in infancy. We then had an obligation to follow up with a commitment to educate our children about the Catholic faith. That was mostly accomplished through their attendance in Sunday school classes and other church activities.

During the fifteen or so years that we attended our neighbourhood church a number of factors drew me/us there. As alluded to earlier, at age 31, I suffered a life altering trauma. At first, I sought help from the parish priests. That turned out to be a good move because my he wisely referred me to an excellent counsellor. I began to appreciate some aspects of my religion for the first time in my life too. Sometimes the sermons consoled me like nothing else could. I started to read the bible and I began to understand what people meant when they talked about a “personal relationship with God”. Now before you start to roll your eyes, let me say that I have a different understanding of all that now. However, at the time I was pretty convinced that God was nudging me and showing me the way…how to cope and how to recover.

Suffice it to say, my recovery was a long, slow and often very painful process. Throughout it I read many self-help books. I think I was around thirty-three when I came across a book called Jung and Christianity by Wallace Clift. It was this book that started me being conscious of what it was that I was agreeing to believe due to my religious upbringing. I think that book for me had a similar effect that the movie Religulous had on Lindsay. After reading it, I experienced an ongoing internal struggle that waxed and waned. I wanted our kids to have the benefits they seemed to be deriving from attending church and yet I became more and more conscious of the dogma of religion.

This is as far as I can go with this thread right now. Due to my struggles as I tried to recover, my thirties were fraught with a variety of influences that had significant impacts on my life. It’s driving me crazy trying to tease out Catholicism from the mix of influences during those years we attended church with our kids. In my next post I will attempt to write about the significance and influence psychology has had on my life.

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7 Responses to “My Mom’s History With Religion (Part 1)”


  1. 1 DaveD January 13, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Being something of an anti-theist, I suppose I should despair when I see such a reasonable response from a religious person, but really I welcome it. I meet good and decent theists everyday in real life, but they aren’t so noticeable online. I look forward to the next installment!

  2. 2 Lindsay January 13, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Hi Dave, I don’t want to speak for her, but just to be clear she’s no longer a theist. But she’ll get into that in future installments :)

  3. 3 DaveD January 13, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Ah, OK. We’ve still got Jerome though!

  4. 4 Mom January 13, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Hey, wait a second! Please don’t jump to conclusions. I really don’t want to be put in a box, at least not yet…I prefer not to be labeled. To be honest I’m still figuring this God thing out for myself and as I said I have my own unique worldview so I’d appreciate some patience while I describe what that entails.

  5. 5 Lindsay January 13, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Oops sorry! Didn’t mean to get ahead of you!

  6. 6 Chelsea January 13, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Being not entirely convinced by the God claim DOES make you an atheist (or non-theist, if you prefer) by definition, even if you’ve not fully decided, as Lindsay’s post on defining atheism would tell you. However, I respect everyone’s right to choose the labels with which they want to be identified, and to avoid labels altogether. :) I will not jump to conclusions until you choose to define yourself, if you do at all.
    I am enjoying your blogging! I had no idea my question would prompt this, but I’m so glad it did. I study psychology, so I eagerly await your next post.
    Also, I picked out something interesting and relevant in your post- about how you absorbed the faith “through osmosis” so to speak. Just last night, in my philosophy class, we were reading and discussing Pascal’s Wager, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. This was the first time I actually read it in Pascal’s own words. There was a part at the end where he attempts to answer the critic’s question, “What if I CAN’T believe?” His response is simply… act like you do. Go through the motions, act like a Christian, and it will eventually sink in, and you WILL believe. My prof posed the question: Is this really possible? Could this strategy possibly work? In the discussion I mentioned that a great deal of psychological research seems to show that it CAN, and that beliefs often follow actions. So it was very interesting to see such a relevant example of this in your writing!

  7. 7 Bluff.Old.Traditionalist. November 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Look after your family, your friends and your nation. What matters is being good. Leave worrying about there being a god or not being a god to those with too much time on their hands. What difference does it make?


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