My mother saw to it that I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but my father was actually an atheist. My father’s attitude toward my mother’s church was tolerant, yet patronizing. It is hardly surprising that my own attitude toward faith grew more and more conflicted.
At Catholic school, we were taught about Transubstantiation (Jesus’ Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity, truly present in the Eucharist). We memorized the fifteen Mysteries of the Holy Rosary (There are twenty now, I know, but I was a child in the 1980s). We revered Mary, Ever Virgin, and her Immaculate Conception (Did you know that the Immaculate Conception refers not to the Virgin Birth, but to Mary’s own sinless conception?).
I learned about the communion of saints, and I wanted to be one. Like many Catholic children, I had secret hopes of being a visionary someday, like the children of Fatima or St. Bernadette.
The childlike trust I had in my father’s intellect, however, cast a shadow upon my equally childlike faith in the religion of my mother. Gradually, this cognitive dissonance was widened by the liberal values and post modern views that subtly encroach upon even the most Catholic of educations. Gradually, I picked up on my dad’s attitude toward religion: it was to be encouraged as an excellent way of teaching morals and values to children, but it was ultimately unnecessary. for the rational person who could maintain an internal moral compass. This person was somehow above (or at least, outside) the need for God as a moral standard-setter.
The father is the spiritual head of the home. And so, in retrospect, it is not surprising that under this head, I “outgrew” the faith of my childhood.
I believed in the Tooth Fairy until I was 7, Santa Claus until 13 (no kidding), and the Roman Catholic Church until 18 or so. And then, like many young people, I became apathetic.
One of the issues I had with organized religion was the Church’s attitude to homosexuality. Why, I reasoned, would God create people with a desire that he deemed sinful? It didn’t seem to fit the concept of a just God.
As a teenager, I moved out, dropped out of school and stopped going to church. I wasn’t sure that I believed in God at all. And to be honest, I wasn’t all that concerned with the question of His existence. I was living for myself. And I was a mess. I had terrible self-esteem, and made horrible choices.
Eventually, I was tired of going nowhere, and tried to get my life together. I went back to finish high school in an adult program, and entered university as a mature student.
I loved it. I studied literature, philosophy and feminist theory. I learned about deconstructionism, post-modernism, gender theory. It was fun and exciting. I studied Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler. I wrote essays on performative speech acts, and interpellation through language. I loved thinking, discussing, writing. I felt I had found my people. The meaning of life is to just keep learning, I decided. I wanted to learn everything. My philosophy professor wrote me a letter inviting me to join the philosophy department. I took a course in World Religions. I thought I could figure out the meaning of life, and the question of God through cognitive ability. I know, right? And then I auditioned for and was accepted into a highly-regarded theatre school, which had always been my dream. But I was still living for self, and there isn’t much purpose in that. After a few years, I found myself slipping back into the same depression I thought I had escaped.
And the more depressed I became, the more I began to withdraw. So much that I stopped even showing up for classes. And of course this made everything worse.
My academic career in ruins, I felt utterly hopeless. At my lowest point, my sister realized that something was wrong. She unexpectedly showed up at my apartment one day, helped me pack up my things, and drove me back to her home, in a nearby city.
I started to get my life back together. I decided that maybe there was a God, and that He was Hope. I don’t know what kind of New Age theology that was, but I wasn’t picky.
Things were better than before. I got a good job, one that I excelled at. I earned a promotion. I filled my life with friends, fun. But again, I was still living for self. There is no real joy in that, and I was going nowhere.
Then God sent me my husband. Popular wisdom is that no one can love you until you love yourself, but I know that miracles can and do happen. I can’t really explain why God saved me from myself in those days, but I know He did. I wasn’t a Christian yet. I didn’t really even believe in Him, but He must have already marked me as His own. Because it is only God who could have sent this wonderful man to me, messed up as I was, and allowed me to keep it together long enough for him to love me.
He was an atheist, and I would have identified as agnostic. I really felt that his love for me was life-changing. I know now that it was only God’s love that could really save me, but God had sent this man to bless me and to show me the love that I needed.
I began to attend church for the first time as an adult. I still wasn’t sure if I believed in God or not, but I felt a need to find out, and I thought church attendance would help me to sort that out. My commitment to church waxed and waned over the months to come. But God is faithful, even when we are not, and His hand was on me.
We decided to get married in the Anglican church. I still took issue with the Catholic perspective on homosexuality — it seemed so intolerant, a vestige of an earlier society that had lingered past its best-before date. But my mother took such issue with the idea of an Anglican wedding that we decided to get married in the Catholic church just to keep the peace. We would deal with issues of intolerance as they came up. And my husband agreed to go to church with me. My relationship to God was still confused. I was only half-sure that He was real. But if we were going to raise a family in church, it was important to me that we do it together — perhaps because I didn’t want to repeat my parents’ pattern of church as a “women and children only” kind of activity.