Wedding Officiants and a Life Update

Macro Photo of Flowers in Wedding VenueMy fiance and I just selected a venue for our wedding. (One of the big reasons why I’ve been posting less frequently has been just wedding stuff.) After that, the next big order of business will be something I’m pretty nervous about: finding an officiant. My fiance and I have decided that we want a secular wedding ceremony, which means we’ll need to find an officiant in our area who can do that, and figure out whether or not using a secular officiant affects the legal side of things. Does our state care who the officiant is?

That’s not even my biggest concern.

Having a secular wedding means a lot to us as secular people. For me personally, it means saying my vows in a setting that reflects my personal beliefs and worldview rather than just those of my family. It’s the couple making the promise after all. I think it’s important for the promise to be in a format that we personally find meaningful, but for our families, it may be a source of confusion or even conflict.

For many people, a wedding is simply always a religious ceremony. In Catholicism, it’s  a sacrament, so it may be difficult to explain to our religious relatives that we’re not having a priest or minister perform the ceremony.

We might even have a female officiant. (Not that we have to. I’m just very open to the idea.) But in Catholicism, since women can’t be priests, women just don’t marry people. That means something as unimportant as the gender of our officiant could really weird out some members of my family. It would be absurd to them. What if that makes my parents think my marriage isn’t valid?

Maybe these fears are unfounded though. Secular weddings are increasingly common now. How many popular TV shows have had a friend of a couple marry them? Like Barney performing the ceremony for Lily and Marshall in How I Met Your Mother or several friends officiating at Howard and Bernadette’s wedding in The Big Bang Theory–it’s kind of a cool thing to do. My parents have seen some TV weddings like this. Maybe the idea of a nonreligious officiant isn’t as foreign to them now as it would have been a few years ago.

Only time will tell with this one. I’ll probably end up sharing more about our secular wedding experiences, so if you’re interested in any specific details be sure to let me know and I’ll try to reply or maybe even bring them up in a future post (once we’ve made those decisions. We’re still not that far in the wedding planning process yet).

Have any of you been to secular wedding ceremonies in the past? Maybe even had one yourself? I’d love to hear about your experiences. How did family and friends respond to a nonreligious ceremony?

All opinions are welcome! Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Divorce and Catholicism

Printer Paper Cut With Orange ScissorI’ve been toying with drafts of a post about divorce for a while now, but I didn’t feel like I had the material to really back up the opinion I was trying to express. Then the other day I saw this video from Adam Ruins Everything about why divorce is actually not a terrible thing. I definitely recommend checking this video out. It gets to the heart of why it’s important to have legal divorce be accessible. One fact from the video that I’d never heard before is that by some estimates, the availability of divorce reduced the female suicide rate by 20%. Considering the fact that domestic violence didn’t used to be considered grounds for divorce in many places, and that marital rape wasn’t even legally considered rape until more recently than you’d think depending on the state, the availability of divorce was definitely a source of hope for many people, especially women.

In Catholicism, however, there is simply no such thing as divorce. Marriage, in Catholicism, is permanent. This means if a Catholic couple gets a legal divorce, they are still considered married in the eyes of the church. That can be OK at first. As this Catholic website explains, legally divorced Catholics are still considered full members of the church as long as they’re in good standing (basically if they go to mass and participate in the sacraments, especially communion and confession, and generally follow church rules). They don’t begin to run into trouble until they meet someone else, and decide they’d like to get married again.

Keep in mind that to the Catholic church, a divorced person is still in their first marriage. So to the church, this is a married person asking to also marry someone else. That’s definitely not allowed! The horror! But there is an option to proceed, and it’s called annulment.

Annulment is a process by which Catholics who are legally divorced (or who would like to be) can appeal to a church tribunal (basically a church court) to get a declaration of nullity, stating that one of the major requirements for  valid marriage wasn’t present on the day of the ceremony. These are the requirements for a valid Catholic marriage that would be examined for an annulment:

For a Catholic marriage to be valid, it is required that: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they are capable of giving their consent to marry; (3) they freely exchange their consent; (4) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; (5) they intend the good of each other; and (6) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister. Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by Church authority.

This list comes from an FAQ page on this website about annulments. Feel free to check it out for more information.

The thing that strikes me the most about this list is that if these are the criteria that the tribunal looks at to determine if the marriage can be annulled, why don’t they include any details from the actual marriage itself? The relationship after the wedding. A wedding is just a big party with some vows and a contract. That’s not the meat of the relationship. What if it’s an abusive marriage? What if even though both partners genuinely mean to be faithful when they say their vows, there is cheating down the road? What if they just grow apart? Find themselves coming to incompatible conclusions about life and the world around them that put a painful strain on their relationship? It can and does happen. I think those are all valid reasons for couple to consider divorce. But according to the church, only the events of the wedding itself and the intentions of the couple on that date are supposed to be examined.

I have been assured by my Catholic parents that of course the church would never force a couple to stay in an abusive marriage, and would gladly grant an annulment. I would like to believe them, and I imagine that in most cases the tribunal would take that into account. But if that is the case, why doesn’t this site say the tribunal will look into anything about the relationship after the wedding day? In that vein, one particular frequently asked question on the same web page about annulment makes me uneasy:

How can a couple married for many years present a case?

The tribunal process examines the events leading up to, and at the time of, the wedding ceremony, in an effort to determine whether what was required for a valid marriage was ever brought about. The length of common life is not proof of validity but a long marriage does provide evidence that a couple had some capacity for a life-long commitment. It does not prove or disprove the existence of a valid marriage bond. [Italics mine]

I’m concerned about how they will define a long marriage. Is two years long? Twenty?  Long isn’t a very specific word. Also, it’s not uncommon for people to stay in abusive relationships for a pretty long time, even though they know it’s dangerous. The psychology of abuse is complicated, and abusers are often very sweet and loving in between spurts of hurtful language or violence, making victims question whether their abusers are really that bad, only for the cycle to occur again.

I’d like to see the church change its position on divorce. I’d like to see the long annulment process completely eliminated. If the church wants to do a divorce ceremony that’s up to them, but the current legality of divorce is an important right that may be saving the lives of some women. The antiquated view the church has on divorce only creates social stigma, which can erode the support system a struggling person might need to get back on their feet after such  split. The Catholic church is very good at creating stigma, at making certain things taboo. I’d like to see that change.

What are your thoughts on divorce, annulment, and Catholicism? Do you have any experience with the Catholic annulment process? I’d love to hear your story. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Times When It’s Not Appropriate to say “Praise God”

man, hands, church

For some reason, there are some people for whom “praise God” and “congratulations” are synonyms. For whom words like “Thank you so much,” or “Good job,” get replaced with a hearty “Thank you Jesus!”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people shouldn’t practice their religions (regardless of what I think about those belief systems). If you want to praise God, go right ahead. But think about the context of the situation and who you’re saying it to. When you say things like this to a nonreligious person in these types of situations, it can be very irritating at best and even downright offensive, because it feels like you’re refusing to acknowledge their own contributions to these positive outcomes–their own hard work and achievement.

So without further ado, here are some times when it’s not appropriate to say “Praise God.”

  • When your writer child says, “I finished writing my novel!”
  • When your toddler says, “Daddy, I went potty all by myself!”
  • When your friend tells you they got that doctorate they’ve been working towards for so many years.
  • When your other friend tells you how proud they are of the machine they built.
  • When your shy child says, “I met someone and we’re engaged.”
  • When your uncle says he worked his butt off and convinced his boss to give him that raise he needs so that he and his wife can finally start their family in a good home.
  • When your doctor uses their medical training to heal you successfully.
  • When a fireman does his job and puts out your kitchen fire.
  • And last but not freaking least, when your wife says “Dinner’s ready!” (Seriously, my dad does that last one every. Fucking. Night. I have a very hard time keeping to myself how badly I want to tell him to just thank Mom.)

The appropriate response to most of these is “congratulations,” or “thank you.” Things like “Great job!” “You deserve this” or “All that hard work paid off,” are pretty good too.

But “praise God?”

How about recognizing when people have success? How about praising them first? If you’re religious, you can praise God in your own time, but this? This is a time to be with your family. Your close friends. To support and praise the person who loves you enough to choose to tell you about their success. To thank the person who did something for you, whether it was performing a service or doing you a favor. Don’t deflect that moment of human interaction by making it about your religion. Actually love your loved ones. Thank the people who help you. Give credit where it’s due.

What do you think about this list? Agree? disagree? Maybe there’s something you would add to it? Feel free to share your thoughts. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

A Personal Update

I’ve been having trouble motivating myself to post regularly lately, but I definitely need to get back into it. Living with my family is very emotionally draining, and having the chance to just rant about the endless Catholicism I’m surrounded with is cathartic at the very least.

My family lives their lives by the church calendar, which is fine for them, but it’s not for me. I work around it when I can, and if I have to skip meat except for fish on Fridays I’ll do it. That’s not a huge deal.

What is though, is just knowing that I’m not in a home environment that respects my beliefs or political opinions. I still get passive aggressive comments from my dad basically calling me stupid for not believing. My brother likes to pick arguments with me about politics in which he shouts at me. I try not to shout back, but after living in this environment for so long I feel ganged up on and tend to end up being more emotional than I should. It’s very easy to say “I want to be the mature person, to keep my cool,” which I do want very much, but that’s easier said than done.

I also don’t have much of a community to fall back on now that I’ve left the church completely. I have way fewer friends than I once had, and a lot of them are moving to various other states as their careers take them elsewhere. This is a normal part of life at my age, and I’m very happy that my friends are finding careers and starting their adult lives in exciting new places, but realizing that is very difficult because it means that without my family’s support, I’d be basically on my own except for my fiance. I need to make some new friends, and get better at staying in touch with the people I can still get along with: the people whose friendships with me weren’t influenced by religion.

I need to pay off over $60,000 in student loan debt, but I know at my current rate it’ll be many years before I even come close to paying it off.

I want to move out of my parents’ house, but the longer I live here, the faster I can pay off my debt.

I want to get married, but weddings are expensive and at the moment my practical side says DEAL WITH THIS HUGE DEBT FIRST. So I’m kind of in a weird place right now.

It’s hard to feel like I’m going anywhere. I know my current situation is only temporary, but until I have a wedding date, or a new place to live that I’m moving to on a specific day, it just feels endless. I’ve been living here like this since May of last year. I’ve been living here for more than a year. After college.

I don’t really want sympathy, I just want to express where I am right now and get it off my chest. If any of you have advice or experiences to share, I’m more than happy to read about it in the comments. I hope you have a sense of progress in your life. I hope you feel like even if you aren’t where you want to be, you’re on your way there. If you have any advice for a young adult trying to figure life out, feel free to share it.

All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

 

 

Easter Tears: Stop Crying Over Zombie Jesus

Easter season is upon us, and I am up to my ears once again in stories about people being moved by various prayers and songs and readings of the Passion last weekend. While I respect that it’s the central story to Christianity, the way in which people react to it tends to get on my nerves after a while.

Yes, it’s part of their canonical story that Jesus kicked the bucket to save people from their sins. I know. And I know the story of the crucifixion. It is indeed gruesome. But for those of you who have been practicing Christians for all or most of your lives, why are you crying over this and obsessing over the details of how this character was tortured again, for what may be the twentieth, thirtieth, or fiftieth time? Aren’t you sick and tired of this story by now?

From my time as a Catholic, I’ve learned there are several reasons people typically give for this emotional experience in the days leading up to Easter Sunday. Some people say that the reason they’re still moved is that it’s the power of the Holy Spirit moving through them, and that they’re having a spiritual experience. Or, they’ll say they’re just feeling deeply for Jesus, who suffered all those horrible injuries. The latter group sometimes even has a bit of a guilt complex, feeling that every sin they’ve committed contributed somehow to Jesus’ suffering.

The thing that bothers me about all of these explanations though, is that while I’d accept the “feeling bad for Jesus” one once or twice, there are people who experience these emotions every Easter. I know this because I saw my parents go through it every year, and because once I hit a certain age during my years as a Catholic, it started happening to me too. Catholics will talk about these experiences in a very convincing way because they truly believe they’re having a spiritual moment, but don’t be fooled by this. In my experience, practicing Catholics aren’t surprised by this experience; they know it’s likely to happen. They don’t go to mass on Holy Thursday and Good Friday thinking, “gee, this is just like every other mass.” They come to church craving a religious experience.

These pre-Easter tears are almost an addiction to them. I’d compare it to the strange addiction Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club develops. For those of you who don’t know, he becomes addicted to attending support groups for various ailments he doesn’t have, where he always winds up hugging strangers and crying. That character comes back to these support groups again and again despite not truly having a reason to be there. Many Christians do something very similar. They come back every year subconsciously craving that nice feeling they get when they cry their tears for Jesus: that surge of dopamine rewarding them for participating in a community ritual, for joining others as they do something they’ve been conditioned to believe is good, something that will bring them closer to their supposedly loving, tortured savior figure.

The religious experience in this situation is comparable to the crowd-inspired emotions that I experienced during the Steubenville retreat. You’re experiencing the emotions of the people around you to an extent. As social animals, humans tend to mirror each other’s emotions as a way to relate better and bond. But it goes deeper than that. At these events, you are also acting out the emotions you want to feel. In your mind, these people around you are very religious, and you will fit in better if you act like them. They’re all thinking the same thing too, because of the grandiose expectations religious people have for this time of year, so what you get is this collective hive mind of crazy Jesus love. Better yet, it’s rewarding for everyone present, because you can feel good about yourself for being spiritual like everybody else. If you cried during the reading of the Passion, you were one of the cool kids.

Sometimes it’s subconscious, but sometimes it isn’t. I used to sit in church for hours on end praying and contemplating during Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and finally Easter Sunday masses. I used to go to stations of the cross and TRY to feel sorry for Jesus. It really seemed like the right thing to do was to feel something while reflecting on his injuries. As an atheist though, I know I was just playing into the group think that comes with organized religion. It’s all designed to play with our natural yearning to belong, to fit in, to be special. In a religious community, you’re special when your savior is connecting with you on an individual level. It’s literally a “fake it till you make it” situation.

 

Thoughts on this? Ever cry at Holy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Vigil masses or services? What’s your personal explanation for why that experience happened the way that it did? All opinions are welcome (religious people too!) Just be respectful to others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Oklahoma Pro-Life Propaganda Legislation

Check out this video on YouTube in which TYT reports on legislation that just passed in Oklahoma. This legislation requires the state to spend money they don’t have to teach kids in public schools that life begins at conception. It would require public schools to have advertisements for pro-life so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” and also use taxpayer money for pro-life “celebrity” visits.

Great use of taxpayer money, guys.

This comes at a time when Oklahoma schools are among the lowest ranking schools in the nation. It’s little wonder when they’re wasting their time and funding on propaganda. This is why we need to get religion out of politics. People should not be allowed to legislate based on their religious beliefs. If you don’t have a good secular argument for a legislation, it shouldn’t even be considered.

Any thoughts about this? Have you seen similar frustrating legislation in your state when it comes to this issue? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Catholic Church Says Bishops Don’t Have to Report Abuse to Authorities

It has come to my attention that officials of the Catholic Church have decided that Bishops have no obligation to report allegations of abuse to the police. They merely have to investigate them internally. For more information, check out the link below:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/02/15/new-vatican-document-says-bishops-are-not-obligated-to-report-allegations-of-abuse-to-authorities/ 

In a church that is struggling to hold on to its youth and having a hard time convincing  young men to become priests, they have a great deal of incentive to hide these allegations to avoid both the bad publicity that comes with them, and the possible loss of members of their clergy. This must not be permitted to continue. The police MUST be notified if a priest is accused of molesting a child, or abusing anyone in any way. We’ve seen time and time again that the church can’t be trusted to investigate these people and remove them from positions of authority. They tend to simply move them to a different diocese where these people fall into the same patterns of abuse, and more children are hurt. If you’re Catholic, it’s high time you questioned your church’s hierarchy. Are they interested in your well being, or merely in maintaining their positions of power? Based on this decision, which one makes sense?

The Convenience of Mysteries of Faith

questionmarks

Image courtesy of Chaiwat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Growing up Catholic, every so often a question or even a doctrine would be explained away with the sentence, “It’s a mystery of our faith.”

What falls into this category?

Lots of things.

The trinity, for instance, was explained to me this way. That’s the doctrine insisting that the Christian God is 1 God in 3 persons: the father, son, and holy spirit. Are they completely separate minds, or the same person in the mental sense? Neither? Who knows! “It’s a mystery.”

The supposed miracle of transubstantiation, when the communion wafer is believed to literally become Jesus’ body and the wine his blood, is a mystery. Calling it a mystery is also supposed to explain why that’s a miracle–even though the wine still looks and tastes like whatever Fr. Peter always buys, and the wafer still looks and tastes like cardboard.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church claims that Jesus’ whole life is a mystery!

To be fair to Catholics, here’s a website where they’re the ones giving a definition of “mystery” and explaining the doctrine. They say, among other things:

“…a mystery is a supernatural truth, one that of its very nature lies above the finite intelligence.”

 

In other words, not only are humans currently incapable of understanding mysteries of the Catholic faith–they can never understand them. A mystery “lies above the finite intelligence,” [of humans]. Over time, I came to understand that a mystery in the religious sense was something I would never learn no matter how hard I tried. So when someone–a parent, a religious education teacher, a friend’s parent–told me something was a mystery, I  naively accepted that explanation.

As an adult atheist, those explanations of “It’s a mystery of our faith,” seem so convenient. Of course the complicated or particularly crazy doctrines are “mysteries!” That way, no one has to explain them. Except of course to just say that those are the Catholic beliefs. One must be able to picture Saint Patrick using a shamrock to explain the trinity, understanding the concept of the ridiculous belief itself, all the while simultaneously accepting that HOW there can be one god in three persons is a mystery.

The fact that mysteries are defined as something no one can possibly understand makes them perfectly crafted to evade human questioning. Why try to discover what you can never comprehend? With doctrines like this, is it any wonder that religion has persisted so long? It has built-in teachings to discourage people from doing the natural thing when they are given a ridiculous claim. Instead of being encouraged to ask, “Why is there a talking donkey in the Bible,” they’re instead told “It’s a mystery. Some things can’t be explained. But God has a plan!”

The convenient doctrine of the mystery leaves me all the more convinced that more likely than not, some human beings many many years ago wrote a story. And a religion began out of that story, and people who loved power emerged as that religion’s leaders, building rules like this into the faith to keep people from questioning their authority. It makes a lot of sense. Way more sense than talking animals, Noah’s ark, and a virgin birth.

Do any of you have experiences relating to the doctrine of mysteries? Do other denominations emphasize them as much as Catholics do? I’m curious. Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Sense of Purpose and Longevity

I’m a big fan of informational videos on YouTube, and this is one that I found particularly interesting because I see a connection in it to religion and atheism. Check it out at the link here:

The video discusses an analysis of multiple studies that found that a sense of purpose “reduces the risk of death from all causes by 23%” and additionally, “reduces the risk of heart attack by 19%.”

What connects this video to religion or a lack thereof is the way in which the researchers defined the phrase sense of purpose, calling it “A self-reported sense of meaning, direction, and a feeling that life is worth living.”

It reminded me of a dinner I was at a year or so ago, when some conservative friends of my parents began discussing one of my neighbors:  a boy around my brother’s age, who does drugs, drinks heavily, and seems when one converses with him to have very little hope for his future.

As the video points out, for some, a sense of purpose is derived from religion. Thinking along those lines, one of my parents’ friends immediately said of my neighbor, “That boy needs God in his life, and it’s a lack of God that’s causing him to be so troubled.” Nearly everyone at the table agreed, but I, who was already considering atheism, said “Not necessarily. Maybe God will be what works for him, but he just needs some sense of purpose. That can come from a lot of things.” If he could find something he was passionate about–a goal worth pursuing, for example–that might be enough for him. Just because religion is all the purpose some people need, doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone.

That’s why I appreciate this video so much. They talk about other things that can lead to a sense of purpose, three of which apply to me:  wanting a successful career, a family of your own, and to do something creative. Those are all valid reasons for living. Wanting to worship a God is not the only valid one. In fact, I personally see something more positive in the more personal goals because they do not come from an external source, like a religious community. Instead, they come from the individual.

The devout Catholic culture I grew up in valued a strong sense of purpose mainly when it was derived from faith and devotion to God. That’s probably why on religious retreats, I would frequently see people like The Addict (mentioned in a previous post) that claim to have found Jesus to be the solution to their addiction. They often don’t even mean what they’re saying (or think they do in the moment but aren’t willing to put in the work to actually quit,) and fall right back into using after the retreat euphoria wears off. What they’re doing in that moment, when they stand up and testify about Jesus, is using the crowd’s pro-Jesus mentality to gain acceptance from the group. It’s nice to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside because a community is welcoming and loving you, but without a sense of purpose driving you to change, it is likely not going to help you much.

It’s good to know that having a sense of purpose–including a nonreligious one–can help increase the odds of living longer. It makes me hopeful for humanity. The world is a pretty big place and there’s a lot to learn and do and see. There is a plethora of possible purposes out there.

What do you think? Do you feel like you have a sense of purpose? Is it religious or nonreligious? As usual, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

And purpose finding!

-Nancy