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

Catholics on Tubal Pregnancies and Abortion

madonna with child statue

Image courtesy of sritangphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An old friend of mine is now working for a pro-life organization. As children, we were Catholic homeschoolers from the same hometown, attending many of the same co op classes and homeschooling events, so as a result we used to be very close. I even considered her my best friend for many years, but we’ve drifted apart as I became increasingly liberal and she attended a strict Catholic college and became increasingly conservative. We’re still Facebook friends though.

As a result, I see a lot of posts from her that I’m pretty sure are for her work, encouraging people to come to pro-life events and participate in online pro-life campaigns. Sometimes though, she posts articles that are just things she’s particularly interested in–some of them still relating to the pro-life movement. It’s these that tend to spark my attention. I’ve shared some of them on this blog to write about them in the past. This blog has been a great outlet for me to engage with the ideas she’s sharing without getting into an argument on Facebook (we all know how that usually goes). I’ve been in a few arguments with her online and I finally decided that we were both basically getting nowhere. She hasn’t grasped a lot of the concepts I find vitally important for modern sexual ethics (consent being a big one we argued about), and we were basically talking over each other rather than conducting a productive dialogue. She didn’t have any new ideas to offer me either, having been raised with the same background as I was. I knew what she was going to say, and I also knew that many of the “facts” she might spout at me would be from the pool of inaccurate information touted by pro-life activists. So when she shared this article about Catholic teaching concerning tubal pregnancies, I decided to write about it here instead of getting into a heated argument.

First of all, the fact that she had shared that article at all piqued my interest. We had been part of a pro-life organization for teens in high school. (I was briefly president of this organization, I’m sorry to admit), and during that time, various pro-life activists would come in to teach us different “facts” about the issue. We would watch “documentaries” about abortion. We would join prayer groups that protested outside abortion clinics. We held our pro-life stance in much the same way that we held our religious faith. We knew we were right, and that others were wrong. We were only interested in the information that confirmed our bias.

One visitor in particular comes to mind. This guest speaker spoke about the various arguments people make in support of abortion, and how to refute them. There, for the first time, we were introduced to the argument that abortion sometimes needs to be performed “for the health and safety of the mother.” I don’t recall this speaker having any real credentials–no medical background what-so-ever–but she told us forcefully that there simply were no situations in which abortions were medically necessary. Furthermore, she claimed that carrying to term is always safer for the mother than aborting. I now know that neither of those things is true.

Ectopic (often called tubal) pregnancies are perhaps the strongest example of a situation in which ending the pregnancy is literally the only way for the woman to survive. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the pregnancy happens somewhere other than the uterus, usually in one of the fallopian tubes while traveling the path it is supposed to take to get to the uterus. This is a life threatening medical condition. Furthermore,  the treatment is removal of the pregnancy.  That’s it. These pregnancies can end in miscarriage, but if that does not happen quickly enough, allowing a pregnancy to continue inside the fallopian tube leads to the tube rupturing fairly early in the pregnancy. Even the Catholics in the first article admit to that. I believe they said the fetus is at most 10 weeks old at the point of the anticipated rupture. That’s a little more than two months into the pregnancy. We do have a lot of ways of keeping premature infants alive, but at that point, the fetus is not viable. There’s no getting around that. A quick google search revealed that the record for shortest gestation for a surviving premature baby is 21 weeks and 5 days–more than twice the gestation time that is possible in these pregnancies.

So what do they suggest as a way to treat ectopic pregnancies? Keep in mind, this is an article in which a Catholic theologian is attempting to discern the church’s stance on something the church has never directly addressed. Here’s what they say on the matter:

A mother facing a tubal pregnancy risks imminent rupture of the fallopian tube. While the doctor would opt for the least risk and expense to the mother, all the options presented to her involve terminating the pregnancy. The mother, however, must respect both her life and that of her child. [emphasis mine]

There is no treatment available that can guarantee the life of both. [emphasis mine] The Church has moral principles that can be applied in ruling out some options, but she has not officially instructed the faithful as to which treatments are morally licit and which are illicit. Most reputable moral theologians, as discussed below, accept full or partial salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tube), as a morally acceptable medical intervention in the case of a tubal pregnancy. [emphasis mine]

The author of this article goes on to admit that salpingectomy during a tubal pregnancy will terminate the fetus. In what is perhaps the most hilariously brilliant piece of mental gymnastics I’ve ever seen performed by a conservative activist, the author writes:

On one hand, there can be no direct attack on the child (direct abortion) to save the life of the mother. On the other hand, the life of the mother is equally valuable and she must receive appropriate treatment.[emphasis mine] It might be that the only available remedy saves the life of the mother but, while not a direct abortion, brings about the unintended effect of the death of the child. Morally speaking, in saving the life of the mother, the Church accepts that the child might be lost.

I literally laughed out loud when I read that. My friend has read this, and shared it. She knows just as well as I do that this goes against so many of the pro-life narratives we believed in with every fiber of our beings. Firstly, there’s the obvious fact that the author is admitting that sometimes ending a pregnancy is necessary to save the mother, which we were told was never true. Second, we often read narratives about women who chose to do things like forego cancer treatment in order to carry a pregnancy to term, knowing very well that this could lead to their own deaths. These women were celebrated for giving their lives for their unborn child. To the pro-life movement, that was praised as the right thing to do. This does not fit those narratives.

Third, and this is perhaps the best part, the writer is clearly trying very hard to find a surgery that can fix this problem but isn’t designed as an abortion procedure. To admit that a literal abortion using one of the processes currently used by abortion providers can be a necessary way to save someone’s life would be to admit that the church and the pro-life movement is wrong. So it’s not really an abortion, you see, because there is “no direct attack on the child.” Ha! That’s a bit like saying that if in your religion removing a finger is immoral, removing the whole arm isn’t because that’s not a direct attack on the finger. Of course removing an arm involves removing a finger. Why are we doing the more invasive thing when most of these pregnancies are so early that a pill could literally solve this problem? SURGERY IS ALWAYS RISKY. If you can solve a problem by taking a pill that we know works consistently, just take the goddamn pill.

Seeing as most of this information is contained in the original article itself, I was particularly curious to see my friend’s thoughts. She had commented when she shared the article, basically saying, “I don’t know how I feel about this. I guess if they made every effort to save the life of the baby too it would be OK.”

I want very badly to tell her I’m sorry, but it’s not going to make it at 10 weeks. In fact, it won’t have 10 weeks if the mother is to be saved–probably more like 7 or 8 , because the doctors will probably want to do the procedure before the tube ruptures. Click the above link if you want to see what a pregnancy looks like at that point. How viable does that look to you? I know my friend means well. I know that to her, that fetus is a human being who should be given all the chances to succeed in life. But that fetus will literally kill its mother before the pregnancy can continue far enough for it to become viable. This isn’t a save one or the other situation. The choice is between saving the mother and losing the child or losing both. It’s a terrible choice, but it’s a real one that people do face.

I like to think that after reading this, my friend is beginning to reevaluate the issue of abortion. Maybe at least in the case of ectopic pregnancies, she’ll conclude that it should be permitted. I know she probably thinks that’s a slippery slope. I used to think that myself. But abortion, like many of the big issues of our time, is not as simple or clear cut an issue as many like to make it out to be.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Feel free to leave a comment below. 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

 

“Women are Special Because They Can Have Babies”: A Sexist “Pro-Women” Argument

 

madonna with child statue

Image courtesy of sritangphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are many reasons why the Catholic Church is not the best when it comes to women’s rights. I’ve definitely hit on the big ones on this blog before: banning women from the priesthood, refusing to acknowledge divorce, and of course fighting constantly against women’s reproductive rights. But there’s another way in which the Catholic Church is pretty darn sexist, and it’s less about a position on a major political issue than it is about the church’s overall view of women and the language many of its adherents use to describe us.

A point I often heard growing up in the conservative Catholic homeschooling community was that women were special. That we were a beautiful, wonderful part of God’s creation. I can get behind that sentiment minus the whole God thing–until they would give their favorite example of why women are so special: they can create life. Don’t get me wrong, the whole babies thing is cool, and it is part of what makes me female, but this is often used as the only point to support this idea that women are beloved by God, and when one combines it with the things women are forbidden from doing by the Catholic church, keeping us from holding the top leadership roles in the church and controlling us on matters of reproduction, it’s easy to see why a woman might come to the conclusion that we’re only valuable as vessels for human life, not as individual human beings ourselves.

This idea wasn’t just spoken by the homeschooling families around me. It abounded in our educational materials, especially the religious ones. In a lecture that was part of a tangential talk on a Bible Study DVD, the speaker expressed this idea in the context of the Adam and Eve story: (I’m paraphrasing from memory here.)

“The woman is God’s most complex, beautiful creation. She can create life. Think about how incredible that is. I’m a guy. I can’t do that! You know, God created women after man like she’s a second draft. Like how your new phone can do more than your old phone. She’s so much better.”

On the surface, this sounds totally benign and kind of pleasant. I loved the particular lecture this one came from at the time. But it’s doing it again–placing women’s value in their uteri, in their reproductive organs. And talking this way, describing women as the second draft after men, makes it seem like our reproductive abilities are a new feature like a front facing camera or something. They’re not. Our reproductive organs are just a fact of our existence just like men’s reproductive organs are. I don’t see Catholics praising men for their magical baby-making semen (though if you have, let me know in the comments.)

Talking about women this way does a few things

  1. It boils us down to literally a single biological fact about our bodies. That doesn’t elevate us at all. If anything, it diminishes us to a single role: that of a mother. It’s a beautiful, wonderful role, and a very difficult, extraordinary, and important job. I hope to be a mother some day. But that’s NOT my only goal or dream, and there are plenty of women for whom motherhood is not appealing at all. Which brings me to my next point.
  2. It undermines women’s reproductive choices. If the best thing about being a woman is having children, then it’s not a stretch to argue that women who don’t want children should still be having them.
  3. It’s seriously offensive to infertile women, or women with medical conditions that make pregnancy dangerous. It implies that women who can’t have children are broken, or missing something that’s supposed to come with this “new model.”

Women have fought for a long time to be able to vote, to enter the workforce, to have equal access to education, and to have control over reproduction so that we can choose the life we want to live. Perpetuating this idea marginalizes us.

Furthermore, in Catholicism, this idea is often further perpetuated by the myth of the virgin Mary, who is celebrated for her “yes” to God, agreeing to be a mother to Jesus. She is held up as the ideal woman: the perfect example of how Christian woman should live, because she agreed to carry a baby to term. She is the Catholic mascot for “siding with God” on matters of reproductive rights. If it’s good enough for Mary, it should be good enough for the rest of us, right? But Mary is just the teacher’s pet. She’s the student whose A+ ruined the curve for everyone else. She’s a fictional character. She doesn’t represent all women. Even if we knew her to have definitely existed, she’d only be one person in one time period with one set of experiences.

I realize that the example of the talk that brought up this idea came completely from my own memory. To supplement that, here’s a Catholic Answers page straight from the horse’s mouth in which a Catholic describes Catholic teaching on men and women. Notice how the primary difference they list is that women “give physical life” and men “give spiritual life” (the priesthood. An arbitrary rule they impose.) Furthermore, as I mentioned was their tendency earlier, they also bring up Mary who, let’s face it, is revered more for her ovaries than anything else.

Have any of you encountered this idea that women are special because of their reproductive abilities in your own church communities, former or current, (regardless of denomination)? What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful to others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Why Catholic Hospitals are Messed Up

In the above video, Hemant Mehta discusses several procedures that Catholic hospitals refuse to perform under the excuse of religious objection. We’re not talking about an individual objecting. We’re literally talking about entire hospitals refusing to provide procedures relating to reproductive health. This is a major problem because Catholic hospitals are EVERYWHERE. There are even places in the US where you’re hard pressed to find a hospital that isn’t Catholic.

Hemant brings up the fact that many of these hospitals are opposed to tubal ligations (tying women’s tubes). This is news to me, and it’s disturbing to learn. I was part of the Catholic pro-life movement for years, and at least in my area, the only arguments I’d ever heard against tubal ligations were against them being forced on people, which is something I think most people can agree is not a good thing.

I do remember my parents saying that they didn’t approve of that surgery, or of vasectomies, but their hatred of contraception focused primarily on things that they believed could lead to abortion like hormonal birth control and IUDs, and things they believed might encourage premarital sex like condoms. Something like this is usually done by older couples, often people who have already had children and don’t want anymore. As a result, this procedure doesn’t usually generate as much outrage among devout Catholics as the pill and sex ed. As Hemant explains, it’s often done after a C section at the request of the mother.

Yet these hospitals are refusing to perform the procedure, arguing, if I understand correctly, that it gets in the way of letting God have control over whether or not you have a baby. If you know about Catholic teachings on how to avoid pregnancy during sex, you may see how this begs a question: why even preach natural family planning (as the church does)? If the Catholic church is that opposed to couples doing anything that would prevent pregnancy, regardless of whether or not it can cause an abortion, then why even encourage women to track their cycle when trying not to conceive? Isn’t that, as they argue it, getting in the way of God?

Hemant also brings up cases of pregnancies that implant in the wrong place, in which abortion is the best and safest option, but of course Catholic hospitals want nothing to do with that.

In the midst of arguments about individual people being allowed to say no to a task that runs contrary to his or her conscience while on the job, is it too much to ask that we stop treating organizations like people? If the nearest hospital to you is Catholic, and you want one of these procedures they object to, it’s going to take you some time to get transferred somewhere that will do what you need.

As elections come around, I encourage everyone to look locally. Vote for people who care about access to all healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, and vote out politicians who think it’s OK to treat the Catholic Church like a person with an objection. We’re just lucky our hospitals aren’t being run by Jehovah’s Witnesses, or we’d be dealing with a preventable death toll from blood loss.

Any thoughts on this? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Missionaries of Charity Stop Adoptions in India Over Inclusive Legislation

The religious order founded by Mother Theresa, the Missionaries of Charity, has decided they will no longer attempt to find homes for the children in their 13 orphanages in India. Their reason for this? Apparently India has made new legislation that allows single people to adopt, and the Sisters of Charity think it’s better for children to remain parentless than to be raised in single-parent homes. You can read more about this here.

The article explains that the sisters have two primary concerns:

“First, [Missionaries of Charity] will not allow adoption by single parents; second, they also have issues with couples, one or both of whom has had a divorce earlier.”

While Catholicism does not technically have a teaching forbidding single parents from raising children, it does prohibit divorce, and many Catholics are also against adoption by LGBT people. Catholic teaching on divorce is very harsh. It literally preaches that once a marriage exists, it cannot be undone. The only situation in which a married couple can separate in Catholicism is through something called “annulment,” which is a process by which the marriage is reviewed by a variety of church leaders and declared to have never happened in the first place. In other words, if a marriage doesn’t work out, the only situation in which that can be admitted is to claim that the marriage never took place, or was not valid in some way. The idea that someone could make a mistake, marry the wrong person, divorce, remarry, then want to have children, is clearly too much for some Catholics, and in this instance we see this attitude affecting orphans in India. Orphans who, as the article explains, are very unlikely to be adopted in the first place because of red tape and stigma. If that’s the case, why make the process any harder? The silver lining in this story is that this is happening because India passed legislation that allows more people to adopt. That, at least, is something to be happy about.

How does Catholic teaching on homosexuality come into play here? Well, you can take it straight from the sister’s mouth:

Speaking about the decision not to offer adoptions, Sister Amala told local media: “The new guidelines hurt our conscience. They are certainly not for religious people like us. … What if the single parent who we give our baby [to] turns out to be gay or lesbian? What security or moral upbringing will these children get? Our rules only allow married couples to adopt.”

I’ve heard my own parents argue that being raised by two dads or two mothers will “confuse” children. Despite the fact that homosexuality is not a choice, they seem to fear that children raised in a situation that does not prohibit other sexualities will lead to more gay children.

There is also a common argument that there are things only a father can do for a child, and things that only a mother can do, with the idea being that children need not only two parents, but that those parents need to be opposite genders in order to properly raise children. This idea is detrimental because it may be keeping some children with ZERO parents from having ANY. Furthermore, it’s based in gender norms. I can’t think of a single thing that a man can do that a woman cannot, and vice versa, when it comes to parenting. A good parent is a good parent. Any argument I can think of for something one gender can do that the other can’t has more to do with the typical roles assigned to each gender by society, and to stereotypes of the genders, not to anything that can be stated definitively that applies to all men or all women.

Ultimately, I’m frustrated to see a Catholic charity organization stop participating in a charitable action over the thought of someone they disagree with doing a good deed like adopting a child, especially in a country that has trouble adopting out its 20 million orphans (according to the NPR article).

If you have any thoughts pertaining to this, especially with regards to gender and parenting, feel free to leave a comment. I’d be happy to hear other opinions. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Surprise Surprise! Most Women Don’t Want to Be Nuns

I stumbled upon the video above while reading the news a few weeks ago, and I love the topic. I’ve always wondered why women would choose to make religious vows in the first place. Since I don’t fully understand it, I can’t really speak to it. As for the question of why many women are choosing not to, however, I definitely have personal experience with that side of the decision, and I have to go with the sociologist’s answer in the video more so than the sisters’.

I was raised during a growing shortage of Catholic devotees to priesthood and religious life. As a result, I was encouraged to consider whether or not I had a “calling” to be a nun or sister. (In case you’re wondering, the difference between the two is that nuns are cloistered, living completely isolated from the world, and sisters are not. If you’ve seen a “nun” in public in real life, she’s technically a sister.)

I remember taking baths when I was four or five years old. When I got out, my dad would dry my hair with a towel. He would drape it over my head and put “sister” in front of my first and middle names playfully. “Sister Nancy Therese!” I suppose to him it was a bit like when I got a bit older, and would test out my first name in my diaries with the last name of my crush. (Nancy Bier. Nancy Smith. Nancy…well, I won’t tell you my fiance’s last name.) It was cute at first, but after a year or so of my dad’s teasing, I started to resent it.

At that young age, I was absolutely positive that I wanted to meet someone nice and get married. I never questioned it, even as I grew to understand that for some people, marriage just isn’t appealing. It always was to me. In middle school, I drew my dream wedding dress and “designed” bridesmaid’s dresses to go with it. I had a running list of people I would invite. A lot has changed for me since then. I’ve lost my religion, met new friends, and lost touch with many of the people on that list. Yet I never lost the wedding part of my dream for the future. I just stopped picturing it happening at my family’s church.

I don’t know for sure whether or not there have been girls in my generation who grew up that sure of a dream to take religious vows. Maybe some did, but I have little doubt that even for children of devout families like mine, girls have a wide variety of aspirations, many of them involving marriage and a career.

It’s often difficult for someone who made one choice to understand why someone would choose the opposite, and I think that’s partly what’s going on with the sisters in the video. They’re right that technology has changed the world. But I think that technology has more to do with whether people are religious in the first place, not why the more religious people who are still out there choose not to take vows and don habits. The internet, with its vast array of information available at people’s fingertips, has led to people leaving the Catholic church in droves. But that doesn’t explain why the people who stay with the church aren’t choosing to take vows.

My experience choosing marriage and a career definitely fits the sociologist’s answer: “It’s not like ‘Will I get married or will I go into religious life?’ It’s more like, ‘Will I get married, or will I do these 16 other things?'”

Being a nun or sister isn’t a super attractive lifestyle in the first place because it restricts freedom in many ways. The biggest drawback for me was always the vow of chastity, or as I saw it, losing the freedom to date. Even before I knew what it was, I had a pretty high sex drive, and there was no way in hell I was going to give up the opportunity to be with a guy someday. But sisters–that’s right, even the ones who aren’t cloistered–give up a lot of other freedoms too.

For instance, the sisters who teach at my family’s church have taken a vow of poverty. They literally earn less than minimum wage. They’re given a tiny allowance that lets them buy groceries. There are several of them, and they share one car. As someone who is currently in a family with 3 cars and 4 drivers, in which I am the extra driver without a car, I can’t imagine sharing one car among four or five adult women. Plus, the fact that religious women aren’t really paid for their work, when they often do difficult jobs like teaching high school, is pretty disgusting to me. I realize their vows forbid them from taking the money, but to me work is work regardless of who’s doing it and I don’t like to see anyone not get paid for their labor. It’s the principle of the thing.

Because it’s such an unappealing lifestyle to me, I would need pretty extreme circumstances to even consider becoming a religious sister or nun–and that was the case even when I was Catholic. If I had to choose between two not-so-awesome choices like arranged marriage and sisterhood, I’d probably choose sisterhood. (That way, at least I’d maintain full control over my own vagina.) But that’s really the only circumstance I can think of in which I’d definitely opt for becoming a nun or a sister.

Women today have far better prospects than a choice between marriage (ownership by one’s husband) and religious life (marriage to a fictional character [Jesus]). We can do pretty much anything we set our minds to. We can be doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, scientists, athletes, writers–you name it, we can do it. Better yet, we can have a career AND raise a family at the same time. Gone are the days when marriage meant having to give up your career. You can live all aspects of the American dream!

It boggles my mind that I’ve actually met two different women near my age (fellow millennials) who eventually chose to be religious. I wish I were closer to at least one of them so that I could ask her why. The fact that I knew two such women at all is pretty crazy considering the demographics of religious women in my country. According to this article by The Huffington Post, as of 2009 only 1% of religious sisters in the US were under the age of 40. Think that’s bad? Only 2% were 40-49 years old. Just 6% were aged 50-59. This means that as of 2009, 91% of sisters in the US were 60 years old or older. I doubt that they’ve gotten much younger since then.

This decline in new members of religious congregations in the US, if current trends continue, means that in another decade or two, spotting a nun will be a bit like spotting a payphone today. People will think, “Wow, I didn’t know they still existed!”

As a woman who appreciates how much better I have it today than I would in the time periods when sisterhood was more popular, I can definitely live with that future. It feels good to know that sisterhood, instead of being one of the two available options to women, as it was for a very long time, is just one small unappealing option today among the myriad of futures women like me can choose for themselves.

What are your thoughts on religious life? Are you surprised to see the number of religious sisters in the US drop so low? Were you ever encouraged to consider religious life? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Papal Enthusiasm

popefrancis

This week is absolutely rife with enthusiasm for the visit of Pope Francis, and since I’m a blogging ex-Catholic, here’s my two cents.

I live in the northern east coast, and life here has been altered somewhat as a result of the Pope’s visit. Roads have been closed, bridges blocked, and buses have been hired to take visitors to Philadelphia. This is not a terrible thing. A famous public figure’s visit is definitely a big deal, and Pope Francis has a lot of power as the head of the Catholic Church. I respect him for who and what he is, and I’m really happy to hear that he’s been primarily talking about climate change and poverty rather than abortion and gay marriage. I’m liberal. I can get behind Catholic teaching on climate change and poverty.

With that being said, his visit has brought a new wave of articles like this one on how the pope is changing the church and making it more liberal. While there’s no denying that compared to his predecessors he’s significantly less conservative, Pope Francis is not liberal, and has never been liberal by any stretch of the imagination. This is partially because one of the selling points of Catholicism is that it’s resistant to change.

I can’t tell you how many times during my upbringing I was told that Catholicism was the right faith because it’s the version of Christianity that was supposedly founded by Jesus. The speech went, “It’s correct because it came first.” Never mind the fact that the church hierarchy and a lot of its traditions that are now rules developed later, Catholics see the lack of change in their faith as a sign of how right they are. Catholicism is known for its traditions, right down to details that the younger generations realize don’t matter, like what gender the person you marry is, or whether or not someone has been divorced. Even if Pope Francis does want to change some of those traditions, he’s going to have to do more than call for a synod to discuss them. He’s going to have to make decisions that could put his leadership at risk, because it threatens the “we never change” culture of the religion.

You know those big “changes” where a pope said the church was OK with belief in evolution (though it isn’t a mandatory part of the faith, just an option) and now Pope Francis says climate change is real and a problem? Both of those are issues in which the church could essentially claim that it wasn’t changing its opinion. Belief in evolution doesn’t change the belief that God created the world; many Catholics simply see it as an explanation of how God supposedly did it. Unlike many other forms of Christianity, they don’t take the entire Old Testament literally. As for climate change, belief in that is simply seen as an extension of the church’s teachings on “stewardship,” or care of the Earth.

Those changes both worked out fine when it comes to the religion, but changing the church’s teaching on much-discussed social issues such as abortion, contraception, divorce, female priests, and gay marriage would involve the church issuing some sort of mea culpa akin to the Mormon religion’s announcement in 1978 that black people could now become priests and would no longer be excluded from many temple activities. See how the Mormons had to make it seem like a revelation from God? I have trouble imagining anything short of such a claim would change Catholicism on these issues, though I hope to be proven wrong. It would be an obvious example of the religion changing with the culture of the world, and that would mean breaking the idea of “in the world, not of it,” which is of course a big no-no.

The way I see him, Pope Francis is a well-meaning person with a kind heart. Unlike previous popes, his priorities are in a slightly better place. I think if I met him on the street, I would like him, but that doesn’t change how I feel about Catholicism. He’s still the head of an organization that oppresses women–like me–by fighting against reproductive rights, an organization that can’t handle the idea of gay marriage even if it occurs in a secular setting, and an organization whose main purpose is to convince everyone that a myth is true and that the key to immortality is to get really involved in the organization. The Catholic Church, like the Church of Scientology, is still a scam, no matter how much charity they do.