Weeping Mary Statue Dupes my Dad

One night a few weeks ago, my dad came home from work late, as he often does, and strode up to my mother. “Smell my forehead. Smell anything?”

My mother sniffed. “No. Should I?”

“I’ve been blessed by a special oil,” he said. Apparently a priest from the church he attends on work days found out about a statue of Mary–Jesus’ supposedly virgin mother–that supposedly is miraculously leaking oil, but sometimes also blood and tears. The oil is blessed, the priest said, and the priest acquired some from the statue, which resides at a church in a neighboring state, for the purpose of blessing people. Yes. He is claiming that a statue is literally leaking magic oil.

Curious, I did some online research. I’d heard claims of statue-related miracles before, but this was the first time I’d heard of one crying. I couldn’t find anything that was definitely the same one my dad supposedly was blessed by, but look how many people really believe this shit! This blog post, for example, is absolutely nuts. A Mary statue exuding pearls and glitter? This quote is my favorite part:

We spent a couple hours in prayer, veneration and meditation before the healing service would begin that evening. During that time, we spoke with some lovely Christian ladies who had brought scotch tape. With it, we clumsily lifted a variety of colorful escarchas (a mysterious Gift of holy glitter) off our pews. It seemed, the more we lifted it, the more escarchas appeared.

It’s as if the writer never used glitter for art projects when he or she was a kid. Glitter gets everywhere. Seriously, it’s small, good at falling into crevices, and it sticks to things. I have no doubt that these people discovered glitter on the pews, however, I also have no doubt that said glitter was just the usual craft store type. For crying out loud, it might not even have been placed by anyone on purpose, but rather come off the outfit of a fashionable 8-year-old who attended an earlier mass.

The craziest thing about this weeping Mary statue phenomenon though, by far, is that the Catholic church, which is definitely not the most skeptical organization in the world, has rejected most supposed “crying statue” cases as hoaxes–but not all.

This (fairly long) “documentary,” for lack of a better word, on weeping religious icons, contains a fairly long list of them, some of which have been approved by the Catholic Church. The disclaimer at the beginning of the video reads:

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church makes all authoritative and final decisions regarding any individual or collective claims of personal apparitions of the Blessed Mother. The apparitions and/or lachrymations associated with La Salette, France; Fatima, Portugal; Akita, Japan; Syracuse, Sicily; Cochabama, Bolivia; and Civitavecchia, Italy; have been approved by the Church. Other sites and lachrymations cited in this program have not been formally approved.

What I get out of that is, yes, the Church does do some things to try to weed out the most obvious hoaxes. But as I watched the video, I kept noticing that while they used scientists to test the claims of the faithful about the religious icons, a step I definitely support, the scientists never seemed to be asking the right questions–the ones I, a person who is genuinely skeptical of these claims, would like to have answered. I almost wished they’d consulted Penn and Teller, or some other magician, because my main concern is not even so much that there needs to be a scientific answer to the situation. It’s such a bizarre one that I’m not even sure science is always useful except to maybe test the substance and see if it’s real. Really, my main question is, has a human being tampered with these statues and other icons to make them cry?

It wouldn’t be that difficult to take an icon, put it into a thick frame, and insert some sort of tube with olive oil in it right before the producers of the “documentary” came to view it. And I kept thinking, why blood and oil? Why are so many of these not actual tears? The first answer that comes to mind is that maybe those other substances are more dramatic (in the case of blood) or easier to come by (in the case of oil). It all seems so suspicious to me that I’m a bit disappointed in the people the documentary keeps bringing on to talk about it. Many of them go further than verifying that they believe the icons’ tears are real. They add interpretation to it, claiming that the tears are a sign that the religious figures depicted in the icons are sad, and concerned about some sort of horrible calamity to come. They see them as a “desperate call to holiness,” of course–but literally all they’re seeing are tears coming out of a religious icon. I’ve cried for reasons as silly as not being able to eat cheese when I thought I was lactose intolerant and as serious as being concerned because a loved one was in the hospital. Are these people really suggesting that they can interpret these tears? Because if a stranger told me they knew why I was crying, they’d probably guess wrong.

Also, concerning the ones involving blood, I’d like to see them test all the people who have regular contact with the statue–the priests, altar servers, what have you–and do a DNA test comparing the blood to each of those people. I’d be willing to bet that the blood from the statue belongs to one of them. There’s definitely a strong motive, especially for a pastor of a parish with an aging congregation, to fake a miracle. What better way to increase the number of your churchgoers?

Have any of you encountered miraculous claims? What are your thoughts on these?

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

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

A Message to Lukewarm Catholics

Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist blog recently posted the video below to his YouTube channel, The Atheist Voice. In this video, he addresses the people I’ve often heard called lukewarm Catholics: people who identify as Catholic but don’t really practice the faith, and often reject one or more of the church’s major beliefs.

In short, he’s saying if you support LGBT rights and/or a woman’s right to choose, if you believe that women should be able to become priests, or if you don’t believe that the silly little cardboard-tasting wafer becomes Jesus at consecration–why do you stay in the church? Check it out here:

As an ex-Catholic, I couldn’t agree more with the message of this video.

One of my favorite parts of the video is when he addresses people who may want to change the church from within. As an ex-Catholic who was pretty devout and knows a thing or two about church hierarchy, I’d like to expand on this point.

As a lay person (a non-clergy church member) you may think you can change the church from the inside, and that’s extremely admirable, but at the moment, there is simply no way for you to do that at the scale you would need to in order to really make an impact. Even if you were a priest, you couldn’t do much. The only people inside the church hierarchy with any power to change the way the church approaches a political or spiritual issue are the cardinals and the pope. Worse, even if you were in one of those positions, the church is generally not supposed to change its position on things. Don’t believe me? Just look how long it took for the church to apologize for its treatment of Galileo, and acknowledge that the earth revolved around the sun. Your eyes aren’t fooling you. The above New York Times article saying the pope was making it official was published in 1992. The pope who did it was John Paul II, who was pope during my lifetime. (In case you’re wondering, Galileo lived from 1564-1642). That’s how long it took for one individual to change the Catholic teaching on something as basic and scientifically obvious as heliocentrism. Pope Francis, the current pope, has been facing harsh criticism since he called together a giant meeting of Bishops and encouraged them to have an intelligent discussion on issues like treatment of divorced Catholics and (gasp) gay people. The church is so resistant to change that its high-up members literally can’t handle even a discussion of the idea that some of its habits concerning certain groups of people need to be evaluated objectively.

On a different note, as an ex-Catholic I have some points of my own, specifically directed at lukewarm Catholics pushing their children though Catholic religious education and sacraments. I’ve heard some family members explain why they push their children through the Catholic initiation rites of baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation even though they aren’t Catholic themselves, and the reason is absolutely ridiculous:  “It’ll make it easier for you if you marry someone who’s Catholic if you’ve been through all these things.”

This is a crazy argument. I don’t hear anyone saying the same thing about literally any other religion, including protestant Christianity. No one has ever told me, “You should participate in Jewish/Hindu/Muslim initiation rites in case you marry a Jew/Hindu/Muslim.” The advice also doesn’t make any sense within the context of Catholicism, because newsflash, the Catholic church does not specifically forbid Catholics from marrying non-Catholics.

I’ve heard several adults tell friends of mine (and my little brother) that even if you don’t consider yourself Catholic, receiving confirmation specifically (which in case you don’t know is like a Catholic bar mitzvah, a coming of age ritual)  will make it easier for you down the road if you marry a Catholic, since there are so many Catholics around. Since I like to fact check these things, I looked it up: the only sacrament that makes it easier to marry a Catholic isn’t confirmation; it’s baptism. The church believes that it’s important that both parties be Christian, and will accept a Christian baptism as a real baptism.

Does this mean a Catholic and a Buddhist can’t get married? No. If you check the link in the paragraph above, you’ll see that although it’s frowned upon, a mixed-faith couple can get permission from a bishop to marry. This does mean it’ll take more time, but so does taking the classes necessary to prepare for confirmation. My mother, who is a church musician, has attended multiple weddings between a Catholic and a person of a different faith–even an Eastern one like Hinduism. Furthermore, with the current rate at which young people are leaving the Catholic church, often replacing it with no religion at all, and considering how easy it is to just have a non-Catholic wedding with a non denominational officiant or even a humanist one, it is extremely unlikely that putting yourself through extra Catholic religious education and rituals will reap any benefits for you aside from making your conservative parents happy.

(Besides, Catholic weddings require MORE ritual. There’s a mandatory 6 month waiting period, and you have to go through special meetings with the priest called “Pre-Cana.” For crying out loud, marry in a non-denominational church, or outside, or in a fancy hotel. Catholic weddings are way overrated.)

The bad news is, since most of the big Catholic sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, confession, confirmation) typically happen to minors, you may not have much say in the matter if this is currently the position you’re in. The good news is, if you do have some say in it, you now have some useful arguing points.

This post was all over the place, but ultimately my message to lukewarm Catholics is, you already suspect that this religion isn’t for you; if you didn’t, you’d be more dedicated to it. Maybe you’re really some sort of Christian. Maybe you’re atheist, or maybe you just don’t know. That’s all OK. But stop pushing your kids through rituals you don’t even believe in. Stop calling yourself Catholic in polls, giving the church more power by making it seem way bigger than it really is. There may be a religion out there that you’ll believe in wholeheartedly, or maybe there won’t be. Maybe you don’t care enough to search for the answer to the question of God, and that’s OK too. Just admit to yourself that that’s where you are. Trust me, letting go of Catholicism isn’t the pile of guilt Catholics like to say it will be. It’s a breath of fresh air.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

As usual, feel free to leave a comment! All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

The Strangest Homily: “Gay Marriage Means No More Babies”

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Instead of discussing the ridiculous situation regarding Kim Davis, a Kentucky County Clerk who has refused to do her job and issue marriage licenses in light of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, I’d like to go back to the root of her contempt: anti-gay preaching by Christian ministers, pastors, and priests. One can argue that the Bible, with its anti-gay verses, is the root problem, but ultimately it all comes down to interpretation, and while there are plenty of Christians who eat shellfish despite Biblical rules against doing so, too many consider fighting against marriage equality to be their moral duty. Worse, when they try to give secular arguments against marriage equality, their inability to apply reason to the issue becomes apparent.

The homily I’ll be discussing in this post is one that I remember from back when I was in 9th grade. I was homeschooled for the majority of my education, but I attended Catholic High School for one year, and during that year, every month, there was a day when the entire high school (roughly 800 students) would be marched a few blocks away to the nearest Catholic church in order to attend mass. We sat down in our uniforms on the hard, wooden pews in rain or shine, and the same priest would walk in, say mass, and give the same homily (sermon) he had given the month before. It jumped around a lot in topic, but one topic he always discussed for several minutes (after a lecture on how inexperienced high school students are) was gay marriage. It was a bad thing, he insisted. His argument against it, however, was ridiculous.

“What we’re seeing with gay marriage,” he would say, “is that it’s spreading. More and more people want to do it. I shouldn’t have to tell you all why it’s bad for society. It’s bad because gay people can’t physically have children. The biological components that unite a man and woman through God to make a child aren’t there. So what’s going to happen? As more and more people become gay, there will be fewer and fewer children being born. We can’t have a gay society. It’s not sustainable. The church’s stance on gay marriage is clear, and it’s logical, because without heterosexual unions, humans won’t survive.”

Even back then, when I was strongly opposed to gay marriage, this argument didn’t make much sense. I knew not everyone was gay. I was straight! I had friends who were straight. My parents were definitely straight. Why did he think being gay was such a temptation for everybody that if given the freedom to be openly gay, everyone in the world would do it?

Then it hit me:

meme1

I realize this is a fairly common accusation from liberal people, but in this case I really do think it’s true. It’s the only logical explanation. A straight person considering his argument could stop and think, “This doesn’t make sense. I don’t fit that rule,” and most would be intelligent enough to conclude that they aren’t the only exception. Either he’s not bright enough to make that obvious intellectual step, or he was simply using the experience he spent so much time raving about to us, and applying it to gay marriage. In his experience, being gay was a real temptation because it was part of who he was, and he was suppressing it because of the church’s teachings.

That’s one of the strangest and saddest things about gay Catholic priests, and other gay active church members. They buy into a lot of the nonsense even though it actually applies to them. For all of his rants about high school kids being inexperienced–a fair point–he had a lot to learn about himself. Like many priests, he was starting to really advance in age. I wonder if he’s still around, and if so, I wonder how he took the news of the SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality.

What’s the craziest argument you’ve heard against marriage equality? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome, just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

My Parents’ Bizarre Response to the Child Molestation Accusations in the Catholic Church

church withmaninpewYou may recall from previous posts that my dad used to be the youth minister at my family’s church. He was great at it–way better than the youth minister who took over for him. I know because I used to visit during the retreats he ran, and they were awesome! Their itinerary was filled with fun and games and positive affirmations. But when I was in middle school, before I was old enough to join youth group, my dad stopped running youth ministry at our parish. I’ve always wondered why.

I assumed it was from lack of time. My dad, like me, tends to get involved in too many things. He works full time, he teaches religious education, he’s a lector and a Eucharistic minister at church, he’s involved in the men’s retreat group there too, and he even finds time to do volunteering every once in a while. I figured youth group was just one activity too many. So at the end of year picnic when I was in 7th grade, the youth group bade my dad farewell, and today, many years later, my dad told me why he left:

“There were too many youth ministers getting accused of bad things, and the church was getting sued and good people were losing their money. I didn’t want to risk that.”

I nearly flipped my shit. It doesn’t take much guessing to infer what he meant by “bad things.” There have been many accusations of child molestation in churches, particularly Catholic ones. Usually it’s priests who get accused, but youth ministers have had their fair share of accusations. I asked if that was what he meant, and he said yes, adding, “People want to get money from priests and youth ministers. They’re accusing good priests for the money.” This was followed by a rant about our sue-happy society and how that’s apparently affecting the church.

A priest my dad knew was once accused. He has since passed away. My dad always insisted the accusation was false–but I’ve always wondered. (To my knowledge, he was not convicted.) It’s hard to know what people do behind closed doors. Even if he is innocent, that’s only one person–not exactly a large sample of the population of accused. Yet my dad honestly thinks that the vast majority of the accusations are false.

While the number of false rape accusations nationwide is not a knowable number right now–we simply do not have the data to give a number with confidence–because of how under reported rape is as a crime in general, I have a hard time believing that the majority of accusations are false. In fact, while the percentage of false accusations is not knowable, the data we do have seems to suggest a low number, which is logical considering how rape victims are treated in this country.

It’s definitely not a situation fraught with wanted attention for a false accuser. Bringing a rape accusation to this criminal justice system involves a lot of questioning, some testing to put together a “rape kit” if the rape was recent enough, and a high possibility that there won’t be enough evidence to even have a trial of the accused. Rape victims are generally not believed, and even face a great deal of scrutiny regarding details that have nothing to do with whether or not a rape occurred. Questions like “What were you wearing?” and “Have you two had sex before?” plague rape victims to this day. Many victims, like in the case of Bill Cosby, are so worried about not being believed that they don’t come forward for YEARS, allowing the statute of limitation to expire, and making it impossible for the accused to be tried for the crime.

This is not to say that the innocent-until-proven-guilty model doesn’t apply to rape. It does, and should. It’s constitutional that everyone deserves a fair trial. With that being said, my dad was talking about child molestation–a situation in which, by definition, the younger party cannot give consent. When my dad suggests that the majority of church child molestation charges are false, I get very defensive, because we’re usually not talking about sue happy adults here, we’re talking about children. There have been many, many accused who have been convicted, often of serial rape, and who were moved from one parish to another by superiors who knew what was going on but decided letting more children get raped was worth it to keep another precious priest from being defrocked and arrested.

Something that I don’t see covered much in stories about this widespread child abuse and their cover ups is that the church has an incentive for moving child molesting priests around instead of punishing them. There’s a severe shortage of Catholic priests right now, which has been worsening for as long as I can remember. There simply aren’t many new priests coming in, and the old ones are dying, retiring, or leaving the faith.

My generation is possibly the least religious one in all of American history, and it’s part of a continuing trend of decreasing religiosity. Throughout my childhood, I was told to “pray for vocations” and young boys were encouraged to consider priesthood. Yet one could quickly see that for most children, unmarried life was not appealing. They didn’t even know about sex, and they still didn’t want to be unmarried. I for one always viewed priesthood and religious life–whether of a cloistered nun or even an non-cloistered sister– as lonely and unnecessarily strict. I wanted more freedom than religious vows allow. More than that though, I wanted to get married. I think Catholic boys, even religious ones, often do too. It’s part of the American dream, after all.

So when the church realizes it can’t get new priests easily, it clings desperately to its old ones. Even, sadly, to the disgusting child rapist monsters the faith organization has been protecting.

I love my parents. I sincerely hope that this delusion my father has about the rape accusations being mostly false is isolated to him. Unfortunately however, I’ve never seen any indication that that is the case. As long as the church maintains this idea, it will keep on protecting the accused from investigation, clinging to its priests instead of protecting children and youths. If you’re Catholic and you’re reading this, I implore you to keep your eyes open. Your parish priests may be perfectly wonderful people, your youth ministers the epitome of piety, and I hope that’s the case. But if you find out that that is not the case, don’t alert the pastor, or the bishop. Go to the police immediately, because as we’ve seen in recent years, the church authorities can’t be trusted to take this problem seriously.

As always, feel free to leave a comment. If you want to defend the church or argue against its actions, go ahead. Just be respectful to other people and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking

-Nancy

The Trouble with “Original Sin”

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the many things a person raised in Christianity–especially Catholicism–may accept without a second thought is the concept of original sin. You likely know what that is: the sin of Adam and Eve, when they allegedly disobeyed God and got thrown out of the garden of Eden. Supposedly, they ate some fruit God said not to eat; it allowed them to know right from wrong, and suddenly they couldn’t live in the garden anymore. That was their punishment. That, and also every human being from that point on would be considered a sinner, stained with the sin of the first humans, until he or she is baptized. If you’re curious about the way Catholics describe the concept, you can read about it here. (They call original sin a “contracted sin,” which makes it sound like an STI.)

Here are a few major problems with Original Sin:

1) It involves punishing people for the mistakes of their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-etc. grandparents.

In any other context, this would not be considered OK. There have been some pretty awful people in this world, but it’s generally understood that the only person who can be held accountable for a crime is the person who committed it, not someone who happened to be born long after it occurred with some relation to the criminal. If Hitler were known to have children, or grandchildren, or great grandchildren, they would not be responsible for what he did. They would only be responsible for their own behavior. This is how civilized society works.

2) It means that babies–who probably have never done anything worse than kick their mothers in utero at this point–are born with sin.

They’re too young to even understand the concept of sin, so calling them sinners makes no sense, especially since even Catholicism also considers 7-years-old, not birth, the point at which a child is responsible for his or her behavior. (This is called the “age of reason.”) Except, of course, their great-great-great etc. ancestor’s behavior. That’s the baby’s fault.

3) The Adam and Eve Story is so ridiculous that many Christians, Catholics included, do not take it literally.

I mean, it has magic trees, a talking snake, and a human being being made out of another human’s rib (seriously, that’s not enough material.) It’s not exactly the most plausible story in the Bible.

My dad, who is one of the most devout Catholics I’ve ever met, once told me that Adam and Eve isn’t necessarily the literal story of creation as it happened, but rather something more like a parable that’s meant to teach a lesson.

(What lesson? That knowledge of good and evil is a bad thing? That God goes a little overboard with his punishments?)

My religious education (CCD) teacher told me something similar, and another Catholic-raised atheist, actress Julia Sweeny, was taught to think of Adam and Eve as “a poem on creation.” (I think I’ve linked to it before, but it’s so good it’s worth linking to again. You can check out her deconversion story here.)

Which begs the question, how could it not be a literal story if it results in religious doctrine? Either it provides a valid explanation for the doctrine because it’s true, or it doesn’t and it’s not. This is not a pick-two situation.

What are your 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

An Atheist Explains why Catholics are Christians

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are a number of Christian groups that claim Catholics are not Christians, and the more I encounter this nonsensical idea, the more I bang my head against the wall.

Disclaimer:  I was raised Catholic and am now atheist, so that’s the experience I’m coming from with this. The arguments I’m using do come from Catholic apologetics, but in this particular instance, I think they actually hold some water.

Here’s the definition of “Christian” I was taught:  a Christian is someone who is a Christ-follower.

Simple. Basic. To-the-point. I think this is an extremely inclusive definition, to the point where fringe groups that Catholicism doesn’t recognize as Christian, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, still fall under the category of “Christian.” I think there can be some argument made for both sides when it comes to those groups,  but when it comes to Catholicism, there’s really no question about it.

To get into more specific details in order to narrow down a definition of Christianity, Christians worship the Abrahamic God, and use the Bible, both the New and Old Testaments, as their holy book. While not all take the entire Bible literally, especially certain parts of the Old Testament, Christians generally take the Gospel literally–it’s the story of Christ, after all. Christians believe Jesus is the son of God, and they believe he was crucified, died, rose from the dead, and will come again someday when it’s time for the world to end.

You will get some variation on things like the Eucharist (literal flesh and blood or a sign?), Mary’s virginity, creationism vs. actual science, religious icons, age of Baptism (adults or babies?), the garden of Eden (was it literal or figurative?), is there such a thing as Purgatory, and position on social issues like abortion, access to contraception, marriage equality, etc. There’s a pretty long list of differences. But if there’s one thing all Christians agree on, it’s Jesus. Jesus is the savior. Jesus is the reason for the season, and all that hooey.

Catholics believe in all those things. Catholicism is the trunk from which Protestantism branched out. To call Catholicism “not Christianity” is like calling a root “not part of the tree.” That’s such a Catholic thing to say that I’m a little embarrassed to write it, but I think in this case the analogy stands. You can read about Martin Luther and Henry VIII. The Protestant Reformation brought about the many branches of Christianity we see today. The Anglicans, (also known as the Church of England) hold a worship service that’s nearly identical to the Catholic mass. The Lutheran services are pretty darn close too (I’ve been to one). This is because their faiths branched directly off of Catholicism, and they retained a lot of the same practices and rituals. Then other churches branched off from them, and with each new branch that got further and further from the earliest one, new traditions were added and old ones were rejected. That’s why you can go to a megachurch and watch the preacher on a big screen between Christian Rock songs, you can go to a Pentecostal church and watch people “speak in tongues,” and you can visit the Amish and leave the 21st century behind. Christianity is practiced in vastly different ways from church to church, but they all believe they’re following Christ, so they’re all Christian.

This is the point where Catholics generally state that Catholicism is the form Christianity founded by Jesus, and its traditions have been carried on by the apostles through the priests and the hierarchy. I am among those who wonder whether or not Jesus even existed, but regardless of whether it was founded by Jesus or just a group of human beings, everyone generally agrees that Christianity had a beginning. It had early adherents. It had to start somewhere. Before the reformation, there was just “Christianity.” There was no need to have a separate name like “Catholicism.” There were no “Catholics” in 300 AD, or 500 AD, or even 1000 AD because it had always been one group (I’m oversimplifying a bit to skip the orthodox churches, but you get the idea.) Once the split happened, there needed to be a unique name for the religion that stayed as it had always been.

While I’ve made plenty of posts bemoaning the Catholic Church’s refusal to keep up with the times, their rigidity really helps this particular argument. If you’ve ever sat in a western civilizations history class, you’ve probably learned about the church hierarchy as part of your study of medieval times. And you know what? The church has the same hierarchy today, the same structures, and the same basic rituals with only minor changes (like saying mass in the vernacular instead of Latin). All in all, Catholicism is as Christian as the Anglican church, and its people are as Christian as the Baptists, the Methodists, the Lutherens, the Evangelicals, the Amish, the Mennonites, and the whole kit and kaboodle.

Don’t get me wrong. I despise the Catholic church, and wish they would get with the times and stop raping children and covering it up, but if there’s one thing I’d like to impart to its critics, humanists included, it’s that they are definitely, without a doubt, Christian.

Have any of you encountered this “Catholics aren’t Christians” idea in person? I seem to only encounter it online, at least where I live. Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

The Exclusivity of the Catholic Pro-Life Movement

Found this photo on an old phone of mine. I believe this is from the 2008 March for Life, which was extremely well attended because Obama had just been elected for his first term.

Found this photo on an old phone of mine. I believe this is from the 2008 March for Life, which was extremely well attended because Obama had just been elected for his first term.

I used to make it no secret that I was, as I used to say, “vehemently pro-life.” In the past year, since my deconversion, my opinion on abortion has evolved significantly. I’m definitely in the pro-choice camp now.  With that being said, I used to be a proud member of the Catholic pro-life movement. I’ve attended the Washington D.C. March for Life twice (I took the above picture at one of them several years ago), and prior to my deconversion I had every intention of going again. In high school, I was president of a teen pro-life club in my area, and sometimes joined prayer groups outside of abortion clinics. There’s something about the pro-life movement today that I discovered during my time as president of that pro-life club in high school, and it’s something that still bothers me about the movement, at least in the areas of the east coast where I participated in protests:  it’s predominantly Catholic, to the point of near-exclusivity.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of non-Catholic pro-life organizations. But in my experience, the Catholic ones seem to have the loudest voice, the most prominent posters and protests, and the biggest groups.

Some of that may be thanks to the fact that being pro-life is part of Catholicism. It has literally been written into the religion at this point, so much so that throughout my Catholic upbringing, I often heard my parents and their church friends declare that they vote primarily based on whether or not a candidate is pro-life. “That’s the biggest issue,” they would say. “Everything else comes second to that.”

Naturally, a religion like that would easily band together to protest what they believe is a terrible injustice. But they aren’t the only ones who think abortion is wrong, and sometimes pro-life organizations run by Catholics, even ones that aren’t affiliated with a particular church and exclusively seeking out Catholic members, can end up being fairly exclusive. Take the club I ran, for example.

It was fairly small. About 10-20 members. Because of this, we were always looking for ways to get new members. Some advertised to their parishes (we came from several different ones). Others proposed inviting Catholic homeschoolers they knew. I, however, suggested something that shouldn’t have been terribly radical:  why not just invite pro-life friends, regardless of whether they’re Catholic or not?

I was met with blank stares, and some mumbling about how we weren’t a secular organization.

“I don’t know if non-Catholics would fully agree with our message,” one person said.

“We pray at the beginning and end of meetings. How would we do that with non-Catholics?”

“We could branch out to just Christians at least,” I suggested. “Come on, we could read Bible verses and say the Lord’s prayer. Most Christians wouldn’t object to that.”

“We pray the rosary in front of abortion clinics. We’d have to change that too.”

“So? We could still pray, and we’d have more people doing it. They worship the same God we do.”

“I don’t even think I know anyone who isn’t Catholic who’s pro-life,” one member said.

“I do,” I offered. “She’s a really  nice person, and I’m going to invite her.”

But I never did. I was too stunned by the negative response I’d received. Too surprised that a club I had thought was focused on a political, not a religious agenda, would rather be exclusive than increase its membership.

A popular pro-life poster from studentsforlife.org

The club didn’t last long after that. Dwindling membership as some went off to college, and dwindling interest wore us out. But I did talk to my pro-life protestant friend a bit once, just to see what she thought about protesting with Catholics. Her response shocked me. I had been taught that I was part of a pro-life generation, and that most young people were pro-life. It wasn’t mainly Catholics, I was sure of it. She said,

“I’ve been to the March for Life before. It was mostly Catholic people. I felt really out of place.”

“Would you consider going again?” I asked.

“Not really. There are other ways to protest. I agree with the people protesting there but it felt so weird that everyone was Catholic. They were all praying the rosary and stuff.”

And suddenly I understood. At the time, I didn’t realize that not as many people in my generation are pro-life as I had been taught to think. But I did realize what was happening. My movement, my glorious movement to save the babies, was being run by too many people who couldn’t let go of their religious superiority complex long enough to partner with people who agreed with them, but didn’t necessarily share the exact same faith. I’m not saying this validates the pro-choice argument, or invalidates the pro-life one, but this is not the way to run a movement. Seriously people, if you want something to happen, you need to partner with all kinds of people. You need to secularize your argument so you can appeal to non-religious people, but more importantly so that your argument doesn’t involve anything that conflicts with the first amendment.

The word “secular” was thrown around my club like a negative thing, but it’s the type of government we have for a reason.

Have any of you been involved in the pro-life movement, or another political movement that gets bogged down by faith?

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

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Pope Francis to Officially State Climate Change is Real and Bad

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At last, Pope Francis, the “Good Guy Pope” has done something I’ve been wishing he’d do since he started his papacy:  he’s written an encyclical on something that matters. You can read the full story in an article here, but to sum it up, in a few days Pope Francis will be releasing an encyclical on climate change and poverty. For those of you who don’t know, an encyclical is

“a letter, usually treating some aspect of Catholic doctrine, sent by the Pope and addressed either to the Catholic bishops of a particular area or, more normally, to the bishops of the world; however, the form of the address can vary widely, and often designates a wider audience.”

Wikipedia

Encyclicals are official. They’re serious. The statements contained in them are considered to be in line with Catholic doctrine. In this particular encyclical, Pope Francis will be officially acknowledging that climate change is a real thing; furthermore, he’ll be encouraging the 1.2 billion people in this world who are Catholic to do something about it. He will also be bringing up the issue of poverty. Yeah. That’s right. He’ll be talking about not one, but TWO serious issues.

It seems these two issues are completely unrelated at first glance, but I think the pope may be on to something. As one archbishop explains in the article I linked to earlier,

“It [the encyclical] will address the issue of inequality in the distribution of resources and topics such as the wasting of food and the irresponsible exploitation of nature and the consequences for people’s life and health”

If I read between the lines correctly, that sounds an awful lot like the pope is pointing a finger at consumerism and saying, “Hey! Look, we know you like your ipads, but could you not consume at the expense of everyone else’s well-being!” It’s about time, too. We know that unchecked capitalism leads to inequality, but as the pope will be pointing out, the consumerism that comes with it also eats away at the environment. Since the Earth is the only place we currently have that’s habitable, we kind of need to make it last. For the first time in a long time, I actually agree with a Catholic on something.

Of-course, there are naysayers. In the recent past, the response made by Catholics whenever Pope Francis did something “liberal” was to act like he wasn’t speaking for God. And technically, as I’ve pointed out previously, they’re theologically right to say it wasn’t an official statement and “didn’t count” when the pope said “Who am I to judge?” in his oft-quoted interview referring to gay people. But the “Good Guy Pope” is finally leaving no room for those excuses for his behavior. He means business. He’s giving it to the world in writing.

This is also the pope who turned down the opportunity to live in the papal apartments in the Vatican. When he says he cares about inequality and poverty, I genuinely believe him. I don’t think he’d include climate change in the same encyclical if he didn’t take that seriously too. People who deny climate change (I’m looking at you, US Republicans) are going to be upset about this. In fact, they’re already voicing their dissent–but they’re going to have to suck it up. This is their religion now.

This, my readers, is that rarely-visible good side of religion. While Pope Francis has been somewhat wishy-washy on other issues (gay marriage and divorce for example), he’s taken a strong stance that poverty is a major problem, and emphasized the importance of addressing it over other issues Catholics seem to focus their attention on these days (like abortion and gay marriage).

This could not come at a better time, or to a more needy group of people. Unfortunately,  politics are often infused into the religious practice of deeply religious Catholics. Political opinions are even preached from the pulpit. For years, I’ve seen my parents vote based on Catholic teachings. To this day, they typically make their voting choices mostly based on whether or not a candidate supports abortion. They are vehemently pro-life and anti marriage equality, both of which are issues the church has been very vocal about. Yet they have always been wishy-washy on climate change, a serious issue about which the church has previously said little. It’s as if, without the OK of a priest, they couldn’t make a decision one way or another. They always recycled, and recently even got solar panels installed on the roof, but they simultaneously voiced skepticism about global warming on and off for years. Since the Pope’s encyclical has been announced, my parents and I finally agree about something. They’ve magically decided that climate change is a thing. While I do wish my parents had come to this conclusion on their own, I can’t applaud the pope enough for this. There are too many people like my parents who needed the church to tell them what to think, and who are now going to finally take this issue seriously. Way to go, Francis!

As always, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

NO, Yoga is NOT the Devil

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every once in a while during my childhood, I got the sense that my parents were not quite as conservative as some of my friends and their families. Never mind their vehement pro-life stance, their frequent votes for Republican candidates, and even my mother’s serious consideration of anti-vaccination articles. My parents wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter for years, and still think oija boards can summon evil spirits, but they got one thing right during my childhood: they understood that yoga is a form of exercise, not devil worship.

I am aware that yoga comes from Hindu tradition and can involve religious practices if you choose to partake in them, but the form of yoga that Americans do in gyms is not really religious anymore, and Christians should relax about the idea that it’s putting them in “spiritual danger.” I’ve known this since my childhood because an uncle of mine, who is a practicing Catholic to this day, has done yoga for years. He finds it relaxing and considers it a good form of exercise. I remember watching him do stretches one Christmas, and finding nothing weird about that. People exercise, and that’s a good thing. The last thing anyone should do is discourage that unless they’re exercising in a way that’s genuinely unsafe.

Unfortunately, many Christians, including many of the Catholics I met in my childhood, mistakenly think that yoga is evil. As a teenager, I attended a youth group for homeschoolers where the host brought in a guest speaker, a former nonbeliever who said she regretted her abortion and had turned away from the evil sins she used to partake in like dressing in a worldly way, modeling, and doing yoga. I immediately wondered why yoga was being listed on the same plane as abortion. Catholics believe abortion is murder, but since when is exercise related to that? I understood why modeling and worldly clothing might violate a religious person’s beliefs concerning modesty, but people don’t have to wear a sports bra and booty shorts to do yoga. I don’t do yoga myself, but to my knowledge baggy t-shirts and sweatpants are just as acceptable as the aforementioned options. What was so bad about yoga?

That experience wasn’t the only one in which someone I knew freaked out about yoga. While attending the Steubenville Youth Conference in Ohio during high school, a Catholic homeschooling parent who was chaperoning my group brought up the subject. I told her about my uncle, the aforementioned proud, healthy, Catholic yoga practitioner. Her response? “I’ll pray for him.”

“You don’t have to,” I argued. “He’s not doing anything wrong. It’s just exercise.”

She shook her head. “Actually, there’s a spiritual component that makes it an unsafe practice for his soul. I’ll pray for his soul to be safe.”

“Whatever,” I said, “I still disagree, and so do my parents.”

She wouldn’t hear it, and for all I know she may still be wasting her energy by praying for my uncle (who, for the record, weighed a lot less than she did.)

I asked my mother why so many people kept telling me yoga was bad. Was I missing something about it?

My mom is a very well-educated Catholic when it comes to religion. While she doesn’t research other aspects of her life (like medicine) as thoroughly as she should, she takes her faith very seriously and does study up on what Catholic teachings actually say. She told me that according to Catholicism, doing yoga as exercise is fine, and the only way it conflicts with Catholic teachings is if you practice the religious aspects of it. She said sometimes it involves a form of meditation that conflicts with Catholic teachings, but what most people do in gyms really has no spiritual conflict with the religion. I fact-checked her just to be safe, and a Catholic apologist corroborates this in an article titled “The Trouble with Yoga.” The apologist explains,

As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health.

She even adds,

It is important for Catholics to know that yoga should neither be hallowed nor damned.

In other words, it’s really not a huge deal.

Knowing this, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many people were convinced that doing yoga at all would damn a person to hell.  I’m convinced it’s for the same reason that many Christians still to this day think Harry Potter encourages youngsters to seek out Satanism or Wicca, when really it’s just another fantasy containing wizards. The Harry Potter series is no worse for its magic than the conservative’s favorite fantasies like The Lord of the Rings. Maybe it doesn’t contain direct religious allegory like The Chronicles of Narnia, but that doesn’t make it any more dangerous than other fantasy stories that don’t. Unfortunately for young readers, many Christians believe in spiritual warfare. They believe Satan has a lot of influence on the world and secular culture, and expect to see the devil everywhere. When they don’t, they begin to imagine him in the most benign places, and shelter their children and themselves from completely harmless things.

The bottom line is, even if you’re a devout Catholic, you can relax about yoga. Seriously, go to the gym. Find a form of exercise that works for you. Maybe you’ll like kickboxing, or pilates, or rock climbing, or swimming. It doesn’t have to be yoga, but you should only eliminate it after research into what it entails, and maybe trying it once or twice. It’s not for everyone, but it’s no more dangerous for your spiritual well being than running on a treadmill or lifting weights, I promise.

Here’s a video about where yoga comes from and its benefits. In summation, it does come from a religion, but even just the exercise is really, really good for you.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome, but please be respectful and think things through before posting.

Now go exercise. America’s obese for a reason.

-Nancy

Premarital Sex: It Can Actually be a Good Thing

Photo courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A lot has happened since my last post. My boyfriend, who I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is now my fiance. He proposed a few days before our college graduation.

After the announcement, my mother took me aside the next day to talk to me about sex as she sometimes does in the hopes of influencing me in that area. She said, “I hope you’ll continue with your previous promise to wait until marriage.” (A decision I’ve discussed in a previous post, and which I made under a lot of peer pressure.) She added, “I know you know who you’re going to marry now, but it’s really meant for marriage, and diseases can still spread.”

I didn’t argue, but I found it telling that her only argument in support of restricting sex to marriage was to avoid STIs. While that argument does have some merit for most people, when you’re engaged, it’s not as strong. Sure, people do sometimes call off engagements–but not frequently. More likely than not, two engaged people having sex are already monogamous, at least in this culture, and will continue that monogamy into their marriage. Ultimately, maintaining monogamy is what limits the spread of STIs when one waits until marriage, not the contract itself. The marriage contract is just a legal document. It’s not a condom.

That conversation with my mother reminded me of a fact that I would never have believed when I started college: I’m glad I didn’t wait to have sex,  mainly because of how difficult and even painful the first time really is for many girls–including me.

For this post, I’ll be sticking to a discussion of vaginal intercourse because that’s the type of sex that Catholics consider to be acceptable in marriage, since it can lead to babies.

If you don’t want to read about vaginal sex in detail, skip the next paragraph.

Vaginal sex can hurt a great deal the first time for many women, but it can also hurt the second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. You probably know all about hymens and how they need to be stretched (not popped–that’s a myth!) the first time. What not everyone knows is that for some women, it can take more than just the first time to stretch that darn thing. I did my research, so I went into it with some preparation, and it still hurt really badly for me. It wasn’t an issue of the other usual problems either. We were very thorough. We used plenty of lube, and foreplay, and went very slowly. It sometimes felt like someone was stabbing me down there. It took many tries on different occasions for the pain to finally subside to the point where he could stay in there for more than a minute. I made myself do it because I knew it was supposed to get better, but sex was varying levels of pain for the first month or two. We couldn’t even focus on figuring out how to make it feel good until the pain was out of the way, and that later task took some time too.

My reason for going into so much detail is to establish the length of time it took for sex to start to feel good for me, and why that was the case. I’ve looked it up online, and while this is not the case for every woman, it is a fairly common complaint. It’s completely biological as far as I can tell, and in my case was definitely not due to just not being good at it. We knew what to do; we just couldn’t actually do it for a really long time without putting me in agonizing pain.

Waiting until marriage would not change that for me. I would still experience a great deal of terrible pain every time I had sex for the first however many times. If we’d waited and had a week long honeymoon, sex would most likely hurt me every single time we did it that week, and even when the pain had subsided, it still would not feel good for months afterwards while we tried to figure out what works. I can’t imagine spending my honeymoon like that. Frankly, who would want to?

Growing up, I was sold the idea that waiting until marriage makes your first time special, but I now realize that even if I had done that, I would still experience the intense pain and the incredible frustration my fiance and I felt at the time, just during our honeymoon instead of while we were dating. Trust me: pain is not romantic. It sucks.

The only thing that waiting until marriage would change is the situation in which we were having sex, not the biological factors of sex itself. I don’t want to spend my honeymoon in agony. I don’t want to walk out of the wedding reception nervous about going to bed with my husband. And thanks to that horrible, forbidden thing called premarital sex, I now know I don’t have to.

But what if it isn’t special, you say! What if having done it before takes away the novelty of it?

You know what else takes away the novelty of anything? Agonizing pain. We’ll find our own way of making it special when the time comes, but trust me, at least in my case, that novelty was completely overrated.

I feel bad for women who are built like me down there, who wait until marriage. They’ve been sold this image of a magical first time, but for them, it won’t be magical at all.

This is not to say that having premarital sex is for everyone. I support the right of all people to decide for themselves what to do with their bodies, and that includes waiting to have sex if they feel that’s best for them. If you don’t feel ready, don’t do it. If you really want to wait until marriage, then by all means, wait. But be advised that for many women, that first time is completely overrated. If you’re going to wait until marriage, make it an informed decision, just as your decision to engage in sex should also be.

What are your views on premarital sex? Feel free to leave a comment. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy