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.

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

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

College Objects to Birth Control, Cancels Student Insurance Plan

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a previous post, I’ve discussed some of the issues that can occur when religiously affiliated colleges do too much to control the decisions of their adult students, often in an effort to prevent them from having any opportunities for premarital sex. When one combines that type of attitude with the Hobby Lobby ruling, all sorts of ridiculous things start to happen. Take what Wheaton College decided to do this summer for example: it’s no longer providing a student healthcare plan to students who need one because the school’s administrators object to providing contraceptives to students. You can check out a full article about it here, but here are some quotes.

Wheaton College has considered nixing student healthcare plans ever since last summer’s Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed religiously affiliated organizations to opt of out providing contraception through employee health care programs on grounds of faith-based objections.

It’s unsurprising that they used the Hobby Lobby decision as a way to do this, and it’s very upsetting. A lack of healthcare is definitely not better than healthcare that includes practices you don’t agree with. This is the same kind of thinking that led to the movement to defund Planned Parenthood: “We disagree with one thing they do, so let’s prevent them from doing everything else, the majority of which we do not even object to.”

What’s worse about this is that thanks to Obamacare, (the Affordable Care Act), the school did not even have to directly provide contraceptives. The article explains:

…it’s possible for the college to allow the insurer to take on the responsibility of students’ contraception, as part of an Obamacare provision.

“Really, all they have to do is fill out a form and send it to the federal government, saying they have this objection. Then, the insurance company will cover the cost of contraception,” Amiri explained during a phone call with Refinery29 this afternoon. Wheaton has declined to follow that channel.

The argument I’ve heard from conservatives about why they often refuse to fill out this form is that they see doing so as the same thing as signing a document allowing the person to receive contraception. I will give them that to an extent: that form does allow the person to receive contraception. However, the point of the document is to prevent the objector from having to provide it through his or her business, not to prevent the person seeking contraceptives from accessing them at all.

The position of the Obama administration, which I agree with in this case, is that a business owner objecting to providing contraception should not make it impossible for the employee (or in this case, the student enrolled in that plan) to acquire contraception.

To apply this to abortions, which is really what most people who object to contraception have a problem with anyway, this means that just because you object to abortions, (and your taxes don’t pay for them, by the way) doesn’t mean that no one should be able to have that procedure covered by their insurance. It just won’t come from the pockets of objectors.

For crying out loud, this isn’t rocket science. The government is actively trying to accommodate everyone by providing this opt-out option, and these conservative organizations are saying they’re violating their religion if they allow the people on their health plans to access contraceptives at all. They really aren’t satisfied unless reproductive healthcare is made unattainable, and they’re using accusations of religious discrimination and persecution to achieve that.

I want to give a big thank you to my fiance for telling me about the news that was the topic of this post. He’s been extremely supportive since I started blogging, and that means the world to me.

As always, feel free to leave comments. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful to other people 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

When Christians Aren’t Biblical Literalists: a Video Recommendation

One of my favorite YouTube channels is Blimey Cow. Yes, they’re Christian. They’re also former homeschoolers, so they get me. They’re pretty down to earth, and they seem to genuinely use their brains. Their content walks a fine line, avoiding topics that would offend most liberals and conservatives alike, and I generally get the sense that regardless of what their religious beliefs are, they like to observe the way things genuinely are, things everybody knows are there, and talk about them. I get the impression that they aren’t literalists when it comes to the Bible. Sometimes their own religion isn’t off limits, and I appreciate their openness to talking about that. Their latest video is a great example. It’s called “Five Awkward Things in the Bible,” and I think the points they make are spot on.

If you’re a homeschooler or know any homeschoolers, they’re known for their “You Might be a Homeschooler If” videos. Here’s the first one:

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

My Childhood Delusion

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While growing up in a devout Catholic home, I encountered a lot of stories glorifying belief without evidence. A common theme running through children’s books and movies is the notion that belief itself can lead to something real, something tangible. I firmly believed that, and that led to some pretty ridiculous beliefs.

I thought fairies were real, and engaged in some major conflicts with evil witches.

Yep. Fairies like Tinkerbell. I thought that was real.

If you remember play-acting as a child, you might be able to picture how that came to be. Sometimes the lines between play-acting and reality can be blurred. While I always knew what was real and what was not when I was the one leading the game, it was much less obvious when a friend of mine lead the way. From the age of six to when I was about nine or ten, I encountered several friends with pretty wild imaginations, and over the years, their play-acting solidified into its own belief system in my mind.

The first friend who contributed to this was Jackie. She liked to watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a totally harmless show my parents hesitated to let me watch because it had the word witch in the title. I would watch it with her when I went to her house, and then we would go play in her backyard–and that was when she would spin the  most elaborate fairy stories. She pretended that circling a tree three times could take us to the fairy world, and even though the world around us never changed, I believed in the power of imagination, and willed it to be real. I thought if I just believed hard enough, maybe it would be as real as the food that the lost boys eat in Hook. When I took a good look around us, the bush we hid behind to evade “evil witches” was still just a bush, not a magical shield, but maybe it was a MAGICAL bush, and I just couldn’t see it, kind of like how when the bread became Jesus at mass, it didn’t change in appearance at all. If that was real, couldn’t this be too?

Jackie and I stopped attending the same dance academy, so I stopped playing with her. But my neighbors down the street were always around. There were three of them, all older than me. One day, one of them came over and played a game with the magic wand my parents had bought me when we went to Disney World that summer. It had a blue handle with a five-pointed star on one end, and the star was covered in glitter. It was as close to magic as any toy I’d ever owned, and my friend scooped it up and waved it over my head.

“It’s time I showed you the fairies,” she said.

“The fairies? Where?”

“In the tree, over there.” She pointed to the enormous beech tree in my front yard. It had had one of its branches removed at some point, and the place where the wood was exposed had a hole where some of it had rotted away. The hole was too high for me to see into it, but my friend could reach. She swiped it with her hand, which she gingerly carried over to mine, and tipped it ever-so-slightly, as one does when passing a firefly on to a friend. I cupped my hand over hers and looked. “What is it?”

“You don’t see it?” my friend seemed incredulous. “It’s a fairy tree. You’re holding a fairy.”

“No I’m not. I don’t feel anything.”

“Open your eyes and believe.” She insisted, and touched me with the fairy wand from Disney World.

Now, I already suspected that wand was magic. When she said that, something clicked. I think it was because she used the word “believe,” a word I associated with my faith.  Believing was a concept I had been encouraged to stick to no matter what. I was supposed to believe. Belief was a good thing. If my friend said fairies were real, I should believe in them. If my parents said Jesus loved me, it was true; he was real. I should believe them.

So I did.

“I think one spot on my hand’s a little lighter than the other ones–do fairies glow?”

“Yes, they do!”

“I think my hand feels a little heavier too.”

“See?”

“I believe in fairies!”

My friend was playing, but I truly, genuinely believed. I believed in fairies, and witches, well into the years when I had my first real crush, around age nine or ten.

He was the next friend to add to my belief in fairies. To this day I don’t understand why he did it–maybe as a way to tease me for being a drama queen. Maybe he had a crush on me too. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is, every time I saw him, he would tell me fantastic stories about his adventures evading three witches, who wanted to capture him for some reason I can’t recall. Even at his age, he was a wonderful storyteller, and I soaked in every word as though it was the gospel truth. Yes, indeed, there were three witches chasing him! I even had nightmares about them a few times, and couldn’t fall asleep because of them. They had keen senses according to his stories. The only exact words I remember from them are from a harrowing moment when he said he was almost caught, as one of the witches sniffed near where he was hiding and said,

“Shh–I smell something…shampoo!!!”

Yes, even cleanliness put a person in danger of the evil witches! I can’t remember how, but there were fairies involved in the story. I think they were helping him in his adventures or something like that. Anyway, one day I went up to him and asked if anything had happened. Had he had any more adventures? Were the witches still chasing him? I was dead serious. I was that delusional.

He said, “They’re not chasing me anymore. They never were chasing me. There are no witches.” I wonder if it had taken him that long to figure out I really believed him, or if he was just tired of telling that story. At any rate, he eventually apologized for lying to me about the witches. I forgave him.

Over the years, I stayed friends with him, and with the friend who worked psychological wonders by the beech tree, the “fairy” tree. Both of them seemed to have little to no delusions. I let mine simmer. I eventually stopped proudly proclaiming my belief in fairies, but I held on tight to it. It lasted into middle school, when I encountered yet another friend with a wild imagination. This one proved to be a habitual liar in high school. She tricked me with a fairy story too.

What I’m getting at here is, while it’s pretty embarrassing and crazy that I believed all these things at such an old age, the truth is, my mind was primed for it. I had been taught to believe in things I couldn’t see, and encouraged to do so to the best of my ability. How was belief in Jesus so different from belief in fairies, or witches, or anything else for that matter?

Did you believe anything crazy when you were a kid? Do you think religion played a role in this, or is this just kid stuff? All opinions are welcome. Feel free to leave a comment. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Recommended Reading: Conservative and Progressive Views on Sexual Morality

I’ve considered weighing in on the Josh Duggar situation and the conservative reaction to it, but this post does such a fantastic job, and explains why that reaction makes sense from a conservative mindset, so I won’t add much to it before sharing the link.

To give you some background, Josh Duggar is known to have molested five girls, some of whom were his sisters, when he was 14. He is now 27. He never faced criminal charges for it, and the conservative reaction has been fairly supportive of him, whereas progressives are frustrated that his transgression was swept under the rug for so long, and that there has been no justice for his victims. The Young Turks go over the details in this video if you want the full story.

As a former homeschooler with pretty harsh feelings towards families like the Duggars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, this scenario only increases my frustration with this family and the conservative celebration of their backwards, antiquated, sexist lifestyle. I have a hard time looking at it objectively, but Libby Anne from Patheos, in a blog post that was shared on the Homeschoolers Anonymous blog, was able to take a step back and examine why conservatives have reacted with so much support for Josh Duggar and so much frustration and even harsh language towards progressives. The post is titled “Josh Duggar and the Tale of Two Boxes” and can be read here.

If you have conservative, religious friends and family members with differing sexual mores and have trouble talking about these things with them, this is for you. And them. Maybe they should read it too.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

What’s in a Name?

Image courtesy of Rosen Georgiev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Rosen Georgiev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My boyfriend and I are talking very seriously about marriage, and recently the topic of name changing came up. Now, I’ve never liked that it’s automatically assumed that when people get married, the woman changes her last name to her husband’s, end of discussion. If true gender equality is to exist, then a name change should be up to the couple to decide–and legally it is, but socially, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I understand the logistical reasons why making both members of a couple (and potential future children) have the same last name makes life a lot easier, and that’s why I think I’ll most likely be changing my name when I get married–but now that it’s looming closer (quite possibly within the next few years), I’m having trouble with the idea of letting go of my name.

I’m a writer. The first time I got published, it was under my name (which, in case you’re curious, is not my blog name.) I’ve held editorial positions at school, and my last name is listed with my work there as well. If I change my name, I have to continuously tell people to look me up under two different names. It splits me between my pre-married self and my married self, and I don’t like that.

Name changing fits well with the ancient practice of considering women the property of men. From birth to marriage, a woman used to be the property of her father, so she had his last name. When that property was essentially sold to the husband, she’d take the husband’s name. In a culture like that, this name change was like a brand on a cow. It meant, “She’s my property now. I bought her fair and square.” My boyfriend is not the sort who would think that way at all–but the tradition really does remind me of that time period.

Name changing also stinks a little bit of religion to me. In Christianity, a name change signifies a change in a person. That’s why babies are baptized with a middle name, formerly called a “Christian” name, and at confirmation, thirteen-year-olds choose yet another name, symbolizing their step into Christian adulthood. It’s why, in the Bible, Saul becomes Paul, and Simon becomes Peter as they each take on their new leadership roles in the faith.

Am I changing as a person by getting married? I’m changing my habits. I’m making a lifelong commitment. Maybe I’ll change over time, but I somehow doubt that at the moment I tie the knot, I’ll be permanently a different person from my single self. I’ll still be Nancy, I just won’t be single.

I know the other options to name changing: don’t change it at all, convince him to take YOUR name, or hyphenate. Each of these presents its own problems. I haven’t asked him what he would think about taking my last name. But to be honest, I don’t really want him to have that last name. I associate that name with my extremely flawed, deeply religious, conservative family, and I don’t want that to be his. At the same time, I don’t want to permanently change something that has been part of who I am since the day I was born.

Why do we put women through this? Why do we expect them to change their identity as soon as they get married? Would divorce rates drop, or would marriage rates increase, if women were allowed to just be themselves permanently?

This whole crisis was floating around in the back of my mind, but it came to the forefront today, because I just learned that my state requires a shit ton of paperwork and hoops to jump through if you want to do anything more complicated than replace your maiden name with your married one. I had hoped to tack my married name on to the end of my current one, and simply have an extra name without losing my old one completely. I’m not going to lie–I was kind of banking on that as a way to subtly maintain my identity. And now that I know that I probably can’t do that because my state is absolutely fucking ridiculous, I’m kind of freaking out. I’m not even at the point where I need to be dealing with this stuff, I’m just trying to get through the last finals week of my undergraduate education, but I’m pretty upset right now.

What do you guys think about the whole name changing thing? Feel free to leave a comment.

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

Happy thinking!

-Nancy