By Amanda Fox
Catholicism is what helped me form many of the views I have today. I was raised Catholic in a family that believed Vatican II reform was the work of the devil. To say we were ultra-conservative is an understatement. Most people that know me, loosely at least, think I hate Catholicism and religion in general – particularly since I declare my faith as Science. Hey, it’s what I believe in and that’s my choice. The fact is, I am thankful I grew up Catholic because it taught me so much and actually served as the basis of my becoming a pro-choice feminist liberal.
Where I am today and what I do and do not put my faith in has nothing to do with rebellion. It’s all about logic, and I say unapolegetically, witnessing rampant hypocrisy to a certain degree. This is my story.
I was baptized like most children of Catholic parents – not my choice, but there is no choice in it really. That is my parents and godparents saying they will raise me in the faith. I was only a few months old so I couldn’t protest much. I made my first communion as well, which was when I started getting some idea that not everything made sense – and I was only seven and came to that conclusion.
I went to a Catholic school, St. Joseph’s, so I was taught by nuns. Prior to making our first communion, the nuns had us practice the process so that we wouldn’t screw up when the big day came. We lined up and one by one, we received the body of Christ. Actually it was a Necco Wafer, but that’s what the sisters told us to bring for practice. I received the symbolic host and started munching away on it until Sister Frances smacked me on the back of the neck with a ruler.
“You never chew the baby Jaysus! You’ll go straight ta hell and take us all with ya. Ya don’t want to be taking us all to hell, do ya?”
“It’s just a Necco Wafer” I said sheepishly.
“If ya chew the Necco, you’ll chew the baby Jaysus.”
That really happened. My grandparents drove in and spent the week with us, as they did fairly regularly anyway, but they were so looking forward to seeing the blessed event it became the topic of every conversation. At dinner that night they excitedly asked how the practice went. I told them, as only a small child could, I didn’t understand any of it. Being understanding, to a degree, they asked me what I didn’t understand so I could explain it.
I said, “Okay… I put the baby Jesus in my mouth and can’t chew on him or everyone goes to hell.” My father turned as red as I’d ever seen him, my mother began to weep, my grandfather was clutching his St. Patrick medallion and my grandmother was working the rosary with one hand and spritizing me with holy water with the other.
I was informed in no unclear terms that I was to never utter the any phrase which included “Put the baby Jesus in my mouth” ever again. After things settled down they began explaining transubstantiation to me and I remember thinking to myself “Does anyone really buy this?” It starts out as a wafer and as long as I don’t chew on it, it turns into God when it reaches my stomach?” I decided then and there I didn’t believe in it, but I wasn’t going to say anything about it and risk an exorcism or losing out on the gift bonanza I knew was coming.
The next step in my journey was confirmation. I’d been to three by then. My neighbor Danny and Cousin Mickey got confirmed the year before I was due and my cousin Frannie had two years earlier. It was another big gift event, but in actuality it is when you are supposed to stand up on your own and declare that you choose to be a member of the faith and adhere to rules of the church – even if you have no idea what they are or understand the ones you have heard of. This happened when you turned ten. At least it did then. Not for me though.
The year I was due for confirmation someone in the Vatican, or wherever such decisions are made, realized that at ten, you could hardly make an informed choice like that and changed it to age 16 with two years of twice weekly classes that taught you everything you need to know about the faith. I always suspected it had more to do with collecting catechism fees an extra six years, but I didn’t care about that really since my parents paid them. I was just pissed I had 6 more years catechism.
Part of the process was community service. I didn’t want to sit with old people. I didn’t want to work at the animal shelter because there goes Saturday. I didn’t like any option, but figured I could teach second grade catechism. I had to get up Sunday morning anyway and everything was pretty much closed so it seemed like the thing to do. I partied hard Saturday nights back then, but I could totally function with a hangover so I chose that – the first communion class…
Eventually, I was expected to teach these kids how receiving communion worked just as I did – with Necco Wafers even! The kids had questions, and because I wasn’t a scary as hell nun, I’d answer them. I explained transubstantiation to them.
“So we’re eating God?”
“Not right away Millicent, it’s just unleavened bread blessed by a priest until it reaches your tummy.”
“What part of God are we eating?”
“Ummm… I’m not sure… Ya know, it doesn’t really matter, parts is parts.”
“What does God taste like?”
“Kinda nasty really, so make sure you push him toward your back teeth with your tongue and chew in a way no one can tell so you can swallow him real fast.”
“How does bread turn into God though?”
“Ummm…. it just does. You just have to believe that.”
“Can we see God in our stomach on an x-ray?”
“Umm…. I’m kinda thinking no. I’m pretty sure God is invisible inside you. He’s mysterious like that.”
“How do we know he’s in there then?”
“You just do. Or you don’t. I really don’t know.”
It wasn’t even 5pm that night when I was informed I would no longer be teaching catechism anymore. My confirmation was called into doubt too, which was fine with me aside from I wanted my gifts because I knew most would be cash and I could totally score some killer party material with it. I was confirmed, more because my parents demanded it of me and I did score some killer party material with it over spring break which leads to where my break with the faith really began.
Over spring break, a good friend became pregnant. Being a “good” Catholic like me (HA!), abortion was supposed to be off the table – just like the birth control methods that could have prevented it. Sure, we can say “well don’t have sex!!” but seriously? Who the hell is passing up on sex? The dude was hot! I saw him and I don’t even dig on dudes and I said “Dayum!!!” as soon as I saw him. I totally questioned my sexuality. He looked like a young Val Kilmer.
Anyway… She couldn’t tell her parents. The shame was one thing, the knowledge her parents would force her to carry to term was another. Where we lived, parental consent was needed for an abortion – even if you were 16 and understood exactly what you were doing. We kept it our secret. One weekend, we pulled the “sleepover ruse” and went across state lines and got her abortion on a Saturday morning. Not so surprisingly really, we actually ran into someone else we knew that was doing the same exact thing. A “good” Jewish girl.
I was immediately pissed off that this whole religion thing prevented my friend from securing a safe abortion locally because her parents religious beliefs would force her to carry a child she didn’t want. Their religious beliefs, beliefs she didn’t subscribe to, could in a sense be legally thrust upon her.
I was pissed off this other girl we knew did the same because if anyone knew she had an abortion…. leave it at saying in the community we lived in things would have been very rough on her. “Slut shaming” was alive and well some quarter century ago – it’s not a new thing. Even though her parents supported the decision, they knew better than doing it locally. I was also pissed everyone was afraid to talk about the topic because we could have carpooled if only we knew…
I was distraught over the issue of abortion and my faith as I hadn’t fully abandoned that which I didn’t fully understand yet. I knew better than to ask my parents about, but I did go to a priest from a different parish to try to get some answers. He told me in no uncertain terms that abortion was always wrong. So were condoms or taking birth control pills. It was all murdering a soldier in God’s army. Never give into lustful demon urges. I asked:
“What if the child isn’t wanted and the mother can’t support it? What about rapes? What about mothers that die if they try to deliver a child?”
“All children are wanted and can be supported.
“Well that’s kinda bullshit considering all the un-adopted children not to mention the ones in indefinite state sponsored foster care. If every child was loved, every child would have a home, right?”
“Not all people that want children should have them. Plenty of perverts out there want children so they can turn them away from God and abuse them. Some people are incapable of caring for children properly. Some people … are not made to be parents …”
I thought on that on a moment and asked finally, “What perverts? What people?” He told me it was the homosexual pedophiles (Which seeing as this very priest was snagged in an abuse scandal of young boys in 2004 is certainly the pot calling the kettle black), the pornographers and the people that take pleasure in hurting the innocent. Agents of Lucifer.
It was then, in that very moment, I knew…. I knew that I could never believe in system which touted a God Figure that would condone undue suffering. I could never condone a person being forced to be what even then I saw as an incubator to do nothing more than create the next generation of “souls for God’s army” even if it was bad for everyone involved. I couldn’t be a part of a system that looked on homosexuals as intrinsically evil people just because they are different. Especially considering I’m gay as all get out and was due for excommunication anyway in 3….2….
That was the turning point in my life. I began looking back on my journey through religion not understanding anything. The more questions I asked the fewer answers I got – and those I did often made no sense to me or were chalked up to “You must have faith.” I decided then and there I did have faith.
I have faith in that which empowers people to do what is right for them. I have faith in women to decide if they should or should not have a child and to use whatever legal means are available to them should they choose not to. I have faith in people being basically decent without needing to be scared or bullied into acting a certain way by an entity in the sky we’ve never seen.
I have faith in humanity. Of course not all people are good, but neither were all the angels or that place called hell and the Morning Star and his legions wouldn’t get so much coverage in that book.
I have faith. I have truckloads of it. My faith simply doesn’t match that of many others. It doesn’t mean it is right or wrong. It only means different. I don’t push my faith in science on anyone. They can believe in it or not. Similarly, I ask no one push their religion on me whether it be regarding the right to access birth control, abortions if needed for any reason, or via legislation that imposes religious dogma upon me.
Simply put – keep religion out of the laws we live by. Keep religion out of our public schools unless EVERY single religion is given equal attention (and that includes the Wiccans, Druids, Jedi’s and everyone else getting equal play) and keep your religion out of my family planning. It’s my vagina, my choice. Not the pope’s, not the president’s, not yours. Just mine.