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Catholic Guilt: The Easter version.

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Catholic Guilt: The Easter version.

It's the season of Lent, that time in between Ash Wednesday and Easter when I feel the most guilt about leaving Catholicism.

Now, guilt comes with being Catholic. It's instilled in you from an early age, honed and perfected until you become one with it. And someday, should you choose to leave the church, denounce its teaching and have nothing to do with any organized religion whatsover, you will still have the guilt. It's forever.

When I was little, I remember the frequently uttered phrases from my aunts. God will punish you. God is watching you. Do you want God to know you're doing that? God is not happy with you right now. All fed to you with pointed finger and clenched teeth and stern eyes.

For a while I was frozen in fear. I couldn't do anything without wondering if God was watching me. I was six years old and picking my nose one day when it suddenly dawned on me that I was probably being watched and I would go to hell for wanting to get a booger out of my nose. I ran into my room, knelt down by my bed and asked God to forgive me.

This persisted through the course of my life, those phrases always ringing in my ears whenever I did something wrong. I laid in bed at night, imagining a stern, cross god screaming at me for everything I did during the day, reviewing it on some huge monitor he had up in heaven.

I've never quite gotten over that. Making the decision to leave Catholicism and religion in general caused so much anxiety in me that I thought I would have a nervous breakdown. On the one hand, I knew that I did not believe in a higher being and I did not subscribe to the teachings of the church, but on the other hand I was still entrenched in this fear of wronging the god I didn't believe in.

Maybe it wasn't god I was afraid of. Maybe it was my aunts or my mother or my grandmother. Perhaps on some level I viewed them as the all-powerful beings and thought that they would be punishing me for leaving the church. And they really are pretty powerful if they can instill that kind of guilt in fear in me as a child and still have it remain all these years later.

I am still raising my kids Catholic, which no one seems to understand. I think kids do need some kind of religion. It's comforting for them to have that feeling that someone up there is looking out for them, that there's someone listening to them and trying hard to answer their prayers. That there is a heaven where all their relatives and puppies go when they die and it is a better place than earth. Basically, I teach them at home instead of sending them to the church for catechism, because I can teach them religion the way I think it should be taught. I can give them the side of religion that is about love and respect and comfort, and leave out that vision of the all-seeing, vindictive god that I grew up with. What they choose to do with their religion later on in life is strictly up to them.

So now it's Lent and everyone has given up something for the season, and they are preparing for Good Friday and Easter and all the things that go on during this season. I don't feel bad that I'm not a part of it, because I don't believe it. I just feel bad that people try to make me feel like I should feel bad about it. Some people just cannot understand the whole concept of thinking for yourself. I must be stupid or blind or inherently evil to not want to repent or kneel down and pray or re enact the Stations of the Cross. And really, that's my problem with organized religion in general. That they (and by they I mean almost any religion) think that their way is the only way. Their choices are the right choices. That closed-minded way of thinking that alienated me in the first place is certainly not going to work if you're trying to bring me back.

So this has become for me the season of guilt. The season of accusatory looks and a "shame shame" attitude for not joining in the festivities. I have my own way of viewing Easter. I look at it as a time of renewal, a welcome to spring and the colors of nature coming back again. I like spring. I like the feeling I get when the buds are starting to show on the trees and impatiens are peeking through the ground and the streets are filled with kids playing hockey. I tend to appreciate life more during spring. I like the whole feeling of renewal and emerging from the darkness of winter.

So why can't people leave that alone? Why do I have to take the joy of this season and have it mixed with guilt and sorrow that I seem to be a failure to my family, that I am not doing right by them, by my kids and by a god that I don't believe in?

And if I don't believe in Easter and all it's trappings, am I still allowed to indulge in Cadbury Eggs without feeling like I've given in?

Comments

Nice post.

As a kid, I would talk about such things with my friends (oddly, all of my best friends were all Catholic) and they would mention being afraid of god. I always thought they had it easy. When I was seven, I was quite convinced that the Catholic God had nothing on my old man, a career soldier. I even told a kid once that my dad could beat up his god and I'm still not completely certain that that's an untrue statement (provided of course, that there is a deity off lurking somewhere). Dad was so mean that when I would walk onto the post he worked on and show my ID to the guard, he or she'd see my father's name on the ID and then tell me how sorry they were for me. This happened often, and was several years after he (in my mind at least) mellowed.

My experience makes me think that you're correct in your assesment that you were really afraid of your family. I've had almost exclusively Catholic best friends my whole life and I think I got the impression from talking to them that god was really a handy excuse to keep kids in line.

I also think that it makes perfect sense for you to raise your kids with the religious ethics and tolerance you seem to want to provide them, whether or not it's Catholicism.

Heehee. This reminds me of the time Lex and I were riding in a van with another mom and her kids. The kids in the back were talking about Awanas(sp?) and apparently "Jesus Christ" came up in the conversation. Lex blurted, "Ooooh, Jesus Christ is a bad word." She only hears that name when I'm at my wit's end.

I grew up in a non-denominational Christian bubble and there wasn't much I learned from them except that anything less than perfectionism is going to send me straight to hell. I'm at that point now (and have been for a decade) where I only go to church for weddings and funerals. I won't send the girls to church either because it took me so long to escape from that way of thinking. I don't trust what other people will try to teach them.

If they decide later in life that they want to start going to church, I have no problem with that.

Nobody I know, not even the regular pew-yawners and pope's-ring-kissers, believes in capital G, capital punishment, capital God, not the sort that inhabits the Bible or the Koran. If people really did, if they really thought about eternity in heaven or hell, about some Guy peeking into their brains and ready to roast them forever because they had a fling with the neighbor or stole a weedwhacker or whatever, they wouldn't act like they do. They'd go frighteningly mad. They'd be the nutcase fundamentalists you worry about. Fire and brimstone.

And the wimpy lowercase disorganized-church god that a lot of people say they really believe in wouldn't mind one bit that you don't believe in him or her or it or them. This god would encourage you and the kids to eat as many damned chocolate Easter eggs as you like, as long as you brush afterwards and promise to do a little extra exercise to work off the fat.

To me, the idea of a god is hilarious and the idea of believing in such a thing and living your life by it is scary. But chocolate is good and so are presents, especially when you're a kid.

Yes yes yes yes to Cadbury eggs. The single best thing about Easter time is Cadbury Creme Eggs. In the past, I used to go through two boxes of eggs per week. It's amazing I still have (most of) my teeth left.

As I was buying a box of tissues this morning at the little store in my office building, I noticed that they had a display of Cadbury eggs up by the cash register, and made a mental note to go down there during my lunch hour, and score some eggs. Tis the season!

I was brought up in the black sheep family - atheists amongst Very Catholic. (My aunt is SSND -in Rome, even -- my uncle is a Franciscan, my father was a Jevvie (14 yrs) and my mother was in a cloistered order (4 yrs). (I like to tease my mother that she's a divorcee.)

My brother and I are both kind and compassionate people because we were raised not with, "God's gonna get you!" but "How do you think you would feel if someone did to you what you just did to your brother?"

One of the most shocking things to me was when people (who had a lot of experience with me and my brother) asked my parents if we knew right and wrong. (Of course, their Catholic kids were little monsters.)

It IS possible to raise ethical and caring people outside of the church. If anything, since there isn't some deity "forgiving" whatever wrong they do, maybe you'll have better people in the long run. And that sense of comfort? They'll find it. In their own family. In you. In Justin. In each other. In nature, in the kindness of strangers.. etc.

Obviously, this is your decision and I'm butting out now.... :)

But I like - and appreciate - the butting in. That's one of the reasons I talk about these things out loud.

I'd rather worship the Cadbury eggs... they make you feel good.

I always love reading your religious posts, could be misery loves company.

I wrote a long comment, re-read it, edited it, then decided your comment box wasn't the place for me to be ranting about my religious beliefs or lack thereof. I might change my mind and come back to comment again.

Please do.

I don't have the catholic guilt. I was kicked out of the church when I was eleven, one week before my first communion. I was the best student in my catechism class. While the other kids passed notes and hit each other with wads of paper, I Iistened intently to all the lessons - after all, I felt intensely watched by God. BUT, the priest found out that my parents had not been married in a church. They had gone to a justice of the peace. Thus, as their offspring, I was unfit for the church.

I thought nothing of it at the time, although my dad was pretty upset (and he never gets upset).

The clincher for me is when people come to the door trying to convert me to their religion - I always ask them - if I lived a perfectly moral life, was absolutely the best person I could be, selfless, generous, loving, helpfull, avoiding vices, etc. but I never explicitly acknowledged your God by "asking him into my heart". What would God do with me? Answer: go directly to hell, do not pass go. From then on it was easy for me to disregard what anyone says about God (i.e. organized religion). As a scientist I devote my life to trying to define the objective nature of reality. People disagree about two molecules in a tube. Religion certainly isn't any better. Besides, people should live moral lives with or without God.

When friends and relatives of the Catholic persuasion try to make you feel bad about not 'celebrating' Lent, you could always just do what I do: Tell them you're giving up Jesus.

i'm still not doing so well with that pledge to actually stop NOT going to church. see, with us (ex-)Protestants, it's not so much a matter of guilt, but imminent death for your always-already total depravity before the almighty, etc. i took the middle road and went Episcopalian. plus, they really know how to party afterwards.

week 2...

I'm happy I was raised Catholic because sex will always be dirty.

As maybe the only happy church going Catholic on this comment board I feel I have some obligation to say something. Luckily I escaped childhood without a lot of the Catholic trappings associated with it. Parents and family members making sweeping generalizations about what God frowned on and what he was cool with. For those who believe in a diety, I am sure we can agree that we can do all we want down here but ultimately any sort of 'judgement' is going to be done by him and not by some snotty aunt that smells of too much perfume and hair setting chemicals.

I could not be more displeased with some of my fellow Catholics treating their faith like a burden. I guess to stay a Catholic I've had to get past a lot of the cultural teachings that have been handed out, ie: no birth control, women shouldn't be clergy, and on and on. I just don't buy into it because I know at the core... the very core of the Catholic Christian tradition Jesus followers were trying to spread a hopeful message of peace, not that using a condom would send you to hell.

Of course it takes a 2000 year old orginization to come around sometimes. At the church I am a member, they apologized last year for the 2000 years of shitty treatment to the gay and lesbian community and for that whole middle age slavery thing. Sure it's 500 years late on the slavery deal but at least things are changing.

I think if you haven't seen it yet 'Dogma' by Kevin Smith has a pretty good outlook on the Catholic faith for this modern life. Of course if Kevin and I are wrong on the whole condom thing we will be in good company downstairs.

Of course what better way to piss off your family than claiming your religious life back for yourself, telling them you are giving up their bullshit for Lent and laughing about it over Cadburys with your kids.

Jason, I'm hoping to give my kids what your parents obviously gave you: a Catholic upbringing without the burdens of being catholic.

My atheism has less to do with how I was brought up then with my literal/scientfic way of thinking.

I do, however, maitain a pretty nice spirtitual life, without the organized religion to go with it.

It's kind of funny, but Alannis Morisette in Dogma is pretty much how I think of God. I was brought up Missouri-Synod Lutheran (or Misery Synod as it's sometimes called) and I remember my big break with the church. When I was in high school I read in the paper that some of the Lutheran church's leaders were going to make a formal apology for the part of Luther's teachings that apparently are quite anti-Semitic. I'd never heard anything about it and was shocked. After that, I started looking at all the hypocrisy that goes on in all religions and became very anti-religion. Since it seems all religions are convinced that they are correct and everyone else is wrong, I've always felt it's kind of like the lotto. "I was born in America, so I'm Christian. I am saved! Thank God I wasn't born in Africa because I never would have learned about Jesus Christ and I would be damned to hell!"

I do believe there is something up there, but the way to "heaven" is by leading a good life and treating people right.

I'm right there with Jason. The happy Catholic. Who wasn't raised in a Catholic guilt home or church. My teachers (I went to Catholic schools for 8 years) were quite free-thinkers by the time I hit high school. They tought me such open minded things such as the fact that instead of "giving up something" for Lent, we did something to IMPROVE ourselves. Isn't that really the point after all?

As far as Kymberlie's lotto comment ... I got two priests in an arguement over that once. Doesn't that sound like a good opening line for a joke? Personally, my God is a kind & loving God. Live a good life, welcome to Heaven. Live a bad life, you're going to hell. Pretty easy to sort the good and the bad.

PS ... my favorite thing to point out to people? Faith and Religion - there IS a difference. My Faith is a very personal thing, a core of me. My Religion on the other hand is Catholic, and it is just a vehicle to express my faith. It's the best fit for me. Like Jason, I don't think taking the pill is going to send me straight to Hell. Lighten up on some of the rules...

Good for you, God is love, so the New Testament states, so, you might just believe in God after all. I still love God although I put all of my energy, time and reverence now into my home, which I consider God's house. There are good books, like "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judiasm" that can help you to find the "original" way that Jesus's "father" taught, many differences from Catholicism (the men who started the church and wrote the NT), and I've found it much more uplifting and sensible. I also love Jesus, whom I call Yeshua, his Jewish name, but he showed me himself that those stories that they told about him in the NT are just that, stories, and it was to form a "church" which men rule and big organizations can get corrupt, yet there is no reason as to why you can't still love Jesus, as the person he was, I found it facinating when he led me to the truth about the religion many of us were raised in. You shouldn't feel guilty at all around Lent, I look at all the things of Lent now with Yeshua by my side telling me that they were all just stories, and although he probably did suffer in his life, I should be glad I'm not a part of false leadings. I think Jesus was a teacher among his fellow Jewish brethren, and he had followers, but later on when the church formed, they really put the Jews down and created a lot of anti-semitism and hate by using false stories (which are basically lies, although to get by and make it sound nice, people call them myths)...the true Jesus, would not have tolerated this, I don't believe, if he was so well liked during his lifetime to have so many initial followers, and I do believe that most Christians are good anyway. Jesus still has a chance to show us the WAY. I do believe that he did actually live, but not the myths created for him.

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