Busy, late, etc.
This is a good time as any to trot out an old one, apropos of the season:
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 me so much anxiety 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 that comes with 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?
originally printed 2/26/02