I’m twenty-five years old and I identify as Catholic. But it’s not exactly something I tell people the first time they meet me. Or the second, or the third. In fact, it’s probably not something I’d bring up until pretty late in the game, if at all. And if I do, I feel the need to qualify it: “But I’m a liberal, open-minded Catholic!”
I’m sure it’s different in other parts of the country, but in blue states, admitting to being religious, especially if you’re Christian, is almost un-PC. It’s fine to say that you were “raised” in a religion, or that your family subscribes to a religion, or to joke about Catholic guilt. It’s even fine to say that you’re spiritual but not religious, because you don’t believe in organized religion. But if I mention that I go to church as part of a conversation, I can see people’s glances uncomfortably shifting as their perception of me changes.
To give you a little background, my family is Catholic, but even though I grew up going to church and CCD and received the sacraments, we’re not super religious. As an adult, though, I realized that I did like going to church and wanted to continue going. In college, I sang at Mass with the campus Liturgical Arts Group. Now I attend The Paulist Center, a progressive Catholic church on Beacon Hill. I do not agree with everything about the Catholic Church, but I’ve found ways that I’m comfortable reconciling my personal beliefs while remaining part of the Church. I’m also very interested in learning about other religions and have tried to read more books on religion and attend services in places other than Catholic churches. It is entirely possible that my beliefs will change as I get older, and I would never tell anyone that what they believe or don’t believe is wrong.
What is wrong, though, is forcing religion on others. Trying to convert unwilling people is wrong. School-sponsored prayer before public high school football games is wrong. Trying to ban the teaching of evolution in schools is wrong. Actually, trying to ban anything in the name of religion is wrong. Opposing gay marriage is wrong, especially if you try to justify it in the name of religion. Telling people they’re going to hell is wrong.
Equally wrong, though, is disrespecting religion. It’s one thing to call people out on it if they’re forcing religion on others, but mocking someone’s personal faith or obnoxiously questioning their beliefs is a terrible thing to do. I find Bill Maher’s movie Religulous horribly offensive because he’s not mocking the forcing of religion on others or even the distortion of religion to fit one’s personal beliefs—he’s mocking people for having faith at all, and forcing people—regular people who aren’t hurting anyone—to question their beliefs.
It’s also wrong to lump all religious people into the same group, whether it’s equating all Muslims with terrorism or believing that all Christians are Sarah Palin-loving homophobes who picket abortion clinics. Particularly, the culture wars seem to have lent people license to equate “Christian” with “Republican.” As a Democrat, whose more religious family members are also Democrats, who knows far more Catholic Democrats than Catholic Republicans (although, granted, that might just be because I’m from Massachusetts and went to a Jesuit college), that bothers me a lot.
Moreover, I don’t think you’ll find any two people within a religion who believe exactly the same things. Faith is a deeply personal thing, and people interpret religion differently. Catholics like me, who don’t agree with everything about the church, are often pejoratively called “Cafeteria Catholics,” but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. People like Bill Maher accuse religious people of believing blindly, and while that’s certainly true of some people, I think they’re outnumbered by people who have given their faith serious thought and have accepted or rejected certain beliefs based on that.
The First Amendment guarantees us freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but I often wish people felt more free to speak openly about what they believe or don’t believe without insulting anyone else. I like learning about other religions, and I wish it were easier to talk to people about what they believe and why. I know this post basically boils down to “Why can’t we all just get along?” but to me, it really is frustrating that people who abuse religion have made it so hard for the rest of us to talk about it honestly. I mean, I know someone who visibly recoils if you even say the word “church,” and whom I could see tensing up when I mentioned the name of a Catholic college in casual conversation. And I know someone else who, when someone asked him out of curiosity about his religious beliefs or lack thereof, looked at the person asking the question as if he was pissed that the question had even crossed her mind. So…why can’t we all just get along?
To end this post on a lighter note, I give you this song by Christine Kane, a singer-songwriter and fellow BC grad. It’s called “Mary Catherine’s Ash Wednesday Journal Entry,” and it’s pretty funny. And check out some of Christine Kane’s other songs while you’re at it.