I’ve never liked crutches, figuratively or literally.
When I broke my foot years back, I preferred to hobble rather than saddle myself with an unwieldy and troublesome stick to lean upon. Admittedly I fell down a lot and looked a far sight dumber than if if I’d swallowed my pride and sought some help. As the saying goes, pride goeth before the fall.
In high school and college I looked at religion in much the same light: An unstable and unreliable crutch for the weak. Something that those who couldn’t stand on their own feet turned to as a placebo for reality. I saw religion as an excuse for living to die, because if the temporal world is only temporary, then what’s the point of living a fulfilling life? Of making the connections in the now, of having the great education/career/family/etc. if none of it matters in the end? I was rather damning of religion, but I’d also been burned pretty thoroughly by it.
The only time I have ever been bullied in my 28 years was in a non-denominational Christian school. And having grown up Catholic and in parochial schools previously, the move into a non-Catholic, but still Christian school and being treated as a pariah, a slut (ironic as I’d never even been kissed at the time), and a heathen was mind-boggling. I didn’t come in as a devil worshipper, I knew all the prayers (and in Latin, too), and my Bible knowledge was rather comprehensive. What made people who purported forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and humility—all the tenets of Christianity that I’d been raised with—choose to judge and ostracize me?
I ran back to Catholic school as fast as I could after that and while the religious aspect was neither important or unimportant to me, there was comfort in the rote traditions. Mass is mass no matter where you are, religion classes (at least in my Catholic school) were largely an academic survey of the Church in Western Civilization and a literary study of the Bible. While we had a few pre-Vatican II holy-rollers, by and large the religion, despite inundating every aspect of the school, was at an arm’s distance. No one was ever going to accuse us of putting the Buddy in “Buddy Christ.” And despite all the negativity I experienced at the evangelical Christian school, they feel Jesus in their blood—nothing about their faith is by rote.
Slowly though, after the relief of no longer being the odd duck at the religion table wore off, my old frustrations sunk in. No one was bullying me or saying “no WWJD bracelet, no entrance,” but the dogmatic flaws within the Church’s institution were wearing thin. All these rules upon antiquated rules that you had to pay homage to whether you believed them or not were exhausting. Reconciliation didn’t sit well as I professed my innocuous sins to a priest—if I’d wronged someone I needed their forgiveness, not an allotment of recitations. My first year of college at a private Catholic university (a story for another day) only frustrated me more when girls would discuss the list of guys they’d blown the night before and then in the next breath talk about having the priests come in to bless their rooms the next morning.
They could have all the sex wherever they wanted as far as I’m concerned, but it was the hypocrisy of doing the actions against their religion and then using a few muttered words to wash over it that infuriated me. You can’t be both the perfect and judgemental Catholic while doing the same thing you’re condemning others to hell for. A little religious mumbo-jumbo and waving your hands in the air can’t wipe your slate clean. Pretending something never happened because you’ve been “forgiven” (and I’m not remotely touching whether they needed forgiving or not—that’s a matter of their own faith) doesn’t magically mean it never happened. And repeatedly doing acts that go against the tenets of your faith because there is allegedly a get-out-of-jail-free pass is absurd.
Oh, how angry I was. I raged against religion. The hypocrisy of institutionalized religion infuriated me. You can’t just try to be a good person, you can’t just try to be virtuous and kind, you’ve got to fit in a box, play by the rules, and then throw a Hail Mary pass when you fail so you can pretend it didn’t happen. Well I wasn’t buying it. If I’m a heathen, then at least I am nothing but who and what I am—nothing more and nothing less. At 18 years old, I decided then and there I was an atheist.
Well, 10 years later, I’m here to tell you that it’s hard to hold onto the anger of any age that ends in “teen.” Atheism fit about as well as my in nomine patre did in an evangelical school. I couldn’t help it. I still capitalize the “g” in God, I cross myself when I walk into a Church, and when I stand on a cliff over the sea I see proof of some greater purpose in every craggy nook. I was Richard Dawkins’ dreaded preprogrammed child whose earliest memories came with an all-access pass to God. I was almost as angry about being a terrible atheist as I had been at religion. As a last-ditch hurrah I tried on agnosticism—apparently despite fleeing religious boxes I was quite keen to find a new one. It fit a little better, especially in regards to Jesus (I’ve never felt quite comfortable with the man), but it seems I inadvertently default to believing in God.
Now closer to 30 than I am a teen, I’ve come to terms with this. Part of it comes from wondering what kind of faith I will pass on to my kids. I’ve accepted that they will be baptized Catholic, though they’ll at best get their mother’s cafeteria-style selection of it: “I’ll take one fantastic parochial school education at a discounted tuition rate please, hold the pre-Vatican II/American Conference of Bishops versions, though. We’d also like an extra helping of Pope Francis.” They’re also going to receive a whole heap of honesty. I’ll sit them down and give them my own Act of Contrition: “Your mother swears like a sailor, has little or no use for Church, and gets on her high horse a bit too much. She’s a good liar but tends to use the truth like a battering ram and can often be deliberately hurtful about it. She’s terrible at secrets and occasionally a gossip. Her ego’s hefty, humility isn’t a strongpoint, and she gets a bit too big for her britches. She can be real small-minded about a lot of things and not overly charitable. And more than anything else in this world, she hates hypocrisy.”
Because that, in a nutshell, is the alpha and omega of my 20-year-long contention with religion. It’s not God, it’s not even really the institutions—it’s those who preach it from one side of their mouth while doing and meaning the exact opposite. That’s the real crutch, the real weakness I’ve been railing against. There’s nothing wrong with faith or religion—there are absolutely wonderful Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. who do their best to live the life they profess, acknowledge when they inevitably fail, and treat others like they want to be treated. They let their faith and God give them an extra boost to get through life, a little something we all need from time to time. It helps them walk a little easier and a little straighter as it’s not so much a crutch, but a rock– a foundation of their life.
I doubt I will ever get to that point, I’m not sure it will ever mean enough to me. But I do know that next time I’m stumbling around, while I’ll probably still forsake the crutches, I’ll definitely take a helping hand.
But I’m still hoping the hypocrites trip one of these days. (Hey, I said I try to be a good person, not that I am one.)
Thoughts? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @litdarling.