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Happy Easter (Catholic guilt – or lack thereof)

March 31, 2013

Happy Easter.  On the eve of the holiday, as a mostly-lapsed Catholic, I’m wondering whether I should take my son to mass in the morning.  Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what role, if any, religion should play in J’s life.

I was raised Catholic, and being Catholic had — up until a few years ago — been of some significance in my life.  My family went to church every Sunday (although we were known to arrive late and sneak out after Communion.)  I attended Catholic grade school and an all-girls Catholic high school where I suffered through four years of itchy navy blue polyester.  I also chose to attend a Catholic university, not necessarily for the religious aspect of the education, but because it was a great school, and also, in hindsight, safe and familiar.

It was after college when Catholicism starting slipping away from me.  I was busy (and maybe often hungover from nights out in Chicago with my friends) and didn’t make it to mass every Sunday any more.  At first, this made me feel guilty.  Then, as I went less and less, the proverbial Catholic guilt started to slip away.  Eventually, I stopped going to mass completely.  And I felt fine about it.

Truthfully, my beliefs had diverged from the Catholic church long before I made my passive exit.  The priest abuse scandals had certainly soured my feeling of “goodness” in the institution.  And, as a young, liberal woman, I had issues with many Catholic stances on things like women’s role in the church, birth control, and homosexuality.  Perhaps I should have disassociated myself from this institution a long time ago.

Still, although I stopped going to church completely, I would identify myself as Catholic if asked.  And when J was born, after some debate with my (also lapsed-Catholic) husband, we had him baptized in the Catholic church.  I guess the guilt crept back.  And the unspoken family pressure.  My mother would be quietly scandalized if we didn’t have her grandson baptized.

The baptism hasn’t yet changed how we raise J.  He hasn’t set foot in a church since the baptism (except for one foreshortened holiday mass when he cried the entire time.)  As he gets older, I’m starting to wonder how to talk to him about religion and, more importantly, God.  Do I believe in either one?  Can I really raise my son as “nothing”?

I recently read a Boston magazine article that addresses this very issue.  Apparently, more and more people are raising their kids as “nothing.”  The author calls them the “Nones.”  She shares her struggle with the topic, including conversations she’s had with her son (who is several years older than mine, so maybe I have some time to think about this.) In her quest to figure out what, if any, religion she should participate in, she takes a quiz on the website beliefnet.com.  I decided to do the same.

According to the “Belief-O-Matic” quiz, my beliefs align most closely with Universal Unitarianism.  Which, basically, means I believe you can believe anything you want.  Sort of a cop-out, I suppose.  My beliefs are only 19% aligned with Roman Catholicism.  According to Belief-O-Matic, I’m more in synch with the Hindu, Mormon, Orthodox Jewish religions ahead of Roman Catholicism.

So, now what?  Do we join up with a Unitarian church?  To be honest, I’m not too keen on being part of a group that really has no set beliefs.  It doesn’t seem worth the effort.  I can just as easily believe that you can believe anything all by myself at my house.

But what about J?  No long, boring Sunday masses with monotonous homilies?  No First Communion in a miniature suit?  No meatless Fridays during Lent?  No Advent candles or beautiful Christmas masses with joyous hymns?

This makes me sad.  Because being a Catholic was — and still is, in a strange way — a huge part of me.  It’s where I came from, and what shaped my early view of the world.  It’s part of my cultural identity.

In the long-term, I’m still not sure what all of this means.  In the short-term, I think I’m making J sit in those hard wooden pews for an hour tomorrow.  We might slip out after Communion, though.

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