The Other I

September 3, 2010

Never say never

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion — theotheri @ 4:04 pm

Shortly after I met the man who is now my husband, he made some reference to my being a Catholic.  “Oh, I’m not a Catholic anymore,” I assured him.  I don’t even believe in God.”

At that time my husband was a Protestant sociologist at Edinburgh University in the then seminal field of the sociology of religion.  “Ah,” he said, “it takes a lot more than no longer believing in God not to be Catholic through and through.”  He meant, of course, that one does not change the encompassing cultural assumptions of Catholicism simply by abandoning the doctrine.  I didn’t understand it then, but I understand a lot more now.

He was talking about things like the role of women, the understanding of marriage, the raising of children, attitudes toward achievement and ambition, one’s relationship to the community, the source of one’s sense of purpose and self-worth, the particular dimensions of guilt.

Not all of these things are necessarily negative.  I have been grateful for many of them.  But it is only with time that I have realized how many I never questioned.  They were just the way things were, and the way everyone with a sense of moral decency lived.

Being married to an English Protestant and living and working outside the country in which I was born have made me realize just how profound the alternatives are.  Not only experience but psychology, sociology, philosophy, history, religious studies, and anthropology, all of which I studied on a graduate level, were enlightening.

Nonetheless, being raised as a Catholic, just as being raised in any other strong cultural tradition, is a profound and pervasive influence.  Changing attitudes and values rarely happens quickly.

This view, however, is quite different from the Roman Catholic value that basically says that one can never stop really being a Catholic.  Catholics might become “fallen Catholics,” or “apostate Catholics.”  But they can’t ever become non-Catholics.  This is the view that is reflected in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, when the dying father, who has rejected the Church for years, calls for the priest on his deathbed.

I find this attitude immensely irritating.  Yes, it takes time and thought and experience.  It probably takes a certain level of ability and a predisposition to think about these things.

But the view that one can’t ever really stop being a Catholic, or can’t ever really stop believing in God or in heaven and hell is brain washing with no substantial evidence to back it up.

If you are wondering what started all this, it was a discussionon somebody else’s blog.  Nobody actually accused me of still being a Catholic, but I was reminded of it.   And it was made worse by a relative who assured me that it was true.

“Just wait,” he said “until you are dying.”

As Lucy would say:  Grrr.


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