I went to Mass every single Sunday. My kids all have Catholic saints’ names. We eschewed birth control in favor of natural family planning (why the baby came along in the first place, but I digress). We showed our faces on holy days of obligation and random feast days and had good friends who were priests. We went to Rome on our honeymoon and actually shook hands with the Pope. That wasn’t enough and we went back six months later.
Then the abuse scandals hit. The bishops were clearly covering them up. The priests were covering for the bishops. Our beloved Pope even got in on the action, saying, “With people lacking good will, with people who only seek scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within the family — (respond with) silence, prayer,” according to USA Today. Prosecutors say the Vatican even knew about the abuse cover-up in Pennsylvania.
So with heavy hearts, we left the Catholic Church. But, after all of this, how can I trust religion now?
I spent a lifetime believing that the most virtuous people I knew were Catholic priests. Then one Sunday I saw one stand in front of a congregation and tell us we needed to be careful which abuse victims we believed, because it wasn’t fair to accuse men who had been dead for so many years and couldn’t defend themselves. He was defending dead people over living, traumatized abuse victims. If these men could be so desperately, horribly wrong about something so important, I cannot trust that they were telling the truth about anything else. If clericalism has forced them to close ranks so closely, if they care about the institution more than the people, I wonder what other lies they have told. I can no longer sort truth from fiction.
I want to believe. But I can’t trust any other religion to guide me through it. I’ve been too badly burned.
I’ve tried to use my own conscience. I know the Catholic teachings on sexuality were wrong; I knew that when I was actually a practicing Catholic. I know Christ wouldn’t reject gays or lesbians or transgender folks or nonbinary people . I also know He wouldn’t send people to hell just for not being baptized, or for being Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist. Or for missing Mass that one Sunday because it was your only day to sleep in.
But now I question the actual existence of hell itself. Did the Christian religion make it up to keep us in line?
I can’t trust anyone to tell me the answer.
I find myself stuck on basic existential questions again. If there is a God, why does he let terrible things happen? Before, I had an answer. Now I look at horrible things happing in the world and I think: God, where are you? I look at my own life, born into relative American comfort and privilege, compare it to the life of someone born into poverty in a war-torn nation, and think: God, how can you make this fair in any conceivable way?
I understand the atheists more and more each day.
I know this much, and only this much: as Kurt Vonnegut said, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies, ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’” I know we have to live a life in service of others. I know we are called, by some impulse — perhaps only a result of our humanity — to live a life of peace and justice, to speak out against oppression, to help the poor and the needy among us. We are called to grow closer to truth. I believe, as said Martin Luther King, Jr., that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice. I also believe, as Barack Obama said, that we are called upon to bend that arc.
I don’t know what else I believe, and I can’t trust any religion to tell me the answer. How do I know they are not lying to me, like the Catholic Church did for so long?
So every Saturday, I iron my son’s suits. And every Sunday, I find an excuse not to look for a new church. Because I am afraid. I am afraid of being disappointed again. I am afraid of being lied to. I am afraid of being hurt again.
But most of all, I think, I am afraid of feeling nothing at all.