God Is No Laughing Matter: My Childhood Religion

Notre Dame
This has already been well explored. To summarize, there was a marked difference between religion at church and at home. My mother had all sorts of opinions about God as a parent with just about zero faith or trust in his children. My father remained as silent as he could on the subject; when asked he’d tell a mildly disturbing story about a nun slapping everyone in his class or about a buddy of his throwing him out of confession. From what he was willing to say, I don’t think he considered the Catholic church to have much God in it.

I barely remember the Methodist church where I was baptized. I do know my sister had godparents and I didn’t; my mother said that the Methodist church didn’t allow godparents and only made an exception for my father because he was still Catholic at the time. I’m pretty sure she lied to me about that, as I know plenty of Methodist children who still have godparents.

The church I was confirmed in – the UCC – was surface-liberal, welcoming and pretty confrontation avoidant. The only time it got weird was when one of the older women at church started making comments about how my sister and I should hurry up to get married because her granddaughter had “beat us to it.” I never attributed that to the church – I just assumed she was going senile and thought the year was pre-1970. It still had a women’s guild and a few other pieces of oppressive bullshit, but it was bland faced enough not to offend as long as you didn’t look too close. Of course, that was the Indiana-Kentucky conference. I know from living in Minnesota that the western conferences are much more liberal but the eastern ones like their Baby-boomer dogma a bit too much. I’ll never forget the look on my pastor’s and my mother’s face when it came out that a UCC in Washington State was the first Christian church run by a gay couple. My mother had stormed out of the Methodist church when gay people were allowed in the ministry. It was the perfect middle finger from God to my mother and people like her; it stuck with me.

This isn’t the faith I practice now, of course. There were just too many hypocritical pockets even in the more liberal aspects I experienced. While I could feel God in private prayer… all I felt at church was pressure to uphold a culture. God was not part of that culture. The very resistance to change/preservation of values denied the very God I intuitively understood.

My departure had been blamed by others on my feminism, but that’s not even close to what catalyzed my conversion to Wicca. Jesus – not as Paul understood him but as written in the gospels – was a feminist. He had a better appreciation of women than even my ostensibly liberal church did. Ultimately following the path of Jezebel made more sense than did the path of Esther but really neither one was terribly appealing. The insistence of following one path, and only one path, was also suspicious to me.

What caused me to leave was the reality that the values I was taught at church just weren’t working the real world. I also got the sense that my fellow church goers had no intention of actually using those values; they of course would hang little plaques with prayers in their home and send each other semi-competitive cards at Christmas or when someone died. But their religious practice had nothing to do with their daily lives. Yet daily life – how you interact with strangers and friends – is what defines who you are as a person. It’s the very essence of what religion as I grew up knowing it is supposed to address … and didn’t.

I bear no animosity towards my religious upbringing. I see it as something to both cherish and pity – there was so much good, and so much bad. In some ways, I see the humanity in my old church better than I see it in other people.