Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Catholic Atheism

Okay, I guess I can't just call myself a "Catholic atheist" in my last post and not explain it. I was raised Catholic. I actively and willingly attended church until I was 19. In my sophomore year of college I had a crisis of faith (I guess you'd call it) and decided I just couldn't swallow all the stuff the Catholic church seemed to demand of me, such as that homosexuality is wrong or women are inherently sinful because of Eve. So with great anxiety, I "left" the church.

For years I didn't think about god or religion or any of it. I guess I was agnostic: I didn't know and didn't care to decide. It was through a gospel choir and a synagogue that I re-approached spirituality. I really felt Spirit in those choir rehearsals and shabbot services, so I decided to reconsider the existence of a divine force. At Unity in Chicago, I spent several years crystallizing a personal conception of the divine. My very New Age approach included the presence of the Christ in all of us, Divine Spirit present in all things, a belief in the existence of angels and other spirit guides, the belief that there is a reason for everything, and the belief that the more difficult life seems, the more we must work to align ourselves with Divine order and trust that God/the Universe is teaching us lessons. Note: this is not meant to represent the teachings of Unity or Unity in Chicago. These beliefs were what I personally constructed over years of taking what worked for me and "leaving the rest."

Life seemed to make sense and I felt comforted by the idea of a benevolent Universe that never did anything that wasn't for our "highest good." I liked this spiritual practice.

Then one day I met a wonderful, loving, handsome, funny young man who romanced me and made me feel like the most beautiful woman on earth. I met him at bus stop, a bus stop I (and he) rarely used. Surely this was the Hand of God! In a world of missed opportunities and chance meetings, we had been led to each other. I felt so grateful to the Universe for leading this man into my life.

Then I found out he was married.

In my pain and despair, I cursed God, the angels, the world. How could a benevolent Universe do this to me? How could a loving God lead me to such humiliation, such pain, such feelings of darkness and hopelessness? I found intolerable the idea of a divine force that would purposefully do this. I found unacceptable the idea that a benevolent universe would lovingly and purposefully lead me into the worst depression of my life. So I rejected that idea and I rejected god.

All my carefully constructed spiritual beliefs went out the window. Unable to resolve a loving god with a world of pain, I decided to embrace atheism. It made sense that in a random, godless universe I had just happened to meet this man. No one and nothing "meant" for us to meet in such a disastrous way. It just happened. This view allowed me to let go of the feeling that I was being punished or with-held from. This view allowed me to let go of the possibility that God didn't think I was worthy of a good relationship. And this view allowed me to let go of the harsh idea that this pain was my latest "life lesson" and that it had been purposefully sent to me for my own good.

The world felt a lot emptier without a spiritual presence I could lean on in my daily life. But while I had sacrificed the sense of being divinely loved and cared for, I had also freed myself from the sense of being constantly watched and evaluated. For instance, previously I might have thought, "If I turn right will I be in alignment with Divine Order? Or maybe if I turn left I'll be in alignment with Divine Order. Which is the Divine right answer?" All that crap thinking was over with. Now I realize that at Unity I had simply replaced my childhood judgmental and capricious God with a New Age one. I had just used different language.

But even without a god, I still liked going to church on Sundays. I needed the community and the music. So as a born again atheist, I went back to attending a Catholic church for the first time in 16 years. I still attend and am active in the choir and other activities there. Why do I go to mass every week when I don't believe in god? Because I like to sing, I need community, and there is absolutely nothing in the Catholic mass that challenges my belief that we're really alone here. I have never felt Spirit in a Catholic church. The Catholic mass simply doesn't cause me to re-evaluate my stance the way that gospel choir and synagogue did so long ago. And none of my fellow parishioners questions why I never go to communion, or why I sing all the songs with such exuberance, but never participate in any prayers, responses or gestures. I am grateful for their indifference to the state of my soul. One thing I have been able to count on Catholics for: plenty of space and solitude in my own spiritual conflict.

It's a godless, random universe. And I am home.

No comments: