Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Easter hypocrisy

It's no secret on this blog that I struggle with the concepts of God and religion. We don't attend church, nor do we proclaim any particular religious affiliation. There was a time when I wanted to be a part of the Christian religious experience and I distinctly remember feeling angry when other people didn't share that desire.

My father never attended church with us and my mother inexplicably stopped going to church one day. We didn't discuss religion in our house. It wasn't that the subject was off-limits...we just didn't talk about much in our house. But I remember feeling a bit bewildered by the lack of any parent-led religious focus in my life. And I guess you could say my religious upbringing was...self-taught.

I remember feeling weird around my friend Kristine because she was Jehovah's Witness. "How weird!" Now I realize that I only thought it was weird because it deviated from what I held as "normal."

And then there was my husband. He had neither interest nor inclination to seek any sort of religious experience with me. I distinctly remember the day we were in a hotel room in St. Louis when he told me he didn't think he believed in God...and I yelled at him. I was angry. Not because I had all the answers and he didn't...but because I clung to a belief that there had to be a God out there somewhere. Again...what I held as "normal."

But the truth of the matter is, my religious upbringing wasn't faith as much as it was a lack of faith. For YEARS I desperately longed to FEEL any faith...despite the fact that I never really did. Looking back, I should have realized the train was off the tracks when I was sixteen and I stopped attending confirmation classes because I didn't feel it. Intellectually and emotionally, I knew enough about myself at that age to know that I couldn't go through with something I didn't truly believe.

And then I let the church youth pastor and choir director talk me into it. Yep...they called me on my big button telephone in my bedroom (not my own private line, but good enough for my sixteen year old sensibilities) and tag-teamed me. The plan? I would go through with confirmation despite not having completed the classes and just make the work up at a later date.

I'm sure it will come as no surprise to learn that I never made the work up. I never felt what I hoped to feel. There were MOMENTS of inspiration, but they were few and fleeting. What I do remember was the incredible pressure to conform...to pretend...to not disappoint. And that's how I became a confirmed Methodist...as part of a culture of appearance rather than substance.

Now...years later...having been pushed over the cliff head first and having my child-like beliefs in God come spilling out, I find myself needing to use basic survival skills of brutal skepticism and (finally) truth/honesty. All alone, finally asking myself how I got here and where I go from here. Oh, there are probably a dozen or so people in my life who would love to tell me what to believe...but they can't tell me how to get around the little problem of not feeling it. They answer with what they have been similarly taught...you just have to.

And if you don't?

That's probably why finding myself standing in Walmart and saying to my five-year-old son, "Easter isn't about getting presents," has bothered me now for more than two weeks. Seeing an older gentleman standing at the photo center counter smiling that approving smile at me that said, "You're raising him right," has caused me yet another crisis of conscience. If he really knew...

In response to some offhand comment from me, Sam asked who Mother Nature is.

On Easter Sunday he insisted that everyone gets candy on Easter.

And when I asked him if he knew who God was, he simply said, "No."

And the thing of it is...I'm finding it easy to explain to him that there are a lot of stories out there to explain why our world is the way it is. I find it easier to explain that Daddy and I don't know what we believe. And I was not shocked or angered when Sam said he doesn't believe in God. Having faced all that our little family has faced, it's no surprise to me that Sam doesn't readily accept anything on faith. Steve and I have 30+ years experience (each) on the little guy, and we're just now forming our true belief set.

But I am bothered by the reflex that made me defend the "meaning of Easter" while standing in that Walmart. Years of indoctrination into a belief system that is seemingly all around me caused a knee jerk response. I still retain my own version of "normal" somewhere in side me. Though we were never a religious family by any means, Christianity is still obviously the predominant religious culture where I was born and raised. In fact, I can list on one hand the number of other faiths I crossed paths with during my formative years. And all of that half-formed belief still causes the words to form and spill out of my mouth before I can even examine what they meant to me.

I've got to do better than spit out automatic responses that don't mean anything to me. I've got to be more honest with my kids about what these things mean to us as a family. And I've got to leave room for Sam (and eventually Myles) to decide for themselves. It's important to me that they never find themselves on the wrong side of fortune and feeling like their foundation God-belief has been ripped apart into a million pieces. It's important to me that they never feel like their chosen God has abandoned them...only because they realize they never really chose...that they were influenced by something outside of themselves or, even worse, someone else chose for them.

And while it may seem like I'm just covering my ass so I won't have to take the blame later in life (it's always the mother's fault, you know)...what is really motivating me is my belief that it is of utmost importance to me that they never feel like Steve or I feel. Abandoned. Misled. Lied to. Lost. Ignorant. Angry. Cheated.

I want them to have REAL exposure to different beliefs...what it means to believe different things...so that they can make a choice what they believe before they really NEED to. I don't want them to grab hold of what is easy...to fall into something without thought...to go with the flow. I want them to examine everything (or as much as humanly possible) and affirmatively choose. Because Easter may very well be about getting gifts...if that is what they choose.

And yes...I now appreciate the irony of my yelling at my husband for not believing.

(I have written and re-written this post in the hopes that it is clear and not offensive. I apologize if I have missed the mark and offended anyone. But after seeing that Islam has overtaken Catholicism as the world's largest religion, and the resulting goofiness, I felt inspired. Or maybe I'm just distancing myself. Either way, it is what it is.)


DD said...

I have to say that I see almost daily on a first-hand basis with my friend/co-worker how she believes Catholics are proportedly better than other Christians. I often think how "un-christian" that is of her.

For me, I've never understood why my Faith has to be categorized under any one religion. I try to be a good person because it's morally right, not because it is supposed to guarantee my soul's ascention. I would love to find a sect that speaks to me on every level, but I haven't found that. Instead I go with the flow; the status quo. I send my son to Catholic school but only b/c the grandparents pay the tuition. If they stop, I would consider the Lutheran school. But I don't consider them b/c of the religion, it's so he can try to gain an understanding of something completely intangible that I don't think I can ever give him.

Kendra's mom said...

I know how you feel. Logically I feel that there is no God and that each person has their own belief and if what you believe in makes you able to cope and makes you feel better then that is fine for you. Everyone has their own belief and that is their 'God' - the belief. I still find myself praying sometimes or talking to my son about God but really cannot bring myself to believe in this all powerful being who is capable of miracles because then why only grant them to some people and not others? Why all the suffering in this world?
I think that if there is a God then he is there to comfort people in their time of need but does not really have the power to do very much.
My son goes to a Catholic school purely because of the family and I thought that it might be a good idea to give him some religious education as he is surely not going to get it from us.
Anyway, rambling here, like the new look blog. I've been going through bloglines so hadn't seen it till now.

Cristin said...

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine a few months ago about religion. I am an athiest. (My parents raised my brother and I to be exposed to many different religions and told us about different religions, but not so that they could influence us one way or the other. They have always maintained that we could decide our own religion when we were old enough.) And my friend was having a hard time letting go of all she was forced to 'believe' as a kid. She was talking about all the different phases that she has been through. From believing in god, to believing in 'god is in nature'...etc..etc..and she came across a book called "god is not that great". And she loved it and it gave her a lot of peace about religion and god.

Whats my point? She said the book was good. And that was the LONGEST way to say that simple sentence that I could have come up with. ;-)

Awake said...

I was raised Christian and still am, but I completely agree with most of what you wrote (and respect all of it). :)

Now I could remark that the reflex you felt at Wal-Mart was not merely a reflex, but perhaps the Holy Spirit guiding your discussion with your son. But even writing that sounds pompous and arrogant and teachy - not my intention. Faith is something you have to come to on your own. Guidance from others is good and helpful. Perhaps necessary? But I agree, if you feel like you don't have a choice, like it was forced upon you, it doesn't work.

Kudos for you for writing this post and for reflecting on what many don't take the time to stop and think about at all.

Julia said...

See, commercialization of any sort pisses me off. So that instinct you had? Seemed perfectly reasonable to me and I am sooooo not any kind of a Christian.
I am glad it is easy for you to go the exposure rather than indoctrination route. To me it says that you trust your kids, trust the rest of the parenting you do to eventually let them find what they need.

Bon said...

amazing post, Catherine...one that outlines thoughtfully experiences that i can relate to, including my knee-jerk dislike of the commercialism of Christmas and Easter despite the fact that i don't believe in their religious significance for me. i still wish they remained a little more holy or sacred (things which i am prepared to respect at a distance) rather than shopping extravaganzas.

msfitzita said...

I know you're bothered by the fact that you feel that what you told Sam was just a knee-jerk reaction on your part, but regardless of why you said it, you were still correct. Easter isn't about presents.

You taught him something in the aisle at Wal Mart, and new knowledge on ANY topic, secular or religious, is always useful.

P.S. I understand the struggle. I've spent as much time trying to re-define my relationship with God as I have breathing in the last few years...

msfitzita said...

I also wanted to add that I don't see anything wrong with non-Christians or non-practicing Christians taking the secular aspects of holidays like Easter and Christmas and embracing them (with stuff like chocolate bunnies, Easter egg hunts and presents on Christmas morning).

The more the merrier, I say. And the more excuses to eat chocolate the better too.

What I was trying (and possibly failing) to say earlier is that I don't see the folly in having some understanding of the sacred event/history behind the secular traditions even if you don't ever intend to observe that part of them.

And I don't think explaining this to Sam makes you a hypocrite at all.

marcia said...

Hi Catherine!
When I first read this post right after you wrote it, I knew I had a reply in me somewhere, but I also wanted to be sure I took the same care in replying that you had taken in writing it originally, so decided to think on it for awhile. And then somewhere in there, my DIL went into labor a month early to the day, and ultimately delivered our eleventh grandchild (their first), a wonderfully healthy six-pound girl, who was able to go home with Mom and Dad in just two days. Of course we are very grateful for that, knowing full-well that things could have turned out ever-so-much differently! But that whole process consumed my time and attention for several days:)
So..now back to this post! You know from prior correspondence and comments on other blogs that you have likely read, that I am a Christian. I also found NOTHING offensive in your post! As usual, I see you as a very honest and open person who is simply trying to reconcile the extremely difficult realities of your life with the possibility of some sort of random "higher power" out there who might have a clue as to how all the pieces of this puzzle, called life, might happen to fit together in a pattern that makes sense to your muddled brain! And you are taking the plunge into this territory not only to quiet those nagging thoughts at the back of your consiousness, but primarily because you are an awesome parent and want to find something that will help you encourage and guide your children on their paths. I applaud you for this!!
Catherine, I in no way claim to have all the answers, or in anyway see myself as "better" in any way than others who may not have come to the conclusions that I have about some of the deepest questions of life. I hope when I say that I am praying for you as you pursue these things, that you "know" me well enough to recognize that as simply an expression of my love and care for you! There are times when I wish I was one of those people who can engage in long and in-depth intellectual and theological discussion...but, alas, my gifts in life seem to be more in the line of coming alongside people and encouraging them with hugs and support in very practical, hands-on kinds of ways. So I have learned to steer people with deep questions to those who can better help them address them...while they, in turn, allow me to be the hugger and hand-holder.:)

With that in mind, I think I would be remiss if I didn't recommend a couple of authors to you, just as I would expect that others might want to offer you reading materials that might support and explain their belief systems more articulately than they can. There are two, no three, that come to mind immediately, as people who have been in a place similar to where you are now, and ultimately found answers to their questions in the tenets and relationship of Christianity.
The first is Lee Strobel. He was a journalist (Chicago Tribune, I believe) who also has a degree from Yale Law School. He has written, among other things, a series of books on a variety of question related to a Christian worldview, entitled "The Case For....." One that might be especially pertinent for you right now could be "The Case for Faith."
Another excellent book that I became aware of a couple of years ago is written by a father/son team, Dr. Gregory and Edward K. Boyd. Edward had been a life-long skeptic, while his son was busy as a professor of theology at a Christian college. At one point, Dr. Boyd challenged his Dad to begin a correspondence by letter, in which he asked any and all questions and conflicts he might have about or with Christian belief. The book "Letters From A Skeptic, A Son Wrestles with His Father's Questions about Christianity", is the result,and addresses many of the subjects that I have noticed you questioning over the time I have been reading your blog.
Josh Mc Dowell is another person who has written much about his intellectual pursuit of answers, and how he found them in Christianity. Many of Strobel's writings (and probably Mc Dowell's as well) are also available in audio format, and the Boyd book will be available on CD in June of this year. Most of these are available on Amazon, but I would also be very happy to send you any that you might be interested in, to save you from the search for them. I will not do that without your permission, though. It is not my intent to "force" anything here! Just want to offer you insight into something that has been my rock in life...but know that you have to take your own journey in your own way.
Please know that I am available to you at any time via e-mail. If you no longer have my address, just click on my name at the top of this, and find it in my blogger profile. Please give my best to Steve, a high-five to Sam, and a hug to Myles!
With love and utmost respect,