Invisible Pink Unicorn's Story

(Via IPU)

I was born and raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a beautiful place where the forests are thick, the lakes are clear and cold, and the roots of religion run deep. I don’t have a single complaint about my childhood, my dad was a cop, my mom a social worker. I’m certain that even if we had not been Catholic, we would have been raised with the same solid morals and sense of civic duty. My younger sister and I were not forced or pushed to go to church, we just went. It was just what you did, it was what everyone did and it seemed like the right thing to do.

Looking back now, I can see that there were three main Catholic doctrines that caused my trepidation, an unholy trinity, if you will. The first of these was presented to me in third grade, and is called “Confession”. This is the practice, if you’re unfamiliar, with entering a small booth and confessing your sins to your priest. To a nine year old, this would be a dark, scary place to enter, even without the prospect of being in there with a priest and having to tell him the things you’ve done wrong. You could go in on one side and be “face to face” or you could be a coward and go in on the other side and hide behind a screen while confessing. After you confess your sins to the priest, he gives you a few prayers to say as your penance and he gives you “absolution”, meaning that you have been cleansed from these sins.

This practice did not make ANY sense to me. Why, oh why, if God can hear our every thought and prayer, knows our intentions, and they were part of his plan, why the need for the middle man? Why do nine year olds have to tell a stranger that they lied and fought with their sister, why can’t God just hear them and forgive them himself? Of course, no one ever gave me a suitable answer.

This issue came up with me again, during Confirmation classes in 11th grade. “Confirmation” of course, is the practice of saying to the congregation…. “Hey, I’m an adult now (sorta) and I concur with the baptism that was imposed on me before I could say ‘original sin’”. I had gone to confession maybe three times in the meantime, and never by choice, but now they wanted me to go again before being confirmed.

The person who wanted me to go most fervently was my sponsor, Sister Maria. I’ve told quite a few of you about this part of my story. I went into the confessional just to please her, told the priest I was uncomfortable confessing anything, and he absolved me anyway. I thought this would satisfy her. It didn’t. She ended up telling me that I couldn’t “just pick and choose what I wanted to believe!” Well, I thought, yes I could… and someday soon I would, once I figured it out for myself. As an interesting side note, the young and beautiful Sister Maria eventually was forced by her Mother Superior to move away from my area because she had developed feelings for our priest, “Father What-a-Waste”. Ahhh, suppressing human nature, isn’t it grand? We both thought for awhile that I might have the calling to be a sister, fortunately the calling to be a mother was much stronger for me and I knew I couldn’t give up having a family. I did end up teaching CCD for two years, to fifth graders. Our main subject that year being the Seven Sacraments, go figure.

So anyway, on to the second thing about Catholicism that I could never grasp, “transubstantiation”. This doctrine, I would learn, was one of the main things that set Catholicism apart from other similar religions. What it actually means, is that when the priest blesses the wafers and wine of communion and says his little chant and waves his hands over them… they don’t just “symbolize” the body and blood of Christ anymore, they actually “become” the body and blood of Christ. I liked this sentence from wikipedia: “while all the appearances open to the senses or to scientific investigation were still those of bread, exactly as before.” So if you’re a rational person reading this, I really don’t even need to explain to you why I had such a problem with this.

The third Catholic doctrine, and the one that finally pushed me over the edge for good, was “Annulment”. I was married at 19 to a good Catholic boy, dropped out of college and had my first baby a year after that. I was well on my way to the life every girl dreams of… every girl born in the 1940’s anyway. The marriage was basically doomed before it even began, but it didn’t officially end for four years. The guy didn’t have two brain cells to rub together, and I knew I would never grow or learn anything as his wife. When I see him today, I think about how lucky I am that I wasn’t morally bound to spend the rest of my life with him, like his mother and father. He is not a mean person, he’s just not for me, and I’m just not for him. Since when do human beings not make mistakes, especially when they’re 19 and sex is involved?

Anyone who’s been through a divorce can tell you how emotionally crushing it is, how once it’s over your basically a husk of a person and it takes awhile to rise back up to the person you were. You’re physically drained, you’re mentally drained, it’s no walk in the park, even if it’s not a particularly ugly divorce. Church would actually be a nice place to hang out during this time, if you were welcome, that is. Unfortunately, once you divorce, you’re not really welcome anymore. They don’t say it in so many words, but it’s really quite obvious. As if you haven’t been through enough, to be welcome at church, you must also have your marriage “annulled”. And this term doesn’t mean, “we tried, it didn’t work out”. It means “It never happened!”. You literally have to site a reason, such as mental incompetence as to why this marriage should have never taken place and why it is now null and void. Well, I’m sorry, I had a child from this union and I refused to pretend it never happened. So, and here’s the kicker, in the church’s eyes, I am still married to this person, and on top of that you can’t take communion anymore if you don’t annul. Huh? I have never been to Catholic mass since, and never will again.

Fast forward about two years, I have remarried and had another child. My husband is Presbyterian, which seems like a nice enough religion. We were married in his church and our daughter was baptized there, and those are the only times we were ever there. I was virtually faith free for those two years, never even thinking about religion, it just wasn’t an issue. I was in a book club at the time, you know the 12 books for 1 cent type of deal, not the sit around and talk about what you read thing. If you didn’t send the card in each month saying you didn’t want anything, they would automatically send you the “Selection of the Month”. One day in the mailbox is a package… oopsie! Forgot to send the card back, what do we have here? I opened the box and discovered this book: “Don’t Know Much About the Bible” by Kenneth C. Davis. “Blech…” I thought to myself, a bible book, ick. I was too lazy to return it, so I just stuck it in my closet where it sat for probably another two years.

I am surprised, while reading others’ coming out stories, how often a book was part of the final conversion, and it’s no different for me. When I did finally decide to give the aforementioned book a chance, due to sheer boredom or whatever, it changed my life. The funny part is, it’s considered a “Christian book” and claims to be unbiased in it’s examination of the bible. To my eyes, however, it definitely leaned to the “this is a crock” school of thought, although maybe that’s not the authors fault, it’s just the inherent bullshit finally seeping through. I want to include here what the description of this book is on amazon.com as they put it better than I could:

this entertaining historical study will likely compel listeners to reach for their dusty copies of the world's most-owned but least-understood anthology once again. And not simply because the author reminds us of the drama and intrigue, the tales of rape, impaling, and ethnic cleansing routinely found in its pages. Davis paints the larger historical context in which the Bible was written, providing a sense of the culture and environment in which the familiar stories came to life. Calling on new research and scholarship into the Bible's composition, he provides fascinating background to dimly remembered stories that gives them renewed impact. Using a series of easy-to-follow questions and answers, he offers explanations about when and by whom the Bible was written; how the stories of other traditions influenced the Judeo-Christian teachings; where the Garden of Eden might have been located; why an earthquake may have played a part in the "walls tumbling down" at Jericho; why Jesus may not have said everything we think he did, and much more. He also points out that mistranslations from the original Hebrew have made their way into modern versions of the Bible, explaining where and how they occurred. Conceding that his program will anger some, as it challenges many cherished but mistaken assumptions about the Bible, Davis also hopes that listeners recognize that Christian belief and uncovering the truth are not at odds in this program, but rather that learning and wisdom, even when they reach unsettling conclusions, can ultimately complement faith.
Around this same time, after having had another child, I joined an online message board for stay at home moms. Among the advice on introducing solids and toilet training, there was a section on religion, and a subsection for Atheist and Agnostic Moms. Finally, I had found them! My kindred spirits! This was when I finally knew, I was an atheist. Gasp! I didn’t tell anyone, though, and my third child was also baptized Presbyterian. The forum had probably 200 members, and there were only 5 or 6 of us “heathens” but I learned and grew so much during that time. And also taught, sharing with them my own synopsis from that book I was so engrossed in. “Don’t Know Much About: Abraham”, “Don’t Know Much About: Moses” I titled my posts, and they loved them. Know thine enemy, right?

As I’ve become more knowledgeable over the years, I have become a more and more outspoken atheist. I will frequently slip things into conversation to make people think. I’m not totally confrontational, but if people who know I am a good person also know I am an atheist, maybe it will make them question the status quo a little bit. My personal myspace page (not the IPU page) has been a big part of my coming out, as well. It’s just like, “here I am, take me or leave me!” No old friends have deleted me, although I tend to use the IPU account for the more controversial bulletins. I have the Darwin fish on my vehicle, and my boyfriend has the evolve fish. I guess I should mention that I divorced for a second time after having a fourth child. However, you’ll be pleased to know that this child is neither baptized nor vaccinated, so that should tell you a little bit about my enlightened state of mind.

My boyfriend of three years is one of the first people that I “came out” to, and during our very first conversation. I guess I could tell we had a connection, and I wanted to put it out there right away so as not to waste my time, or his. Not only was he okay with it, he got on one knee and proposed to me after hearing it! He was also an out atheist and said he had never met a girl who was smart enough to be one, nor brave enough to admit it. This is by far the best relationship I have ever been in, it’s amazing how free you are to love and be yourself once you shed the shackles of guilt and shame associated with religion.

I guess the main thing for me is that no one is going to tell me what I can and can’t do, what is okay and what isn’t. That’s for ME to decide. I’ve made mistakes, lots of them, and have learned from them and become who I am because of them. I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a mom and a nursing student, and just as a human being, I have devoted my life to the compassionate care of others. I want people to realize that you don’t have to believe in an invisible dictator to do good things, you don’t need fear as a motivator to live a good life.

Thanks for listening.

5 comments:

Intergalactic Hussy said...

I'm glad you met someone who shares your un-beliefs! It really makes for a good relationship.

Ian Adams said...

>However, you’ll be pleased to know
>that this child is neither baptized
>nor vaccinated, so that should tell
>you a little bit about my
>enlightened state of mind.

Well, I'm pleased to know that the child is not baptised, but why should I be pleased to know that the child is also not vaccinated? That's a completely stupid and irresponsible thing to do! Maybe it's difficult to see the benefits of vaccination because we don't generally see anymore those diseases for which we have vaccinations (which is a direct result of vaccination programmes), but the diseases are very real and very dangerous. The reason you don't know of anyone who has died of smallpox or been rendered crippled because of polio is because of vaccinations. By you refusing to vaccinate your kids, you are putting the public's health — including my own — at risk. Stop it!

Andrew said...

I think it's fantastic how far you have come, but I would just like to reiterate what Ian Adams said... Please, please, do not stop vaccinating your children. It is incredibly important for your children, and society as a whole, and this is a scientific fact! I know you are big on increasing your knowledge, so definitley research vaccinations and make your own mind up, but please at the very least reconsider that stance.

tina said...

I didn't quite understand that either, maybe she meant another word??

sgerbic said...

I'm sure she meant something else, my ears went up on that word also. Very scary if what she wrote is what she meant.

Susan