Last week in one of my seminars we were assigned to read “If God Is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?” by Elizabeth Anderson. The other day I came across a New York Times article discussing the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops – a surprisingly common practice which has long since been covered up by the church. These events have prompted a few thoughts regarding Catholicism to swirl around in my mind as of late.
First is the different ways in which certain groups of people come to reject Catholicism. What I have noticed is that those from marginalized groups tend to reject Catholicism on the basis of some personal, internal conflict whereas those who are not from marginalized groups tend to reject it on some externally principled, epistemological ground. To illustrate this point, here is a conversation I had with someone sometime at the beginning of this school year, several months ago:
Me: They were playing Gospel music in the store. It made me really uncomfortable.
Friend: I’m not religious or anything but it wouldn’t make me uncomfortable.
Me: Well the music makes me uncomfortable because it suggests a heavy presence of religious people, which I don’t like.
Friend: Well I mean…yeah, it’s bad to believe in something that doesn’t exist, but–
Me: Oh, that’s not why it’s bad to me. It’s bad because people who are extremely religious tend to have certain sociopolitical views which are bad. Oftentimes these views are misogynistic or homophobic or otherwise dangerous to me personally.
My friend, who (big surprise) is a straight, white male, objects to religion on the basis of it being epistemically irresponsible: It’s bad to believe in something for which there exists no evidence. I, on the other hand, reject to religion (specifically, Catholicism, which is the only religion I have sufficient experience with to even be making these sorts of claims), because of the effects Catholicism and Catholic movements have had on my personal life. As a straight, white male it is easy to miss the sociopolitical effects of a Catholic influence: taking an anti-choice stance and denying women rights to their own body, active campaign against gay marriage, a culture of slut-shaming women and forcing standards of modesty and purity upon them – all things that I, a queer woman of color, have very directly felt the impact of. I think this contrast of reasons for rejecting Catholicism is really important, and often overlooked or unrecognized.
The second thing I have been thinking about, which is very intimately related to the first point, is whether my attitude towards Catholicism is warranted. I’m an atheist. And a pretty ardent one at that. When asked my opinions on religious matters I voice them without restraint, sometimes offending believers with my harsh words. I also have an aversion to Catholics. It’s not a very deep one, nor does it prevent me from interacting and connecting with them on meaningful levels, but I could never become best friends with or date someone who was Catholic. I used to wonder whether these actions and attitudes of mine were permissible. I have since come to the conclusion that they are. Here’s why:
I was abused, physically and emotionally, by my parents in the name of Catholicism. (I was raised Catholic. I’m part of the first generation in my family to be born here in the U.S. My parents, uncles, and aunts immigrated here from one of the most Catholic countries in the world, and they brought those traditions with them when they came here.) I won’t go into details, but suffice to say my home and family life was pretty terrible as a child, due in large part to religion. This is personal for me.
Furthermore, as mentioned before, Catholics are responsible for pushing lots of dangerous sociopolitical ideals that harm me directly – most notably, those which are homophobic, misogynistic, and otherwise oppressive to women and queer people. And these attitudes often find their basis in Scripture: They act this way in part because they think this is what God wants. Depending on your interpretation of the Bible, they’re not wrong.
And finally, zooming out, it’s astounding how much abuse, violence, and chaos has been caused by the church throughout history: genocide, sexual abuse of nuns and children, subjugation and forced conversion of native peoples, wars, and so much more. Historically, I’m not sure there’s any institution out there that can match – or even come close to – the sheer amount of human rights violations committed by the Church.
There’s just so much for me to detest about Catholicism as a religion and as an institution. And the way I see Catholics is this: You are committed to the idea of an all-powerful God. Thus, you are committed to the idea that God could have stopped all these atrocities – especially the ones done in his name – but instead he did nothing. And you worship him. That doesn’t sit right with me, and I can’t ever bring myself to fully be okay with someone like that. How could you worship a God who actively allowed these terrible things to happen to me? And to the world?
I would never go so far as to start pointless fights about religion, but I’m not silent about my hatred of Catholicism. And while I respect believers as humans, I don’t respect the religion itself, and I can’t be bothered to make sure my criticisms of Catholicism come across in a respectful tone. I harbor so much hatred and resentment towards Catholicism, and justly so, I think, given my history with it and its history with the world.
I don’t view Catholicism as something that merits my respect. If the way I talk about the religion offends believers, then so be it.