There are many reasons why an individual or family might choose to go to church – a feeling and sense of community, a true spiritual connection with their god when they are in his presence and perhaps even when they are not, seeing friends and catching up, finding hope when you are hopeless, and a host of others. On the flip-side of this coin, an individual may use his or her freedom of choice to decide that church is not for him.
I was raised Catholic. My mother’s family has been a group of devout Catholics from the oldest generations on. I went to Catholic grade school for nine years, where I went to mass at least two to three times per week, memorized prayers, learned about religion and theology, and other things you might traditionally expect. I really enjoyed going to that school and am glad I had the opportunity and ability to go there.
A little less than a year ago, after a series of internal conflicts and arguing with myself, I decided church wasn’t for me, or at least not the church I was going to. When I went to church over the last several years, I was never focused on what was being said (and couldn’t, even when I tried) and never felt particularly moved or “with the spirit.” As a semi-free-spirited person who holds his own beliefs, I found myself fundamentally disagreeing with many of the Church’s policies and stances on a variety of issues. To name just a few… I believe that marriage is a symbol of love and that individuals – regardless of gender – should be free to love the person they love without judgment. I believe that hypocrisy is unacceptable… How often does the Church preach to love your neighbor as you love yourself – to let God be the only judger – while, at the same time, I felt and saw that judgment on display every Sunday (perhaps not by the clergy, but certainly by the some of the other participants)? Also, from the way I understand the Church’s teaching, only those who are baptized in that church will go to heaven. If there indeed is a heaven, then I want my Protestant, Hindu and Muslim friends to go, too! Why should we exclude people like that? Furthermore, does not going to church make me a bad person? Of course not! Many of the best people I know don’t go to church, and many of them do; it’s not a good way to judge how good of a person you are.
On an even more fundamental basis, I believe that if a person genuinely gets something out of going to mass – whether it’s one of the reasons I stated above or another – then that is great; wonderful, even. However, I also believe that a person can connect with their god on perhaps an even greater level on a very personal, one-on-one basis. Perhaps it was the distractions at our $12 million church (OMG, I know) that kept me from getting the true message, but – using my freedom of choice as a reasonably sound adult who feels he is capable of most or all of his own decisions – I decided that I would no longer go to church.
However, was it as simple as saying I wouldn’t go? Of course not. I told my parents how I felt, and was consequently told (in not so few of words) that I would be cut off. As I live at home and am going to school, they are paying for my gas and car insurance, which I am extremely grateful for. However, for one of the first times in my adult life, I decided I had to stick my ground, regardless of its financial impact on my life. I wasn’t going to let that threat (or promise, as my dad always calls it) let me participate in something that I was no longer comfortable with. Over time, they decided that I had to make and live with my own decisions, and although they are sad about my decision, they have somewhat let it go.
On an even more difficult level, I knew I would face questions of where was I and things of that nature by people I used to see every weekend at church (some have been OK with it, others have been cold to me). Even more difficult, this last weekend I attended my great aunt’s funeral, which was a traditional Catholic service. With my devout uncles and parents who I love and cherish sitting next to and behind me, I had to make the choice of whether or not to receive the Eucharist. Because “Amen” (what you say – many without really thinking about it? – after the person says “the body of Christ”) translates literally to “I believe”/”Truly”/”Very, very” and I knew that maybe I didn’t – matter of faith or not – I asked my mom what I should do, letting her know my thoughts. I could either go to the bathroom during Communion, take the Eucharist and probably be sinning at the same time because I wasn’t in a state of grace with the church (I googled beforehand), or go up to the priest, cross my arms, and still receive a blessing. I ended up doing the latter because I figured it would have to “come out” to my extended family eventually, and I felt that I needed to be honest with myself and the church and do the more difficult choice. I’m interested to see how my family reacts to this – with understanding that I made my own decision, or perhaps a choice from a different variety of emotions.
So often, we do the things our parents do, act the way they act, or think the way they think, without challenging those beliefs or actions or trying them on for size. One might say I made this choice as a rebellious act; although a small slice of rebellion is involved with any teenager’s actions, this decision was made with careful thought and making sure that I was true to myself. I did challenge those beliefs that I always had because of my upbringing, and it came to be that I didn’t agree with many of them, although I did agree with others.
I decided a little under a year ago to be my own person. If my family and friends really love me, then they will accept me for who I am – beliefs and all – and help me work through it if I need to. The last thing this world needs is more complicated and tense relationships, so I can only hope that I can again stick my ground and explain myself if the chance arises, even if I don’t think I need to. Sometimes people do things because they feel that’s what’s right, and if others disagree, that’s just the way the world works. If a friend or family member is a true friend, they will understand; if they want to try to help you come back, that shows they at least care enough about you to do that.
Was this written to dissuade or judge people who go to church? Absolutely not. I simply made a decision, and I am living with it. Will I change my mind in the future? Any intelligent person will never shut their mind off to another way of thinking. As such, I very well may. However, at this time, this is how I feel. I’m not turning myself off from religion; I’m simply exploring and processing it on my own terms and time.