Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Your Questions Answered Part VI: That Thing You Don't Speak of in Polite Company

No, not that thing.

I'm speaking, of course, about religion.

Before I begin this discussion I would like to issue a disclaimer.  I don't mean for anything in this post to make it seem as though I am denigrating any person's religious or non-religious views.  This is solely a reflection of my journey, and since I am all about honesty on blogs, I am happy to share it with you.  I figure since this is such a hot-button topic, and since I have so many lovely religious followers, I may lose one or two of you.  But I hope that doesn't happen.

This question comes from the lovely Joyful Sparrow:

What is it like to have never been religious?

If Rob and I were to choose a title for ourselves in terms of religion I suppose it would be atheist.  I do not particularly like the negative connotation that this term has been given by other atheists and some religious people; Rob and I do not sit back in our chairs laughing at the religious multitudes or argue religion whenever we get the chance.  We both have my friends of faith and treat them just as we would any other person with any other belief system.

So how did I get here?

My father could be described as a bit of a lapsed Catholic.  He attended Catholic school all the way through high school and sort of fell out of regular church-going after college.  My grandparents were die-hard Irish Catholics; they could often be seen saying the rosary together in their separate chairs, and my grandmother would pray to Saint Anthony every time an object was lost (interestingly it was always found after this prayer).  My mother grew up without the same deeply entrenched religious culture as my father though her family did attend church.  Soon after I got sick with cancer my mother quickly lost any faith that she may have retained from childhood and became a self-described agnostic, which she remains today.

When I was born I was baptized by a friend of my parents, a Methodist minister, because it "felt right" to my father.  There are also some rumors that I and my sisters were secretly baptized Catholic as well by certain members of my family concerned with our eternal salvation, but these have not been confirmed.

I grew up in an extremely rural area, and like many rural areas the majority of the population was to some extent religious (most people in our area are Baptist).  All of my friends in school attended church.  I went to church a few times with my grandparents but only came out of it with sore legs from all the standing and kneeling and resentment for not being allowed to participate in the Eucharist, having not been confirmed.

I always remember being interested in religion and the idea of God and Heaven from a very young age, particularly as the concepts had never really been explained to me in any great detail. I remember asking my dad why airplanes never ran into heaven since they were above the clouds.

My best friend in 3rd grade, Ernie, was a Jehovah's Witness, and I remember having many rudimentary discussions with him about his faith (not celebrating birthdays is damn near unthinkable to a 9-year-old).  When Ernie passed away from leukemia I was confronted by my own beliefs in a big way; in my grief it became an absolute necessity to believe that he had gone "to a better place" and was in the clouds with God.  I actually remember asking my parents if I could call him in heaven, assuming it was a physical location.  God and Heaven became truths to me in the same way that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were truths; it became easier to accept them as hard truth rather than to accept what I now believe to be the reality of the situation.

In fourth and fifth grade I read constantly about religion, particularly Greek and Roman mythology.  Around this time I developed a strong interest in Judaism.  I was drawn to the sense of community and belonging that it offered; having never gone to church regularly, I felt a bit of an outcast in comparison with my church-going friends. I think I was also drawn to the mystique of a religion that nobody in my immediate circle celebrated or really knew anything about.  I found a penpal online in Israel (who I still speak to, interestingly enough) and she was more than happy to teach me Hebrew words and a little bit about her faith.  I went so far as to consider converting before my parents put a gentle stop to it.  I don't necessarily blame them, as I was clearly doing it for the wrong reasons.  Eventually that random obsession came to an end but I still enjoyed reading and learning about religion through college and into adulthood.

I suppose that throughout my childhood religion was something that I wanted to belong to, but not something that I ever truly connected with.  The words, prayers, and readings didn't speak to me or to my journey, hard as I tried, and by the time I reached adulthood organized religion ceased to be something I wanted to or could connect with.

It's funny to think about, though, because at odd times I can find myself yearning for some sort of sign or some sort of divine truth.  When my grandmother passed away last year it was extremely traumatic for me, and I remember clutching to my husband and telling him that all I wanted was to know that she was in heaven dancing with my grandfather.  As I waded through my grief, though, I came to terms with the fact that she was gone, just like every other being from this earth has come and has passed.  Truly, despite the fear of not knowing what happens when we die, I think it's pretty beautiful to be a part a timeless, natural cycle that began long before time and will continue long after I'm gone.

So, to answer your question, Joyful Sparrow, I would say that growing up non-religious was confusing, but no more confusing than anything else you deal with growing up.  The absence of absolute truth meant that I was free to explore a variety of options with the full support of my parents and without feeling as though I was doing something wrong by questioning, something I value and hope to continue with my children.  I have a lot of respect for those who have found solace or meaning in religion and who seek to do good by others, just as I have a lot of respect for those who have made it through their journey without a religious affiliation.  Ultimately the journey is our own and no one can tell us which road will be best.  And truth be told, I'm still constantly questioning every day.

I want to reiterate that I hope I have not offended anyone here, as that was not my intention.  I also want to give props to anyone who made it through those paragraphs because this was a pretty dense post.


  1. Caitlin, no one, regardless of their faith, should be offended by your thoughtful and respectful discussion of this subject!

  2. I am kind of in the same boat, having never grown up with any kind of religion at all ... sometimes I find myself wishing with all my might that I was certain, like so many people are, what happens to people after they die. I have tried in earnest to truly believe in gods and religions but I'm so sceptical. I suppose I'll forever be agnostic because I have no idea what I even think on the subject. I'm not sure if I believe there's something more or if I just really wish it.

  3. I hope you don't lose any readers because your words are beautifully written. Any "Christian" will respect you.
    That being said, I love to read about different religious perspectives, it is one of my favorite things about blogging. Although I have an incredible belief in God (it's the only thing that keeps me going sometimes) I am always interested to understand and appreciate others religious views.
    Thank you for being so honest, it means a lot to read a blog so real! It's truly inspiring.

  4. I grew up very much the same way you did, kind of non-religiously... My mom grew up in a Catholic household though (like went to nun school and everything) but never imposed those views on me or my brother. I think I'm closer to an atheist today than anything else. so I totally understand where you're coming from!

  5. I love these posts by you. I'm a christian and I know that I wouldn't be doing as well as I am without him, I totally respect you for what you believe. It's refreshing to see a blog that is so real.


  6. such a deep and thoughtful post, though I don't expect any less from you. i love reading your honest and SO REAL blog posts. i'm very much in the same boat as you...raised by lapsed catholic parents turned atheists...I tried church and religion and it isn't for me. Your disclaimer was funny to me because I have so many Mormon and Christian followers on my blog, even though I'm the least religious person out there! haha!

  7. i found this very interesting. and i really enjoyed reading it! and as a christian, i really respect you for posting this. i am in no way offended. :) (promise.)

  8. This was so well-written, Caitlin, I think the only way anyone could have been offended would be if they were already trying really hard to be so.

    Thank you for giving so much time and attention to my question. I didn't realize it was such a multi-faceted question when I asked it, but I'm grateful you found the time to dig back and recall your memories for us.

    I find it interesting that small bits of religion, or religious experiences, found their way into your life, both from outside sources, and from within yourself, as you sought out the difference between what was real, and what wasn't. It seems that asking lots of inward questions, reasoning with yourself, and really being in tune with your thoughts directed the path to where you are today. I wish I had been that way earlier in life. I think it may have saved me a lot of heartache.

    Thank you, again, Caitlin, for sharing so much of your life with us. You are a true gem of a woman.

  9. I swear Caitlin...right when I think you couldn't get more honest and more awesome...there you are, being just that. This post was so thoughtful and so well written and I feel like at points we might even share a brain. Thanks for writing this. You are a wonderful woman :)

  10. Nate and I both consider ourselves atheists I suppose. We don't believe in God, Heaven, Hell, etc. but we do believe that Jesus was a person back in the day but don't believe in the "magic" I guess is the way to put it lol. I tried church when I was younger but hated it since I was forced to go. I don't talk about religion much but some parts of it interest me, I like the history aspect of it.

  11. This was so well written. As a reader, you never know what you are going to get on posts or literature on religion. It can be so harsh. I just went to lifegroup last night, spoke about the book of Romans, our beliefs - and then I read this. Refreshing and interesting.


  12. This was a great post. You're brave....I don't touch on religion on the blog. It's not that I'm not religous. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schooling till 12th grade. Honestley, we don't really go to church. We're the "holiday people" if you will. Christmas and Easter. It makes me feel guilty but then again I am spiritual and I feel I can be spiritual in my own home.

    It's ironic though....Jonas starts Catholic school next year!
    Great post Caitlin :)

  13. Caitlin, another post you just hit right out of the ballpark. I loved reading this! I have nooo clue where I am on the religious spectrum, but you've inspired me to look into it more : )

    As always, I admire your honesty and well-thought-out words!

  14. Caitlin, you are such an amazing writer! I love finding more out about you through your blogs, even though I know you in real life. :D


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