"They took a chisel to God"
February 28, 2021 6:59 AM   Subscribe

"...it was the kids who took their faith the most seriously who eventually walked away. Those of us who tearfully promised that we would follow Jesus anywhere eventually followed him out the door. The Queer kids, more than anyone, learned exactly what it meant to work out our faith with fear and trembling."
They told us to read the Bible and take it seriously and then mocked us for becoming “social justice warriors.”

Now they’re warning us not to deconstruct to the point of meaninglessness. But they took a chisel to God until he fit in a box. They “deconstructed” the concept of love until it allowed them to tolerate sexual abuse, celebrate white supremacy, and look away from kids in cages.

Some of us got to where we are because we took it all to heart. We took the most foundational elements of our faith to their natural conclusions. Folks who deconstruct evangelicalism aren’t drop-outs; they’re graduates.
"Academics have dubbed it ‘theological deconstruction’, but in simple terms, they’re referring to what happens when a person asks questions that lead to the careful dismantling of their previous beliefs."
posted by clawsoon (74 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
 
That deconstruction article is really well written and speaks well about its topic. I'm glad I read that. I came from a religious background and left the church when I came out back in 1990, and I'm still not entirely reconciled with that. So this was a good read for me. Thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 7:16 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


Among people I know the Episcopalians stand out as mostly bucking that trend. I was interested to see that observation echoed in the thread a bit.
posted by slkinsey at 7:35 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]


Tracks with my experience in a Catholic youth group. If you actually believe what they tell you, eventually you have to leave.
posted by harriet vane at 7:51 AM on February 28 [51 favorites]


Questioning your faith because your faith is actively harming people: Good! Let your love guide you!

Questioning your faith because someone you loved died: Were you expecting a different outcome?
posted by hypnogogue at 7:52 AM on February 28 [8 favorites]


As a cis het white guy (whose given name is "Christian" - the joke is, vain hope on my parents' part), this tracks for me, too.
At one point my dad exclaimed, "The liberals [i.e. godless heathens] have brainwashed you!"
My response: "You should be proud - you taught me to think for myself."
posted by notsnot at 7:55 AM on February 28 [23 favorites]


Were you expecting a different outcome?

My first real experience with death didn't come until late in my undergraduate years, when I lost a grandparent I was close with to cancer. I had already drifted quite far from the church, but that experience wrenched from me any remaining ideas I harbored about God or an afterlife. From the moment she was gone I knew with absolute clarity she was gone for good, that there would be no communing with the dead or joyful reunion in some imagined afterlife; I was overwhelmed with a sense of how fleeting and ultimately precious life is. It was a wrenching but liberating experience and enabled me to finally make a clean break from my former faith.
posted by simra at 8:12 AM on February 28 [20 favorites]


When it was time for me to be confirmed in the Catholic Church, I was in the 8th grade and my mom taught Sunday school. As a part of the confirmation process I reviewed the oath, the policies of the church I belonged to, and read the Bible. I concluded that I could not faithfully renew my Baptismal promises or remain a member of my church, mainly because I could not accept the refusal to have women in leadership, and I could not accept the policies that reject things like birth control with no say from people with uteruses. I was not allowed to leave the program without having a private debate with one of the Priests and the head of Catechism.

I'm sure my mother was embarrassed and really wanted me to just go through the motions like everyone else, but I know that she could not argue with my reasoning and me taking the process very seriously. My last ditch plan if I was forced to continue would be to say 'no' in front of the Bishop and the rest of the church when asked if I rejected satan.

After I moved out and got older I decided that I liked having a church to belong to, but I needed one that would accept women and LGBTQ people as leaders. I'm a member of an Episcopal Church that is focused on serving the poor more than anything else and I like it.
posted by Alison at 8:18 AM on February 28 [63 favorites]


This is the process by which I became a pagan who still believes in the teachings of Jesus, but not necessarily those of his (alleged) successors. Ironically, this has led to some friction with a few pagans who believe that absolutely nothing good can come from anything having to do with Christianity. Some of those have had exceptionally bad experiences with various sects of Christianity; others are, for lack of a better term, fundamentalist pagans.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:44 AM on February 28 [17 favorites]


Not queer, but same experience. I took my faith seriously and it constantly caused me problems at church. I remember the looks of frustration on the faces of adults who honestly just wanted me to conform, not ask questions. I remember sitting through so many sermons about following Jesus and wondering if he'd really be impressed by our wealthy, complacent congregation. I couldn't tell you what difference, if any, we made in the life of anyone who was poor in our community. It just didn't come up. I'm sure we did some charity but it was never talked about in detail. Poverty as a subject was rare. Everyone voted for Reagan.

Now I'm UU. We still have problems but we're allowed to talk about them and try to change. We try and fail and keep trying a lot to make a difference.
posted by emjaybee at 8:44 AM on February 28 [20 favorites]


I grew up Catholic in Southern Ontario, almost everyone around me was Catholic... but not in any performative way so the people who weren't wouldn't have really stood out. While my parents had their flaws being overly religious wasn't one of them, I always felt that it was mostly about community to them more than anything. It also just occurred to me that I never as an adult actually asked them if they really believed.

Which is to say being Catholic in that environment just was, it was never something I had to think about and was never really worth rebelling. I didn't have to swallow any hate or bitter pills, it was a friendly kind of faith and never really made me feel like I had to face contradictions or choose between my faith and what was it was teaching. The priests were generally nice and welcoming and generally positive examples.

In the end I was fairly Catholic till my mid 20s and then ... I can't say I'm entirely not Catholic now but I haven't been to mass in at least a decade and if you were to ask me to describe myself I have no idea how far down the list Catholic would be, I don't feel too strongly about the woo the faith involves either for or against.

Just an alternate viewpoint...
posted by cirhosis at 8:46 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


I left the Catholic church because I could not abide its treatment of women. I left the Methodist church because I could not abide its treatment of LGBTQ folx. I left my UU congregation because it was much more interested in soliciting funds from me than supporting me during hard times (or pursuing an agenda of social justice). But perhaps the thing that wore me down most was having to explain the world to a very literal-minded kid. I can still experience the numinous, the liminal, the transcendent; but now it usually comes from nature or personal interactions rather than from stagecraft. The Great Teachings are admixed with so much bullshit and patriarchy that I can't take any scripture more seriously than a pop song. I mean, Jesus said some very nice things but his whole gig was just as much sponging off the goodwill of others as Thoreau's was. "Give away all that you have and let somebody else feed you (or let God provide a miracle)" makes for very bad practical advice.
posted by rikschell at 8:46 AM on February 28 [13 favorites]


I picked Thomas as my confirmation name. By the time the ceremony happened, I had long cast aside their mythology.
posted by sydnius at 8:51 AM on February 28 [11 favorites]


I am a bisexual Catholic in a polaymorous marriage with a Lutheran. I grew up in a progressive parish in the middle of the Bible Belt, where all the foreign Catholics and the American Catholics and the Latino Catholics from four counties funneled into our small church. (We had a state university with a large foreign student population.) There weren't enough locals for women to be kept out of positions of authority; there wasn't enough room at the church to park our cars on-site! I grew up in a Church where we were multicultural, and worried about social justice more than abortion, and where where the Irish priests who succeeded one another was eventually replaced by a refugee from Vietnam who found God on the journey from Vietnam to America, or the Columbian priest who barely spoke English but who made sure every family had enough to eat at Christmas time, or the African-American priest with an earring who sounded like Martin Luther King's cousin when he spoke about racism.

Then I moved to Ohio, and I discovered conservative Catholicism and it was repugnant to me. It led to me slipping away from the Church, but enjoying the theological debates with my family's Lutheran pastor (who loves BattleTech, Vampire: the Masquerade, and Cards Against Humanity). My children's godparents were an atheist and a Jewish science teacher, and my daughter thinks the Greek titan Atlas is who the song "He Has The Whole World In His Hands" is about.

So...I'm a bad Catholic. But I found a Church that lived up to my expectations for most of my life, and for that I consider myself blessed.
posted by gwydapllew at 9:24 AM on February 28 [13 favorites]


When I was orphaned I received a scholarship to a catholic boarding school. I'd never been to a church before, I really didn't know what the fuck was going on. Young catholics seem to think it's all very normal, but seeing a life-size Jesus on a cross over the altar is some freaky shit if you don't know what to expect.

Luckily, they gave me a bible, and I decided to read it. We used to have these study sessions after dinner, we'd leave the dorm and go back into the classrooms for an hour to do our homework. Brother Gillan would watch us to make sure we were working. Novels weren't allowed, unless it was for English, but the bible was okay so I was allowed to read it. Afterwards I would ask Brother Gillan a lot of questions, some of what I was reading didn't make any sense.

After two weeks I wasn't allowed to read the bible in study period any more. I had to finish it in my own time, and I learnt to keep my questions to myself. I think... the nature of my scholarship, this is an elite school, I think they expected me to become catholic out of gratitude or by osmosis. Certainly not by reading the book and being curious.
posted by adept256 at 9:33 AM on February 28 [29 favorites]


To tie this back to queer kids, it's been my gay and trans friends who a. Started out devout and b. Went into fields such as education and social work, forgoing high pay to make a difference in the world.
posted by emjaybee at 9:37 AM on February 28 [16 favorites]


Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians had a passage which resonated with me (ex-evangelical, now atheist) pretty strongly:
What then gnawed away so mercilessly at the apostates that they could no longer overpower doubt with faith?

Their families will say it was Satan. But we thought, after interviewing dozens of “amazing apostates,” that (most ironically) their religious training had made them leave. Their church had told them it was God’s true religion. That’s what made it so right, so much better than all the others. It had the truth, it spoke the truth, it was The Truth. But that emphasis can create in some people a tremendous valuing of truth per se, especially among highly intelligent youth who have been rewarded all their lives for getting “the right answer.” So if the religion itself begins making less and less sense, it fails by the very criterion that it set up to show its superiority.

Similarly, pretending to believe the unbelievable violated the integrity that had brought praise to the amazing apostates as children. Their consciences, thoroughly developed by their upbringing, made it hard for them to bear false witness. So again they were essentially trapped by their religious training. It had worked too well for them to stay in the home religion, given the problems they saw with it.
posted by pw201 at 10:00 AM on February 28 [36 favorites]


I tell people that I'm still Catholic, I just excommunicated the rest of the church for heresy.

My parents were Jesuit-educated and went to the sort of Catholic college where you had to take four semesters of theology and four semesters of philosophy to graduate, regardless of major, so I was never subjected to "dumb Christianity," where you're not allowed to ask questions and people tell you the Bible is literal and the answer is fundamentally "because I said so, that's why." (My Catholic, Catholic-educated godfather was the AP biology teacher in the Atlanta area who led the charge against teaching creationism and/or putting stickers on textbooks.) So I grew up in the sort of intellectually-enriched Christianity that draws on 2,000 years of smart people wrestling with big questions. And I loved it (still love it, I think it's the most fun a brain can legally have) so much I got an undergrad degree and a master's degree in theology.

But eventually I just couldn't deal with the institutional failures -- and not even so much the failures themselves, human institutions always fuck up, that's fine -- but the complete and utter refusal of the institutional church and its leadership to wrestle with those failures and try to improve, to apply the teaching of Jesus to their own actions and institutions, to try to do better. I took it all very seriously. They seemed to ... not.

But they do famously say seminary is where devout kids go to become atheists. Two of my siblings and I went to Catholic colleges, and we've all quit the church. My other brother went to a secular college, and he's the only one who still attends church or identifies as Catholic. He's like, Well, yeah, I didn't spend my college years confronting the hypocrisy so I can just chill in my good local parish and ignore the higher-level shit.

(My friend who's studying for the rabbinate and I keep saying we want to do a podcast of "progressive theological ladies talk about the Bible" with swearing and hilarious stories and Hebrew translations and shit, because there's a dearth of that available for the layman's market -- it's all literalist nonsense or very conservative denominations/groups. But, you know, quarantine, parenting, jobs, there's just a lot.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:16 AM on February 28 [68 favorites]


But they took a chisel to God until he fit in a box. They “deconstructed” the concept of love until it allowed them to tolerate sexual abuse, celebrate white supremacy, and look away from kids in cages.

quoting a Jethro Tull lyric because it just came up elsewhere:

People what have you done?
Locked Him in His golden cage
Golden cage
Made Him bend to your religion
Him resurrected from the grave
From the grave


I guess the problem with faith is that it's just not rational, rather like the humans that embrace it.
posted by philip-random at 10:38 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Pre-Reformation Catholicism viewed access to the Bible as a threat. Basically they were right, since if you could interpret the Bible for yourself, the one true church made little sense.

Modern Evangelicals view historical scholarship as a threat. Basically they're correct as well, since if you know how the Bible was created, is clearly a human artifact, not a divine one.

Most religions view the study of other religions as a threat. And so it is, since once you see that there's no reason to choose one over the other, the obvious question becomes why have one at all.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:41 AM on February 28 [30 favorites]


Twelve years of Catholic education taught me to think for myself.

I did.
posted by tommasz at 11:05 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Fun followup to my comment above: at one of my cousins' weddings, held in an actual Cathedral, I was the only person who didn't go up for communion. My churchy mom comes back from communion and sits next to me. "I don't understand your lack of faith, but at least you're not a hypocrite."

...so I've got that going for me.
posted by notsnot at 11:10 AM on February 28 [21 favorites]


I was pretty serious about faith & study of the bible in my folks' "Church of Christ" until my early teens, when I started learning about the actual existence of queer people. For me, at any rate, "every word of the bible (KJV) is literally true, and it says gays all go to hell" couldn't survive contact with "my close bisexual friend is awesome (and honestly super normal)"

Of course, I can't really reconstruct what I thought then, but looking back through the lens of my older and more educated self, I might put the argument something like this: Starting with Cartesian radical skepticism, yet having the idea of God, we can entertain the idea that God exists and has certain properties. A Good God who will choose to torture some people eternally for doing wrong (and not unfairly or arbitrarily) would by necessity create those people with an innate and unerring sense of right and wrong in order that they would be aware that they're doing wrong. (Eve and Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, after all, and that knowledge is said to remain in all of us) Literally, I thought if God had ever "spoken" to me it was by providing that moral sense. So now we arrive at a fundamental contradiction: My innate moral sense disagrees with God himself, at least as told in the halls of that particular church on Vine Street. Now I know this isn't super deep thinking, but to 15 year old me it was a major philosophical problem clearly resolved once and for all time.

Not having a model of religion except for fundamentalism, certainly not one that I knew was inclusive of queer folks without demanding they change (I mean, I knew there were Catholics and Protestants, that they were not Church of Christ, and were going to hell), I had no "choice" but to go full-on Rationalist Atheist, something that seems to have actually taken longer to recover from than being Christian, in the sense of being able to see the range of positive experiences people—including queer people—have with their churches, the work churches are doing on antiracism and other progressive social causes, etc.

I sometimes wonder where it would have left me if I'd been willing and able to find and attend some other church, or to privately construct my own faith of one, but I also don't feel I really miss whatever that thing was or would have been.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 11:14 AM on February 28 [8 favorites]


(My friend who's studying for the rabbinate and I keep saying we want to do a podcast of "progressive theological ladies talk about the Bible" with swearing and hilarious stories and Hebrew translations and shit,

Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by notsnot at 11:23 AM on February 28 [33 favorites]


I was evangelical. My church was a bland suburban Southern Baptist church. My faith might have partially survived that boring place. But my school was an operation run by an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. A place that taught me early on that evolution is a lie, women are inferior, and MLK was a communist agent. I'm a little envious of those of you who were encouraged to think by your Jesuit teachers. Had the completely opposite experience in my hellhole of a school.

The rigid conformity, the cruelty and hypocrisy, and just the blatant ignorance all contributed to my lifelong fear & loathing of religion. But in a weird way, that place did teach me to think. When you're asked to swallow a dozen ridiculous things per day, eventually you learn the authority figures are not to be trusted. And to research things on your own.

I can still remember the moment when that spell was completely broken. Reading 1984 on my own at age 14. When Orwell talked about the strict sexual morals of the Party as being a means of control, I suddenly understood what the Baptists were doing.

But parts of it still lingered. It took the death of my mother to finally shake the rest of it away. When she was gone and not coming back, it was difficult burden to bear. But the few remaining shreds of belief just evaporated away at that point.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 11:26 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]


Eyebrows, I would subscribe to that podcast.
posted by echo target at 11:33 AM on February 28 [7 favorites]


PS I think there were a few problems with my argument from innate moral sense, but let's not nitpick shall we. All a contradiction shows is that at least one premise is wrong, after all.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 11:47 AM on February 28


Mel writes:
Them: Read the Bible literally
Me: Jesus is a communist
Them: not like that
Jesus is also a Jew and a universalist, so Christianity=Global Jewish communism. Turns out, this is what science leads to as well. How 'bout dat?
posted by No Robots at 12:04 PM on February 28 [19 favorites]


the GJCC ... the Global Jewish Communist Conspiracy ... also known as Christianity. I like that. A little too long for a bumper sticker unfortunately.
posted by philip-random at 12:42 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


the GJCC ... the Global Jewish Communist Conspiracy ... also known as Christianity. I like that. A little too long for a bumper sticker unfortunately.

Works okay for internet discussion posts.
posted by No Robots at 12:46 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Their consciences, thoroughly developed by their upbringing, made it hard for them to bear false witness.

A lie can indeed run halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on, but for the long hard slog there's just no beating boots as sturdy as those.
posted by flabdablet at 1:41 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I was pretty into religion as a kid. The family was Catholic. But there were things that bugged me.

For one thing they were very much the Sunday Christian type who would be horrible to people but that was okay because everything was fine as long as they went to church on Sunday and went to confession. Somehow, that didn't square with what I was reading in the Bible and in religion classes. (Of course, a lot of my classmates and teachers also weren't exactly paragons of Christ's word, which didn't escape my notice).

For another thing when we'd pray or do those meditation things (like "You're on a beach and hanging out with someone, it's Jesus, what do you talk about?"), I'd never hear God talking back. Or never feel like I was actually on a beach with Jesus or whatever. I was always VERY AWARE that I was sitting in a room with my eyes shut with lots of other people sitting with their eyes shut and wondering how many of them were like me, wondering when God would talk to them or whatever. I was acutely conscience of how often I didn't hear God.

The final straw was when my mother married an abusive man. Between that and me being a teenager, I was acting out. She decided we needed family counseling. But she was too cheap to pay for, like, an actual therapist. So she made us an appointment with one of the nuns. The nun asked me what was going on and I laid it all out. The hypocrisy and the abuse and the way my mother acted, the family, and so on. She sighed and shook her head and said, in a very condescending way, that Jesus wanted me to listen to my mother, then turned to her and they both started trashing me.

And I got up and walked out despite my mother yowling about how I was going to be punished and on time out and restriction and lose all my privileges. And I sat outside for the rest of it, by the car, waiting. I remember asking God for some kind of sign or just a word that maybe I was wrong or something. Nothing. Absolute silence. So like Conan it was "Well, to hell with you!"

I mean that was the day. Oh, it was a process of trying to find something. My mother still tried to drag me to church but I was too big to pick up and put in the car anymore and too stubborn for punishment to stick. She also thought it was annoying when I'd observe that I was pretty sure God could tell when someone only came to church because they were being punished.

I mean, I was still in Catholic school, but to be fair, we did live in the South with terrible public schools and I got a pretty good education. I even took religion class pretty seriously. Like, "You guys want me to sign up for this? Have you read what's in here? This is what you're agreeing to!" while everyone stared at me. Which was pretty funny. I even went to a Jesuit college my first go-round and intellectual sparring with Jesuits is like a heavyweight fight. Better bring your A game to that one. But they enjoyed it and I tried not to be a shithead.

Anyway, sometime in high school I got the internet and found a site called Why Christians Suck that finished off whatever chance Christianity still had. (I'm thankful my teenage years were pre-social media/Reddit because I definitely would've been a euphoric fedoraed r/atheism poster). I looked at many, many other religions and I've read the whole Bible several times (like I said, it's fun to be the only kid who has actually read the Bible in religion class and gets the highest grades while annoying everyone about this being the thing they claim to believe) and looked at various denominations and explored other religions. I've got a lot of respect for people who can and do believe if their faith is sincere and if they actually do embody it!

But not for me, man, I've never seen anything convincing. And God never got back to me.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:57 PM on February 28 [23 favorites]


Folks who deconstruct evangelicalism aren’t drop-outs; they’re graduates.
Oh man, that was absolutely my experience growing up fundie.

There's an entire ex-vangelical subculture out there, with so, so many stories of queer and progressive people growing up closeted, conflicted, confused, terrified, abused, angry, depressed, and often self-hating.

I don't mean to derail, but I recommend the following podcasts that dive deep into our experiences and their longer-term effects.

Mindshift
Born Again Again
Kitchen Table Cult
The Life After
Deconversion Therapy
Exvangelical
Life After God
Voices of Deconversion
The Graceful Atheist
Growing Up Christian
posted by Rykey at 3:25 PM on February 28 [23 favorites]


My brother once pointed out to me that "faith" is not some innate sense of trust or conviction, but a willingness to put aside innate forces to follow precepts and practices for someone you do innately trust or love. This can be family, a peer group, a lover, a long-dead hero, or any number of people real or imagined, but it's not usually something you do for yourself.

What you do for yourself is question. And when that becomes exhausting, you let yourself fall into faith—to be guided by example for a while and allow yourself to be shown things without the burden of constant analysis. And at some point the need will arise for you to question these things, and the hardest task then is to separate your questioning of the precepts and practices from your questioning of your relationship with the person you're doing this all for.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:23 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


I went to Catholic elementary school and had a very clear understanding that religion was not real for me, when in the third grade, I had to go to weekly confession, but this time it was in the library. The priest set up a little screen, which you could fully see him behind and you were expected to go in, pretend you didn't see him and he did not see you, and confess your sins. What I could not wrap my head around at age 6 (yes, 6) was that I had to come up with "sins" to confess and he wasn't going to take no for an answer. I found myself making up silly things that I had done wrong in order to have something to repent for. UGH.

...And ask me about how they dealt with students who had parents with HIV+/AIDS status in the early 1980's. Not very Christlike by far.
posted by JennyJupiter at 4:30 PM on February 28 [8 favorites]


I was raised in a perfunctorily Catholic family, the kind where we generally went to mass to keep my grandma happy, and often went on Saturday afternoon so we wouldn't have to get up early or anything. I mostly remember how droning and robotic everyone sounded when the congregation recited all the things they were supposed to recite. That impression informed my own totally vacant experiences in CCD and the class they had to get us ready for confirmation - nobody ever really explained to me what confirmation was and I didn't bother to ask, because being Catholic in my experience was just about going through the motions. The confirmation class itself did nothing to change that, either. The three things I remember about confirmation were:

1. The young adults who led the classes always said we were getting off lucky, because in some such classes you actually had to read the Bible. We never actually did, but it was always held over our heads as a threat if we weren't behaving.

2. By the time confirmation actually came around I still had no idea what it was or what I was supposed to do. There was a piece of paper I had to fill out that asked me what my "confirmation name" was, and maybe it specified that it was supposed to be a saint's name or maybe that was just what I thought; anyway, the only saint that came to mind was St. Francis and, and I liked that he was supposedly nice to animals, so I went with that. I guess that's my Catholic name now?

3. It was the early 90s, and I refused to wear a dress for any reason, so my mom found me this semi-amazing button-up shirt that was made out of some sort of fake seude-ish material in big blocks of light pink, pale blue, and dolphin grey. There may have been matching pink pants. While it was fancier than my preferred style, I still have stronger feelings about that outfit than anything else about confirmation.

Needless to say, I haven't been to a mass in about 25 years or so. I feel like there never was a "God" in my Catholicism for anybody to take a chisel to in the first place - just the empty box.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:40 PM on February 28 [6 favorites]


What I could not wrap my head around at age 6 (yes, 6) was that I had to come up with "sins" to confess and he wasn't going to take no for an answer. I found myself making up silly things that I had done wrong in order to have something to repent for.

Huh. Huh. Confession ceremonies where people are incentivised to make up 'sins' to confess is noted in thought control literature as a technique of abusive organisations. I figured the Catholic church would have rules around that.

I grew up in a new age household, but did go to a Christian school for a year. That one year probably did more to steer me away from Christianity than anything, although I've developed an admiration for parts of the Bible since then.
posted by Merus at 6:42 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


Confession ceremonies where people are incentivised to make up 'sins' to confess is noted in thought control literature as a technique of abusive organisations. I figured the Catholic church would have rules around that.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHhahahahaha .... ahahahahhha ... ooh
posted by rikschell at 7:17 PM on February 28 [8 favorites]


"anyway, the only saint that came to mind was St. Francis and, and I liked that he was supposedly nice to animals, so I went with that. I guess that's my Catholic name now?"

Confirmation names are a local tradition (most popular in the English-speaking world), not a universal Catholic thing. So it doesn't HAVE to be anything at all, really. But by local custom it does have to be a saint's name, but your "Catholic name" is whatever you were baptized with, and you can just use that for your confirmation name if you want. Or you can pick whatever, and throw your confirmation name in there as a spare if you want, usually as a second middle name.

I'm jealous you got to pick St. Francis, I wanted to pick St. Joseph, but they told me I had to pick a female saint because I was a girl. So I picked a lady who got sainted basically for telling her bishop to go fuck himself -- that is literally why I picked her, I admired and identified with her for telling male authority figures to blow it out their asses -- which, in retrospect, should probably have been a sign.

"Confession ceremonies where people are incentivised to make up 'sins' to confess is noted in thought control literature as a technique of abusive organisations. I figured the Catholic church would have rules around that."

No, it's more like, just bad sacramental teaching. In the US they usually start you going to confession sometime between ages 6 and 13, usually towards the younger end, and you have to learn all these sins like MURDER and ADULTERY and STEALING and PANDERING (okay, no, they did not teach me about pandering when I was seven, that's in Dante), but you learn your 10 Commandments and your 7 Deadlies and then they're like "okay, now go confess your sins!" and so most little kids are like, "Uh ... I probably told a lie?" because even at 7 you're pretty clear you didn't murder anyone this week, and the priest, trying to provide spiritual counsel, is like, "What was the lie?" and you're eight and don't remember so you tell a lie to cover the fact that you forgot what you lied about. "I was mean to my siblings" and "I didn't listen to my parents" are the cop-out sins every little kid confesses at Confession because OF COURSE YOU DID, YOU'RE EIGHT.

(Have you ever stopped to consider how utterly boring it must be to listen to a bunch of 4th graders confess their sins in a row?)

I ... actually have a big honking lot to say about the Sacrament of Reconciliation (not "confession") and its origins as a once-in-a-lifetime thing you could do after a major fuckup and it was public and your penance lasted like 3 years and if you fucked up again you were expelled from the community, gradually morphing to something you had to do before every time you took communion, which for medieval people was typically once a year (at Easter), and gradually morphing from a public and community event to a private, one-on-one consultation with a priest. At THAT point it starts turning into spiritual direction for laypeople, as monks and nuns routinely met with their community leader or a mentor for spiritual direction. Then communion becomes a weekly, and eventually daily, event, and confession is needed before EVERY communion, so people start having to go to confession weekly, or even daily, and kids are now making their First Communion at around the age of 7 (the "age of reason" in Catholicism) so you've got to start them confessing, but then people are like "but can 7 year olds really commit mortal sins?" so it's half-assed for a few years and brought in around age 9ish. And they're trying to cram ALL of these disparate traditions, some of which are mutually contradictory, into a group of 32 5th graders from the public school during 75 minutes of CCD on a Saturday morning, NONE of whom want to be there, and NONE of whom want to be confessing.

(There are still churches that open the confessionals 15 minutes before every Mass, 1950s-style, so you can go confess real quick before Mass and then you've just got to manage not to think about fornicating until after communion and you're golden.)

I have a lot to say about shitty sacramental theology as taught in Catholic catechesis (I literally edited a book on how fucked up baptismal theology teaching is; I walked out of my pre-Cana class because the marriage theology was so shitty I couldn't take it), but most sacramental theology makes SENSE, it's just badly-taught and/or overlaid with cultural customs and traditions. (Like, brides in Catholic weddings MAY NOT be "given away" -- it's theologically forbidden, because it means they're not entering the marriage freely -- but it's done all the time because people like the cultural custom.) But Reconciliation/Confession is the one sacrament that's been a theological hot mess since its inception and the Church has NEVER had a clear idea of exactly what it's supposed to be or how it's supposed to work, so we end up with little kids inventing sins, and adults who just flatly ignore all the rules around confession because they're so obviously dumb, and CCD teachers and priests who just want to process everybody through the official motions because most of them don't have a clear theological opinion on what confession is FOR/what it should be like, let alone about the messy history of it, so they treat it like a dumb, perfunctory set of bureaucratic procedures where you just have to fill in the right blanks and literally nobody cares about the content of them.

Which is to say there are definitely rules about false confessions and, like, priests aren't supposed to MAKE people confess anyway, it doesn't work like that. But nobody knows what the fuck they're doing with confession, just that it's required, and the rules make no sense, so everyone just does the perfunctory thing, and everyone else pretends that's fine.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:22 PM on February 28 [34 favorites]


I think it was in William Hinton's Fanshen where I read that the self-criticism struggle sessions of the Chinese Communists bore a strong resemblance to practises of... details are escaping me... certain Calvinist ministers, I think it was?
posted by clawsoon at 7:37 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Pre-Reformation Catholicism viewed access to the Bible as a threat. Basically they were right, since if you could interpret the Bible for yourself, the one true church made little sense.

If I may- the threat posed by access to the Bible text is not that some people might read it and decide that it's incoherent. Those folks wander off, and don't actually cause a lot of problems. The problem is that absent strict supervision, twelve people read the Bible and walk away with twelve different religions, and at least one of those will decide to deliver Global Jewish Communism with the sword.
posted by wotsac at 7:39 PM on February 28 [8 favorites]


Oh, some Catholic stories...

I liked reading the Bible when I was a kid, it was interesting. I still read the Bible today.

I went to a rural 20th century Catholic grade school with good teachers (except for the principal who was a bully, but in retrospect he taught me that buddhist thing about processing bullying. But it felt pretty harsh).

12 years old and doing Confirmation (I chose the name 'Dominic' because Van Morrison song) is exactly the same time that I became skeptical about doctrine, because I felt that anyone who described the afterlife had actually not been there and come back to talk about it. So I became fairly atheistic in my heart after that, but not so atheistic as to argue about it with my family, because I choose my spiritual battles.

Hard-Core-Atheist in my punky youth, and thinking that people who held religious beliefs believed in fairy tales.

Got a bit older, and started interpreting things more subtly, and realizing that spirituality is more about values and metaphors, and not always about doctrine. Kinda like Transcendentalism, but not quite.

I identify as a Catholic as my culture, but I don't conform to the doctrine and I don't take the host (but hey I think the Pope is kinda cool). Looking forward to going back to Mass with my Mom when the Covid subsides.
posted by ovvl at 7:44 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


details are escaping me... certain Calvinist ministers, I think it was?

From the link, and perhaps apropos of GJCC: "John Humphrey Noyes extrapolated his early experiences in the Brethren to establish Mutual Criticism as a central tenet of Bible Communism..."
posted by clawsoon at 7:45 PM on February 28


“ And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.

“And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command lasers to come down from space, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.”
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:01 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows, I specifically remember my first confession was en masse after Mass (ha!) and there were a lot of us so they'd brought in some extra priests or something and that was basically the lot of us, sins-wise. I mean we were in something like 3rd grade.

(Though, amusingly, that class as a whole was so bad that the next year our religion teacher literally had a breakdown one day in class, ran out of the room, ran out of the school, went home, packed her bags, and left town, so maybe we should've confessed to being massive shitheads).

((And I know that story is true because my mother knew her son and apparently one day she just came home ranting how she couldn't deal with us anymore and took off)).

I remember I'd picked the line for the priest I sort of knew and liked and I was towards the end of the line. It was a big deal what with the mass and extra priests and everything and it was hot in the church. I remember sitting down across from him and the poor guy was so sweaty and hot in all the vestments and looked so tired and just done. He'd always been really nice to me so I spun up something about lying and sassing my mom (which I'm sure I had but I was trying to help this dude out) and he'd obviously had this conversation a lot because it was like "ThreeHailMarys, we'redone" (summarized, obv).

Looking back I've always wondered, theologically speaking, where "making up a sin but it's probably true in some way but really you were just trying to help a tired guy out" fell on the overall scale.

But your post also reminds me that one of the things I really disliked at the time (and still dislike) is how casually people treated stuff like that and the attitude that it was just something to be gotten through and this silly little thing we do whatever, another milestone checked off.

Like, this is the creed you claim to believe and swear yourself to every Sunday and you don't even know what it is? This is the club you joined and you didn't even read the bylaws? There's literally a book that lays out what you're supposed to do and you've never read the whole thing? Do you even know what's in here? I'd get heated in my religion classes like look, buddy, you're the one that wears a cross everywhere and talks about how much God and your faith means to you, not me, but I'm the one that knows your belief system backwards and forwards and you don't even know what the Council of Nicaea WAS and LET ME TELL YOU, BUDDY, WE CAN TALK ABOUT THE NON-CANON GOSPELS OH YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW THOSE EXIST DO YOU?!

The timing on this is doubly amusing because a friend of mine is Catholic and doing a Bible read and starting to get into the screwed up stuff and posted, like, "UH THEY NEVER COVERED THIS IN SUNDAY SCHOOL?!" and I chirped up like "BUDDY WAIT TIL YOU GET TO LOT'S DAUGHTERS THERE IS A LOT THEY DON'T MENTION".
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:55 PM on February 28 [18 favorites]


Imagine the state of the ego that claims to speak for God.

"Here's what God means... here's what God wants... here's what God demands... "

Phew.
posted by Twang at 10:38 PM on February 28 [6 favorites]


If I may- the threat posed by access to the Bible text is not that some people might read it and decide that it's incoherent. Those folks wander off, and don't actually cause a lot of problems. The problem is that absent strict supervision, twelve people read the Bible and walk away with twelve different religions, and at least one of those will decide to deliver Global Jewish Communism with the sword.

Reading the Bible without a decent education about it- which was categorically not available to the vast majority of people then and really still isn't today- is how you see the number 144,000 in Revelation and rather than saying "ah hah, in this sort of literature 12 is a number that means wholeness, so that's wholeness times wholeness times a thousand!" you instead decide that that means only 144,000 people are gonna get into Heaven so you better get to door knocking and climbing the salvation leaderboard. The text obviously should be available to everybody, but it also should be presented within its context (including its historical and literary context) rather than as a disembodied THE BOOK.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:57 PM on February 28 [9 favorites]


"I'd get heated in my religion classes like look, buddy, you're the one that wears a cross everywhere and talks about how much God and your faith means to you, not me, but I'm the one that knows your belief system backwards and forwards and you don't even know what the Council of Nicaea WAS and LET ME TELL YOU, BUDDY, WE CAN TALK ABOUT THE NON-CANON GOSPELS OH YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW THOSE EXIST DO YOU?!"

When we went to get my first kid baptized the priest said, "And you'll have to take a new parents' class on baptism" (and it was STUPIDLY long, over several weeks, at a weird time that would require missing work) and I said, "Yeah, I'm not going to do that." And he was like, well, the diocese does require it of all parents seeking baptism. And my husband was like, "really just don't, she walked out of pre-Cana." And the priest was like, we really need to be sure you understand the theology of baptism and what you're committing to, and I was like, "EXCELLENT, let's discuss, I have a degree in theology, a master's in liturgy, and edited a academic press book on the theology of baptism. I find that Catholic catechetics at the parish level tend to lean towards a Salvation History interpretation, especially when looking at baptism in the Gospels and in Paul, which is what I did see on your website, but I think that's a very incomplete model, especially when we reference Paul, and Augustine's early writings on Paul, which encompass a more pneumatologically participatory martyrological eschatology of baptism, don't you think?" (Yes, I was being a dick.) The priest was like, "Look, just take the information packet, you probably have to go to the class."

I took it home, corrected all the obvious errors in it in red pen. (And by obvious errors I mean the ones you could directly annotate to the catechism paragraph to point out the problems.) Added some marginal notes where I thought the theology was lacking suggesting improvements. And then gave it a proofread for good measure since, hey, I was there. Then I dropped it back at the rectory.

The priest e-mailed me later that day and said I did not have to take the class.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:02 PM on February 28 [68 favorites]


so they treat it like a dumb, perfunctory set of bureaucratic procedures where you just have to fill in the right blanks and literally nobody cares about the content of them

...until such time as the State tries to force the Church to reveal anything it finds out about child abuse in confessionals, at which point it becomes a sacred seal of trust between priest and flock, the breaking of which would rend the world asunder.

Imagine the state of the ego that claims to speak for God.

"Here's what God means... here's what God wants... here's what God demands... "


Soundtrack for the thread
posted by flabdablet at 11:36 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


I was pretty into religion as a kid.

"When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things."

1 Corinthians 13:11 NLV
posted by fairmettle at 2:52 AM on March 1 [4 favorites]


I grew up Catholic in a town know for being the most "liberal" in all of Kansas. And one thing I remember best was the Homily given after July 4th in 1991. At the time we (as a nation) were still mostly tooting our own collective horn about the defeat of Saddam replete with military parades and all of the patriotic bunting you could buy from the local Kmart store. But this priest was having none of it. He said we should all be on our knees, begging God for forgiveness for executing that war. Unlike my 18-year old self he saw right through the justifications and pre-war BS (like the ambassador's daughter posing as a nurse from Kuwait City lying to Congress about Iraqi soldiers tipping over incubators in the NICU, etc). He illustrated his point with the parable about Jesus sleeping in the boat on Galilee when a storm came up and his Apostles were freaking out. "Have ye not faith?"

In a religion fraught with controversy he stood out and continues to stand out to me 30 years later.
posted by drstrangelove at 4:07 AM on March 1 [11 favorites]


I still wonder how many people that priest riled up that day. My father was a conservative but I like to think of him as a conscientious, principled one. But given his silence on the drive home and refusal to discuss what we'd heard, I'm assuming he took it as a slam against the military (in which he served) and the country in general.
posted by drstrangelove at 4:08 AM on March 1


"Here's what God means... here's what God wants... here's what God demands... "

God has spoken / So let the church say "Amen"
posted by clawsoon at 5:08 AM on March 1


pw201:
It had the truth, it spoke the truth, it was The Truth. But that emphasis can create in some people a tremendous valuing of truth per se, especially among highly intelligent youth who have been rewarded all their lives for getting “the right answer.” So if the religion itself begins making less and less sense, it fails by the very criterion that it set up to show its superiority.
That was pretty much my experience in a fundamentalist Evangelical church. The message I got was that it wasn't so much that the theology was morally good (though obvs it was because God was good by definition) as that it was true. It was, like, if God is harsh, then God is harsh. You don't have to like it (though it would be better if you did), but you do have to believe it, because it's true.

So when somebody gave me a book attempting to explain how the earth could be 6000 years old even though other galaxies are millions of light years away, I said (embarrassingly late in my teens), "Huh, that's pretty unconvincing." There were many emotional details for me to work out internally, and a community that I felt I no longer belonged in that I had to accept I'd never be part of anymore, and a few years of depression due to loss of community and loss of sense-of-meaning, but fundamentally it was all over when I stopped believing in a 6000-year-old earth.

Near the end of that transition, I was talking with the parent of a friend. The parent happened to be a United Church minister (a liberal Canadian denomination). They said that they'd noticed that when Evangelicals stop believing, they tend to stop believing completely. For people leaving other denominations it's more of a change of faith rather than an end to faith; for many Evangelicals, once one part of it stops being true it all stops being true.
posted by clawsoon at 5:49 AM on March 1 [6 favorites]


I was raised Fundamentalist Baptist. Christian schools my whole life, from Bob Jones Elementary School to Bob Jones University. The turning point that got me out of it was reading The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, where he talks about how he doesn't believe the Bible because he thinks God is better than the Bible portrays him. And he goes through the Bible and points out things like where Israel was commanded to invade a country, kill its males and older women, and keep the young girls for themselves.

And that led me to an inescapable logical problem: either God is not good, or the Bible is not actually literally accurate the way the Fundamentalists said. And without that biblical inerrancy, the whole system shattered.

But I missed the other way to resolve the problem, which this recent Twitter thread goes into, in explaining why Evangelicals can love Trump so much:
The reason why they never care about hypocrisy is that saying something is wrong while also openly doing it yourself...

That is a demonstration of power
and
The evangelical god is powerful BECAUSE the evangelical god can do anything and call it morally good

They actually LOVE it when someone like Trump is openly and aggressively hypocritical

Because that's power

Evangelicals will always fall down and worship that kind of power
posted by JDHarper at 6:55 AM on March 1 [17 favorites]


So much of this resonates with my experience. On the other-hand, I was a cis straight white dude, so it took me probably longer than it should have to ditch some of the ideas that existed where conservative christianity overlapped with toxic masculinity.

As a full on apostate, these days I'm fond of saying that the best things I learned from Jesus were humility and pacifism and that they're absent in his church.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:56 AM on March 1 [5 favorites]


I went to Catholic school from Pre-1st to 5th Grade. I was raised, very nominally Catholic by my parents who were both divorced and re-married, half-to-quarter-assed Catholics. I didn't come to atheism by realizing religion made no sense through deep involvement in it. I became an atheist via two books: The Communist Manifesto and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I read both of these after leaving Catholic school to attend a public middle Magnet School. Combine both of those books ways of reframing religion and belief, the lack of Catholic education, and my parents quarter-assed Catholicism which resulted in us deciding we'd all rather sleep in on Sundays, and it didn't take long, at least for me, to just be done with religion.

I did have a journey from being a Capital-A Atheist, being a bit of a jerk-ass, yelling to those who would listen about the dangers of religion and belief in a god. As I got older and met more people of devout faith (not just Catholic or Christian), who were still good people, and didn't fall into the hate I associated with religion, or proselytize incessantly, I softened my stance. I'm still an atheist, I don't get anything out of religion that other people seem to, but that's my own thing, and I'm okay with it. I don't want to be a jerk-ass Atheist anymore.

And, to ice the cake a bit, a couple years ago, my Dad revealed to me that he'd been practicing some pagan stuff on the side for years, along with my sister. It was one of those things where I didn't know, but upon knowing, I wasn't surprised. It does explain a lot,
posted by SansPoint at 7:25 AM on March 1 [3 favorites]


"They said that they'd noticed that when Evangelicals stop believing, they tend to stop believing completely. For people leaving other denominations it's more of a change of faith rather than an end to faith; for many Evangelicals, once one part of it stops being true it all stops being true."

There is data to this effect (for the US, anyway); I'm a little out of date (I have no idea how it's shifted in the last 5 years, esp. with Trump), but data generally shows that the more literalist the parents are, the more likely their children are to leave faith in general and Christianity in particular completely. Kids who grow up in less-fundamentalist and less-literalist churches are more likely to remain.

It also shows (and this just amuses me personally, because rarely do you see such a clear illustration of differences in theological worldview played out in measurable behavior) that Protestants who leave their "birth church" are much more likely to hop around different denominations and religions, try out several, move around every couple of years, seeking a good fit. Whereas Catholics who leave their "birth church" are more likely to think about it really hard for five years, pick ONE place they're going to go, and then stay there until they DIE. (Also, a weirdly outlying number of US Catholics who quit Catholicism become Buddhists.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:26 AM on March 1 [12 favorites]


This is hardly a new thing. People have been decrying Cafeteria Catholicism for as long as there have been cafeterias, and it was almost certainly a problem before that. People pay lip service to the weird parts as long as they, on balance, get sufficient value out of it.

I am still an active Catholic, but I've never been a very good one. As someone mentioned above, it's an institution of humans so it's going to have problems. Sometimes it's going to be simple bullshit like theft and sometimes it's going to be serious like systematic suppression of women or exclusion of LGBTQ people, and sometimes it's actual crimes that need to go to the police. I get all that and can take it in stride (as long as the police get called when they should be.) The Church as an organization is never going to be better than any other massive, old human institution.

What I want from my religion is a place for contemplation and celebration, some fellowship, a place to go to give or receive aid, a community. I have a need for God in my life, and while the Catholic faith has some gaps (BTW, hat tip to Eyebrows McGee's magical contemplation of Reconciliation above) it is familiar and well-worn at this point and I take what I need. My kids were raised in its schools and (shocker coming) my daughters are done with it, the college aged son is taking his standard vacation from it, and the last kid is 13 and isn't really worrying about religion right now. We'll see where that one goes.

The difference between my experience and my kids', I think, lies in the type of pastors they had vs what I had up until about 15 years ago (ie their whole thinking lives.) In the past I had typical American diocesan priests that ran a parish like a business: hope the books balance this year, try not to piss off the customers by banging the pulpit too often, visit the CCW meeting and maybe go have a beer at the Mens' Club meeting. But things have gotten much more old school conservative at our parish of late. The new guys (an order took over our parish because the diocese doesn't have enough priests) are very abstractly holy and have left behind much of the social justice ministry that our quite liberal community did so well. So we now get lots of imagery of the sacred heart of Jesus and very little talk of helping out at the Dorothy Day center. Plus the limited roles open to women are even fewer than normal: there are limits on what alter server roles are open to them as grade schoolers, for example, and they notice. Of course they notice.

So what's it mean for any of the Big Olde Institutional Churches? If they insist on rigid purity, then they're likely to be accepted or rejected at the same grain. But those that emphasize the spirit of the endeavor rather than the letter of the law may receive more of that partial forgiveness/acceptance from the congregation when those moments occur that really are a crisis of faith. It's not a matter of staying hip, it's a matter of continually working on your internal consistency, examining and reexamining yourself, admitting shortcoming and striving for improvement. That's core to every religion I've ever heard of.
posted by Cris E at 9:22 AM on March 1 [3 favorites]


Cris E, what order is at your church?

When I was in junior high the Capuchin Franciscans took over. That probably had about as much influence on me as anything-- when I was confirmed I took Francis (of Assisi) as my name. I really liked those guys.
posted by drstrangelove at 9:54 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


One of the Capuchin Franciscans who was more or less the head priest insisted that the parish give 10% of the collection to the poor. Before that it was effectively next to zero. He encountered a lot of resistance from the parish council for that but he prevailed.
posted by drstrangelove at 9:56 AM on March 1 [3 favorites]


Brought up in an atheist household and converting at age 12, I had such a benign experience of Catholicism. Progressivism, Liberation Theology, the 2nd Vatican Council, that stuff. During my baptism I had a transcendent experience. I've had others, like experiencing the rotation of the earth or the planets or a sort of communion but that has been the only religious one and so I've a healthy respect for the power of ritual.

Either because of the sort of instruction I had or the sort of child I was, my idea of sin included things like feeling guilty about having something nice instead of abstaining and offering it up to the Holy Souls - anyone remember that? so I always had plenty to confess without making owt up. The priest used to say 'Be a good child and god will love you. 3 hail Marys.' Even then I was like, god aint going to stop loving me, why would they?

Odd thing, during the Nigerian Civil War we encountered a couple of priests who were members of Opus Dei, it's only recently this seems to me to be funky given they were frank about ministering to white mercenaries given what a thing this was in the 70s. The school I went to was run by a Carmelite teaching order and I got an excellent liberal and scientific education there. I don't know whether I was just lucky or whether being in the church for only about 4 years there wasn't time to know that the church I thought it was, isn't how most people experienced it.

Catholicism has got a lot more rigid in Nigeria since then probably in competition with Evangelicism. Muslims have got more rigid and louder and more fervent probably also in competition with Evangelicism. My family home lies between two churches and a mosque and everybody's competing to hold all night vigils. I guess it's all part of the global authoritarian swing we're experiencing now.

There was some family anxiety about whether my dad would have a priest officiating at his funeral since he wasn't a churchgoer and the priest came looking for him to 'reconcile' him back, I felt really bad about it because it looked like unwarranted pressure. But he signed up and had confession and when they came back and held mass at our house it was actually lovely. The priest brought the choir, the family was there and it was beautiful. I feel my dad in his 90's was perfectly capable of holding out for what he really believed and made a pragmatic decision in the interests of what the family needed in terms of how they would say goodbye. Plus, there was stuff he wanted to get off his chest privately and have a think about, that is after all ideally the role of a confessor, helping you process the past.
posted by glasseyes at 1:02 PM on March 1 [14 favorites]


what order is at your church?

The order is from South America, and my Spanish being zero I can't tell you exactly what the name is, but several members are from Peru. Let's put it this way: I was educated by the Christian Brothers and Benedictines, and these guys aren't like those guys. Lots more inconography, way more incense, more formality everywhere to be honest. The old folks left because they couldn't understand anything through the accents, and then the younger families left because they could. We're a much smaller parish now, with the school closed and most of the old families attending elsewhere. They've been replaced by a bunch of younger and very conservative Catholics who have started having a lot of babies in the past couple years, so who knows, maybe it'll all rebound soon. I never left because I'm pretty stubborn and it's walking distance from our house.
posted by Cris E at 4:55 PM on March 1 [4 favorites]


I find the term “Theological Deconstruction” fascinating, both for what it means in the academic sense, and how people probably misinterpret what that means.

In the video which I like to summarize as Stephen Hicks is why Jordan Peterson Doesn’t Understand Postmodernism, the presenter explains that “Deconstruction” as literary theory is about removing all subjective considerations from the text, both those of the author, as well as those of the reader.

The idea is to examine the text usinging nothing but what the text provides, and to see what tensions and new relationships and can be brought out of the text when it one reads it on it’s own terms. Deconstruction aims to strip the text of all outside considerations and interpretations, without context or consideration for anything but just what they words on the page are, and how they all relate to each other.

But the conservative line is that “postmodern deconstruction” is about bringing in outside influences to the text, to make the text conform to popular ideas about morality. But deconstruction is exactly the opposite; it’s looking at what the text says.

Apparently, the Bible (as text) says “Jesus was a communist”, just like those of us who were exposed to it as kids always kinda thought.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:33 PM on March 1 [3 favorites]


I had a very early brush with Catholicism, or so my mother tells me. My father was Catholic, but he had been married previously, gotten divorced, and eventually married my mother. Apparently, shortly after I was born, the local priest came around and said that, while my parents were clearly beyond saving, he certainly hoped that the boy would be brought up in the church. He was quickly invited to fuck right off.

My father died when I was four, and my mother had her hands full raising me on her own while working to support us. She did teach me to read, and she managed to keep me fed and clothed and move us several states away to be closer to her family. But amid all that activity, my religious education was completely neglected.

I’ve always been grateful for that.
posted by Naberius at 9:01 PM on March 1 [3 favorites]


Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey: Apparently, the Bible (as text) says “Jesus was a communist”, just like those of us who were exposed to it as kids always kinda thought.

Every pastor needs at least one - preferably multiple - sermons ready to explain why "Sell all you have and give the money to the poor" doesn't mean what it says.
posted by clawsoon at 6:02 AM on March 2 [4 favorites]


clawsoon, I've interpreted "Sell all you have and give the money to the poor" as what Jesus said to one annoying man who kept pushing because he thought the rules which were good enough for people in general weren't good enough for him.

Is this a reasonable interpretation? Is there a good overview of all things Jesus said about what should be given?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:06 AM on March 2


Clawsoon and others on the Evangelical v. Catholic divide regarding loss of faith: rings true here. I spent a LOT of time in the Peace Corps with a buddy who's been brought up reformed Calvinist at a church in Kalamazoo that later, as a congregation, swung in a more literal direction. And when he developed a crack in his belief, the whole edifice shattered. Couldn't and still can't bring himself to go to services when he's home with his folks because to him it'd feel dishonest.

Whereas me, Catholic, as serious as he was about faith when I was a kid, my meandering between atheism, agnosticism, and a sort of wavering and feeble belief has never seemed a reason to stop being Catholic or to stop going to Mass altogether.

Part of that might be that right as I was about to go full atheist I went to a Jesuit university whose priest-professors we're some of the smartest people I'd ever met and took faith in stride. Part of it might've been that their five-language exegesis during Mass was more interesting than any homilies I'd heard before. Or that the musical Masses full of other students as exactly as unsure as I was were pretty well divine.

But I think it's also that: It seems like more or less bog-stamdard for Catholic priests to have crises of faith, enough so that it's in the culture and it hardly seems like a major break to have one on the parishioner side of things. And re: how fucked up the Church is, especially in the US, well, the Church is an institution that has always evolved through decay and corruption and reform. It's bad now, and there are forces of progressive reform and neoreactionaries at war for the soul of the Church. Even if those shitbirds win, though, it'll come back around. And in the meantime, theologically I'm not too bothered the weirdness and hocus pocus of our doctrine. Eventually we're going to realize that Liberation Theology had it right, that transubstantiation and Mary having remained ever-virgin aren't the main pillars of the faith, that all the hysteria about divorce and LGBT people has more to do with millenniarian attitudes in Paul's time and American politics than anything we should be religiously worried about, and that clerical celibacy and exclusion of women from the priesthood are likewise relics of Church politics in the Middle Ages and first and second-century Rome that oughtta go, like right-quick.

Anyway, Church is a big ship that turns slowly and is just chock full of bastards. But we'll get it turned around and the hope is that when we do, it's a huge institution now working for the good.
posted by TheProfessor at 7:03 AM on March 2 [10 favorites]


My friend who's studying for the rabbinate and I keep saying we want to do a podcast of "progressive theological ladies talk about the Bible" with swearing and hilarious stories and Hebrew translations and shit...

So do you not know about Nadia Bolz-Weber? https://nadiabolzweber.com/about/

You might find her worth a read/listen.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:59 AM on March 2


Cris E.: So what's it mean for any of the Big Olde Institutional Churches? If they insist on rigid purity, then they're likely to be accepted or rejected at the same grain

I think of it being like distillation: the end product is much stronger and purer, but about 90% of the starting volume simply disappears during the process.

If you want total purity in a small community, then put the pedal to the metal; if you want to be widely accepted and actually heard, then you need to be more flexible and forgiving.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:20 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


But amid all that activity, my religious education was completely neglected.

I’ve always been grateful for that.


I tend toward being glad of my limited and oft halfhearted Catholic education. My mom was Catholic, my dad wasn't. I didn't go to Catholic school but I did have to attend weekly catechism classes, which I most hated, because what kid wants MORE school after school? But those classes did give me something of a grounding in the what (and why) of not just the official Roman Catholic story but what amounts to the whole Judaeo-Christian worldview, which is something I didn't really get from my secular public school education.

I had my first communion more or less on schedule, I confessed every now and then until around age twelve (it always felt kind of pointless -- I never for a moment believed the guy behind the blind was any closer to God that I was). But I never got around to being confirmed. Because in the background, my mom was losing her tolerance for the Church and its bullshit rules, in particular its antagonism toward birth control. Which finally led to a firm break around the time I turned fifteen ... and I've almost never been back inside a church since.

Have I missed it at all? Nope. Because all I ever was in church was bored. Rather like my attitude toward confession noted above, I don't remember EVER feeling that I was closer to God while stuck in church. Because God, if there was one worth believing in, didn't want me getting repeatedly bored in his name. Which I suppose speaks to my belief/lack of to this day. I'm agnostic, because I have had experiences of what I'd call transcendence in my life. But none of them have happened anywhere near a church or any other kind of religious organization or event. That stuff is all man's work and/or folly.

And finally, the one thing I will give some of the religious communities I've observed over the years is that their community aspect has proven very helpful, positive. One friend's family comes to mind. His dad got hit with a slow, debilitating illness fairly early in life. It took him decades to die and their community (Baptist) was always there for the family. And in a way that I've never really seen a secular institution manage.
posted by philip-random at 10:09 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


clawsoon, I've interpreted "Sell all you have and give the money to the poor" as what Jesus said to one annoying man who kept pushing because he thought the rules which were good enough for people in general weren't good enough for him.

Is this a reasonable interpretation? Is there a good overview of all things Jesus said about what should be given?


Looks reasonable to me. But I think there's possibly more going on. In the first place, it's not so much that this guy didn't think the usual rules applied to him. It's that he thought he had followed the rules -- and had been following them since he was a little boy. I think Jesus' point is that he wasn't following the rules. Not really. Not in their spirit.

In the second place, there's an interesting thing about the specific rules that Jesus mentions. Traditionally, people split up the commandments into "vertical" commands that talk about our relationship with God and "horizontal" commands that talk about our relationships with each other. Jesus himself seems to take this line when he summarizes all of the law in two commands: love God, and love your neighbor. Now, when he talks to the rich guy, he only mentions the horizontal commands. So, I think Jesus is getting in a subtle little jab at the guy in saying that he hasn't really kept the horizontal commands, yet. He hasn't really loved his neighbor because doing so would require much more than he had actually done. But also, Jesus is setting up a conflict that really is a big part of his philosophy: that you can't serve two masters; you can't love both God and money. This message is very clear in the gospels. You see it explicitly in Matthew 6:24 and in Luke 16:13. I think it's implicitly in the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money-changers in Matthew 21, Mark 11, and John 2. And you see it in the way the gospels talk about Judas at the end, especially in John 12. It also makes sense of the disciples' reaction to the story where the woman (probably Mary) pours perfume on Jesus' feet. They immediately react by saying, "Hey, that could have been spent on the poor!" Okay, so coming back to the point: I think Jesus is pointing out to this rich guy that even if he has kept the horizontal commands, he hasn't kept the vertical ones. He loves money more than he loves God. So, the challenge: you can be perfect if you sell everything and follow me.

Does it apply to everyone? I think the answer is yes and no. Yes in that Jesus says to everyone that you can't serve both God and money. No in that not everyone who has things is possessed by them. But that said, I think most of us are more owned by our possessions and more in love with money -- servants of money -- than we'd like to admit. I know that I couldn't just sell everything and give to the poor. Even though I think that would probably be a good thing to do. So, I feel conviction when I think about this story. (I'm not even Christian anymore, but I still think that story is powerful.)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 10:22 AM on March 2 [10 favorites]


TheProfessor: Couldn't and still can't bring himself to go to services when he's home with his folks because to him it'd feel dishonest.

That is exactly how it felt. Participating in any kind of religious service after I had stopped believing felt like it would be dishonest and wrong. Makes me wonder exactly what Evangelical words were used to make me feel that.
posted by clawsoon at 10:43 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


Very good answer, Jonathan Livengood. Thanks. I would add that if you do have wealth beyond your needs (however you may define your needs), then weaponize your wealth for the cause.
posted by No Robots at 10:45 AM on March 2


you instead decide that that means only 144,000 people are gonna get into Heaven so you better get to door knocking and climbing the salvation leaderboard. The text obviously should be available to everybody, but it also should be presented within its context

Were you thinking of the Jehovah's Witnesses when describing that particular literal interpretation?
posted by benzenedream at 12:05 AM on March 4


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