So as I said in my last post in relation to this story, ‘there goes the last lingering threats of my Catholicism’. Of course the Catholic Church has a history of being criticised by feminists, but before writing the whole institution off as completely worthless, I should make it plain that it was through the Church that I came to my feminism. I think that I mentioned elsewhere that I had a happy childhood, and my education in the local catholic schools was a big part of that, as was Sunday school and church. Church lent a happy rhythm to the week, and I loved the ritual of the Catholic service. I remember singing hymns loudly and proudly and when I made my first communion I was one of four students chosen to stand with the Priest explaining to the congregation why the service was like the Last Supper. I enjoyed my faith, it was a source of comfort to have a belief in a God of love, to have a friend in Jesus. I remember praying fervently as child during times of distress and when I was quite small I even toyed with the idea of becoming a nun (until a friend of mine laughed, but she would laugh – she was the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister and they don’t believe in nuns). I was such a devout little girl. So what happened? When did I start ‘losing my religion?’
During my teens I started to realise that life wasn’t as black and white as I had thought. I was involved for a number of years with a youth group which gave me very clear insights into the human element of religion. The power plays, the jockeying for leadership, the righteous judging of who was committed enough, I began to see that shared faith or a common belief isn’t enough to unite a disparate group. Some of the group were committed young Catholics and were trying to help other teens with their faiths, others were committed young adults trying to meet other teens, most of us I suspect were both. In that time I experienced deep spiritual moments and deep human hurts. It was in this that I got a sense of how deeply humans can scar one another without even meaning to. But that’s not why I lost my faith.
I’ve always felt that there is something deeply wrong with society’s treatment of women and there has long been a burning sense of justice in my heart. Gender Studies at uni gave some formal understanding of the system of the patriarchy that we are swimming in, but I was still attracted to the Church, even though it was becoming increasingly clear that the Church was thoroughly patriarchal and not going to change anytime soon. Women weren’t going to be ordained so why stay in a church that limited women’s expressions of faith in a way that it did not limit men’s? I thought for a time that it would be ‘easier to burn the castle down from within’. So I stayed in the Church, and got married in the Church. The Catholic Church, to my mind, has a strong sense of social justice and this aspect of the Church is something I’ve always loved and has in part shaped me.
It was history, finally that caused me to walk away. Through my studies I have learned that the Bible is not the cut and dried document that I had believed it to be. Different threads of interpretation run through the Bible, and it is a compilation of many authors and editors and translators and long forgotten oral traditions. There an environmental ethic in there, if you look past the ‘new heaven and new earth’ of Revelation (if there’s going to be a new earth than it doesn’t matter what we do to this one). There’s a feminist message (Jesus praised Mary over her sister Martha for scriptural learning, befriended a Samaritan woman, saved an adulterous women, etc) too if you overlook Paul’s letters. Just as the Bible is far from being a homogeneous document so the Church is not homogeneous. I realised that major theological decisions were made by a bunch of men coming together and arbitrarily deciding ‘stuff’ and making it ecclesiastical law. Thousands of people have died because of differing interpretations of pure conjecture. Books and people put to the flame for heterodoxy. So when it finally occurred to me that my childhood beliefs were the result of closed doors power plays by political bishops of ages long gone, well these things stopped making sense to me. The trinity, transubstantiation, the unbroken status of Mary’s hymen, tricky answers to questions that should not have been asked.
I learnt about the architects of the Church, the Early Church Fathers, men like, Augustine (pictured), Jerome, Philo, Tertullian and Thomas Aquinas who each had their own twisted version of Aristotelian logic that they brought to the Church. These men shaped the Catholic Church and imprinted their misogynistic mindset upon the developing theology. Understanding the humanity of those that shaped the Church is what has compelled me to walk away. When people take seriously the notion that women are ‘the devil’s gateway’ (Tertullian) and use that understanding as the basis for a theological stance how can that institution ever be reformed – with the founding epistemology so deeply ingrained with dualistic and misogynist beliefs about the world.
Not sure what I believe anymore, but I do know this, as I work it out I won’t be trying to foist it on anyone else. Maybe reading about other ways to be Catholic has made me pause to think about my relationship to the Church, or maybe I’m just fed up with the tragic injustice of it, but I’m going to come back to the topic and post about the Church’s teaching on sexuality shortly.