Category Archives: Religion

Defection from the Catholic Church – Update!

mary

by TheChristianAlert.org, via flickr

I did get a response to my Declaration of Defection last year. It was rather disappointing. The bishop basically said the church won’t consider me non-Catholic because I’m not converting to another religion, and asked me to call some priest to discuss why God is real. I briefly considered calling, but I’m just not willing to invest any time, energy, and stress into this. What is the guy going to say to me? Nothing I haven’t heard. I find their evidence for Jesus et al. very unconvincing, so why waste both our time?

I think the bishop was being a bit disingenuous in his letter, as he failed to mention that the Catholic Church doesn’t even have Defection anymore. There just isn’t any way to have them record officially that you are not a member. Yes, it’s annoying. I would rather not be associated with them or risk them using my “membership” as part of their clout. But on reflection, I suppose it doesn’t matter much. I don’t give the Catholic Church any of my time or money, and I know that I have left the institution far behind. They will still have a record of my baptism without any notation that I jumped ship, but when it comes down to it, I guess it isn’t a big deal if they have my name on a piece of paper somewhere.

As far as I know, there aren’t any laws in the U.S. that would require a church to remove you from their membership list upon request. As long as they aren’t doing anything to you, but simply have a record of your baptism in their books, I don’t think they are violating any law. And after all, those records are just documentation of an event that did in fact occur.

While it’s just an anonymous forum post, it seems this person has run down the situation very well. In short, you leave by not participating and by considering yourself non-Catholic. Having the church officially acknowledge that is really only going to happen if you ever want to participate in a sacrament again. (Fat chance.)

Just a word about excommunication here: you can try to get excommunicated, but there’s no real point. Excommunication does not remove you from the church. People who are excommunicated are explicitly considered current Catholics, but the church denies them the sacraments in an effort to pressure them into repudiating their sin and coming back to the fold (sins like saving the life of a mother at the expense of her non-viable fetus for instance). So I wouldn’t bother.

There you go – this ended rather with a whimper than a bang. I’m sorry dear readers that I didn’t have the patience to call and recount the priest trying to convince me to come back. Maybe someday, if I ever get really, really bored I’ll give it a go.

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Mom, do you believe in God?

These conversations always happen in the car. I think it helps because she knows I won’t be making eye contact and I can be easily distracted if she’s done talking about whatever dread subject she’s raised.

“Hey Mom, do you believe in God?”
“No, I don’t believe in any gods. I’ve never seen enough evidence to convince me there’s anything supernatural.”
“I think most of the kids at school are Christians or something, and they said if you’re an atheist you live a terrible life.”

At this point I was half rolling my eyes, half mad. I don’t remember the next bit very well, but I think Chloe opined that this didn’t make sense to her, using me as her sample. So that was flattering as well as reassuring. She also wanted to confirm, “We’re atheists, right?”

Dawkins would be proud of me – I told her Dad and I don’t believe in any gods, but that doesn’t dictate what she believes. She said, “Well, I want to be an atheist.” Just goes to show no matter how you try to inculcate skepticism and freethought, while letting your children have freedom of conscience, they have very strong labeling and tribalist inclinations!

Turns out she doesn’t believe in any particular god, but she really likes reading myths and legends about gods, so she wasn’t sure if that would put her in the theist category. I assured her that in fact, many atheists started as believers, but when they got into myths and legends, it eroded their faith. It’s perfectly consistent not to believe in gods but to like stories about them.

I asked, “When they said ‘lead a terrible life,’ did they mean you’ll be unhappy and miserable, or you’ll do terrible things?”

She replied she wasn’t sure, so I noted that our family was pretty happy and healthy, and that we also tend to do good things for each other, our friends, and our community, so it certainly didn’t seem to be true. I also mentioned that if they mean atheists do bad things, she could tell them that in prison populations, there are hardly any atheists, but there are lots of Christians.

At this she seemed very interested. In fact, a bit too close to gleeful. I think I’ll have to have a discussion about diplomacy on this subject matter post haste. But at least it gave her a concrete example, beyond the bounds of our little family, that atheism doesn’t make you evil.

And so it begins. It’s going to be interesting as the kids all get older. I’m hopeful they can be educated into more acceptance. I’m pretty sure these children were unaware that they actually know atheists. And if anyone can be a good ambassador for atheism, it’s my sweet, generous, funny, intelligent, friendly daughter.

My defection from the Catholic Church

photo by robertelyov via Flickr

Pope mosaic made of condoms

I know lots of great people who are Catholic.  But the Church itself – I cannot call it good by any means.  So in addition to the silliness of me being counted among their adherents when I share none of their beliefs, I don’t like the idea that I’m counted in their numbers.  If everyone who disagreed with the Catholic Church in some significant way (like the 66-68% of American Catholics who regularly use birth control) took their name off the rolls, the Church’s political clout might be reined in quite a bit, and maybe that would force the Powers That Be to move their policies and procedures into more transparent, reasonable, and humane territory.

For what it’s worth, I’m sending this off today.  Weirdly I felt a little bad writing it, like I’m going to hurt the Bishop’s feelings or something.  I guess guilt is one of the things that is most easily indoctrinated and hardest to get rid of! (I’ve redacted personal information so Bill Donohue can’t track me down to yell at me.)

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge
c/o The Diocese of Raleigh
715 Nazareth St.
Raleigh, NC 27606

Dear Bishop Burbidge:

I am writing to inform you of my defection from the Roman Catholic Church.

Since the age of 16, I have rejected most of the teachings of the Church. I have not attended mass for over 20 years. I do not believe in any deity, and I do not believe that there is such a thing as sin. I have been living with my husband for 18 years without being married in a Catholic Church, and I have made a positive decision not to have my daughters baptized.

Therefore, I consciously and freely state that I am defecting from the Roman Catholic Church and wish that my name be removed from church records.

I was born on _____ and baptized on ______, as Christine _____, at:

[Church]

The last sacrament of record in which I participated was Confirmation, which would have been around 19__, at:

[Church]

I would appreciate it if you could send me written notification when my name has been removed from the records. I am fully aware of the consequences of my separation from the Church and accept them. I do not wish to participate in any Catholic sacraments.

Thanks for your assistance in this matter.

I will keep you all updated on any response.  Half of me wants them to simply comply, and the other half hopes some priest sends me a letter trying to convince me to stay (as some defectors have had happen) so I have something interesting to share!

(photo by robertelyov via Flickr)

The Catholic Church – now with more evil!

Really, Catholic Church?  The Crusades and the Nazi sympathizing and the RICO-worthy facilitation of pedophilia weren’t enough?  Now there is emerging evidence that priests and nuns in Spain stole babies from “unsuitable” mothers and sold them to other people.  The definition of “unsuitable” apparently started with enemies of Franco, but motivation morphed over the decades to include keeping babies out of the hands of their unwed mothers, or perhaps just pure profit.

The primary source for this information is a BBC documentary, This World: Spain’s Stolen Babies.  I haven’t gotten a chance to see it yet, but if this summary is at all accurate, I’ll have to restrain myself from throwing things at the TV.  The stunning facts just keep coming: the number of babies stolen may be as high as 300,000.  And at first I thought, “Oh well, it happened during the Spanish Civil War – terrible, but not surprising.”  But no, this started in 1939 and continued through the 1980s.

If that didn’t push enough of my buttons, many of the mothers doubted that their babies had really died, and some protested and demanded answers.  They of course were labelled “hysterical,” the catchall defense of so many authority figures who abuse laboring women.

You may have noticed a lot of “may”s and “apparently”s here, and the reason is that there has not been an official investigation.  The documentary sparked a lot of interest and emotion, but it seems amnesty laws may prevent criminal investigation.  So mothers who were dismissed as hysterical and robbed of their children, or adults who discover that their parents traded cash to a priest for them, are investigating on their own, and getting DNA tests when they can piece enough together to identify a possible lost baby.

Meanwhile, this has inspired me to finally defect from the Catholic Church.  I’ve got to polish up my letter, and have my husband witness my Declaration of Defection, but hopefully I can get it out by next week.  Maybe it’s silly and ultimately unimportant, but I don’t want my name associated with this corrupt organization.  I have no doubt that many Catholics are good and honest people, but the Church, as an entity, is utterly without morals.  Any moral organization would have leapt to root out pedophiles and baby-traffickers at the first whiff of these scandals, but of course we know how the Church has chosen to deal with pedophile priests, and I don’t see any evidence of them even issuing a statement about this debacle.  They’re evil.  And I’m going to make it official that they don’t speak for me and can’t count me as a member.

Reason Rally Report

We did indeed drive to Washington for the Reason Rally, and I think it worked out pretty well.  I wish the weather had been better – we wound up leaving before PZ, Randi, Dawkins, and Eddie Izzard were up because it was just too cold and miserable.  But I was satisfied that I got to go and be counted among the crowd, and it was especially great to see Adam Savage, Greta Christina, and Tim Minchin.

The crowd was impressive for such a rainy day.  I’ve seen estimates ranging from 8,000 to 30,000, and we’ll never know for sure, since they couldn’t get a satellite image through the cloud cover, plus the length of the event (9 hours or so) and the weather meant people came and went.  But it was definitely crowded, as well as diverse – families and young adults up through senior citizens, and a pretty good mix of ethnicities – which is a great improvement over the mostly-old-white-guys demographic of the Godless March a few years ago.  The camera people really seemed to enjoy getting shots of little kids and grandmas while Tim Minchin was singing “The Pope Song” (comprising at least 50% foul language).

Most importantly, the crowd was happy and upbeat.  There were a couple of negative opinions voiced onstage (including Dawkins’ unfortunate exhortation to publicly ridicule and mock religious people, rather than frankly questioning religious ideas and institutions), and a few cranky protest signs, but the event mostly stuck to David Sliverman’s expressed purpose of “Yay us!”  I was also moved by the appeals to be as out as possible.  I confess, as out as I am, I tend to avoid the subject in casual conversation, even if it naturally comes up.  I’m now inspired to be more open about my participation in the non-believer community even with people who don’t know me well.  It would be nice to believe that I could be totally out and open, even when the time comes for me to look for employment again, but I don’t think I’m that bold yet.

For those who couldn’t be there, here are some highlights:

Adam Savage’s speech, which culminated with the outstanding, much-quoted sentiment,

And finally, I have concluded through careful empirical analysis and much thought that somebody is looking out for me, keeping track of what I think about things, forgiving me when I do less than I ought, giving me strength to shoot for more than I think I am capable of. I believe they know everything that I do and think, and they still love me. And I’ve concluded, after careful consideration, that this person keeping score is me.

Tim Minchin’s performance, including Confessions, If IDidn’t Have You, Thank You God, The Pope Song, and Storm (all of which are so, so, not safe for work, in case you couldn’t guess).

Were we unaware that Kirk Cameron is an idiot?

I understand that his statements about gay marriage are ridiculously inaccurate as well as hateful, but why is this news?  Why are people shocked?  Years ago I filed Kirk and his buddy Ray Comfort in the same mental Pendaflex with Time Cube and David Icke.  They’re loony cranks with a tenuous relationship to reality, and I only pay attention to them when I need a laugh.  These are the people who declared that the (heavily selectively bred and cultivated) modern banana was “an atheist’s nightmare” because it so obviously had been intelligently designed by Yahweh for human consumption.  I mean, really, I’m not sure they aren’t just a stealthier satire than Landover Baptist.

And I am sure that Piers Morgan asked the question hoping for furor to attract attention to his show, while Cameron was happy to provide the controversy since it also drives traffic to the new movie he’s promoting.  Everyone wins!  Except fans of reasonable discourse.

It’s a relief to know that soon homophobes will be relegated to the status currently enjoyed by overt racists and sexists.  Society at large will know that they exist, but will generally dismiss them as crackpots stuck in a benighted, outmoded set of beliefs that are irrelevant to our general culture.  I suppose during the death throes of their era of social influence, there will be a lot of arguing and sensationalism over the topic.  But I’m to getting to the point where I just want to ignore them already. (And yes, I recognize there’s a bit of hypocrisy in writing a blog post about someone, asking if we can please ignore him.  I mean of course, let’s ignore him starting . . . now.)

(If you don’t recognize the Holy Watering Can up there, please do check out the brilliant little video here.)

Fun books for skeptical families

While I want my children to have freedom of conscience and choose their own belief path, of course I hope that they wind up believing as I do.  And in any case, I want them to have a good perspective as well as critical thinking skills when they evaluate the field of possible religious and philosophical beliefs.  So while I avoid authoritarian indoctrination, I admit I do guide them towards skepticism and religious literacy (knowing about lots of religions, rather than being taught one religion is just the way it is).

If you’re a parent at all interested in this approach, get yourself over to Dale McGowan’s blog The Meming of Life.  After all, he literally wrote the book on Raising Freethinkers, and his work has inspired my approach.  I’m not as good as he is about getting the kids out and about, seeing churches and mosques, going to UU religion classes, or anything like that.  But that’s more because I’m an anti-social hermit than any flaw I might see in the suggestions.

So, what’s an anti-social hermit to do?  Why sit around the house and read, of course!  Here’s a sampling of the books we’re reading these days that give some perspective on myth and religion, as well as a smattering of books from my YA days that I feel helped set up my brain for skepticism.

Currently we’re reading Stories from India, from Usborne Books.  I really love this book – it has Rama and Ravana (looking suitably creepy), Ganesha destroying a buffet, and a jackal who fell into a vat of dye and became revered as a god, until the monsoon came and washed him off.  They’re interesting and fun stories, beautifully illustrated.  And they give some insight into how stories about gods and magical creatures go, which is great inoculation for when someone comes to your kid with a Bible and tells them it’s the Truth.  The reading level is just a bit of a challenge to my intelligent-but-not-a-smooth-reader 8yo.  We take turns reading aloud.

Simlarly, we have the classic D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths.  I remember reading this in 5th grade, and loving it.  It covers the standards: the birth of Aphrodite, Persephone and Demeter, the Labors of Hercules, and so forth.  But it also has some gems not so widely known, such as the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha, a couple who survived a flood sent by Zeus to punish mankind for wickedness, and Atalanta, a badass girl who gave the guys a run for their money in hunts and foot races.  (If you grew up listening to Free to Be You and Me, you’ve heard a verion of her story.)  The stories are often somewhat rambling and they tend to flow into each other, so it can be hard to say, “We’re just going to read about Orpheus tonight,” or to quickly grab the book for reference.  But still, this is a winner.

On my list to buy/borrow, I’ve got Trickster and Anansi Does the Impossible, which will take off nicely from the themes of tricky animals and gods in Stories from India.  I admit I’m also setting her up to fully appreciate the awesomeness that is Anansi Boys, when she’s old enough to read it.

Another book we have on our shelf, but which is a little bit advanced for Chloe right now is The Number Devil.  It’s all about a boy who hates math, and a devil who teaches him all about the cool tricks of math and how amazing it can be.  I looked at the start of the book, where he talks about infinity (you can always add one to any number), and it seems very fun and intriguing.  I think I’ll have a better appreciation of math when we’ve read it, never mind my kid!

Now, to hearken back to my early teen years.  I was a voracious reader, and ironically I loved anything with a supernatural theme.  It probably started with John Bellairs/Edward Gorey novels or The Girl with the Silver Eyes.  I quickly progressed to The Chronicles of Prydain.  My uncle gave me ‘Salem’s Lot when I was 12, and I’ve read almost everything King has written since.  I tore through Lois Duncan’s entire catalog in short order (this was long before I Know What You Did Last Summer became a silly movie franchise), and I still remember my utter delight at finishing the Belgariad, only  to discover that there were 5 more books about Garion & company.  Oh, and A Wrinkle in Time – I’ve actually been meaning to re-read those.  They were spellbinding when I was a kid!

Weirdly, I think reading fantasy, science fiction, and horror can contribute to a skeptical mindset.  Maybe it gives your brain practice at thinking about magical stuff, while knowing it’s all pretend.  Maybe these books use their fantastical settings to explore ideas and themes that question our conventional beliefs.  I do know that lots of freethinkers seem to be nerdy types with a common love for these titles, as well as D&D, zombies, Joss Whedon, and video games.  Do these interests lead to disbelief, or do those of a skeptical bent gravitate to geek culture?  Hell, maybe it’s just the reading that drives the inclination to inquiry. In the end I don’t care – I just want to share these awesome reads with my kids for pure enjoyment, and if it helps give them a skeptical outlook, all the better.

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