Thursday, October 25, 2012

A cafeteria feminist catholic

I grew up in a Catholic household. We went to church on Sundays wearing dresses with white stockings underneath. My mother made sure we knew our prayers and attended catechism regularly. The Catholic Church is not the most progressive or liberal institution. No one would say that, as an institution, it espouses feminist ideas or liberal politics. After all, one of the primary tenants of Catholicism is that men may be priests and women may not. Only a priest can bless the Eucharist and turn wine into the blood of Christ.

At catechism on Saturday I was told that Eve was made from Adam’s rib. She was meant to be his partner and his wife. My mom told me to save my virginity for marriage and marriage for my thirties. She also told me to wait to have children (with my husband, of course) until I was established in a career and could take of them and myself, on my own. My mother and father always told me my goal in life should be independence. I should educate myself and have a career I could depend on. You should never have to rely on anyone, and certainly not any man, for anything.

I don’t think my mother ever thought that the views she told me came from God might be inconsistent with the opinions she had about my future. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I had a religious crisis about these inconsistencies. When I began studying for my Confirmation, I realized I would always be a cafeteria Catholic. I would pick and choose what aspects of Catholicism I could believe in.

After studying Catholic doctrine and theology I realized I disagreed – a lot. I do not think that the Pope has a holier relationship with God than I do. I believe a woman should have the legal right to choose. I believe that marriage should be legally recognized as a relationship between two consenting adults. Most importantly I don’t believe that my own faith should dictate my political views. My faith is mine and I respect that I should not hold others responsible accountable to my own religious beliefs.

I am not alone in my dilemma. American Catholic nuns have been called radicals by the Vatican. ( A group of American nuns have been ostracized by the Vatican for disagreeing with American bishops on issues varying from same sex marriage to male-only priesthood. These are my kind of nuns.

Yet some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around religion. I don’t think I can remember ever feeling as happy or beautiful as I did on the day of my first communion. I remember sitting in my pew in my pretty dress knowing that God loved me. The absolute certainty of that love made me happy beyond belief. While I do not have that simple child-like faith anymore, I still love God and am pretty sure God loves me. The only difference is that now I feel that way regardless of my church attendance or acceptance of Catholic doctrine. I don’t plan on having children and I don’t think that makes me any less of a woman or any less deserving of God’s love. If I did have children I don’t know if I would raise them with the religious background I experienced.

In class we seemed to focus on the downsides of religion. I agree that at least for me wholehearted acceptance of Catholic doctrine and theology is not something I, as a feminist, can be a part of. However, for me faith is beautiful. Faith is something that I can always rely on. My faith in God has helped me throughout my life and it is not something I will ever want to give up. So let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.


tzey said...

I dont know why the link does not go to the correct washington post page but here is the full url.

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Thanks for this post, Tzey. It's interesting that our conversation on Wed. tended to be very negative about religion. In sharp contrast, students in the course in the fall of 2011 also chose to lead a session on law and religion, but their angle was how feminists have found ways to thrive within various faith traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Those students focused on ways in which women have made these faith traditions more women-friendly, less misogynistic.

This post from 2009 also suggests that feminism and Christianity can co-exist.

(pardon the repetition of my comment to that post, but the first comment said "feminism" when I meant to say "Christianity.")

Other great posts about gender and religion can be found under the "religion" label. One of them is the post by CET earlier this semester regarding the "renegade nuns" whom you mention. I think they are heroes, as are the women priests in this recent photo feature:

The accompanying story is here:

Elizabeth said...

I do agree that the focus on religion in class was framed in a very negative light. Personally, the Church's stances are just too disparate from my own to remain a Catholic, but I admire how you can reconcile the two somehow. Maybe sometime in the future, I will be able to do the same.

The idea of women's place (or lack of place) in the Church's hierarchy is one of my biggest problems with the Church. This article (,9171,2019635-1,00.html) talks about Womenpriests, a group formed to ordain women into the priesthood. One of them is my Dad's acquaintance in San Diego who is a lawyer and a female priest. When my Dad told me about her I was so excited! I really wanted to go to her mass, but my Dad freaked out and said I would be excommunicated so I didn't go. I wish I had.

Change will not happen in the Church without people pushing hard for it to change. I admire these women's tenacity in the face of the harshest punishment that the Church can dole out. Clearly the Church does not have a great record with strong women pushing back (you know, those "witch" burning at the stake episodes). But, if it is ever going to be a space where even feminists can feel comfortable, someone needs to push back, and hard.

Heather said...

Tzey, you make a great distinction between religion and faith. I think it's interesting that you and the other comments found the class to be negative about religion, because I didn't find it that way while it was happening. Looking back, I can see how it could have been. Perhaps this is because we didn't make the distinction between religion and faith. We focused on a religious institution (the LDS church) and did not cover how this overlaps or connects with faith. If the topic had been more broad, and included faith outside of the religious institution, then topics such as the one Pruitt mentioned would have been explored, like how feminists have found ways to thrive within various faith traditions. Having the narrow topic made us focus on the harms such a religious institution imposes on women. As you point out in your post, many religious institutions seem to have this problem--but not all faiths.

Sam said...

Tzey: “So let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

I’ve been accused of doing this many times. My common retort is that if the bathwater is poisonous, then there is probably no baby at all. In other words, the sources of evidence used by religion to justify misogyny and homophobia – scripture, revelation, etc. – are the same sources of evidence used to justify everything else.

I’ll use my personal experience as an example. My last days of Mormonism were during Proposition 8. Mormons were heavily involved, and many Mormons testified that The Spirit witnessed to them that God did not want gay marriage. These types of feelings of The Spirit are the most common way Mormons justify their beliefs. When I realized that these testimonies were identical to the testimonies that justified every other belief, I was forced to conclude that the process itself was inherently flawed.

Elisabeth: “Personally, the Church's stances are just too disparate from my own to remain a Catholic, but I admire how you can reconcile the two somehow. Maybe sometime in the future, I will be able to do the same.”

I find this statement rather peculiar. What is more admirable about her resolution of the dilemma when compared to yours? Your resolution is different, but I see no reason to think that it is inferior.

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Here's another post from last year re: gender and women and, specifically, about polygamy and religious freedom. It relates more to our class discussion than to Tzey's post, but I wanted to call it to your attention: