Empty the Pews: Elizabeth's Story
What type of church did you attend at the time of your leaving?
Did you find a new church to attend?
Did you leave organized religion entirely?
I left Catholicism at twenty. I had been homeschooled, raised by two mostly moderate Catholics in a far right culture (figure that one out, I'm still trying to), and sheltered my entire life. After being preyed upon by an adult male at fourteen, I was drug to confess my sins--because, of course, I hadn't said no. I took the bait, and dug deeper into the faith.
When, at eighteen, I found out that there was truly no place for me to be a leader in the faith, I wept. I was never going to be a priest, obviously, but becoming a sister had always been held up as "an equally important option." I suddenly realized it was in fact a subjugated position. Even as a nun, I'd still not have a voice in the church. I would never be a respected theologian--after all, as I was told at sixteen, I was educated so I could educate my future children, while my male peers were educated to educate the world. But, still, I stayed.
At the time I made this realization, I was starting a secular university, and my unshakeable faith led me to separate myself from my peers, led me to judge them silently. I didn't like myself, when I was thinking these things, that my friends were going to hell. I began trying to sort out what I believed, and started leaning quietly left on social issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights. A year later I left the purity culture and the sexual shame behind, but retained my faith. I kept trying, I kept attending Mass, and kept helping at youth group.
After a month of seeing the youth minister harass one, lone girl for being pro-choice, I quit volunteering. One day, in the middle of Mass, I broke down. I ran from the church, drove to my partner's house, and collapsed into tears--I realized how much 'faith' I had had been indoctrination and fear, how damaging and toxic the things I was being taught were. I recalled abusive theology, and abusive men in my church. Finally, I saw how much I was taught was just not true, if not actively toxic. I grieved for a full year, slowly deconstructing everything I'd been taught. My science was wrong. My history was wrong. I spent hours researching to try to fill the gaps that were left in my education.
The theology I was raised to see as the end-all of all human life was... fundamentally broken. Women were biologically inferior, I was taught. Purity was to be valued above all things. Queer folk were never mentioned, except as aberrations.
Needless to say, it was a shock to realize at twenty-one that I am in fact bisexual. I am now a queer, sex-positive, kinky, liberal feminist, leftist, exvangelical, ex Catholic, living in sin with my partner of 5 years (who's an Ex-evangelical).
[Funny story, I came out to my parents accidentally (on mother's day no less!). I was being prodded about why I won't return to the Church, and every theological argument I made was shot down as wrong (as if I wasn't raised to be an apologist, as if I didn't know the Catechism like the back of my hand). So, I blurted out "I like chicks, ok?!" That.... went well.]
I still miss the sense of community, the ritual of Mass and Adoration, the frankincense and Latin, the sureness of belief. But I don't miss the toxic, hateful side of religion. I don't know if I'll ever return to religion, but it will certainly, if ever, be a progressive, affirming church. I'm trying to figure out what my future will look like, when the one I was sold by Catholicism was never an option.
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