Religious Disagreement – Elena Harding

May 7, 2009 § 4 Comments

When I was seventeen, I disobeyed a priest because I disagreed with his conclusion of my confession. Although my opinions often dissented from Catholic doctrine, it was the last time I tried to reconcile them. Why should I abdicate my autonomy to the Catholic Church just because it said I should?
        Throughout my relationship with Catholicism, my opinions differed from the church frequently. In Sunday school, I quietly disregarded Catholic Dogma. I opposed the stance of the church regarding homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, contraception, confirmation age, male only priests, Papal infallibility and sexuality. Unfortunately, I soon found that discussion was discouraged. The rare occasions I summoned the courage to challenge anything taught to me, I was simply told I was wrong. I suppose the Sunday school teachers were not prepared for a child who would question what they said. I do not know whether it was because they did not want anyone to challenge them or because I was so young that they disregarded me without a second thought. Either way, it did not endear Catholicism to me at all.
        By age twelve, I started questioning if Catholicism was the path for me. I tried to convince my mother not to send me to confirmation classes. Even though I already knew the effort would not yield the desired result, I still tried. My mother brought me to see the one Sunday school teacher I somewhat liked to alleviate my doubts. I tried to explain my position to her, but as a twelve year old I had little chance against a forty year old woman. Now, I realize the main arguments she used to beat me were grossly flawed. She prevailed and I was forced into confirmation classes.
        I still did not want to be confirmed, and I complained that the classes were not challenging,  hoping my mother and church administrators would give up and respect my decision. Instead, they transferred me to the adult class which, frankly, was the same caliber as the children’s classes. Frustrated, I resigned myself to attending classes. Throughout the nine months of class, I used every opportunity possible to express my desire not to confirm. Everyone ignored me. In the end, I found myself standing in front of the congregation with the adult confirmation class. I saw my chance. The group was large enough that my individual answers were drowned out by the group response.
Honestly, I was scared the priest or another adult would hear me and stop the ritual to proclaim their discovery. Throughout the ceremony, I feared someone forcing me to explain my refusal to accept Catholicism. When the service ended, I was nervous but exhilarated; I did not compromise my beliefs. I now realize that even if someone did hear me, no one would have interrupted the ceremony.
        I sporadically attended mass and confession over the years at the insistence of various family members. At seventeen, I went to confession for the last time. By that time, I was Catholic in name only and went to appease my very Catholic grandmother. I considered entering the confessional, not speaking, and then leaving to give the appearance of a confession. However, to avoid offending the priest, I decided to at least talk to him. I told him what my sins were according to the Bible, even though I did not consider my actions wrong. Instead of a discussion on morality, the priest lectured me on the sanctity of marriage.
        The arbitrary belief that physical love is only achievable in marriage is what broke my last tie to Catholicism. My integrity would not allow me to complete the contrition the priest gave me to repent. I could not apologize for behavior that was not wrong. The priest stated that marriage is the only appropriate context for sex and happiness is dependent upon waiting. My parents waited until they were married, had a horrible relationship and are now divorced.
        My parents taught me the importance of independence and resisting pressure with unintended results. They could not have predicted that by encouraging me to think for myself, I would question their authority as well as religious authority. I made an informed decision and was insulted when my family continued to regard it as a sin. The contempt I encountered for making my own choices led me to reject organized religion. Instead of religion, I turn to my morals and integrity for guidance.
        Although the situation was unpleasant, it gave me the strength to stand up for my ideas and convictions. If I had to do it over again, I would not change much. I used to wish I had not gone to confession that day and avoided the entire unpleasant situation. However, if I did not go, I would not have experienced the outrage that gave me the courage to break my ties with organized religion. However, I would not necessarily encourage others to cast aside organized religion. Each individual should think about the role of religion and independently decide if it is indeed right for him or her. In a way, I have not been disobedient since. For a person to be disobedient implies that another person has authority over him or her. A person has to give up their own autonomy for another person to exercise control. That day, I took back my autonomy.
Cathedral - Geoffrey Spurgin

Cathedral – Geoffrey Spurgin

When I was seventeen, I disobeyed a priest because I disagreed with his conclusion of my confession. Although my opinions often dissented from Catholic doctrine, it was the last time I tried to reconcile them. Why should I abdicate my autonomy to the Catholic Church just because it said I should?

Throughout my relationship with Catholicism, my opinions differed from the church frequently. In Sunday school, I quietly disregarded Catholic Dogma. I opposed the stance of the church regarding homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, contraception, confirmation age, male only priests, Papal infallibility and sexuality. Unfortunately, I soon found that discussion was discouraged. The rare occasions I summoned the courage to challenge anything taught to me, I was simply told I was wrong. I suppose the Sunday school teachers were not prepared for a child who would question what they said. I do not know whether it was because they did not want anyone to challenge them or because I was so young that they disregarded me without a second thought. Either way, it did not endear Catholicism to me at all.

By age twelve, I started questioning if Catholicism was the path for me. I tried to convince my mother not to send me to confirmation classes. Even though I already knew the effort would not yield the desired result, I still tried. My mother brought me to see the one Sunday school teacher I somewhat liked to alleviate my doubts. I tried to explain my position to her, but as a twelve year old I had little chance against a forty year old woman. Now, I realize the main arguments she used to beat me were grossly flawed. She prevailed and I was forced into confirmation classes.

I still did not want to be confirmed, and I complained that the classes were not challenging,  hoping my mother and church administrators would give up and respect my decision. Instead, they transferred me to the adult class which, frankly, was the same caliber as the children’s classes. Frustrated, I resigned myself to attending classes. Throughout the nine months of class, I used every opportunity possible to express my desire not to confirm. Everyone ignored me. In the end, I found myself standing in front of the congregation with the adult confirmation class. I saw my chance. The group was large enough that my individual answers were drowned out by the group response.

Honestly, I was scared the priest or another adult would hear me and stop the ritual to proclaim their discovery. Throughout the ceremony, I feared someone forcing me to explain my refusal to accept Catholicism. When the service ended, I was nervous but exhilarated; I did not compromise my beliefs. I now realize that even if someone did hear me, no one would have interrupted the ceremony.

I sporadically attended mass and confession over the years at the insistence of various family members. At seventeen, I went to confession for the last time. By that time, I was Catholic in name only and went to appease my very Catholic grandmother. I considered entering the confessional, not speaking, and then leaving to give the appearance of a confession. However, to avoid offending the priest, I decided to at least talk to him. I told him what my sins were according to the Bible, even though I did not consider my actions wrong. Instead of a discussion on morality, the priest lectured me on the sanctity of marriage.

The arbitrary belief that physical love is only achievable in marriage is what broke my last tie to Catholicism. My integrity would not allow me to complete the contrition the priest gave me to repent. I could not apologize for behavior that was not wrong. The priest stated that marriage is the only appropriate context for sex and happiness is dependent upon waiting. My parents waited until they were married, had a horrible relationship and are now divorced.

nyc_0671

NYC – Thompson Dou

My parents taught me the importance of independence and resisting pressure with unintended results. They could not have predicted that by encouraging me to think for myself, I would question their authority as well as religious authority. I made an informed decision and was insulted when my family continued to regard it as a sin. The contempt I encountered for making my own choices led me to reject organized religion. Instead of religion, I turn to my morals and integrity for guidance.

Although the situation was unpleasant, it gave me the strength to stand up for my ideas and convictions. If I had to do it over again, I would not change much. I used to wish I had not gone to confession that day and avoided the entire unpleasant situation. However, if I did not go, I would not have experienced the outrage that gave me the courage to break my ties with organized religion. However, I would not necessarily encourage others to cast aside organized religion. Each individual should think about the role of religion and independently decide if it is indeed right for him or her. In a way, I have not been disobedient since. For a person to be disobedient implies that another person has authority over him or her. A person has to give up their own autonomy for another person to exercise control. That day, I took back my autonomy.

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§ 4 Responses to Religious Disagreement – Elena Harding

  • Robin Dennis says:

    I’m glad you feel empowerment by taking control of your religious life, but to banish all religions and faiths seems too extreme. Not all religions squash discussion. There are women and gays in the leadership of many religions. Maybe, now that you are an adult, you can explore organized religion, taking value and insight where it appears. I can not celebrate an autonomy used only for rejection. This is a thought provoking piece, that would be stellar with follow-up into you adult, hopfully thoughtful, encounters.

  • Rob says:

    I’m another ex-Catholic and I consider myself a nonbeliever. This piece is fantastic and reflects my experience with the closed-minded, dogmatic thing that is the Catholic Church.

    I’d love for atheist to stop being a dirty word. I wonder if it will ever be socially acceptable in my lifetime to walk up to someone and tell them that they really shouldn’t believe in God.

  • […] Magazine Essay Honorable Mention: Elena Harding – Religious Disagreement Literary Magazine Short Story Honorable Mention: Brit Naylor – Hulking Leviathan the […]

  • TIPA 2010 says:

    […] at Brookhaven College, was given an honorable mention for an essay by Elena Harding titled “Religious Disagreement” and for a short story by Brit Naylor titled “Hulking Leviathan the Sun.” The […]

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