On (not) being Catholic

I am, by any reasonable standard, a grown-ass man. Furthermore, by most reasonable standards I’ve been a grown-ass man for a couple of decades or more. You would think, after all this time, I would have some idea of what I was like. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that of all the available topics for me to know things about, “what I’m like” should really be at least in the top five or so in terms of how much I know about that topic compared to other people.

And yet.

I am an atheist. I have been an atheist for my entire life; there has never been even a single minute where I believed in God. My family is Catholic on both sides; my Mom actually attended Catholic schools for at least most of her pre-college education, and I think my Dad went to Catholic schools before high school. I could be wrong about that, but he’ll see this, so he can let me know. They made no attempt to raise me in the Church– I wasn’t baptized, never attended confirmation or anything like that, and we never went to church except for very rare occasions with my grandmother on Dad’s side. That said, I have referred to myself as “biologically Catholic” on any number of occasions– look, I just did it again right there— and I can fake Catholicism way better than I can fake other religions. My first teaching job was at a Catholic school– that’s the church right there, in that picture– and while I didn’t participate in prayers or anything like that I got along with everyone just fine and I was never aware of anyone being upset (or, frankly, aware) of the heathen in their midst.

Why do I mention this? We went to a funeral on Thursday, and said funeral was at a white Protestant church. And when I say “Protestant,” I don’t mean, like, Lutherans or something, where their Protestantism is basically Catholicism with some of the edges sanded off, I mean, like, there were chairs and shit, and there was a fucking drum set behind the altar. At one point a man got up to sing, and that man who was singing was wearing blue jeans and a plaid shirt at a funeral.

The Lord’s Prayer cannot be made into a song, by the way. He tried. He tried mightily. And he was talented! But that prayer is not a song.

Now, I feel the need to make something clear here: I have spent plenty of time in my life attacking religion. I’ve mellowed out a lot about it as I’ve gotten older, but I’ve done it. This isn’t that. Everyone at that church was perfectly nice, the service was fine other than the singing-the-Lord’s-prayer bit, and other than basically thinking the entire thing is fundamentally ridiculous I don’t give much of a shit how people practice their religion so long as it doesn’t affect me, and that drum set on the stage did not affect me one bit. But I’ve got to admit something: I was really surprised at how strong my reaction to seeing the actual sanctuary was. That picture up there is what I’m used to, y’all. And I had twenty or thirty oh what the fuck moments within my first fifteen minutes or so inside that place. I’m not necessarily comfortable in Catholic churches but at least I understand them, right? This? This I don’t get. Like, I know most Christian denominations don’t really go for robes and stoles and collars and such but apparently I really like being able to pick the pastor out in a crowd? And this guy was just, like, a dude in a suit, like a dozen other people in the building.

Who knew.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

4 thoughts on “On (not) being Catholic

  1. Hate to trump (we gotta change that word!) a fellow visceral atheist, but for the first 14 years of my life, including my service as acolyte, (wherein Bishop Pursley conferred the first rite of the priesthood on all the altar boys) the Pater Noster was sang/chanted at EVERY high mass. If the funeral weirded you out, consider the time I dealt with a student, whose father gained temporary custody of him, and dragged him to a hard-core Pentecostal service. The young man witnessed someone being “slain in the spirit,” (yeah, that kinda looks like it sounds) and was damn near traumatized for a week after.

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