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My Liberation from Oppression

By A Bitter Ex-Catholic ~

I imagine that this journey all started when I was 15. My mother approached me about the issue of her, my sister, and I attending church more often. She told me that it was time to think about being "confirmed". For any non-ex-Catholics reading, Confirmation is a time in a young Catholic's life when they become 'confirmed' in the church. That is, they make the conscious decision to become a full member of the Catholic Church. This usually happens while one is in high school, but one can be confirmed any time after they are perceived to be mature enough to make the decision on their own accord. I wasn't crazy about the idea to say the least. I had no idea why attending a church that would teach me to hate myself would be beneficial to me, especially while I was dealing with coming to terms with my gay orientation.

Life is not always easyImage by Darwin Bell via Flickr
Eventually, I submitted to my mother's requests and attended Mass with her every Sunday. I became involved in a youth group. I eventually found that I was quite fond of going to Mass, or so I thought. What I was really fond of was spending time with my newfound friends afterward and participating in all of the youth group activities. However, I began to notice feeling a strong sense of cognitive dissonance within myself, which to be fair, I was already struggling with as I was battling within myself about my sexuality. However, becoming enveloped within the 'church culture' only further complicated matters. I pushed my sexuality to the wayside and became further involved in the Catholic culture. I went so far as to consider joining the seminary. In fact, my mind was set on joining. The only question for me was when. Should I start before or after I got my Ph.D. in psychology? At the advice of a priest that I had befriended, I decided to at least go to undergraduate school first, and decide from there since I was still so young.

This is when the dissonance that was planted in my mind early on began to grow and cause me great anxiety. Was I really that horrible of a person for being gay? Was I created in a damaged state? Why would god destine me to live a celibate and lonely life (which, by the teachings of the Catholic Church is the only way for a gay man or woman to live a holy life)? I further threw myself into the Catholic life and the youth group. I convinced myself that I would be able to live my life as a single man through the grace of god. I didn't want to be like those other horrible Catholics, like John Kerry, that my family and I so woefully despised because of their disagreement with the church about particular social issues such as abortion. At that time, I interpreted such action as hypocrisy and godlessness whereas now I see that it is the ability to think for oneself. I didn't want to be one of 'those' people. I despised them. I believe that if everyone were just willing to put aside their stubbornness that they would see the light that the church was offering and that then we could all live in peace.

While I was in college, to quench my thirst for religious education, I took some religious studies courses at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, TN while simultaneously taking other classes toward earning my degree. I began learning about issues such as cultural relativism and how to reconcile the existence of god in a world full of evil and suffering humanity. I felt a strong connection with the professor that taught these classes as well as the subject matter. This was a way for me to structure my beliefs and really give them some direction. But in the back of my mind, I was always aware that something was off kilter. Even when I was 'religious', I was never a person of prayer. It always felt very awkward to me and I never felt very sincere. I would pray for all the typical things for which Catholics pray- increased admission to the priesthood, world peace, and, of course, an end to abortion.

However, as my education, both secular and religious, furthered my opinions began to change. I became increasingly aware of the oppressive nature of not only the Catholic Church, but Christianity in general. I also became aware of the oppressive nature of our society and how that tied to the religious right. I began to see myself as a liberal catholic, one that thought that the church needed to update its views on many social issues, but still saw a great deal of redeeming value in the institution itself. I also became interested in dating. However, I was so worried about achieving salvation that I actually entertained the notion of living in a sexless relationship so as not to offend god. It seemed like a close call, but I thought that I had outsmarted the church and god himself if I were successful in this endeavor. After all, I would not be engaging in homosexual genital actions, which is what the church teaches against. I would simply be living my life with another person of the same sex. I also considered the idea of living with and having a sexual relationship with another man and hoping that I die the sort of death that allows me to pray for forgiveness right before I die so that I may have been saved. These all seem ludicrous to me now, but at the time these were serious considerations of mine.

It was at this time that I began to date a young man who lived several hours away. We talked every day for a few months. I felt a special affinity toward him. Eventually, we decided that I would visit him while I was on Christmas break during my sophomore year in college. I drove the five hour trip to his town and stayed with him for a little less than a week. I felt like I was in love with him. I couldn't stop thinking about him, but I also couldn't stop worrying. This seemed odd to me because from what I hear from many of my heterosexual peers, worry is not usually part of the equation when they start a new relationship. However, worry was often a dominant emotion that I suffered through. I was worried about the state of my soul. And I was also worried because he seemed to express the same concerns. He was not sure if he was living in sin and that if being with me was an acceptable way to live. One day while he was asleep, I felt an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and despair. I got out of the bed we shared and went out into the living room. All I could do was sob uncontrollably. I knew that this relationship would end badly, I just knew it. Our visit came to an end and I headed back home to Memphis, still hoping that things would work out for the best. No more than a week after I came back, I received an email from this young man saying that we could no longer be together because he was no longer willing to live a sinful life with me. I do not want to make this person sound callous or emotionless. In fact, he was very distraught in this message. He was simply at the end of his rope and felt as if his soul was in jeopardy. He said that he was going to try to become straight and live his life with a woman.

I was devastated, to say the least. All of my worst fears had come to fruition. It was this event that served as the catalyst for my undoing in the Catholic Church. All the doubts that had been building up in my mind finally burst out like the waters of a broken dam. I was angry. Angry at god for making people hate themselves for something they had no control over. Angry for feeling like I was not only unloved, but also completely unlovable in any intimate fashion. My god had forsaken me, he was nowhere to be found when I was most in pain. I realize that this may seem a little melodramatic, after all, this guy and I had only been dating for a few months, and only been together in person for less than a week. However, one must understand the gravity of the consequences of this situation in my mind. I could either stay with the church and be saved or choose to search for love and be damned. I had been faced with this reality for quite some time but tried to avoid it, but it was unavoidable no longer. I had to make the decision. As far as I was, and still am, concerned, the decision was made for me. I could either choose to stay with a church that taught me to hate and repress myself or I could abandon that church and embrace my sexuality. From all that I had researched that actually had credibility, there was nothing wrong with being gay. All of my psychology professors and textbooks said that homosexuality is a completely normal alternative to 'normal' human sexuality and that I was in no way psychologically damaged.

At this point, my family started to become worried. They wondered why the most conservative person they once knew was changing so drastically. I assured them that there was nothing to worry about and that I was the same person. I still held the same core views, just from a different perspective, but I don't think even I ever actually believed that that was true. I took a class about African American theology and about how Christianity could be viewed as liberating despite its oppressive past. This offered little condolence. As far as I was concerned, I was too far gone. I was not going back. I was tired of hating myself and beating up on myself psychologically. I was tired of the guilt and shame. I was just plain tired. I began to consider myself an agnostic and spiritual, but that became too little for me. In my crusade against the church, I even considered Satanism, which I ultimately rejected for reasons that one might not expect but that will not be discussed here.
It didn't matter what I labeled myself. I defined my existence by what I was against and that was Christianity. I became increasingly frustrated with my family who was basically begging me to give the church another chance. But why should I? The Catholic Church has made it clear that they will never bend to the will of the voices of reason in contemporary culture and science. They will not change their stance on gay relationships, marriage, and adoption no matter what psychology or people say. I had given the church a chance, and it had failed me miserably. One of my aunts pleaded that I should go back to church and ignore those who made me feel unwelcome. I quietly thought to myself, "even if one of those people is god?" She said that I don't have to agree with everything the church teaches and that she doesn't believe being gay is wrong. This was coming from the same person who said that all Catholics who are pro-choice are not real Catholics. I thought to myself, "how is it acceptable for me to be in disagreement with the church about this issue and not them?" What makes my issue so much nobler? The answer is nothing! My cause is noble in and of itself; it need not be compared to other important social issues that need careful consideration and reflection. Those who believe that a woman should have the capacity to choose for herself what goes on inside her body have just as much of a right to use the gray matter in their brains to think for themselves as I do! I was insulted and frankly, a little confused at this proposal.

I have since continued my journey onward. I still feel a great deal of frustration, resentment, and anger toward the church and many of its members. However, given that I know how people of that nature think, I can understand why they say the hurtful and hateful things they do with such conviction. I have noticed lately though that the closer my family moves toward the church, inevitably the further I move away from it. They are constantly bombarding me and my current boyfriend of two and a half years with facts and anecdotes about why Catholicism is the true denomination of Christianity. I think that they honestly believe that they will convince me one day, but every time they open their mouths about it, the only remind me of why I left. I still find myself sympathizing with the church when those who were not part of it criticize it, but even that feeling is beginning to wane. The closest I have been to the church in the last few years is reading a book written by a gay priest who was asked to discontinue his affirmative ministry to gays and lesbians by the church. When he eventually refused he was relieved of his services. For whatever reason, he still continues to profess about the value of a gay and lesbian Christian community. I will probably always be fascinated by other people's religious beliefs, its part of myself that I have learned to accept along with my sexuality, but never again will I subject myself to the oppressive nature that I tortured my 'soul' with for so long. I have never once regretted my decision to leave the church. I have also never felt so liberated in my entire time on this earth. I can finally live my life according to my own volition and not worry about looking over my shoulder wondering if god was going to smite me.