Religious Discomfort | Giftie Etcetera: Religious Discomfort

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Religious Discomfort

I was raised Catholic. No matter what Catholics do - pray the Rosary, say Grace, or make the sign of the cross while driving in front of a church - I rarely feel uncomfortable with it. I don't always agree with everything the Church teaches, but I try to make sure that, when I disagree, it's a well-thought out and prayerful decision of conscience, and not just laziness. (For example, I disagree with the ban on women as priests. But I thought about it, prayed about it, read about it, and tried to see all the arguments for it BEFORE deciding that I would not act in accordance with that Church teaching. Okay, that one's a cop-out, since I am not called to religious life anyway.) Sometimes, when people pray for something that I disagree with, I find myself reflecting on the arguments for the other side of the issue in my head. But that's not the same as discomfort.

And if I feel really removed from a religion, the ceremonies and practices of that religion rarely cause me discomfort. I think I would be very comfortable at a Wiccan ceremony or a Buddhist ceremony, learning what I can and observing the ritual and finding peace with the ideas (whether I agree or not), because the religions are so foreign to me that I feel like an observer.

But other Christian religions and some of their practices make me very uncomfortable. It's a silly visceral reaction, really, because either 1) I believe what they believe and just express it differently or 2) I don't believe what they believe, so I should feel like a mere observer.

Take a pictures in Alan's home high school yearbook, for example. The teacher had his arms spread away from him like wide wings and there was a caption about prayer. (1989...AFTER teacher-led prayer in schools was established to violate the First Amendment. But I digress.) Teacher-led prayer in public school has always been a problem for me, particularly because of the discomfort I personally feel (and even felt as a child) when the religious is close to mine in belief (say, a non-Catholic Christian) but not in specifics and practice. The picture of the teacher made me shifty, uncomfortable, and, if I am to be totally honest, a bit nauseous. That said, I don't have any problem in theory with this person praying, whether he is bowing to Mecca, chanting to the ancient gods, or worshipping Jesus. Yet I have a physical reaction of slight revulsion (only accentuated by the fact that he was a public school teacher and soem children in the class were forced to participate).

Tonight or tomorrow, Alan and I probably have to attend a funeral of a great-uncle of Alan's that neither of us really know. I am bracing myself for the religious dfiscomfort, because it will be at a Baptist service. I'm sure there will be talk of hell and damnation (which really bothers me at a funeral) and, maybe, just perhaps, someone will raise his arms in a salute to Jesus. And I'll break out in hives, despite my insistence at maintaining tolerance of other beliefs and learning and observing what I can from other religions.

This is abnormal, yes?



Mommy said...

I would say you are probably more normal than you realize. My experience has been that I am abnormal in that I can go into almost any religious setting and view it with detachement from my own personal beliefs.

My low level religion classes in college were painful when we had a person who couldn't just learn the information without arguing about it. The upper level courses were much more pleasant but also had far fewer people. When I graduated I think there were less than 10 people getting degrees in religion and i personally knew all of them.

Brien Louque said...

I've been to a number of other denominational services and I can say that what probably freaks me out the most is the feeling that if anybody knew I was Catholic they'd burn me at the stake. I know that wouldn't actually happen, but there's a vibe if I'm at certain places that just make me uncomfortable. I also must admit preferring services that are similar to the ones I grew up with, just because they are known to me (I can go to an Episcopalian or Lutheran service and feel fine). But I don't have problems with services that are different as long as I know I won't be "judged" either. Unitarian services are great because there's absolutely no judgment on other religions, and I've been to Baptist services where I felt comfortable. But I've also been to Baptist services where I felt like a Jew in a neo-Nazi rally - ultimately, I guess it just depends on the particular church. I'm sure that people who aren't familiar with Catholicism find it kind of creepy or weird (or, in some cases, left out, because they cannot receive Communion), so I definitely think that "Otherness" plays a part in it. Ultimately I think it's just the thought that you might be surrounded by people who, if they knew what religion you were or what your beliefs were, would hate you.