Christianity, Catholicism, Christenings & Controversy

I am not a fan of organized religion.  Having had it shoved down my throat by two batty spinster headmistresses at the girls’ school I attended in my early teens, I emerged having had more than enough to last me a lifetime.

I am also of the opinion that organized religion was a) invented in order to subdue the masses, and b) is the cause of as many wars and acts of terror in our world as politics, if not more.

Equally, however, I believe very firmly in one’s right to choose – and if regular churchgoing gives you comfort and joy, then why not?

I attended Sunday School as a young child, which I remember quite enjoying, and my mother used to say a prayer with me before bed (“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild …”) but my family were not churchgoers, and my brother and I weren’t ever christened.

My father, however, was brought up as a child as a very strict Catholic.  From what I gather, however, as soon as he was old enough to make his own choices, he stopped going to church and I never remember him showing any interest in religion at all.

However, six or seven years ago, my father suddenly started going to church again every Sunday, regular confessions, attending Holy Days of Obligation, and direct debiting money every month to the Catholic Church.  He is so anxious not to miss a Sunday that he has hunted down and attended the local Catholic service in such places as Mauritius, Antigua and St Lucia.  (Although I’m not convinced he’ll find one in Oman, where he’s currently on holiday!)

And why not?  As I said above, if it gives him comfort and he enjoys it, then it’s all good, as far as I’m concerned.

About a year ago, Dad told me that it was his greatest regret in life that he hadn’t had Nick and myself christened as babies, and that it was now his dearest wish that we would be.  After some closer questioning, he admitted that he believes the Catholic teaching (whether current or when he was a child, I’m not sure) that people who have not been christened end up after death in Purgatory (not a nice place, Google it).

The two main points that struck me from this conversation were:

1.   My understanding of ‘God’ (Allah, Buddha, whatever label you want to give ‘him’) is as an omnipotent force of GOOD, not somebody who would send an innocent baby or child who hadn’t been christened through no fault of their own, to burn in purgatory for the rest of time.

2.  My father is an otherwise intelligent, well-educated man, who has been indoctrinated (and I don’t use that word loosely) by Catholicism to actually believe that I’m going to purgatory because I haven’t been christened.  Under any guise other than that of the Church, words like ‘brainwashed’ and ‘cult’ would be bandied about.

Several months down the line, and after discussion and consideration, Nick and I have both agreed to be christened – not because for one millisecond we believe in ‘one Holy Roman Catholic Church’ (words that I understand we may be required to say during the event), or indeed because either of us believe that we’re going to Purgatory after we die.

No, the reason we’ve agreed to it is because if by doing this one small thing that’s so easy for us to do, despite it being meaningless and insignificant to us in the greater scheme of things, we are able to grant our father’s ‘dearest wish’ (his words, not mine), then after all he has done for us over the years, why would we not go ahead and do it?

And to me, that is what Christianity is all about – not sitting in a building parroting words made up by somebody else – but living as good and kind a life as I can, being loyal and thoughtful and trustworthy, and being the best daughter/wife/mother/sister/friend that I can be.

And here endeth the lesson for today (!)




22 thoughts on “Christianity, Catholicism, Christenings & Controversy

  1. What a superb blog. Well thought out and written. I agreed with everything you said except when I got to the part that you and your brother were going to be Christened for your father´s sake, although not believing. Surely by doing so you are negating the whole point of when you have to say that you believe in the Holy Catholic Church. Wouldn´t your father be troubled by that? After all as I understand it you would be expected to take confession beforehand.

    Why is it your father has suddenly started to take such an interest in returning to his religion? Has something happened to spark that wish to be part of the Church again to such an extent that he is searching out every Catholic church even whilst on holiday?

    When I married we were (or so we were told by the Priest) one of the first couples to have a “mixed” marriage, i.e. I am CofE and OH is Catholic. It was more important for him to get married in a Catholic Church (St Marychurch) than for me to insist on “my church”. I lied completely when we had to see the Priest before the wedding stating that yes I would bring any children up in the Catholic faith when I had no intention of doing so. However, though I would have liked to have our children baptised in the Church of England I felt it wrong to insist that my faith was more important than his so we left it until the children felt that they wanted to be baptised at about the ages of 9/11. I think this was more likely because my eldest wanted to see what the communion wine was like! Since then neither of them have shown any interest in wanting to have any connection to the Church and my daughter´s children again have not been baptised.

    • Thanks, Glynis, for the nice compliment. In answer to your first question, I’ve been very upfront to my father about the fact I think the whole baptism/purgatory thing is nonsense, and that my motivation for doing it is purely for him, not because I wish to join the Church or because I believe in the teachings of Catholicism. He is still keen for me to go ahead and be christened, so I guess he has somehow reconciled it in his own mind.

      Although he’s never spoken to me about it, my opinion regarding his return to religion after so many years is his increasing recognition of his own mortality as he gets older, plus the aforementioned indoctrination coming back to haunt him. He does, however, seem to really enjoy going to Church, so obviously gets something out of it, which is great, as he doesn’t really have any other hobbies.

  2. Oh my goodness – this strikes so many chords and I could go on and on and on. But I’ll try and keep it short. Brought up as a Catholic, (incl schools, church attendance, baptism, first Communion, confession, first marriage in a Catholic church etc etc) and with both parents still very active Catholics, I knew that my lack of interest in faith and eventual abandonment of formal religion in my teens was a major ‘disappointment’ to them. As I grew older, (I am now 49), I started to miss ‘God in my life’ and was drawn to an Anglican church – where there seemed to be all of the welcome and none of the guilt that I associated with Catholicism. Sadly, in my parent’s eyes, it isn’t the same and I live with the fact that they are still ‘disappointed’ in this aspect of my life. But I couldn’t agree with you more – what sort of religion is it that trys to mess with young minds and threatens a limbo in Purgatory for the un-baptised. I, like you, think ‘each to their own’ and that 99% of ‘being Christian’, (or any other religion for that matter) is about how we treat one another on a daily basis – not what happens when it’s all over. I am sending heartfelt warm wishes that this becomes something that is a positive in your life and strengthens your relationship with your father. I look forward to more on the topic. Lucy

  3. Ooooh . good blog post!
    Also hits a nerve as I was raised CofE although most of it in a guit trip was: ‘if you don’t go to church, you can’t do XYZ…’ etc.
    Hubby is Catholic. His parents go once a week and like your dad, always hunt out a church when they’re off on their hols. I am not sure they could explain Catholicism much….they don’t ‘THINK’ much about it at all – I think they are just insuring themselves for whatever comes next in their eyes by attending every week.
    But I refused to convert when we got married as I don’t share the Catholic believes. And I feel sure that MIL thinks I will be off to Purgatory and she’ll be up in Heaven with my kids etc. fat chance. Just because you go to church every week doesn’t mean you’re automatically in love – especially when you are such a bitch otherwise…..
    Mac did his first confession last week and as much as I dislike the Priest I was impressed he didn’t just concentrate on the negative ‘you’ll burn in hell’ side of it. Whilst the kids are being raised Catholic I like to think I tone it all down a bit so they know it is not the be all and end all.
    I am thinking you may have to do some preparation work with a Priest before he’ll baptise you both now that you are adults….depends on your father’s Parish I suspect. We had to do long drawn out classes before they would marry us….hope you don’t have to go to such lengths (a weekend away ‘learning’ etc).

    Now what shoes will you wear at the alter?
    Oh and totally recommend the boo ‘Faith’ I just read….. really good and also fitting here. x

  4. Loved reading this post and the other comments. For the record, I have a deep faith, and a believe-and-let-believe philosophy.

    Regarding your headmistresses, and some of my in-laws: I think it is very sad (today I say sad…some days I say shameful) when those who are trying to share their faith belief, do so in such a way as to completely turn the person they would share it with away from said faith entirely. I think come judgment day, God should give them a very stern talking to about it before they are shipped back for their next incarnation learning session. 😉

    Accepting his mortality may have led your father to go back to the Church…he probably found a more tolerant atmosphere than in his youth, and I think that a lot of comfort can be found in familiar rituals, My father was a non-practicing Catholic. (My mother raised us girls Methodist.) When my dad had a severe stroke he happened to be cared for in a Catholic hospital, and after visiting with the hospital chaplain (a widower with a grown daughter who joined the priesthood after his marriage/family obligations were completed) we asked him to perform Last Rites (they don’t call it that anymore, but that is what my father would have recognized it as). I’m not sure how aware he was, but I hope it gave him peace. I know that my aunt (his sister) was very grateful.

  5. What a lovely post. I am of your sentiment exactly. There is no harm in being christened and it is a wonderful thing to do for your father. Well done you and your brother. Hugs, T

  6. I agree with Tasha, I think you and your brother are doing something really lovely for your Dad. I am not a great fan of any organised religion (though I do think the Salvation Army do wonderful work) but I think what you two are doing for your Dad’s benefit is a truly caring and Christian act.

  7. Um, you really should not be baptised if you don’t believe in Christ. Your father obviously hopes to turn you into a believer, if you know that’s not going to happen you shouldn’t feed his illusions: people can easily go to hell regardless of being baptised or not (and one does not burn there, being in hell means being lonely, deprived of God’s love which one rejected during life).
    Roman Christians take baptism as seriously as we in the Mother Church do:, even among the heterodox it’s not a Christian act to lie about your faith or lack thereof, quite the opposite.
    I understand why your father would want it, it’s horrible knowing the ones you love most are damning themselves, I too tried converting my atheist parents and siblings, but this is not the right way. People always understand what they’re ready to understand and if you don’t want to believe perhaps you never will. He should not accept a false baptism, later disappointment might be a lot worse, not to mention it’s actually lying to God.

    • First of all thank you, Valeria, for taking the time to comment. Whilst I disagree wholeheartedly with almost its entire content and tone, your comment is a perfect demonstration of all the worst parts of organised religion: bigoted, judgemental and self-righteous.

      I could go on all day, but will just pick up on a a few of your points in the interests of brevity:

      1. Your comment starts with ‘you should not’ and ‘you shouldn’t’ and goes onto say ‘he should not’. Who gave you the right to sit in judgement of what I or my father feels is right in our hearts?

      2. You say ‘one does not burn in hell’. Go and do a Google image search on the word ‘hell’ and try and find a picture that DOESN’T depict hell as being full of fire. Also, you have no more idea of what happens in hell than I do, as neither of us has (yet!) been there.

      3. My idea of living a Christian life (see original post) is so far removed from yours, that we’ll never agree. Whilst you are, of course, entitled to an opinion – I love a bit of healthy debate as much as the next person – you must surely accept that it is ONLY your OPINION, and is no more or less valid than mine, and no more or less ‘right’.

      • Well that’s just it: you have a personal opinion about this, I don’t. What you perceive as “my” opinion is the Church’s teachings, which I embrace. I don’t believe in making up your own truth, if I profess a faith I agree with all of it, otherwise I would not profess it. As for hell, we know a little (very little) about it from the New Testament and from some saints who had credible visions of it. We know it’s a place of moral torment (remorse, guilt, loneliness). But I am not a theologian so I’d rather not speculate on the details.

        I judge things very rationally, not based on personal feelings, and I believe in respecting the rules of the religion one chooses, that’s why I use expressions like “should not”. I do tend to be blunt and I apologise if I hurt you with my comment . You admitted your lack of knowledge about Christians and their life, so I presented you with the knowledge of someone who’s been on both sides (the non believer and the zealous convert). It’s common for non believers to think being Christian means being nice, but that’s simply not true. Being Christian is all about being honest – to God and to oneself. Again, this has nothing to do with who you are. A Christian’s perspective, even if it’s a heterodox, is God-centric, not self-centric.

        You opened yourself for different judgements and opinions, that’s why I commented. I do not expect you or anyone else to agree with me and I’m used to being called a bigot, fundamentalist, extremist, backwards etc. However with the self-righteous label you assume I consider myself better than others – I don’t, I think we’re all selfish and do stupid things, that’s why we shouldn’t go round making our own rules as we please, but rather try to be the best that we can be and sacrifice our inflated modern egos.

        Anyway, I just wanted to point out the implications of the act, it’s my duty to speak the truth when I see someone who has a false image of what being a Christian means (it’s not just a state of mind or a social conduct, it has a history and a theological foundation). I can only hope that by doing what your father asked you will end up more disposed to discover God and your baptism will somehow become real, since you are determined to do it. May God have mercy on us all.

      • At last, something we can agree on, Valeria – that we should all try and be ‘the best that we can be’. I think our ideas of what this means are probably fundamentally different, but I agree completely with the sentiment. It’s been interesting reading your views – again, thank you for taking the time to comment.

    • I don´t think God gives a rat´s fink about whether any of us go to church or not. I hope he has better things to do with his time – perhaps saving us blowing the world to destruction. You can believe or not believe in the Big Man in the Sky, I happen to, but, nobody has the right to tell you that you are dammed if you don´t. Apart from anything else it is just plain silly.

  8. I’m going to comment without reading any other comments because I want it only to be my thoughts {I’ll read them after tho I promise}.

    Personally I believe there is a big difference between religion and faith, infact I could go further to say religion, a Church/Parish and faith. One can have faith without religion and many have religion without truly having faith. In the last few years my faith has changed, I lost much of my faith and haven’t yet been ready to see if I can reconnect with it although I know in my deepest being that the basics are still there within me. As a result I moved away from religion because I don’t think it is right to have religion without faith.

    I really want to dedicate some time, headspace and energy to my faith to figure out where I am with it. Not only for myself, though mainly for me because my faith was a fundamental part of who I was/am but because I would like to raise my child in a Church. Not for ‘blind’ religion {which to me is what believing a teaching just because it’s what the religion teaches is} or even religion itself as we were raised Catholic but I plan to attend whichever local Christian Church I like. Instead for the community that many Churches offer. The love and support which is often missing in our society – especially because we live away from our family and ‘roots’.

    Hope that ramble makes a little bit of sense. I think it’s lovely that you are doing this for your Dad. As long as you and him understand your motives I don’t see the issue. Many people talk the talk each week at Church but don’t walk the walk inbetween. Someone once said to me ‘if you were to be on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence?’. To me that is what faith is all about!

    Amy x

  9. Great post! I can empathise with a lot you say as I have wavered many times and left and gone back to the Catholic chuch more than once in my youth. However, when my daughter expressed an interest in doing her first communion I started to investigate it more, found a wonderful, progressive parish and embraced it fully. I was raised Catholic by my parents but my mum had converted from CoE and my dad had strong feelings about his Irish mother’s hypocrisy so it was a pretty liberal kind of upbringing: for example I have never been to confession (our local priest didn’t believe children sinned!) and I was never told I would go to hell if I did or didn’t do something. I also believe that God loves all of us equally. Oh and at Mass we say we believe in “one, holy, catholic (small c) and apostolic church”, which I have no problem with because I do indeed believe there is only one God/Allah/Buddah or whatever you want to call him and we are all brothers and sisters. We definitely do NOT believe the RC church is the only one Simplistic? Maybe, but isn’t it nicer to believe we are all in this together? I hope this makes sense – I hate typing on the iPhone!!

  10. I had to comment (yes, I know I’m at least a month late)
    I am baptised RC and confirmed C of E. I’ve been both ways and visited more in between. I believe that faith and organised religion can be as far apart as the North and South poles and that attendance at a church (and even being baptised) doesn’t make you a Christian. I hate when any church group says ‘you don’t belong to us, so you don’t belong to God’. What are they judging by? God says he judges the inside of a person while we only judge the external, and He also says that we should be careful how we judge. I know that you should believe to be baptised, but I also think that you can do it to fit in and soothe someone else’s belief if not to do so will distress him. I hope you won’t think all church going Christians are intolerant or bigoted… sometimes we just concentrate too much on the rule book and forget that God wrote the rules and probably can bend them to suit himself. I would rather live humbly and do justly to all people than be a ghetto Christian….. enjoy your day and I wish you all well. Don’t forget, what you believe to a certain extent is immaterial, because God (and here you can put whatever deity you wish in) believes in you.

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  13. Hey Caroline, what are your thoughts on all of this 2 years on?

    Again I also echo the reason I don’t go in for organised religion is the veiled attacks on each other of “I am more righteous than you”, ” I only say these things to bring you to Christ”, “to be Christ like I must first tell you where you are wrong”. It makes my blood boil.

    To those people I say

    Matthew 7:1-3 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

    and then there is the thing about praying to the Saints… that is quite clear in the 10 commandments….

    • Hiya – thoughts two years on: got christened, made my Dad happy, didn’t make a hoot of difference to my life apart from being pleased I’d was able to do something nice for my Dad, as he has done so much for me over the years. Have since been to a Catholic church service with my Dad on one occasion, at Christmas, enjoyed singing the carols, found the rest of it very tedious.

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