The Detritus of Catholicism
A couple of notes:
- I previously wrote this over on Livejournal many moons ago, but I keep looking for it to refer to it – which I take to mean it should be over here too. I’ve tidied it up a bit.
- This post is primarily aimed at Catholics & ex-Catholics, but if you’re not and you feel a resonance, hey, that’s cool too, just go with it, heal away. Catholics definitely don’t have a monopoly on this junk.
- A side note on the word “God.” This word is incredibly loaded. It took me about 20 years after I left the church before I could use it without having a strong negative reaction. I’ve used it here for clarity and simplicity, but if it bothers you please mentally replace “God” with “Universe”, “higher self”, “flying spaghetti monster” or whatever synonym works best for you.
Catholicism is an interesting religion. It is an immensely powerful organisation with a stunningly flat hierarchy (only 5 layers from the Pope to you). It’s run from the Vatican, one of very few city-states, which therefore has both diplomatic as well as religious protection. It’s also been listed as the 3rd biggest money laundering centre in the world (more here).
It’s not a huge leap to suggest that perhaps this organisation doesn’t always have you, the (ex) parishioner’s best interests at heart. Perhaps not aggressively or directly maliciously, but certainly in terms of a very basic equation: more control over you = more money and power to them.
Now, this isn’t a rant about Catholicism. If you’ve done any research or serious thinking in this area, you’ve possibly reached similar conclusions. Regardless, the Vatican and the Catholic hierarchy are very welcome to behave any way they feel is right (that’s their business, not mine). This isn’t about them. It’s about you, it’s about me. We want to clean up the mess left behind.
There is an additional important distinction, between “the church”, and “God”. The church is made up of humans (regardless of whether they declare themselves infallible). The church is NOT God and God is NOT the church. The Catholic church does a really good job of blurring that line. What the church says is what humans are saying, not what God is saying. “Believe me because I say so” is not defensible logic.
Let me be brutally clear. God is Good. Jesus (whether he existed or not) was a righteous dude. It’s the teaching of the Catholic church itself that results in problems.
Oh, and if reading what I’ve written below results in you feeling strong negative emotions? That’s actually a good thing. It makes these issues much easier to heal. Use whatever tool works for you, but if that emotion is close to the surface, then you’ll be able to easily see as you’re making progress. Of course, if you’re not interested in healing in this area (which is perfectly ok too, most people aren’t), I do suggest stopping reading. My intention is REALLY not to upset you or appear to criticise your beliefs.
Right, disclaimers and caveats aside, let’s get on with this!
There are several key areas where Catholic indoctrination will have affected you that thus warrant attention and healing.
This is the big one. I once had a competition with a Jewish friend at a party – whose family was better at making us feel guilty. He won, but it was a close battle (at least, until he started telling me about the stunning “skills” of his grandmother).
- Guilt only makes you feel bad.
- Feeling bad doesn’t achieve anything (other than, well, making you feel bad)
- On the other hand, actually doing something to correct your error does achieve something.
- On top of that, we often feel guilty when we haven’t actually even made an error – double plus ungood
In short: Don’t waste time feeling guilty. If you’ve done something wrong (now, or in the past), DO SOMETHING TO FIX IT. Guilt about it will only damage you. How you feel about yourself, how you view yourself, how you treat yourself. Any guilt you feel? Heal it.
This is a close cousin. This is you guilt-tripping yourself or beating yourself up.
- Regret is in the past
- You can’t change the past, only the present (and thus future)
If you regret something, either DO SOMETHING, or let it go. Continuing to beat yourself up about it is only killing yourself (slowly).
Heard the saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin?” Ever stop to wonder why that is only ever applied to how we treat other people?
- Yes, you have made mistakes in your life. That IS OK (natural even, it’s a great way to learn).
- That doesn’t make you a bad person (“a sinner” is the catch all phrase)
- Viewing yourself in a negative light adds nothing positive or useful to the world
Imagine you’re a parent and your child is learning to ride a bike. She’s not very good yet and occasionally hits a tree, or falls off. Would you be angry at her? Tell her she’s a sinner (or evil, or equivalent) that she will never be “forgiven” unless she leads a life of self induced misery and servitude? No, of course not. You’d be what? Loving. Understanding. Patient. Caring. Your heart would break every time she made a mistake. You’d be there, gently helping her back on, encouraging her every pedal of the way.
So why do we get the idea that God (our Father) doesn’t view us, treat us, love us exactly the same way?
Go easy on yourself. God Loves you; you should too.
We’re taught that we have to deserve things. We’re allowed into heaven only IF we act a certain way. We don’t deserve forgiveness (or God’s love) unless we repent, and so on.
Jesus never taught that. He taught “God loves you”, end of story. No ifs, no buts, no conditions. God IS unconditional Love. It’s (unfortunately) the church that puts all those conditions in there, not Him.
If you feel like you don’t deserve something, anything? That’s conditioned behaviour. You’ve been taught that.
Do you honestly think that God, a being of pure Love, actually wants you to suffer? To be in pain? Would you want someone you loved more than life itself to suffer? For ANY reason? Of course not. All those excuses clamouring in your head as you read this? That’s just rationalisation, your brain talking. That’s not Love. Not big-L, unconditional God Love.
No excuses, no exceptions, no conditions. God Loves you, end of story.
It’s pretty easy to forget this.
We’re taught to “forgive others” – yet, did you ever stop to ask what that means, in raw, practical terms? Surely, harbouring no negative emotions towards them for that incident, right?
Oh, so here’s a minor point – why do we so easily forget to forgive ourselves?
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive others” – so, if God has forgiven us, why the hell don’t we let go of it too? Do we honestly think we know more about this than He does?
New vs Old Testament
When Jesus arrived, he came with a simple message. When he was asked, “Which is the most important commandment?” he said (paraphrased) “First, love God. Second love each other.” [Mark 12:28-31] That’s not so complicated, is it?
And because philosophy, morals and ethics are such slippery things (what is “good”, what is “bad”, etc), if you want to keep it simple? “Don’t be an asshole”.
Jesus also said to pretty much ignore the old testament (the God of hellfire and vengeance) that God was actually loving. Like a (good, rather than angry) father.
He came with clarification and simplification: God is Love. Only love. Not love-and-anger. Not love-and-violent retribution. Just Love.
If this is the case, then why is so much of the teaching of the church (hell, it’s not even in the Creed!) attached to the old, superseded, vengeance-and-fear model of God? Why the guilt, the fear, the shame, the recrimination? An obvious answer is that frightened, miserable people are more easy to control. Either way, Jesus didn’t come down and say “do this, this and this or God will hate you, punish you and make you suffer”. God just doesn’t work like that. Not the New Testament God.
Don’t listen to me about this, listen to what Jesus said. God is Love, he loves you, love each other, ignore everything else. Simple.
How to unravel it all
If you’re feeling negative emotions inside you? That’s not Love. If you feel negative emotions towards others? That’s not Love. But most importantly, if you’re feeling negative emotions towards yourself, that’s not Love either.
Why is how you treat yourself the most important bit? Because whatever you aim inwards is reflected outwards. If you feel like shit, that’s going to seep out into the world, one way or another.
Unfortunately, Catholicism teaches us to increase, not decrease, these inwardly aimed negative emotions. All perfectly rationally, all perfectly reasonably, all explained away, of course. None of it helping you, none of it actually Love, or helping you live a better life.
Here are some examples. If any of these resonate with you, they’re beliefs that are contrary to Love. Beliefs that if you want to move closer to God, to Love (or alternatively, just get that ex-Catholic crap out of your life), you should heal.
- “How can I possibly forgive that person? What they did was SO bad”
- “I’m a sinner”
- “I must suffer for my sins”
- “Sure, I’ve forgiven them, but I’m still X them” (where X=negative emotion=’angry at’, ‘hate’, ‘can’t stand’, etc)
- “I don’t deserve [anything]”
- “I regret [anything]”
- “Only God can forgive me”
- “I deserve to suffer”
- “I’m a bad person”
- “Unless I’m good, I won’t go to heaven”
I’m sure there are many more. The point is very simple: God (the universe, whatever) Loves you. You should too.