At eight years old, I received my first communion and was welcomed into the Catholic Church. I spent hours shopping for the perfect white dress, memorizing prayers and preparing for my big day. That day came and went, and now, over 10 years later, Catholic is the last thing I identify as.
My departure from the Catholic Church was a gradual experience fueled by my increasing independence and free thinking.
It’s not just the Catholic Church I am opposed to — it’s all organized religion. The morals and ideas of religion are positive, but the guidelines and practices are what lose me.
The ideas of “thou shalt not steal, kill or commit adultery” are morally sound, but divorce shouldn’t be a sin. I shouldn’t be shamed by an entire institution for having premarital sex.
Religion is supposed to provide guidelines for living the best life you possibly can, but those guidelines are not realistic.
When I was younger, I was convinced I would go to hell because I said curse words and was mean to my brother. My Sunday school teachers made me feel bad just for being a kid. Their teachings didn’t motivate me to be a nicer person, they just fostered feelings of self-hate.
Honestly, if an eight-year-old is going to hell for saying “frick” and punching her brother (who deserved it), is anyone in heaven? Hell and purgatory must be pretty packed.
These strict rules, guidelines and extreme shaming drove me away from the church. While I don’t always make the best decisions, I don’t have any regrets — but the church tells me I should.
That doesn’t mean I am not a moral person, though. I have a set of morals I live by, but when I deviate from them, there is no priest judging me on the other side of the confessional.
There are moments I consider returning to the pews and the hymns, but I always remember the church brings me more stress than comfort. Without the Catholic Church, I am able to evaluate myself without feeling as if I am also being judged by a massive institution.
However, in abandoning the church, I also lose any strong beliefs I once had in the meaning of life. Now I realize the meaning of life is an ambiguous and deeply personal concept, but occasionally I do miss believing in something.
I could still believe in the idea of heaven and hell without practicing Catholicism, but I struggle with how to get there. I struggle with picking and choosing the parts of religion that I like — including the celebrations, traditions and sense of community — but as a whole, I cannot support the institution.
So I choose to live my life the best way I can and hope that if there is a God, they will judge me on my actions and not my ability to blindly conform.