Saturday, March 14, 2009

Was I Ever a True Catholic?

Free Inquiry editor Tom Flynn posed an enticing challenge recently to his readers. After detailing his own efforts to have himself excommunicated from the Catholic Church, he solicited suggestions on how to achieve this divorce from one's religious past. After giving it some thought, I came up with something I believe may have merit. I submitted my idea to Free Inquiry via email:
Re: Tom Flynn’s delightful dilemma (Let My Person Go!), I too, contemplated the very same course of action, i.e., seeking excommunication from the Catholic Church, so badly did I want to be disassociated from this organization. Though I never went so far as to actually solicit excommunication from local church officials, I believe I have legitimately achieved the substantial equivalent of excommunication via another approach.

The approach I am referring to involves delegitimizing my association with, or membership in, the Catholic church from its inception. How, you ask? By asserting my belief in the self-evident truth that membership in a religious organization can only be achieved with the informed consent of the individual in question. And, since I was never informed sufficiently enough to grant my consent to becoming a member—I was an infant when I was baptized—I was never truly a member of the Catholic Church in the first place, all those church records notwithstanding.

Of course this approach asserts that the Catholic church is wholly unenlightened as to the self-evident nature of the truth I am avowing. In much the same way our founding fathers invoked self-evident truths in asserting their independence from the throne of England, so, too, can we former Catholics affirm our emancipation from the church by invoking similar self-evident truths.

The beauty of this solution is that no official act of excommunication is required because our membership in the church from the outset was never legitimate owing to the absence of our informed consent!

Now if I could only get back the years wasted on my unrelenting religious inculcation . . .

To my way of thinking, therefore, I never was an authentic member of the Catholic Church. What was visited upon me in my early life was child abuse in the form of perverse and illegitimate religious indoctrination. I categorically reject the notion that the brainwashing of children for the purpose of making them members of a church can, in any way, be considered an honorable - or legitimate - enterprise.

So to the Jesuit master who proclaimed that as long as he had the teaching of a child up to seven years of age or thereabouts his mind belonged to him for life, I have a message: No, it does not. There is always hope that reason will prevail even against the unrestrained forces of religious ideology.


  1. Good post, Bill, especially that last paragraph.

    Brings to mind a couple of disjointed thoughts:

    Many of the Protestant denominations that are especially hostile toward Catholicism pride themselves on rejection of infant baptism. Quite a number say they don't even baptize before the onset of legal adulthood. All well and good, but that's not to say they don't work very hard at indoctrination from an early age. That's Dawkins' number one complaint about religion: Labeling children as "Catholic kids" or "Christian kids" or "Jewish kids" when those labels are imposed from without.

    The other thing that comes to mind is the baptismal certificate from about 50 years ago that I still have ready access to in a file here at home. When my son came to reside with us here in the B-belt, the public schools here were so bad as to force us to contemplate enrolling him in a private school. There's no such thing as a non-religious private school 'round these parts. But there are a couple of highly rated Catholic schools. I was very close to whipping out that certificate and using it on his behalf, getting him enrolled at the greatly reduced tuition rate for Catholics that is offered by all of those schools. It would, of course, have meant attending Mass and going through the motions of the sacraments, and all the nosy little questions about my current marriage to a lapsed Methodist and my previous marriage to a Jew -- all the things that plagued my mother as I was growing up. The things that filled her with fear and shame.

    As it turned out, my son endured one year of very depressing public school here, then got to go back up north and the story had a happy ending, with him now a college freshman. No ashes on the forehead, no further exposure to dysfunctional belief systems.

  2. I wasn't aware that many Protestant churches held off on baptism until adulthood. Well it certainly is the lesser of two evils. • You're right about Dawkins. He holds nothing back in Chapter Nine of 'God Delusion' - Childhood Abuse and the Escape from Religion.

    Interesting story about your son. It brought to mind the question of why so many parents will consider taking the good with the bad when sending their kids to Catholic schools. The point I would make is that the reason so many private schools rate as highly as they do is simply that they do not have the same mandate that public schools have. At the first sign of trouble, they can expel anyone they please - and they do! With that kind of advantage, it's no wonder they generally perform so well. If they had to keep everyone they accepted - through thick and thin - things wouldn't be nearly so rosy.

  3. Don't forget that Catholic schools get to torture students with medieval punishments like kneeling on chalk or gravel for extended periods. Believe me, I know.