Before we got married, The Husband and I talked about whether we should raise our children Catholic, his mother’s religion. I said “his mother’s religion” because like countless Catholics, he is twice-a-year Catholic. He gives up something for Lent (that usually make me exclaim, “Jesus died for you sin and you are giving up THAT for him?”), refrains from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, goes to the Easter Mass and the Christmas Eve Mass.
A convenient way to be a Christian if you ask me. To me, an outsider who is pretty mush ignorant of the whole Catholic “thing”, it seems that once you’ve been confirmed, you are IN. It’s like one of those lifelong 1 Million Mile frequent flyer status. You are set for premier status for life even if you stop flying altogether.
I was young and naive and more importantly, a newcomer to the West. I thought religion is all about doing good, fearing cosmic retributions, building moral characters, helping out each other in the community, believing in the Golden Rule and “what goes around comes around”, and more importantly, being self-reflective and building that relationship with the cosmic force up there whatever you personally call it. How can religion be bad?
Alone in the U.S., deprived of a close-knit society that really believes in “It takes a village”, I thought, “THIS [The Catholic upbringing] could replace the built-in value systems in a Chinese society so that my children will not grow up in a moral vacuum.”
Like I said, I was naive and ignorant. I was not aware of the political implications associated with being a Catholic, or in general a Christian, in the United States in the 20th and 21st century. In fact, I did not know that in the U.S., despite the claim of separation between church and state, many Christian denominations behave as if they were political parties, to say the very least.
Dante apparently did not have to deal with marriage equality. Milton was not asked to spout his opinions on women’s right to choose.
If you have followed this blog for a while, you probably have heard me talking about my inner struggle of negotiating between sending my kids to the religious school every week and disagreeing with almost everything the Catholic church decided to take a stand for/against in recent years. It becomes more and more difficult as my children become older and the Church shares more of its doctrines with them in a more straightforward way.
Today a bomb was dropped.
Like all Catholic 8th graders in this country, my son is going through the Confirmation process. It is something that he tolerates and may even look forward to since after this, there will be no more religious class! There was a mandatory half-day “retreat” this afternoon where they gathered all the 8th grade class into one big giant room to prepare them for the big decision, the big day.
On our way home, I asked casually, “So how was it? What did you learn today?”
“We had some interesting discussions. He told us, ‘No judgement. We will not tell your parents what you say. But, imagine if you are a parent, and your 15-year-old daughter comes home and tells you that she’s pregnant, what will you do? Tell her to get an abortion? To give birth to the baby? Raise the baby or give the baby up for adoption?”
I gritted my teeth.
“… We learned that there are four ways for abortion….”
It’s a miracle the car behind me did not crash into us when I braked abruptly. I had to restrain myself from saying anything and to wait for him to share more.
“It was absolutely horrible. We were eating and he was telling us about how abortion is done. Did you know that they used to use saline…”
“… Forceps… Forced babies to come out…. Pulled the baby out by the feet… Dead babies… … …”
I was beyond upset. So instead of reaffirming these young people of their faith, they penned them into a room, told them the most extreme, horrifying in any standard, cases from the past, and force-fed them anti-abortion propaganda. If these were the first things, and only things I’ve heard on the subject of abortion, I’d probably be out there holding protest signs against Planned Parenthood too.
Why weren’t the parents consulted first? These kids were only 13 year old. How many of you want your children to be shown details of abortion procedures at the age of 13?
I tread lightly as I did not want to startle the deer, to scare him away when all I wanted was for him to come home, by his own will, with me.
“I just want to make sure that you understand the facts…” I rattled off some pointers.
Did they explain that only a very small % of abortions are late-term? No. Did they explain that in the current legislature, many states outlaw late-term abortions except for the safety of the mother? [Gross generalization but it would have to do at the moment]. No. Did they mention that it is still up for debate whether an embryo counts as a person? No.
I was losing him: these facts were not as powerful as the sensational, graphical, description he just heard.
He started defending the young, hip, traveling priest. “Why are you so judgmental? Now you are just judging these people. Just because they have a different view does not mean you are right and they are wrong.”
I had to bite my tongue again, knowing that “Not everything is relative. I bet Hitler’s family thought he was a great guy” was not a productive thing to say at that moment.
I was so angry. I imagined red hot flames coming out of my eyes and nostrils. I am still shaking as a matter of fact. On the verge of tears finally I said, “Ok, hear me out. If those people think that they can spoonfeed MY CHILDREN a bunch of propaganda, I should be able to present MY perspective… I will say this first: If you are a man, you have no right dictate what a woman is or is not allowed to do with her body.”
The whole way I was wishing that I had thought about this more before we took the pre-Canon class, before we even got married. I should have said No way, Jose. This is not what I signed up for. To have someone come in and teach my children values that are completely opposite of mine and not being allowed to say anything about it, or the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, just so he could get that piece of paper. Confirmed.
This is NOT the Golden Rule I expected a religion to help instill in my children.
“I am very upset as you can probably tell.” I told my son the truth. “This was not what I signed up for. They are supposed to teach you morals and telling right from wrong. Not this propaganda stuff.”
“Mom! I am not an idiot! I don’t just believe everything the guy said.” He said from the backseat, “I can think for myself, ok? You are treating me like some kind of brainless robot that simply follows orders.”
I guess I’ve never thought that one day I’d come to be grateful for his being a pain in the ass, to appreciate his natural tendency to disobey, to question authority.