I’m a culturally Catholic agnostic, one of the millions of confirmed former papists who likes Christmas hymns but thinks we could do without the whole Jesus thing. Seventeen years (!) of Catholic education have left me still uncomfortable taking the name of the Lord in vain (gosh dammit) but I’m pretty certain I’m going to dissolve into a cloud of star dust and that my actions on this earth have no bearing on that eventually.
I’m very cool with that outcome.
So I put “agnostic” on my dating profile and pretend to myself that religion doesn’t matter. I’ll marry an athiest, a former Catholic like myself, a Jew, a Muslim, whatever. I’m open. I’m modern.
That’s not really true, though. I keep butting up against walls that prove that, even for someone who doesn’t follow a faith, religion does matter. I dated an athiest who explained that he’d want to get married in the Catholic church, for the sake of his family. I have lapsed Catholic friends who’ve done the same thing, citing tradition and values and grandmothers and aesthetics and relationships with priests and “who cares, it’s just a service, it’s not really for the couple getting married.” I guess, but the thought of entering into a lifelong commitment with someone as part of a mass I feel fraudulent participating in makes me queasy. I mean, getting married in the Church is a big deal. It’s not like a hall you can rent. It’s a sacrament. That moment, with that guy, felt like a deal breaker. We ended up splitting up for other reasons, but the tension was there.
These walls can also present themselves between two people who ostensibly have the same feelings about God. A boyfriend of mine was culturally Jewish with the same basic feelings about organized faith and practice. In spite of these ties, though, we’d have moments of discord fueled by religion. “You can’t say anything against circumcision without being anti-Semitic,” he’d tell me, as though daring me to try. I’d find myself incredibly defensive about his derisive comments about Christians, feeling forced to stand with a team whose beliefs I didn’t share simply because it hurt to hear them mocked. “That’s my family,” I wept after a particularly spiteful diatribe. “Stop it.” Why did we both feel the need to take sides? What about star dust and the impossibility of defining the infinite?
I dated a practicing Muslim for a while years ago, and while he didn’t feel the need to tear down my childhood faith to highlight our differences we never reached a level of comfort. He couldn’t drink with me, and I had no interest in joining him for a smoke with his friends. I’ve dated other smokers/non-drinkers since then and it hasn’t bothered me to the same extent. Something about him abstaining because of his view of God made me like him less.
I wish I felt a connection to a personal, anthropomorphic God. I pray from time to time, but it’s a sort of ritual, like when I see the clock display 11:11. I believe in the power of prayer, but mostly as a practice of mindfulness. Someone is listening, it’s just a kinder, more patient version of myself. Ugh, I sound like the worst, don’t I? I have a strong urge to spend a day high on ayahuasca, which I’ve heard can open a channel of spirituality and which I’ve also heard makes you vomit and shit.
I have felt drawn to Judaism for much of my life, ever since meeting Ayla, my Jewish childhood best friend. I have always loved that a person can be agnostic, atheist, religious, super-religious, 20-children-having-Orthodox-men-don’t-sit-next-to-women and define themselves by the same niche group. I remember wondering if I could work up the courage to go into a temple back in high school, which I still felt an intense desire for God but could not connect to the hoard of saints I was supposed to turn to in moments of crisis. I remember staring at a painting of a council of saints and thinking, “how am I supposed to connect to that? Where is God in this hoard of old men and virgins?”
I wish that seeing “Christian” on the “religion” option didn’t make me immediately suspicious, but it does. It certainly leads me to look at the “questions answered” section of a dating profile, and the number of times I’ve seen “men should be the head of the household” or “women have an obligation to shave their legs” answered in ways I find unacceptable is pretty strong support for me carrying on with my prejudice. I wish that seeing “Muslim” wasn’t such an automatic deal breaker, but from what I understand Muslim is kind of like Catholic- you don’t list it unless you are it, unlike Jews who can be Jews even if they worship spaghetti monsters. I can’t be with someone whose professed religious text claims that “men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other… as for those whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.” (4:34) Oh wait, that’s basically what every Holy Book says at one point or another? I stand my ground.
It isn’t just me. Interfaith marriages are more than twice as likely to end in divorce, possibly because at moments of conflict partners feel like God is probably on his or her side and maybe, just maybe, a lake of fire is waiting for their loved one because WHY CAN’T YOU TAKE OFF YOUR DISGUSTING MUDDY SHOES FOR THE LOVE OF
What’s a culturally Catholic agnostic to do? Do I limit myself to men with my exact same religious experience, or do I keep butting against the fact that faith seems to be something that matters intensely and can poison a relationship, even when it “isn’t important?”
I don’t know. I have no answers, only questions. Fucking agnostics.