A few months ago I shared the story of how I began, as an adult, to reconnect with the sacred in nature. As I said in that blog post, I didn’t give up on church right away. I was still trying to hold onto my childhood faith in some way. I finally knew what I was searching for, and I kept hoping to find it in some space that carried a Christian label.
The Catholic church came close–the beauty and mystery of their services almost gave me the feeling of the sacred I’d been searching for. I started attending mass and reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church . . . and that was when I bumped up against the wall that I couldn’t ignore.
“Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.”66 The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.67 The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.6″
I knew myself to be an intelligent, capable woman. I was single, and it seemed likely I was going to stay that way for some time. I supported myself and provided for myself, I thought for myself, I acted on my own behalf. And yet the catechism of the Catholic Church told me I was inferior to men. That god didn’t call women to teach or have any position of authority.
I struggled. I prayed. I stopped going to church because I felt so disrespected and unwanted there. Finally one day I picked up my bible and asked god for a sign–some kind of sign to help me know what to do. And I let the bible fall open. It opened on the first book of Timothy, chapter two. And there they were, verses 12-15:
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
I threw the bible against the wall, and left it where it fell. It would be days before I picked it up again–and then I would only touch it long enough to put it in a box so I could take it to the used book store.
That moment was a major crisis for me–the woman issue was the proverbial last straw. I couldn’t do it anymore. Everything about the Christian faith was wrong for me, and I couldn’t pretend anymore.
I was terrified of the choice I was making. What if I was wrong? What if hell really was waiting for me? I could see freedom as a possibility for myself, but was I really brave enough to make a break for it? Could I really just set it all down and walk away? How would I navigate the world without the rule book?
And what would my mother say if she found out?
I felt scared, and a little bit lost, but I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t feel regret. I didn’t miss Church, or bible reading, or praying, or anything at all about Christianity. I did feel a huge sense of relief, in spite of the terror I was experiencing. Suddenly Sundays were days to look forward to instead of days to dread.
I have to make a little detour here and talk a little bit about the fundamentalist Christianity I grew up with. I imagine it’s almost impossible for someone not raised in an evangelical environment to understand just how much religion controlled my every interaction, every choice, every thought. If you want to really get a look at the world I grew up in–and if you are not easily traumatized–you might check out all the Jesus Camp clips on Youtube. As someone who lived that life, I can assure you the videos don’t exaggerate. The clips I watched were very accurate. (They also triggered my post traumatic religion disorder, so I wouldn’t recommend them to any recovering fundamentalists.) I was taught the rules of the evangelical church were absolute truths, as inescapable as gravity. And I was taught if I broke even ONE of those rules, and died without asking god to forgive me, I would go to hell–no matter how long I had followed Christ, no matter how carefully I lived. I honestly believed if I said “shit” and died without repenting, I would go to hell.
The relief of not having to police every thought, word and deed was profound.
Please understand, I don’t believe Christianity is inherently bad. I believe it has many valuable gifts to offer. I know many people who were raised in church, and found it comforting, found it to be a place of community and support. I have dear friends who are Christians and are lovely people. I think if I’d been raised in a different church, I might still be a Christian. But after being raised in an evangelical setting, Christianity will only ever be scary and uncomfortable for me. Leaving was the only choice that would ensure my sanity.
So for a while after the Bible hit the wall, the relief was enough. For a time I just enjoyed waking up on Sunday morning without an anxiety-induced stomach ache. I spent Sunday mornings in my apartment, wearing pajamas, eating cereal, and reading a novel or watching a movie. But after a few months of reveling in my freedom, I knew I still hadn’t found what I needed. I still hadn’t found a path to the sacred–and now I wanted it more than ever. In Part 2 I’ll share more about that search.
This post originally appeared on my personal blog.