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Is religion the last taboo?

Reading blogs posts it seems that there is very little that cannot be written about and discussed these days – politics were discussed in depth around the General Election and sex is no longer a topic hidden away but instead celebrated and analysed.

Yet in the context of the Pope’s visit to the UK this week, it appears that perhaps there is one last taboo.

There are posts discussing the evils of the Church, its manifest failings over child abuse and contraception.

There is little countering this, few people it seems are prepared to stick their hand up and say that they are religious.

Is religion, or rather being religious, the final taboo?

Society is increasingly, vigorously secular.  The likes of Richard Dawkins have created careers by dismissing belief as mumbo jumbo.  Atheists abound – I’m married to one.

Some of the things that are being said about the Pope’s visit make me feel very uncomfortable and unsure as to how to react.

You see, I am a Christian.  In fact I’m a Catholic and I take my girls to mass regularly.

But I’m not a blinkered believer, I have struggled to get past some of the behaviours of the Church and some of the rigid aspects of its almost Medieval doctrine.  I’m one of many Catholics that holds onto the 1966 advice by the Archbishop of Westminster that we should exercise our own consciences in relation to Pope Paul’s ruling on the use of contraception.

I consider myself to be a liberal Catholic but I am still a Catholic.

Over the years of arguments about faith and the Church with my husband, I have worked through why it is I still go to mass despite everything.

You see I accept that in many ways the Catholic Church has dismally failed its congregation – the behaviour covering up child abuse was totally unacceptable.  The behaviours of the English church in addressing the structural issues, apologising and embracing openness has done a lot to redress this.  Unfortunately other countries have yet to realise that they need to take strong action to deal with this stain on the Church’s character – the Pope could learn a lot from the English approach, not least in actually apologising for being the figurehead of an organisation that condoned and covered up this behaviour, although his comments yesterday go a long way towards saying what has needed to be said.  Not least his acceptance that the Church needs to rebuild the trust that has been destroyed by its actions.

The Church’s behaviour in respect of HIV/AIDs and contraception in the Third World is also unacceptable, as is their stance on abortion – I only wish that the Archbishops there were as wise as those in the UK 40 years ago and who realised that blanket rulings may not actually understand the realities of life for the laity and that sometimes you have to trust the individual to find the right approach for themselves and their family.

But countering this, able to overcome all of this is the grass roots benefits of faith.  The positive effect of believing, the sense of security, community and fulfilment from attending mass.  The benefits from a strong framework within which to teach right and wrong to your children. The support of a community during hard times and the reassurance of prayer in times of joy and of sadness.

You see, for me, all the manifest failings of the Church can’t stop the fact that I do have a belief in a God.   A belief that helps me enormously – during the troubles we had with our pregnancy last year it provided me with comfort, after the littlest one was born it gave me a place to rejoice and be thankful that she is well.  Each time I go to mass I am able to focus on the gift of my family – to give thanks for them and to pray for their protection and comfort.

I hope that during the Pope’s visit we can listen to what he is actually saying despite the noises from protestors and the media.  And importantly, I hope he recognises his audience here and reaches out to them, to us, and even uses the occasion as a platform to show the good the Church can do and to undo past failings.  I suspect what will happen instead is that I will read a great many articles and posts that will make me feel uncomfortable at their attacks on religion and I will not know how best to act.  All I can do is raise my hand and be counted.

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14 comments to Is religion the last taboo?

  • BushBelles

    >I enjoyed reading your post and find myself nodding my head to what you say. I am Catholic and my children go to a Catholic School. I have struggled living a small country Australian town where it is very 'uncool' to be religious. In the last year my faith is the thing that has gotten me through. My children's school almost closed due to low enrolments and with a small but extraordinary group of parents we are somehow managing to make our school 'cool' again and lift enrolments. In the year when Mary McKillop is to be cannonised as Australia's first Saint we certainly feel like she is watching over us as Mary McKillop helped start our little school so many years ago. It is hard to say out loud that it has been a miracle that our school is still open because of ridicule but all the parents feel that. I find as I get older I rely more and more on my faith that I learned as a child and it has helped enormously. It is sad when you find yourself keeping quite about what you believe but I think in my case actions can speak louder than words.

  • imperfectpages

    >Great post. I totally get what you're saying about the positive aspects of religion, especially the sense of comfort and community. It's things like that which make me think it must be wonderful to be religious, to have that 'back-up' that everything is for a reason and it's all going to be ok. But for me, I'm very logical and I'm million miles away from being able to believe that God could exist. (I say this having been brought up Catholic, attending Catholic school from 3 – 18, etc.)

    What I don't get for you though (and please don't feel that you have to answer this, I'm just putting my thoughts out there) is why stick with Catholicism, when there are other branches of Christianity with much less objectionable views?

  • Michelloui

    >Really interesting post. I can see what you mean when you say 'being religious is uncool' but I also (as a non-religious, yet spiritual person) feel a bit of envy of people who are religious. I wish I had that kind of faith. I love talking about religion (and spirituality) but I find it is a very difficult subject because it presses so many buttons in people.

  • Emma

    >I got very confused growing up in secondary school. I was sent to our local Catholic one as it was cheaper then sending me to the grammer school. From a age where I was able to go out alone whcih I think was 11, I went to church by myself. Ever since I can remember I always believed in God so started to go to church and proudly gave myself the title of Christian.
    I was taught the catholic ways in RE and attended mass because I had too. Still to this days I'm confused about the ways of Catholics. Religion is a funny one. Jon calls me a naughty Christian because I had sex outside of wedlock , rarely been to church since Oli has come along and I believe in gay rights. Maybe it's my age and the way I've not explored it all in a deep way. Maybe I should stop rambling. I keen to find out why the Pope is here and what will come out of it so will go explore that some more now.

  • Very Bored in Catalunya

    >The thing I find about talking about religion is that you can only really get away with it is if you're religious yourself.

    I'm a fully signed up atheist, but am quite fascinated in all religions, mainly because I don't really understand how or why people believe.

    I like the fact that believers draw strength from their respective churches, mosques, synagogues, which, I guess, is fundamentally what religion should be about. Having something to turn to.

  • Whimsical Wife

    >Extremely well said lovely x

  • Bumbling

    >Great post. It's something I'm struggling with, and I think I'm interested in the same question as imperfectpages.

    I was raised Catholic, with a Catholic father and Presbyterian mother. My dad was really really staunch Catholic. I went to Catholic primary school, went to mass every week, confirmed, married in church.

    But now my dad has, for undisclosed reasons, stopped attending mass – even at Christmas! And I struggle with issues – abortion, gay rights, contraception, not to mention the troubles the church has got itself into.

    And the thing that really upset me, and I don't really know why, is the recent pronouncement that seeking to ordain a woman is a grave sin, the same as child abuse. I think it's just confirmation that people like me don't fit in their mindset, won't be accepted.

    So I started looking for a new Christian church, as I want all of the things you have said, and I do believe in God, despite reading a lot of Dawkins 😉

    I met with our local Anglican vicar, and am going to give their church a try, even though he did encourage me to go and talk to a Catholic priest. But our local priest is just not welcoming, a real hell fire and damnation type.

    Too long a comment I know. But this is all so hard! Particularly as I need to decide whether to have Moo christened sooner rather than later.

    The cynic in me thinks I should get her baptised a Catholic, as the Catholic church won't accept anything less, and the Anglican church will take a transfer 😉

    Any advice welcome!

  • imperfectpages

    >Wanted to come back to this as I find it so interesting. Bumbling, I like the comment about your Dad not attending mass "even at Christmas". It reminds me of the first Christmas that came round after I'd stopped attending mass, I think that my Mum expected me to go even though I hadn't gone to church through the year. When I said I wouldn't be, she was pretty gutted, and then brought it up round the dinner table later that day: "Guess what Kirsty did today? She didn't go to church!". Think that my Dad's side (who are vaguely Christian but not Catholic) were just terribly embarrassed all round. My lovely uncle helped to diffuse the tension and move the conversation on.

    I'm not sure what she was wanting to achieve. I know that when I stopped going to church she said a lot of "I do so much for you, can't you do this one little thing for me?' which I thought was wrong of her on a lot of levels. Actually, there's a lot going on here, maybe I should blog about this myself!

    Getting to my point: I stopped going to church because I didn't believe any more. For me, going to church on Christmas day would have been just has phoney and disrespectful to the people who went and did believe, as it would have been any other day. So perhaps your Dad feels a bit like that?

    Muddling, I think my issue is that I don't really understand what it means to be a "liberal Catholic" – how you can identify yourself as part of that faith while disagreeing with so much of the doctrine. Perhaps it's about being part of the community, continuing those rituals that you've grown up with and saying "I have the same sense of faith as these people"? In a way I do envy you your faith as I can see it brings you and others great comfort. I sometimes wonder whether it's something lacking in me that means I just can't make that leap. I think I will blog about all this soon!

  • imperfectpages

    >Wanted to come back to this as I find it so interesting. Bumbling, I like the comment about your Dad not attending mass "even at Christmas". It reminds me of the first Christmas that came round after I'd stopped attending mass, I think that my Mum expected me to go even though I hadn't gone to church through the year. When I said I wouldn't be, she was pretty gutted, and then brought it up round the dinner table later that day: "Guess what Kirsty did today? She didn't go to church!". Think that my Dad's side (who are vaguely Christian but not Catholic) were just terribly embarrassed all round. My lovely uncle helped to diffuse the tension and move the conversation on.

    I'm not sure what she was wanting to achieve. I know that when I stopped going to church she said a lot of "I do so much for you, can't you do this one little thing for me?' which I thought was wrong of her on a lot of levels. Actually, there's a lot going on here, maybe I should blog about this myself!

    Getting to my point: I stopped going to church because I didn't believe any more. For me, going to church on Christmas day would have been just has phoney and disrespectful to the people who went and did believe, as it would have been any other day. So perhaps your Dad feels a bit like that?

    Muddling, I think my issue is that I don't really understand what it means to be a "liberal Catholic" – how you can identify yourself as part of that faith while disagreeing with so much of the doctrine. Perhaps it's about being part of the community, continuing those rituals that you've grown up with and saying "I have the same sense of faith as these people"? In a way I do envy you your faith as I can see it brings you and others great comfort. I sometimes wonder whether it's something lacking in me that means I just can't make that leap. I think I will blog about all this soon!

  • geekymummy

    >very nice post. I was raised catholic and now am atheist. Many of the best people I know are catholic though (like my parents), and they too believe in contraception, gay rights etc. I think the personal aspect of religion is very different from its public face. I think individual Catholics and Christians are great people. But I think the Catholic church has too much influence. The pope is not elected. Why does he have so much power, such as the power to inflict lack of contraceptive choice on much of the worlds population? The child abuse scandal was just appalling, and I'm not convinced that the current pope was not complicit in the cover ups. many more people should be behind bars (I have a friend who is a victim and it is such a tragedy. he is still a cathlolic too). Thanks for your views though, you should be proud of your opinions and choices.

  • The Dotterel

    >Fascinating post, Hannah, and some really thoughtful comments. I think you're right about religion being a bit of a taboo, though. For years I taught RE (among other things) and had the devil's own job (it felt like that some days) trying to open the eyes of adolescent boys to the possibilities of a spiritual dimension to existence. Organised religion is in decline in the west; there's no doubting that. But the search for 'something' goes on forever.

    Re: abortion and contraception, one of your readers raised the question of belonging and yet rejecting doctrine. Well, doctrine changes: no Christian church now supports slavery or anti-semitism – and they once did! And regarding contraception and abortion as 'intrinsic evils' is STILL based on a pre-1930s view of human reproductive biology. They'll get there… eventually – just like they have (or almost) on the issue of abuse.

    It'll be women priests next!

  • Heather

    >Dear me, religious and posh, I really should never speak to you again 😉

    Being an atheist I don't feel that I can discuss religion, it's a closed off area to me, somewhere I shouldn't tread for fear of upsetting people without meaning to by asking the wrong question or saying the wrong thing. It's a mine field for those of who don't believe and most of us, i think, just feel it's better to say nothing. Your belief doesn't affect our lives and so we keep our mouths shut mostly.

  • Hearth-mother

    >A lovely post. As a Catholic I am struggling with how to raise my own children, with a healthy attitude to religion and not a guilt-ridden fear. Great to read some serious thought on the subject.

  • cartside

    >Really thought provoking post. I was going to write on this as well, as I too feel that it is a taboo in this country, but at the moment I'm obviously caught up in other stuff. I have a very ambivalent relation to religion and the Catholic Church – like you I can see the benefits of community of faith, the way it gives a strong foundation and sense of what's right and what isn't. Then there is also a lot of hurt caused by what to me is unnecessary pedantic application of rules. I can also see how living in the UK has made me much more secular and removed me from my religious upbringing – of course it's me who chose to go this route, but it's easier here than in my home country where religion is much more part of people's lives (e.g. you wouldn't normally have just a civil ceremony wedding, or not christian your kids which is both normal here).
    So the Pope's comment on aggressive secularism did ring a true bell, though I don't think that aggressive is the right adjective. But yes, the UK is a highly secular society and faith often is a real taboo.

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