Crowdsourcing Major Life Decisions: Choosing My Religion

I want to believe. I just don't know what I want to believe. You decide!
Publish date:
March 21, 2012
religion, sara benincasa, catholics, Jesus Christ, plastic jesus

I miss God.

I was a Catholic kid. I mean, I was a really Catholic kid, more Catholic than my parents (who were pro-birth control; I was anti) or even my grandparents (who were pro-women being ordained as priests; I thought that was a crazy idea, because woman was made to be man's helpmate, you guys.)

Over my protests, my parents wouldn't send me to Catholic school (I hadn't yet realized that it cost a ton of money), but they did send me to CCD, which is basically Sunday school for Papists. I learned that God is essentially loving, that Jesus loves the poor most of all, and that you should be nice to everybody because people are fundamentally good.

My CCD teacher was actually really awesome, and I loved the way she interpreted Christ's teachings and quizzed us on the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes and the Holy Sacraments and all that stuff.

Because our parish required that an outside speaker come in and explain to us why a sacred human person was created the very moment a man threw his load up inside a lady, I never associated that particular lesson with my kindly CCD teacher, but rather with a solemn-faced woman who showed us pictures of fetuses and told us that abortion is murder. I wonder if, given the choice, my sweet CCD teacher would have forced that particular lesson on us.

Of course, the Church isn't big on giving people choices and autonomy, especially not when it comes to dogma and propaganda.

The zygotes-and-embryos-and-fetuses-are-people lesson really hit home with me, and I became vocally and enthusiastically pro-life, what some reproductive rights activists call anti-choice. I was royally pissed when my mother wouldn't let me cut school to go to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. I asked in middle school and again when I was totally grown up (read: in high school) and she still wouldn't let me go.

"If you still want to, you can do that when you're in college," she said.

"Of course I'll still want to!" I groaned, frustrated with her obvious insensitivity to the battle for human life being fought each and every day by people brave enough to hoist photos of mutilated fetuses on placards and scream epithets at frightened young women outside clinics. I didn't understand why women who'd gotten pregnant (by their own choice or against their will) couldn't comprehend the fact that every baby was a gift. At 14, I had already grasped this simple truth.

I also didn't understand why gay people couldn't just keep it in their weird gay pants, which was the post-post Vatican II Catholic Lite remedy for homosexuality ("You're cool with us as long as you never ever have sex or fall in love!") Clearly, these homosexuals had been burdened by God with strange desires, just like God burdened Christ with the cross. It was a test of their love for God and their commitment to an eternal place in Heaven.

Sex was meant to be reproductive in nature only, which was one reason why the Church forbade the use of chemical birth control. Gay people shouldn't engage in sexual activity, and neither should married heterosexual couples who weren't trying to have a child, and neither should single people even if they wanted to have a baby, because babies were only supposed to come from marriage. Didn't everybody else get it?

Anyway, I doubt it'll come as a surprise to you that I later came to have rather different opinions than those I learned about in church and in "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma" (a rollicking read if ever there was one.) Real life intruded on my ideals, and through my own experiences and those of friends, I learned just how impractical the Church's teachings on human behavior were.

Eventually, I found their rules ridiculous and rage-provoking rather than comforting. I felt as if I'd been duped for many years. And, in a sense, I had, as a child marinating in powerful propaganda.

Like many ex-Catholics, I soon grew more comfortable with tarot cards and hippie incense (hi, Nag Champa) and Susan Miller's Astrology Zone. These things offered the spooky woo-woo accoutrements of my birth religion without forcing me to sip on all that damn haterade. But eventually, my fondness for even these fun, harmless forms of spiritual diversion waned.

I began to realize that all the smartest people I knew (except perhaps my childhood best friend, a very practical Christian) seemed to be atheists. Maybe I, too, was an atheist. I was smart, right? I was reasonably logical, right? I could get down with a worldview in which we as humans were all simply responsible for our own happiness and that of our brethren and sistren, right?

Not exactly.

I still yearn for something that goes far beyond political affiliation and propaganda and scandal and corruption and all the other funky gifts organized religion can give. I yearn for faith, for an experience that tells me the Divine is real and that we're not alone in this universe and that even when I'm convinced that I'm utterly solo, something other than Big Brother and my nosy neighbor is listening to my cries.

I want to feel that sparkly tingly feeling that people of faith get when they're really on fire for God (but I don't want to take mushrooms to feel it). And I want a community of people with whom to celebrate that sparkly tingly feeling, which some people call ruach and other people call ch'i and other people call Christ and other people call other things in other languages.

I feel lonely without it. And I use other things to fill that void. My friend Rebecca, who is a small business owner in Queens (an occupation that requires faith if ever there was one) once said to me, "Men should not be made to fill the holes that gods leave behind." But I've used guys for that purpose, the same way I've used food and shopping and sleep and other seemingly benevolent things that can turn into addictions.

So I think I need a religion, if only to meet other people who are on this same path and, you know, throw a God party. Plus, I need to make some friends who aren't necessarily my exact age or interested in exactly the same career goals as me. Diversify my friend portfolio, if you will.

And since you girls are smart and thoughtful and on the whole seemingly way more mature than my crazy ass, I figured I'd put it to you. I figure I can find pretty much any religion you suggest, since I'm in Queens, home to 138 languages, a zillion cultures and a kajillion permutations of religious practice. So hit me with your suggestions. I'm on a mission from God…or a mission to God…or some kind of mission. And I could really use your help.