Their Bad Mother

Their Bad Mother


God And The Good Parent

posted by Catherine Connors

(I wrote this post three years ago. I’m reposting it here, with some minor amendments, in two parts, because I’m still grappling with these issues and am no closer to answers – indeed, I’d say that I am further from answers - than I was three years ago. Perhaps in revisiting the issue, I’ll find some much-needed clarity.)

A few years ago, a friend of mine wrote a powerful post about her struggle with issues concerning faith. Around the same time, another friend took on the same topic.
Both wrote from the perspective of lapsed believers, of women who had
grown up with faith but grown apart from faith. Both struggled, in
their posts, to make sense of their relationship to God and Church. For
the sake – for the possible sake – of their children.

Both
posts hit me in the gut. Hard. I’ve been wrestling with these issues since, well, forever. Since my own faith started taking sucker punches
from Real Life – divorce, death and other tragedies that make the voice
waver as it recites the 23rd Psalm. And since a young adulthood spent studying political philosophy, and
reflecting upon the political uses of religion, most of which reduce to
pacifying or mobilizing the masses. Hurt, and reason: both have a
sobering effect on blind faith.

I was once a passionate Catholic. As a teenager I thought seriously, if briefly, about becoming a nun. (This in my goth phase. Yes, I was a Catholic goth. I wore a rosary as an accessory to my uniform of black-on-black, but I took that rosary seriously, by God.) Not so much because I felt strongly about committing to my faith, but because it was fascinating and I wanted to make it my own: all
of the esotericism and the Latin and the mysteries and the feeling, at
once giddy and solemn, of tapping into some deep vein of meaning. I
would sit in the dark in my room during thunderstorms, looking out my
window and trying to wrap my head around the relationship between God
and Nature, trying to work out the theology of Milton and Blake and Big Blue Marble. I read the Bible for fun.

I
was into it. I loved it. It provided both security and stimulation,
soothing me to sleep and pricking me awake, for a very long time. But
then I grew up, and the stars threw down their spears.

I grew
up, and my family – that had long been so solid, so secure – hit
difficult times, and my parents split up, badly, and I left home and
made all the bad decisions and took all the dangerous steps that
disillusioned Catholic girls who leave home at 18 make. My mother
declared that God had abandoned her, and me, and us, and insisted that
she would herewith keep faith only with Mary and the saints and that I
should do the same. God was a mean old guy who provided no comfort
because He could not, my mother insisted, be trusted. He’d turn on you.
He’d turned on her, and on us, after we had prayed so hard for Him to
guide us and keep us.

I wasn’t sure that I agreed with my
mother, but with every bad thing that happened in my life and in the
lives of others, as the world came to seem uglier and uglier, my
commitment to the Church waned. My faith waned. And it took a direct
hit when, in my very late teens, after I had left my broken home to try
to find my own place in the world, I was informed by a well-meaning -
and very Catholic – boyfriend that I was going to hell. He had
discovered, by finding and reading my diary, that I was tainted by sin
(a long story, and a whole ‘nother post). And, after going to
confession to consult with a priest as to whether my sins
might taint him, he informed me that God had told him in the
confessional booth that he could no longer associate with me. I was
corrupt, I had committed a mortal sin, and I was going to hell.

God
told him to break up with me. And that was that. It was absurd,
unreasonable, and just enough to tip me over the edge that I was
already teetering upon. This was not my Church, not my God.

It was, in a twisted way, my Lisbon Earthquake. I thought: how could a just God, a reasonable
God, inspire such nonsense? And then I thought: what evidence have I
ever had that God was any of those things? A few moments of spiritual
epiphany while watching cute altar boys light candles and a succession
of thunderstorms didn’t weigh up very well against broken families and
death and starving children in Africa and messed-up twenty-year-old
boys spouting nonsense about God’s greater plan for their dating
futures. Clearly, God was, as my mother said, a dodgy piece of work.

I wanted nothing to do with it, with Him. That day was the last day that I ever went to confession.

And
then I went off to university and began studying philosophy and that
did nothing to restore my faith. I began studying the Bible as a book
and God as source material for art, literature and politics. I
presented papers on how modern philosophers used women as figurative
representatives of conventional Christian morality. I argued that some
philosophers suggested, quietly, that women could be understood as the
ultimate practitioners of moral deceit and use this deceit to their
greater strength and that this practice reflected the politics of the
Catholic Church and of Christianity generally and that this revealed
all variety of interesting things about morality and virtue and the
power of women.

I liked these arguments. A lot.

And I
liked that, on one or two occasions, during mid-summer lectures in
which I related these and similar arguments, a thunderstorm would roll
in and lightning would flash right after I said something about
Nietzsche or Machiavelli and godlessness.

It was an ambivalent
relationship. Philosophy was more interesting when it was
transgressive, and it only really felt transgressive when it confronted
and challenged my faith. So faith became a way of keeping things
exciting, of pricking myself awake when I became complacent about
Liberalism and Secularism and Rationalism blah blah blah. I became an
opportunistic believer, using God and belief in God as a tool to
advance my own learning.

Then the Husband and I decided to start
a family, and there were problems, there were complications, and for a while it
looked like we couldn’t have the family that we wanted. But then the path opened up and
I became pregnant, and thankful. I struck bargains with God. I swore up
and down that I would raise a believing child if He let this child come
into the world. And when more complications emerged I swore harder. I
went to sleep murmuring Pater Nosters and Ave Marias. I prayed.

And
I meant it. I prayed with full acknowledgment of my own confusion, my
own ambivalence. I couldn’t do otherwise; there was no comfort in
prayer unless it was confused prayer, if that makes sense. But my
promise to give my child the opportunity to experience faith was not
confused. I meant every word. I wanted – I want – my
children, to know God. As I did.

But I don’t know how to introduce them to God while remaining true to my confusion and ambivalence, which, however problematic, are sincere and deeply felt (perhaps now more deeply felt than ever). And I don’t know whether I need to overcome my confusion and ambivalence in order to introduce them to God and to faith. Must faith always be grounded in certainty? Is it possible to introduce children to faith when one’s own is emphatically not so grounded?

(Tomorrow: why I want this for my children, and why I am confounded in this desire.)


Amended from an original post published at Her Bad Mother, July 2006.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(11)
post a comment
Amy

posted September 29, 2009 at 4:12 pm


I don’t want to make a cliche comment about how I went through exactly what you went through blah blah blah. But much of this resonates with me…including the nun part! And in fact, I took it one step further, I joined a convent (Carmelite, long brown habit and all!) and stayed for 3 years, leaving just before I made vows.
And the circumstances around my leaving the convent were ugly and confusing. I felt betrayed by the Church. And thus the worm of doubt was introduced into my brain. Then I started college, and I studied philosophy. Etc.
I ended up in full-on agnosticism, which I was very happy with for a while. But eventually the not knowing, and the impossibility of ever knowing, what was real or true started to eat away at my mind and heart.
I won’t go too much further into my own tale (blog hijack!!), but I will just say that someone came into my life – someone who became my husband – and after lots of reading and talking and crying and screaming and praying and struggling, I returned to the Christian faith. And NOT the Catholic faith, for very intentional, theological reasons. But that was my journey.
I want to be very clear that I am not trying to witness to you via combox! But it is interesting to me how much you talk about God, the Church, Mary and the Saints – but you never once mentioned Jesus. Though I thought I knew who Jesus was from my upbringing in Catholicism, and 3 years in a Convent for Pete’s sake! But it wasn’t until after my years in the desert of agnosticism when I really came to terms with who Jesus is and why he matters, and that is what made all the difference for me. Do you have any thoughts on Jesus? Does anything from his story resonate with you?
Thanks for your beautiful honesty, Catherine, from a devoted reader. :)



report abuse
 

Amy

posted September 29, 2009 at 4:12 pm


I don’t want to make a cliche comment about how I went through exactly what you went through blah blah blah. But much of this resonates with me…including the nun part! And in fact, I took it one step further, I joined a convent (Carmelite, long brown habit and all!) and stayed for 3 years, leaving just before I made vows.
And the circumstances around my leaving the convent were ugly and confusing. I felt betrayed by the Church. And thus the worm of doubt was introduced into my brain. Then I started college, and I studied philosophy. Etc.
I ended up in full-on agnosticism, which I was very happy with for a while. But eventually the not knowing, and the impossibility of ever knowing, what was real or true started to eat away at my mind and heart.
I won’t go too much further into my own tale (blog hijack!!), but I will just say that someone came into my life – someone who became my husband – and after lots of reading and talking and crying and screaming and praying and struggling, I returned to the Christian faith. And NOT the Catholic faith, for very intentional, theological reasons. But that was my journey.
I want to be very clear that I am not trying to witness to you via combox! But it is interesting to me how much you talk about God, the Church, Mary and the Saints – but you never once mentioned Jesus. Though I thought I knew who Jesus was from my upbringing in Catholicism, and 3 years in a Convent for Pete’s sake! But it wasn’t until after my years in the desert of agnosticism when I really came to terms with who Jesus is and why he matters, and that is what made all the difference for me. Do you have any thoughts on Jesus? Does anything from his story resonate with you?
Thanks for your beautiful honesty, Catherine, from a devoted reader. :)



report abuse
 

Jo

posted September 29, 2009 at 4:34 pm


I loved this post. I really struggle with this now that I have a daughter. We talk about our faith (I was raised as a missionary kid around fundamentalist Christians…er… yeah), but haven’t come to any conclusions. We bring her to church and there are times I leave feeling renewed and peaceful, other times angry, or worse, indifferent. But I think your (and my) confusion and ambivalence are both wonderful things to show your (and my) children. They will learn that it’s okay to question and it’s okay not to always be sure. They will seek out answers for themselves (which honestly, they will most likely do anyway, no matter how you present your faith). It is definitely possible to introduce faith while still keeping your reservations. But also, how would you feel if your child decides to become a devout Mormon… or a devout atheist… or a devout anything really? I don’t want to be a wishy washy person who sort-of commits to a religion, but at the same time, complete certainty scares me. I sometimes feel like I have one foot in and one foot out of the pool, though I’ve never been one of those people who can just jump into their faith whole-heartedly. I took a philosophy class in college taught by the very Christian Dallas Willard, who is a lovely guy. I really enjoyed reading some of his books, it might help to read some things from the other side of the camp (though I’m sure you probably have)? C.S. Lewis and the like. Sorry if this is just random jumbled thoughts, but I felt moved to comment. Take care Catherine, I know I’m a random, but I hope you find some peace during this hard time.



report abuse
 

Peeved Michelle

posted September 29, 2009 at 4:38 pm


I don’t have the same struggle with faith that you do. I was raised Catholic and I am now an atheist. I do struggle with how I will teach my children about God and religion. I have a toddler and a baby right and I am not sure yet what we are going to do.



report abuse
 

Catherine

posted September 29, 2009 at 7:35 pm


Ah, Amy. JESUS. Where would I even start? Jesus is absolutely a confounding variable for me. That should be a whole other post, I think.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted September 29, 2009 at 9:59 pm


I, too, have grown away from the religion in which I was raised. After ~20 years away, I am finding myself drawn back. . a little.
My parents remain devout church-goers and wonder why two of their three are not. Our parents raised us to think for ourselves. We got a good religious grounding in church and Sunday School. We were also purposely exposed to other religions, as best as could happen in our town. I also studied Religion in college – at a church school with a seminary attached – and considered seminary. I never intended to wander away. Then I met a man and fell in love and he didn’t go to church and didn’t believe in God and he didn’t want me to go to church. I insisted and did for awhile, but then life got in the way and I couldn’t go anymore. The man left (good riddance) and when I tried to go back to church it just wasn’t the same. So I go on special occasions and find myself longing for the sense of community that a church brings with it.
I don’t know a whole lot about the Catholic faith so can’t speak to that facet of your dilemma. I did teach Sunday School for a year before I began the slow goodbye. I realized that I couldn’t teach certainties to the kids. And that’s what the young kids need in Sunday School. They need a solid grounding in the basics of their faith, whatever it may be. Once they have that, they can make up their own minds about what they want to believe. If I had children, I would definitely have gone back to church. I would want for them what I had growing up – a certain faith, unclouded by all of the gray areas and the church politics and the lay politics, etc. You can talk with them about the challenges you have faced in your faith. For me, one challenge would be that no one religion has the exclusive answer. I’m not going to hell because I’m not Catholic and you aren’t going to hell because you are. All religions bring a different dish to the table and together they make a wonderful meal.
Maybe by the time my niece and nephew are grown some of the Protestant religions will have come to their senses – I don’t know, but that’s part of the reason I don’t go back. Don’t know if I’ve helped any, but them’s my thoughts.



report abuse
 

LD

posted September 30, 2009 at 1:19 pm


I know where you’re coming from on this. I have a different story, but similar in that I was very devout (Baptist) had a major reason to leave church, and then had to revisit it all when I had kids.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted for my kids. When my now 5 year old was about 3 he asked to go to church. We went at Christmas. To a United Church (so very liberal, I think). After that one visit he was fascinated with Baby Jesus, and wanted to go back. So we did – slowly.
I always believed in God. But, church, and all the intricacies of faith not so much.
We don’t go every week. we don’t have matt in any programs there. But, he likes Sunday School and the people are very kind.
I observe his faith. I read the Shack (not my favourite book, btw) and the idea of God that the author tries to illustrate is similar to the way my son understands God. And I am fascinated how he can connect God to stuff. I often think if I had his faith I would be happy. He has a way of disconnecting God from the people, and of understanding faith in a simple way that I can’t start to explain. But I will say that I feel much closer to God and understand my faith better from watching my child.
That surprised me.



report abuse
 

Amy K

posted September 30, 2009 at 3:22 pm


I’m an agnostic, and I think organized religion is for the gullible. I certainly understand the lure of believing that everything, good and bad, has some sort of magical reason behind it, and that there’s a warm cozy afterlife where we all frolic on clouds with our loved ones if we were good and followed the made-up rules of religious texts and the church. Hey, there very well could be a higher power (or powers), and some sort of afterlife. No one knows. Not even the people who pretend to know. The idea of a higher power who sits in judgment all the time, worrying that you’ve taken his/her name in vain or that you’ve had sex with someone of the same gender or eaten some unclean delicious bacon is beyond goofy. I just figure that trying to be a nice person and doing what you think is right would be enough to satisfy any benevolent higher power. And that’s what I’ll tell my daughter, when she’s old enough to ask about religion – that no one has the answers, don’t believe the people who pretend to have the answers, and follow the Golden Rule.



report abuse
 

Saisquoi

posted October 1, 2009 at 8:51 am


I remind myself daily that the faith of a child and the faith of an adult are often two entirely different things. As I was reading this post, there were points where I thought, damn, you’ve lived my life.
I struggle with my faith every. Single. Day. Having a miscarriage on Palm Sunday after years of trying to conceive will do that to you. But to be honest, God and I were having some relationship issues before that. Anyway…
God and with Jesus were HUGE parts of my childhood and they inspired great hope and security and trust. I want this for my daughter. She doesn’t need the doubt and the bitterness that come later–I’m sure she’ll find it for herself. What I’ve started to do with her is tell her the stories. With the older kids I have in Sunday School, I don’t discuss what I think and what I feel. It’s not about me. It’s about them. And with my daughter, it’s still not about me. It’s about her. And her knowledge of God. I want her to find these answers for herself and not base her faith off of my experiences. I can give her the stories, and I can give her community, but her relationship with God has to be HERS. Not mine. When she’s big enough to doubt and ask the hard questions, we’ll revisit how much of my experience is relevant to hers. But right now she doesn’t need to know that God takes away babies just as He gives them. She needs the wonder and the mysticism of a God that created a world with sunshine and rain and ponies and pumpkins and all sorts of other great things. And that she shall have.



report abuse
 

Alicia @ bethsix

posted October 4, 2009 at 10:38 pm


I was raised liberal Presbyterian but started questioning in high school and was atheist by my senior year. When I married my husband, he was a sort of vague (but devout) Christian but had grown up with friends who were primarily atheist. He decided he was atheist about a year into our marriage. I guess it made it easier that we were on the same page when we started having children, but it definitely is a hard thing to introduce religion in a fair way when both parents are atheist. We now have four children: ages 8, 5, 2, and 4 months. We’ve tried to talk about religion and faith in a very delicate way. We don’t want to push our (lack of) belief down their throats just as we wouldn’t want to push our religiosity if we had it. We’ve never taken them to a church, but our oldest son attended a private school for PK-1 that was associated with a church where he attended chapel a few times a month. That was enough to make him Christian. He now scolds us for our beliefs. :) We try to talk about what different people believe whenever given the chance. I want to encourage them to think for themselves and really consider what rings true for them. They’re still too young to really do that, but we try to encourage them and talk honestly about our beliefs and other people’s beliefs whenever these issues come up authentically in conversation.



report abuse
 

Pingback: God And The Good Parent, Part II: If God Were Like Santa, This Would Be Easy - Their Bad Mother

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Their Bad Mother. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Inspiration Report Life As A Concious Mom Happy Reading!!!

posted 4:50:01pm Jul. 05, 2012 | read full post »

The Road To Heaven Is Paved With Maracas
Last weekend, I went to Mass for the first time in well over a decade. To say that it was a strange and disorienting experience would be to understate things dramatically. But it was also a deeply comforting and familiar experience. I know that that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but in my exp

posted 9:30:01am Mar. 09, 2011 | read full post »

Dear God (On The Catholic Church And Abuse And Evil And Crises Of Faith)
This weekend, I read an article in New York Times Magazine about the crisis surrounding the Catholic Church in Ireland as new, horrible, stories emerge about sexual abuse of children and efforts by the Church to cover up those stories. It was a teensy bit upsetting. So I started to write a post abou

posted 1:34:44pm Feb. 16, 2011 | read full post »

Buy Yourself Roses For Valentine's Day
You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection. -- Buddha

posted 9:07:07am Feb. 10, 2011 | read full post »

There But For A Rocking Chair: On Love and Fear and Keeping Our Children Safe
Before Emilia was born, I fussed endlessly about babyproofing. Never mind that it would be months before she would even enter the world, let alone move around it and find its electrical outlets: I was convinced that when it came to babies, there was no such thing as too many precautions taken too so

posted 6:46:18pm Dec. 16, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.