Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The religion problem

My parents -- my mom especially -- are fairly religious. They were both raised Catholic; she Irish, he Italian. But they were both hippies as late teens and early 20-somethings, which I think is what led my mom to some of the newer Christia n churches, with rock bands, speaking in tongues and laying on of hands, when I was a kid. Since then, she's retreated to pretty hard-core Catholicism. While my dad doesn't talk about it much -- and he's much more politically liberal than she is -- he's right there with her on most things related to religion.

Darren and I met while working at a Catholic boarding school for Native American and Hispanic kids in New Mexico. He'd gone to Notre Dame and was at that point somewhat into liberal Catholicism. I wasn't, but I was enough of a Catholic to take that job the first year out of college, and to really enjoy immersing myself in the culture, as opposed to the dogma, of Catholicism. He and I took a group of five Navajo freshmen to Notre Dame on spring break that year and stayed with Darren's friends at Holy Cross seminary, where I was amazed to meet young, smart, fun guys who were planning to be priests. And a few years ago, we went back for the ordination of one of Darren's college roommates. It was an amazing and moving experience.

Still, we stopped practicing years ago. There were a variety of reasons, most of them the issues your average liberal has with the Church -- its policies on gay marriage (and this was before the draconion rules on gay men in seminaries that were recently reinforced), the lack of room for women, the problem of its policies on contraception, especially in the third world, its essential inability to deal with modernity. Practically as soon as I moved to Maine from Boston, where we'd occasionally gone to church at Boston College, a bastion of liberal theology that the Vatican occasionally gets worked up about, we stopped going to church.

My parents know this. We don't go to church with them when we stay at their house... except on Christmas, which we've spent with them every other year since we got married. (We did have a Catholic wedding, but if we'd gotten married even six months later, our doubts would have overwhelmed our desire to connect with that ritual, that tradition.) Two years ago, we realized on Dec. 24 that we were essentially trapped into going to church the following morning; we hadn't raised the issue with my parents ahead of time, and it didn't seem fair to spring it on my mom on Christmas morning. So we went. We didn't take communion, but we went.

We're spending Christmas with my folks again this year, and we've already decided that we need to have the conversation ahead of time. In fact, Darren wants to have a larger conversation with them about where we -- and he in particular -- stand on issues related to Catholicism; I'm of the opinion that we ought to just talk about Christmas for now and have the bigger talk later.

Because the bigger talk opens a can of worms that I'm not ready to deal with. I know that my mother -- and my father and my grandfather -- assumes that our child will be baptized in the church. My mom mentioned the other night that the only baby clothing of mine she'd kept was the dress I was baptized in. She found it recently and washed it, obviously hoping we'd have a baby girl who will wear it. The conversation was oblique; she didn't mention anything specific and neither did I. But soon I am going to have to tell her that this child is not going to be baptized Catholic. And since we're currently not attending -- or even looking for -- another denomination at the moment, this child is not going to be baptized at all for the time being.

This is a conversation I really do not want to have with my mother. In part because I will feel the need to be absolute about our decision, and yet there is a part of me that loves the ritual of baptism, of welcoming a child into a community of faith and love. But that love of ritual does not outweigh my serious philosophical differences with the Church.

Updated to add: I just told my parents about not attending church on Christmas, and they were fine with it. End of conversation.