A friend of mine took notice of the many good things happening in my life lately and told me that I should start giving thanks to someone for all my “blessings.” Maybe she thought that my hard work and track record had little to do with these “blessings” – I don’t really know, but I did know where the conversation was going, so I prepared to stand up and leave. Unfortunately, I didn’t leave fast enough because she still had to chance to say, “You should really go back to Church again.”
My tongue instinctively issued a reply that would not be fit for print here or any other publication that prides itself in being decent. It wasn’t a reply that was well—thought out, obviously, but nonetheless reflective of how I felt about the Sunday ritual.
I stopped going to Church many years ago. It was not borne out of a desire to sleep in on Sunday mornings after partying Saturday night, and it always surprises me when people think that I reached this decision just like that – as if religion were something you can turn simply off, like a light switch.
My religion – like many other Catholics – was so much a part of how I was raised. Belonging to a middle class Filipino family growing up in the West Coast of the US, my religion became part of my identity; I was a Catholic, others were Protestant.
I grew up in a very Catholic household and for many years would go to mass on both Saturday and Sunday. I think at the age of 7, I took on the vow of Lourdes, without even really understanding it and went to Church for months in the standard issue white dress with light blue belt similar to what the Virgin Mother wore when she appeared in Lourdes. I would diligently go to confession, really making mental note of my sins.
Once in high school, when our Religion teacher gave us a surprise quiz on the mysteries of the rosary, I was the only one in the class who got a perfect score. (Years later, I wasn’t even aware that another set of mysteries were introduced by the Church.)
In that context, deciding not to go to Church was a painful and quite difficult decision for me to reach.
And it was only after many years of conflicted emotion followed by attempts at making peace with the Church that I finally decided to leave it all together.
I think it started with castigation and admonishment that were becoming characteristic of the Sunday sermons. We were all sinners that’s why were pummeled by typhoons; all natural disasters were signs to repent or else. Following this logic, I often wondered if those living in gated communities were less sinners. Of course, typhoon Ondoy kind of leveled the playing field in that respect. But then, I thought about the other more developed nations like Europe where the churches are empty and only occasionally filled with either aging citizens or Filipino OFWs. I thought the Church was supposed to give me hope; was supposed to be something to believe in – something that would make me feel good rather than unworthy.
And then at some point, I simply felt betrayed.
My best friend is gay and when he told me, it didn’t make a difference to me. His sexual orientation did nothing to change the depth of our friendship.
But this whole institution where I first learned the values of compassion and understanding looked down on and could not accept homosexuality. It could not show the same values of forgiveness, acceptance and compassion that it taught me – sometimes even required me — to show other human beings.
It was so ironic and confusing.
Later on, there were other comments that I felt were an attack on me as a single parent like when the pope came out with a statement about how single mothers were the reason why the family as a basic social unit was losing its sanctity and meaning.
What would these robed men who have never been married (supposedly) know what’s it like to live day in and day out with someone? Actually, that’s how I see the Church now; pontificating about things they know nothing about, like being pregnant and giving birth or the economics of raising even just one child. It is easy to spew out teachings about things that they will never experience.
There are still many occasions when I find myself instinctively performing acts of supplication. I kneel and ask for deliverance, guidance and often, simply give thanks. I just don’t do it in Church anymore. I still have faith; I still believe in a higher being and the principle of doing good and being kind to those around us. But I no longer look to the robed men for enlightenment.
I know now that there is a difference between religion and faith.
And judging from the growing members of the “Excommunicate Me” Fanpage on Facebook, so do a lot other people.
Ana links being a sexual health advocate to her stint as a dating & relationship columnist for a men’s magazine for four years. During this time, she realized that there was a need for intelligent, culturally sensitive information about sexual and reproductive health. Her full-length features on HIV/AIDS awareness, safer sex, reproductive health and other women’s issues have been published in Marie Claire, Women’s Health Philippines, Playboy, Metro, among others. She also maintains a weekly column in The Manila Times called “The Single Files”.
As a correspondent for international media agencies, Ana also writes about armed conflict and internal violence in Mindanao.
Ana graduated with degree in Journalism from the University of the Philippines.