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Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism
#1
Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism
This is an extremely long story and applaud anyone who makes it all the way through. This is not a story about a journey to atheism for I am not an atheist, it is however a story about a journey out of the clutches of religious totalitarianism, something I never thought was possible to escape. I have to say that the current A&E series on those who left Scientology was a major influence on my increased comfort in opening up about this.


I was raised in a practicing Catholic family. My parents took me to mass every Sunday, saw to it that I was enrolled in CCD and eventually confirmed at the age of 13. My parents were by no means overly strict in my religious upbringing. My mother seemed to be something of a cultural Catholic, going to mass and believing mainly because it was what her mother did, and her mother before her. My father was more devout but not overbearing, he would lead us in prayer before dinner, encourage us to pray and be religious, but he was never a tyrant or coercive about it. He took a very hands off approach, and used example and suggestion to spread religiosity rather than brute force.


At 15 my life changed forever, and changed for the worse. As many teenagers do, I dealt with anxiety and depression at that age. I didn't know how to cope with those feelings and I wondered what I could do to make myself happy. I tried to pray but praying didn't seem to do all that much. Somehow, it got into my head, probably from the constant barrage of homilies I was subjected to in masses over the years that the key to happiness was to become a better Catholic, to become holier, to become closer to God in this manner, and that this would put my mind at peace and make me happy. So I tried to learn more and more about the religion, read the Bible, pray certain prayers. Eventually I started to realize there were things about the religion I never seemed to remember learning in CCD and things my father never taught me. One of those things was the Catholic belief in mortal sin, and it was discovering this teaching that ignited such terror in me that it gave the Church total control over my life for years. In Catholicism, sins are divided into mortal and venial. Venial sins are 'little' offenses against God, like not cleaning your room when your parents ask you to and they won't send you to hell on their own. Mortal sins on the other hand are considered 'great' offenses against God and committing even a single mortal sin on one single occasion comdemns you to hell for an eternity unless you repent, which basically means going to confession and telling the priest what you did.


You're probably thinking, "What's the big deal? Mortal sins are only stuff like murder, torture, and rape right?" Uh, hell no they're not only stuff like that.


Here are just some sins that are mortal in Catholic teaching:


- Eating meat on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday
- Missing mass one Sunday or holy day of obligation without a proper excuse
- Consenting to sexual thoughts
- Masturbation, looking at porn, sex outside of marriage.
- Using contraception to prevent pregnancy (so yeah, use a condom? the pill? going to Hell for that. Oh yeah, "pulling out" is a mortal sin too btw.)
- Consenting to heretical thoughts.
- Using God's name in vain as a curse.
- And of course, leaving the religion (not even publicly leaving, but even in your mind if you cease to believe, that in itself is a mortal sin and condemns you to Hell).


Rest assured there are others but I just picked a few examples to show you all how absurd and totalitarian these rules are. Imagine what this does to the psyche of a young person, of any person for that matter. The idea that merely consenting to and enjoying a sexual thought even for a moment will automatically send you to an eternity of suffering unless you repent/go to confession before dying. Imagine the kind of sexual repression and dysfunction and paranoia this imposes upon people, then expand that to other spheres of life. Even in the 'privacy' of your mind, if you say to yourself that you think a certain dogma of the Church is false nonsense, you go to Hell simply for consenting to that thought and agreeing with it. But we have to remember, God is merciful! As long as you go to confession with sorrow for your sins, the priest will absolve you and you won't be going to Hell anymore! Rinse and repeat. Under normal circumstances it's not enough to just say sorry to God on your own, you must go to confession and be absolved by a priest or God will not forgive you and you will go to Hell. In my case, being a teenager and having been into all sorts of sexual stuff and whatever else, I suddenly found out I was on my way to Hell!


You're probably thinking, "how could you possibly believe such rubbish?"


Well, I was an impressionable, naive, trusting, and emotionally vulnerable young teen who couldn't conceive of his parents or authority figures like priests lying or possibly being so incredibly wrong about something so central to life. Also, once the fear and terror grabs you, like a hook to a fish, it doesn't let go until you are firmly in its grasp, and then you belong to your captor. Fear dims the intellect and cripples rationality. Once that fear has you in its clutches, it takes something extraordinary to break it, especially if you are a person with anxiety issues to begin with like I was. Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of this story is that at the age of 15, I had been scared into believing I was worthy of more punishment than any villain of history received from their fellow man. War criminals were executed and that was that. For me however, death would only be the beginning as the suffering would continue indefinitely in the fires of Hell. Imagine the self-hatred such belief instills in a person, being taught that not only will this be your fate, but that you deserve it, and that you must consider it a just punishment.


And so from that point onward I became an extremely devout and zealous Catholic. I'd pray at least 90 minutes a day, praying two rosaries, two chaplets of divine mercy, and the chaplet of St. Michael every single day. How else was a teenager supposed to keep sexual temptation away and grow in holiness? Quickly, the fear and terror consumed me and this religion basically caused me to set up a subconscious police state in my mind where even thought crimes were to be stamped out immediately by entering into prayer or some other distraction as a reflex any time an unwanted or sinful thought encroached upon my mind.


I developed what is often called "scrupulosity" a kind of religious OCD where you are petrified of committing sin. But then again, how could you NOT be scrupulous when the penalty for seemingly common place acts is an eternity of suffering? Simply living life like an average person is like walking through a minefield every single day of your life.


Due to my zeal for the faith, I began to take pleasure in debating religion online, particularly with Protestants (the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics have not disappeared, believe me). I would read tons of Catholic literature, buy books on theology and apologetics, listen to radio shows, podcasts, etc. Ironically, it was this study and debating that led me to views and material that undermined my faith. I was exposed to things the Church had done or taught in the past and found myself in various mini crises of faith which caused me to flee to the refuge of prominent Catholic apologist after prominent Catholic apologist to find some plausible way to reinvigorate my trust in the Church, after all, the Church is always right. Even if the Church appears wrong or inconsistent, it is you who are wrong in your thinking or interpretation that causes you to see error or inconsistency where none exists; since as we already know, the Church is always right.


I would consistently put these doubts at bay by just assuming the answers of the apologists were legitimate (I can literally write an entire series of books on the various topics I'm thinking about in this instance) and then cast them out of my mind as best as I could.


By the time I was 19, this religious life had already decimated my social life and my life in other respects as well, and caused me more misery in those years than anything else in my life put together. Did this dissuade me from the faith? No, because this suffering meant I was on the right path...well, didn't it?  

When I was nearly 20 I began to have serious doubts, not just about doctrines and practices of the Church but about the grander philosophy of the Church and its depiction of God in general. The supposed justice of condemning anyone to Hell for an eternity greatly disturbed me. I couldn't understand how a good, loving, and merciful God could ever condemn anyone to an eternity of suffering. It felt cruel, incomprehensibly cruel. Apologists tried to tell me that God didn't condemn anyone to Hell, we condemn ourselves, one of the most pathetic cop outs I've ever heard. That's like a judge telling a convict that the executioner isn't beheading him, he's beheading himself.


Per usual, I eventually cast these doubts out of mind as well. Fear once again crushes reasonable dissent and rational thinking. The calculation in my mind was simple: "Well, even if none of this is true, the prospect of Hell is so terrible that it's not too bad to live a life like this to possibly avoid such a fate". I had a grander crisis of faith later on, and the age of 22 really became a turning point for me. At that time I learned that the Church actually imposes the penalty of automatic excommunication on any member over the age of 18 (provided certain easy conditions are met, such as knowing about the penalty) who commits certain sins including, apostasy (abandoning Christianity all together), heresy (doubting or denying a divinely revealed truth of the faith), and schism (keeping the faith but breaking communion with the Pope). Now, I got extremely paranoid that I had been excommunicated and desperately tried to get answers from priests about how to interpret this prescription of canon law to see if I had been excommunicated. The priests weren't of much help, one seemed clueless about the very concept, and I felt another was dismissive of my concerns. Latae Sententiae excommunication, or automatic excommunication is not the traditional kind most people think of, where there is some kind of trial or investigation and then a sentence is delivered. Latae sententiae excommunication means you are automatically excommunicated by the very commission of the act itself in the external forum. So, it puts the onus on YOU to get the penalty lifted by telling on yourself to Church authorities. Most Catholics, even practicing Catholics don't know about this at all, but it's in the current code of canon law , which almost no Catholic reads.


Why is this such a big deal? Well, if you are excommunicated it basically means you committed a mortal sin so you are on your way to Hell to begin with, but in addition to this you are not even allowed to receive the sacraments, you're not allowed to go to confession and be forgiven until you get the excommunication lifted. How do you get the excommunication lifted? Well it all depends on the rules of particular Bishops. Sometimes a bishop allows any priest to lift the excommunication; normally, it is under the Bishop's authority. That means you have to essentially "turn yourself in" to the Bishop (either personally contacting his office or using a priest as an intermediary), admitting you committed an offense that warranted automatic excommunication, then the Bishop will allow a priest to lift the penalty (or do it himself) if one exists and then you can finally be permitted to confess your sins and be absolved of them in confession (the whole process could take days, weeks, or possibly longer depending on how accessible or inaccessible your local Bishop is). Some offenses are considered so great the only the Pope himself can lift the automatic excommunication, one such sin is desecrating the holy eucharist. The doubt and pain this experience caused me, fearing that previous confessions had been "invalid" (and thus I had not been forgiven) and was on my way to Hell caused me emotional distress so great I would not wish it on my worst enemy. There are no words in the English language or any language that can truly capture the level of fear and pain that comes with the belief that you might very well spend eternity suffering in the Catholic conception of Hell. It was finding out about this bureaucratic handling of God's forgiveness that filled me with a venom and bitterness I had hitherto not felt towards the Church. This experience caused me to go into therapy briefly, and I seriously believe it resulted in a kind of post traumatic stress because I was debilitated emotionally and psychologically for months afterwards.  

From that point on, my religiosity was on a shallow decline even though I continued practicing. That period in my life was almost like a microcosm of the religious wars Europe went through in the 16th and 17th centuries. Europe's religiosity began a serious decline when the turmoil over religion led to incomprehensible amounts of suffering in tragedies like The Thirty Years war where Catholics and Protestants slaughtered each other in horrific fashion over religious beliefs. This suffering basically led people to want to find another way to live outside the religious dogmatism that caused such mayhem. This, along with the Renaissance led directly to the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. So to in my life, my own religious turmoil began to push me out of religion and in search of alternative ways to live.


By the age of 23-24 it began to dawn upon me that I simply couldn't think of any good reasons why anyone would want to convert to Catholicism. I increasingly found the arguments used to support the faith weak and easily dismissed from the perspective of someone who didn't take the truth of the Church for granted to begin with. Apologists' explanations always sound amazing and wise when you already assume the truth of the conclusion. I was actually very adept at being able to defend the faith, but in the course of my thorough study of Church history and theology, I finally came to an eye-opening conclusion: the defense the faith is untenable if one is trying to be objective and not assume the truth of the faith from the start. If I couldn't even intellectually honestly defend the legitimacy of the religion at this point, why in the world am I still identifying as Catholic?


This question caused me to go into even deeper study, but for the first time in my life it was a FREE study also. I wasn't just going to look up the answers of Catholic apologists, I was going to actually listen to opposing views with an open, rather than a closed, mind. Prior to this, when I researched opposing views, I had approached the issue with the conclusion already determined regardless of what opposing views I encountered. This is obviously quite common among religions as you all probably know.


Certain issues in particular caused me to see massive holes in the Church's claims and they are what principally caused me to abandon the religion altogether. Some of these issues are as follows:


-The legalism in the Church (For example, the priest has to use very specific words in confession or he hasn't successfully absolved you of your sins. The priest must at the very minimum say "I absolve you" (some disagree and say a few more words are the minimum: "I absolve you from your sins"). If the priest says something like "You are forgiven" or "God has released you from your sins" that doesn't count, it sounds like it has the same intent but according to the teaching of the Church this is not a valid absolution and so the person still has the sins on their soul. It's this kind of legalism that exposes the 'magical' side of Catholicism where certain effects are produced by saying certain words, as if they were casting a spell like in Harry Potter or something.)
-Papal Supremacy and Papal Infallibility.
-Purgatory, Indulgences, and Temporal Punishment due for sin.
-Intercession of the Saints.
-Inerrancy and Inspiration of Scripture.
-Original Sin (its injustice and incompatibility with evolutionary history).
-The Church's history on slavery (accepting it as perfectly normal and just for most of its history, even having prescriptions for just forms of slavery in canon law while John Paul II suddenly labeled it an intrinsic evil in Veritatis Splendor).
- The Church's history on religious liberty (an ecumenical council of the Church once threatened secular rulers with excommunication and the forfeiture of their kingdoms for failing to rid their lands of heretics, the Church supported the execution of heretics also and historically tried to stamp out religious dissent wherever it could. Then all of the sudden in Dignitatis Humanae of Vatican II, the Church suddenly accepted a modern liberal view on religious freedom. Catholic apologists perform the most impressive feats of linguistic acrobatics to try and show consistency on this issue. Some Catholics see the blatant contradiction and they have resorted to calling Vatican II a council that is not binding in doctrine, that's their way of coping with the change).
-The Church's teaching on its own ecclesiology (in other words, it's own understanding of itself as a Church which I believe has been contradicted despite claims to the contrary).


There are other issues as well, but these are some of the major ones and as I said before I have enough material on these issues and others to write an entire series of anti-apologetic books on the topics, there is truly that much to be said about them. One of the things that really has disturbed me and upset me with the Church and Catholic apologists in particular is the historical negationism on a level of the government of Oceania from George Orwell's 1984. They will rewrite history to demonstrate consistency where none exists, use half-truths to improve your perception of the Church, and whitewash events of the past to protect the image of the Church. As an example, one of the common cannards you will hear from apologists is that: "The church never executed or banished anyone for heresy! It was the secular rulers who did that!" First of all, on its face that is false, heretics were executed in the Papal States, this is a historical fact (some apologists will double down and even here claim that it wasn't the church that did this, but members within the church who used their secular rather than religious influence to commit such acts), and even if we discount the Papal States, the Church coerced secular rulers under the threat of excommunication to eliminate heretics from their lands and church clerics presided over trials of heretics. All in all this is my final assessment of Catholicism: it is a totalitarian religion and we should give thanks every day that we live in an age when its political power has been decimated, it is the most sophisticated system of psychological manipulation ever devised (I can go on about this specifically for days), it is one of the only religions I know of that doesn't need violence or social pressure to get its believers to conform, the design of the dogmas as well as the structure and practices of the church emotionally and intellectually ensnare anyone but those firmly resolved to leave it from abandoning it. 

Considering I've written too much already for one thread, I think I want to conclude with the following final words:


Life is uncertain, and this is something we shouldn't be afraid of. On the contrary, it should excite us. I will never be inclined to treat with suspicion someone who admits they don't know the answer to a question or all of life's questions. I will however treat with suspicion those who claim to have all of the answers, and this is what religions have a monopoly in. They claim to have all of the answers, they claim you need them to be saved, that you need them to be happy, that you need them to be free. In reality it's the opposite; they need you. Religions need you to validate them, to keep them in existence, and to spread their control over every corner of humanity. My journey through Catholicism has been a long and tough road, it has caused me more suffering than I can ever express, but in the end, I leave it without a bitter heart. The temptation to be hateful and be venomous over past suffering is so strong, and I really do understand it; but in my heart I want to move on without continuing to make myself a prisoner again, first a prisoner of Catholicism and then a prisoner of the past. When you have been through what I've been through, freedom is a reward so magnificent in itself that I feel, dare I say it, born again.
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Messages In This Thread
Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Redoubtable - January 1, 2017 at 3:33 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by vorlon13 - January 1, 2017 at 3:54 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Catholic_Lady - January 1, 2017 at 5:24 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Redoubtable - January 1, 2017 at 5:36 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Jehanne - January 1, 2017 at 7:05 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Minimalist - January 1, 2017 at 5:25 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Catholic_Lady - January 1, 2017 at 5:57 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Redoubtable - January 1, 2017 at 6:11 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Catholic_Lady - January 1, 2017 at 6:22 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Redoubtable - January 1, 2017 at 6:57 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Catholic_Lady - January 1, 2017 at 7:14 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by chimp3 - January 1, 2017 at 8:02 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Catholic_Lady - January 1, 2017 at 8:19 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by chimp3 - January 1, 2017 at 8:21 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Astonished - January 1, 2017 at 8:23 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Jehanne - January 1, 2017 at 8:12 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Catholic_Lady - January 1, 2017 at 8:24 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by chimp3 - January 1, 2017 at 8:30 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Catholic_Lady - January 1, 2017 at 8:39 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by chimp3 - January 1, 2017 at 8:41 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Catholic_Lady - January 1, 2017 at 8:51 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by chimp3 - January 1, 2017 at 8:52 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Catholic_Lady - January 1, 2017 at 9:20 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Jehanne - January 1, 2017 at 9:56 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Redoubtable - January 1, 2017 at 9:34 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Jehanne - January 1, 2017 at 10:12 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Seraphina - January 1, 2017 at 6:54 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Redoubtable - January 1, 2017 at 7:05 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Jehanne - January 1, 2017 at 7:00 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Whateverist - January 1, 2017 at 7:00 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Astonished - January 1, 2017 at 9:57 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Astonished - January 1, 2017 at 10:18 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Jehanne - January 1, 2017 at 10:25 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Astonished - January 1, 2017 at 10:29 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Aoi Magi - January 1, 2017 at 11:32 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Astonished - January 1, 2017 at 11:38 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Redoubtable - January 1, 2017 at 11:52 pm
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Astonished - January 2, 2017 at 12:39 am
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Jehanne - January 2, 2017 at 10:24 am
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Redoubtable - January 2, 2017 at 10:31 am
RE: Escaping Catholic Totalitarianism - by Jehanne - January 2, 2017 at 11:02 am

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