September 10, 2004


My twin sister converted to Catholicism just after we turned 50. We were raised Unitarian, so her change of heart shocked me, even though some years ago I�d been baptized by total immersion in the Baptist church and a year later switched to the nearby Episcopal church, where I was confirmed. As someone once remarked, I was climbing the liturgical ladder with each change of affiliation.

But this was different. No way could I go Catholic, or as Carolyn puts it, �all the way,� not in a million years.

Those are the facts. What follows is partly fiction, lies if you will, like Reagan�s that Iran-Contra never happened or President Clinton swearing he didn�t have an affair with �that woman.� But like a novelist, that most able of prevaricators, I lie in order to tell another truth.

The first truth is that Catholics scare me. I don�t mean child molesting priests or those nuns who rule by ruler, but ordinary Catholic church-goers. Their rituals scare me, too, how they finger beads and genuflect, or that mysterious cross they sketch across their chests. Maybe I just want them to be like me, someone who harbors the secret urge to stand behind a congregation and yell, �Fuck God!�

I want to bring them to their senses, but maybe, as Lynnie says, I simply don�t understand.

When Lynnie converted, though, I thought she�d lost her mind. I hoped she was just trying it on, like a new pair of earrings or blond hair. But no, there she was, suddenly a stranger. I hated the crucifix she displayed around her neck, the way she spoke so casually of attending the 5:00 pm "mass" on Saturday night and most of all her talk of Christ, instead of plain old Jesus, the �good man� we were taught about in Sunday school.

So what did I do? I gave her a Bible. I thought if she read St. Paul it would change her mind. Bring her back to a way of thinking I could understand. Instead, she read it, and then read it some more.

I hated her, finally. I stopped speaking to her and refused to take her phone calls. I avoided visiting our parents when I knew she�d be there. Mocking her to my agnostic friends, I called her new faith a cult. There was nothing she could do to please me. The problem was, I wanted my sister back, sane and reasonable, and the Catholics had stolen her, just as Gypsies were supposed to do to little children, in the dead of night. At Easter time two years ago, she went all the way without warning me.

I still haven�t quite adjusted. Oh, I listen patiently, and she does a tremendous job of explaining Christian, or Catholic, doctrine in a way I can both understand and appreciate, though I don�t know how truly doctrinaire it is, how orthodox. But her take on Mary and on the celibacy of priests and even of the continuation of a male-only clergy, makes a certain sense, even if fundamentally all these things horrify me.

But it has seemed to make her a better person, more patient, less materialistic (not that she was into things, particularly, before this) and kinder than she was, though she was already kind and empathic to a fault. It has also made her more self-aware, more self-critical and less willing to accept her faults and failings as simply �part of me and I can�t change it.� Of course, as her twin sister, I failed to see any faults to begin with, but she claims they do exist, in abundance.

But she is in some ways indeed a stranger. I can�t appreciate fully her devotion to the Church or her avid attendance either at mass or at more �extracurricular� church activities. It�s not that I�ve ever thought church should be restricted to a service on Sunday morning and a minor donation during the offering. But like George W. Bush�s poorly concealed efforts to join church and state by funding �faith-based� initiatives, I find Church-oriented pursuits suspect.

Just calling oneself and one�s behavior Christian, automatically, to my mind, makes one a hypocrite. For example, most of the so-called born-again Christians following the injunctions of "What Would Jesus Do?" claim to live by the slogan, cheap and facile as it is, yet don�t do anything of the sort: they are hateful and exclusive, self-righteous and self-congratulatory, eager to cast everyone who doesn�t believe exactly as they do and mouth it in precisely the same words into the outer darkness: �You�re not saved but I am, nyah, nyah, nyah!�

I believe there are truly Christian Christians, those who behave in ways that would make Jesus proud, and Lynnie may be one of them. I don�t know. I certainly support her efforts in that direction. But still, it sticks in my craw to acknowledge the words, �I am Christian,� coming out of her mouth. I find myself wanting to rejoin with all the sarcasm I can muster, �Sure, and Pope John Paul�s a Presbyterian.�

But in fact I'm mostly afraid, afraid I could go all the way too, afraid I could become a Catholic myself if ever she got her hands on me, got me where it hurts and hurts.

Posted by pamwagg at September 10, 2004 12:32 PM | TrackBack


Dear Madam,

I was born among catholics and they do scare me too.As medical doctor more and more I think about all non-moderate religious attitudes being signs of emotional or deeper psychiatric problems.How many wars there were and are within spiritual contest. Keep your healthy attitude up. Peter

Posted by: Peter R Swiecki at April 2, 2006 07:16 AM


Your thoughts on Christianity, religion and faith make me think of all the discussions I�ve had on the subject. I like the clarity you bring to the subject of faith. If everyone were as honest as you are maybe there wouldn�t be so many problems with it. Thank you for giving me another look at it.


Posted by: Moeder at September 12, 2004 09:23 AM

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