Sometimes when I tell people I grew up Catholic, I can see that they’ll probably never want to speak to me again. Which, I suppose, is understandable.
The thing is, of course, I didn’t choose to be Catholic, just like I didn’t choose to have blue eyes or have an entire family of Cleveland Indians fans. That’s just the way it is.
More often than not now, I think of myself as Catholic in the same way that I think of myself as an American. Do I agree with most of the core tenets of the organization? Nah. Do I think most of the people in power are decent people? Not really. But I guess I’m stuck on the boat.
That’s an oversimplification, of course. I grew up in a house with a father who has a doctorate in theology and used to be a professor. I went on to major in theology and philosophy. Why? Mostly because I liked thinking and writing about the Big Ideas—and I thought it brought out the best in me and my pursuit of a true education.
It also meant that I realized a lot of what I’d been taught as a youth in Catholic school was bullshit and that there were lots of other options on the table: organized religions or not. (I got pretty into Tibetan Buddhism at one point and, no, I wasn’t even high—most of the time.)
I recently went on my honeymoon, and we were in Rome for just one day. I knew right away that I wanted to do what I had done the first time I was there: go to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. (And then go eat pizza and pasta, obviously.) I don’t know why. Maybe it was because they’re big and beautiful. Or maybe it was out of a sense of reverence. Or nostalgia for childhood. But it was probably a bit of all of that.
If you haven’t given up on me since I wrote the word “Catholic,” I’ll end with an oversimplification: Religion is complicated. None of ‘em are perfect. Most have major flaws that are a result of the people in charge, the inanity of their beliefs or a complete mess of the two.
But religion binds. It can do good. And Christmas rules. In my opinion.