Losing my religion

Time for That Post, I guess.

Yes, That One.

As you may or may not know, I’m a member of the Lay branch of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). I made my Final Promises (“for all my life”) on April 11 2010.

About that “for all my life” bit…

It turns out that nothing in this life is certain, even promises made before God, the Master of the Order (represented by the Friar Promoter for the Lay Dominicans), and your mum.

As part of “being a Dominican” I would go to Spurgeon College every two years and give a talk to the trainee Baptist and Pentecostal ministers about being Catholic, and praying for the dead, and Mary’s maternal care over the Order, and nuns, the intercession of the Saints, and all those other bits of Catholic doctrine that Baptists tend to find a bit tricky. I was re-writing my talk one day last year and it suddenly struck me that I wasn’t sure that I believed what I was talking about, which is somewhat problematic, really. You can’t belong to an Order whose motto is “Veritas” (truth) if you’re not sure you believe what you’re about to preach.

So, where am I now?

Do I still believe in what St Thomas Aquinas refers to as The Prime Mover? Yes, probably. Most of the time. I think. Maybe.

From there, can I make the intellectual leap to believing and professing all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God? No.

Would the easy way out have been to carry on as if I believed, wearing my profession cross and going to meetings and saying All The Right Words and so on? Yes, probably. It would have saved some awkward questions and a lot of grief and heartache, for a while anyway, but I am sure there would have come a point, sooner rather than later, where the mental gymnastics involved would have made me explode.

Ten years of praying the Divine Office every day, and attending Daily Mass has left the rhythm of the church’s year ingrained in my bones, I think, so I still find myself tripping over ingrained habits. Christmas as a purely secular time was a little disconcerting. Going on holiday and not figuring out where the nearest Catholic church was and what time Mass was.

So, there we are. For tedious, admin-related reasons, I’m formally still a member of the order until the dispensation process is finished, but to all intents and purposes, I no longer regard myself as such.

[Edited to clarify something]

I absolutely do not regret my time in the Order. It was the right thing to do at the time, but staying would have been an act of profound intellectual and spiritual dishonesty and a grave disservice to everyone involved – to me, to the Community, and to the wider Order.

12 Comments

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12 Responses to Losing my religion

  1. I’m impressed by your honest and difficult decisions, when it would have been easier just to go along with things. I’m proud to call you friend.

  2. richardhlyle

    That little wedge of disbelieve crept into my life during my final year at university. I tried to maintain the belief outside the magesterium of Holy Mother Church but found only bleak comfort of the Word among Presbyterians and quite a lot of dressing up among Anglicans. There is still an analogue to spiritual fulfillment possible in a godless world. It’s different in kind but not in degree.

  3. As someone who left an (Anglican) Religious Community after twenty years, thirteen of those in Life Vows, I can only say it would have been totally wrong for both me and the community for me to stay. I tried the easy way of trying to stay… hoping I’d ride it out. After seven years of that, I had to go down the hard road of leaving.

    It’s taken a long time to feel less disconcerted all the time, and these days it’s just the oddest things which can still trip me up, but I still reckon it was right for me to join the community and right to leave.

  4. When you first posted about this, my first concern was how you were feeling. As you know, I don’t go in for that god stuff, but I respect everyone’s right to follow their beliefs and this has been a profound part of your life for a very long time. I hope therefore that this hasn’t been too distressing for you so far – it seems like it would be, and I’m sorry for that.

    To quote from the Methodists via H Rodham Clinton, I think a fine motto is to “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”. Hopefully in that way your life is not too altered in the fundamentals.

    • rosamundi

      It has been, at times, distressing. But that was not unexpected, and the relief of having made the decision (which, looking back, I think I had been struggling with for a while), outweighs the distress the decision caused.

  5. Roderick McLeod

    Faith, seems to be tidal sometimes. As an intelligent being (most would disagree) I could not align with the views of the Catholic faith at all. Now as i approach 60 @pontifex has given priests the power to forgive abortions and has stated science and religion are not mutually exclusive but supportive. I have always believed science would ultimately direct us to a knowledge of the supreme being.

    So as one faith wanes, another waxes.

    This is how life, the rhythm of nature (his work) function. It is not a test, it is a journey of exploration that God has laid out for us.

    be strong in yourself, your decision was exactly right. Wear good waterproofs!

  6. A very moving and thought provoking post. I only know you from Twitter, and previously Ship of Fools, but have often wondered how and why things changed for you. Like you, I’m unable to fully ‘sign up’ to the whole thing – although as an Anglican that isn’t quite as problematic in some ways (although from an integrity pov it is).

    I enjoy reading Christian philosophers like Edward Feser and David Bentley Hart but find their apparent certainty worrying and off-putting. Things don’t join up nearly as readily for me as for them. I also have gay friends who I love dearly and can’t in all good conscience see their love and marriages as anything other than a source of joy and blessing.

    I wish you well in your journey.

    “In vino veritas”
    “The truth is cruel, but it can be loved, and it makes free those who have loved it.”
    George Santayana

  7. I stumbled across your twitter feed a while ago, and found myself fascinated by what a Lay Dominican might be, and might believe in. I like trying to understand faiths other than my own, or rather, other than the one I was born into, as from a religious perspective, I would happily describe myself as an atheist. But even if I have lost my religion, I am still, by birth, by affiliation, and by the identity thrust upon me by society, Jewish.
    Jewish tradition encompasses much more than a set of beliefs, so being a Jewish atheist is not as big a contradiction as it might appear at first sight.
    I can certainly understand how the rhythms of the Catholic calendar will continue to permeate your life, just as the rhythms of Jewish year permeate my own. There are many treasures for me in Jewish teaching, and the one about “loving mercy, acting justly, and walking humbly” (with or without God) could be followed by everyone whatever their religious or non-religious background.

  8. As a fellow lay Dominican and, well, just as myself, I have wonderments.
    To lose one’s religion means … what?

    Does it mean to believe something else instead? I can see a lot in some strands of Buddhism which might draw consent. In such a case, clearly it would follow that one would end one’s previous commitments.

    But in other possible cases, I’m not so sure. How would you distinguish between losing your religion and going through a period of uncertainty? If one’s fervor, enthusiasm, or joy in believing were flagging would that mean a “loss?”

    I suppose the word “aridity” is thrown around with abandon, but I suspect most relationships have periods where the whole thing seems as if it were on automatic, not so much laborious as scarcely there at all. One comes home, sees the significanct other, and says, “Oh, I see you’re still here,” gets a coffee, and reads the papers, and, later, wonders blandly for a moment at the large lump on the other side of the bed. Next morning it’s, “Ah. Still there.”

    Sometimes such spells last for a long time. And there are things one can do — a weekend drive or dinner at a new place — which may or may not prompt some new interest or feeling. Sometimes one hangs on, possibly for years. But a hibernating or quiescent relationship is not necessarily a lost relationship, though the lack of pizzazz may indicate a need to do something different.

    I’m not sure of why I’m saying this, but it seems related. I read your post a short time after I woke from a vivid dream which I will inflict on, ah, summarize for you:

    I was vested in rich ecclesiastical vestments and part of a very elaborate liturgy in a large church with very many people. With others I was near the main door waiting for Jesus to arrive and enter. And he did, shining and splendidly arrayed. With the other servers, I genuflected ceremoniously, and then bustled off to where I was supposed to be next.

    It wasn’t until I awoke that I thought that in the presence of Jesus, I had virtually ignored him, intead tending officiously and a bit self-importantly to my duties — when a SANE response would have been to drop everything and cling to him. I wasn’t going to let the presence of God interfere with my worries about doing my little liturgical job. When the one signified appeared, I had turned from him to attend to the mere signs of his presence!

    So, maybe we are, or I am, “busy with much serving.” Maybe I sometimes lose my religion, or mislaid its Lord. Maybe even … he is hiding himself. But I suppose the main thing is that he has not mislaid me or, as I still think, you.

  9. David Hocken

    Powerful profession; and you are surely absolutely right to question the aspects of your faith that you found difficult.

    I suspect that doubt is very often a sign of faith and that indifference is a far more dangerous state of mind. I hope and pray that in time you find your spiritual “home” and like minded people. I too struggle with the observation of the rituals of “belonging” both in my secular life (can’t feel comfortable in golf clubs or surgical societies) and in my Christian life.

    Take care and best wishes (((Rosamundi)))

  10. Farli from the wibsite

    Just wanted to say how much I admire your integrity in all this. It must have been a tricky post to write and even harder to live through the discernment process.

  11. I have never had any deeply rooted religious beliefs, and so my journey has been easier and shorter, but for what it is worth, acceptance of there being no God can actually help to make sense of the world.

    The beauty and the agony co-exist side by side because it seems they have to. Countless billions of sentient beings eke out the best life they can, before. Succumbing to disease, starvation or being killed by another sentient being. How liberating it is to feel that at least no-one is responsible for this – it is just life being played out.

    Any purpose in life comes from two sources
    (a) creating a level of security and comfort for yourself and those you love
    (B) extending his security and comfort as best you can – either solo or working with others – wider and wider, hoping on day to embrace all humans and even all sentiments, as far as the contradictions of life will allow.

    Probably Ecclesiastes describes this process better than me!

    Every best wish

    Chris W Drew

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