I’m slowly awakened by a persistent ringing just outside my room. My eyelids reluctantly break their embrace. I sluggishly turn my head towards the sound. It’s the phone. Who could be calling on a lazy Sunday afternoon? Where is everyone anyway? Should I just ignore it? I could feel the steady rise of annoyance forcing me awake. I stumble out of bed and out into the hall.
“Hello?” in the middle of a yawn.
The line on the other end crackles and pops softly. Then the unmistakable voice floods my ears.
“Andrew? Who is this? Is that you?” My grandmother was calling from thousands of miles away.
I felt a tug just under my ribs. “Hi grandma. How are you?” My head was beginning to clear.
“Where’s your mother? Is she home?” She asked breezily.
“No, grandma. She’s working this weekend. Can I tell her you called? She’ll be home tonight.”
“Okay. Are you eating okay? I heard you’ve been working hard. Don’t forget to eat. It’s important you eat the right food. And Andrew, did you go to church today? It’s Sunday there today. Did you go to mass today?”
“Ahh, no. I didn’t get to go, grandma.” I felt a familiar heat rise up my head. I tried to speak slowly. I learned that if you consciously and deliberately slow the pace of your speech, you will not sound defensive or angry, even if you are.
“Andrew, I have been telling you to go to mass every Sunday. Doesn’t your mother tell you to go to mass on Sundays? I will speak to her about this. Does she go to church too? You know it’s a sin not to attend church regularly. You know that. I don’t want you to go to hell for this, Andrew. You have to listen to me….”
I let her continue her tirade without interruption. I put the earpiece a few inches away from my ear. How can I tell her I’m an atheist? I’ve been an atheist for more than 10 years now. I used to argue with her but I know now that it’s futile and not worth the effort.
“….one day you’ll marry a good Catholic girl and you’ll have a family and you’ll see how important it is to raise them good Catholics….”
My mother and I have come to terms with all the requirements of these religious organizations. We have come to our own understanding of religiosity and traditional mores that older people seem to desperately cling to. I sighed, shook my head, pursed my lips.
“Uhhuh,” was all I could muster. I did not want to argue. I just her to say her piece, for the thousandth time. It shortens the ordeal.
I let the phone ring several times. Surely, someone must be home. After several tries, I hear a barely audible “hello.” It was Andrew. His mother was working, he said. He sounded tired. I wonder if he’s been working hard on his job. These kids in technology work such long hours. They sometimes forget to eat or even go home. I wonder if he goes to church on Sunday. Today is Sunday over there.
I knew it! They are not going to church. How do I tell them what dangers lie ahead of them if they don’t follow the church. I’m so afraid they will go to hell. They need to make sure their souls go to heaven. Every act of goodness and compliance with church rules is very important. The lord is merciful only to those who recognize their sins and repent. I only want what’s best for them. How can they not see this so clearly as I do?
We all have that well-meaning relative who is from a generation where strict, unquestioning, and unconditional adherence to what religious leaders have edified is expected, and any deviation is unheard of. When I was growing up, I had teachers who were nuns and priests. I must have been very lucky because the generation of religious folk I had for such education were mostly those who encouraged doubt. They believed that it is in questioning and therefore seeking answers that we truly understand. It may strengthen our beliefs. It may also open us to a new dimension of understanding. For some of us, the journey has led to leaving these institutions behind.
What would I say to Andrew if I had a chance to speak to him? I’d probably tell him that he’s doing a good job just letting his grandmother speak her piece. She needs to feel that she is doing her duty as a good Catholic. She needs to be at peace with what she has believed and lived for many years. No amount of reasoning on his part will change her way of understanding how this all works. And he should accept that.
Would I go so far as tell him to lie to her? Say that okay, he will go to church, maybe. Perhaps. Is it hypocritical? Maybe so. He is entitled to what he believes too.
Gone are those days where religious institutions are beyond reproach. We all know how deep the Catholic Church is in the slime of scandal after scandal. On top of that is its poor rating with issues of equality—women, nuns, marriage equality, contraception, many more. (Are they any different from the practices of extremist religions in the Middle East?) Then there are the bishops and cardinals who have taken such generous gifts as luxury cars and the like from wealthy patrons. The list goes on. Yes, they too have feet of clay.
We cannot force our children to connect with the religion of their birth by forcing it down their throats. That might have worked when they were in their primary years at school. But once they are adults, we should treat them as adults. We should give them the prerogative to choose. They get to choose to embrace a religion or a religious organization. Or no religion at all. For our part as parents, we just have to wait and see all the values and principles we have instilled in their psyches over their years growing up under our care, come into play. Whether they are religious or not, if we have raised them to be moral, ethical, compassionate, mindful, and kind, then we have done our job. We have equipped them with the tools to learn and make the decisions for themselves. We need to let go.
This post was inspired by Rara’s challenge at the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Leave Your Shoes At The Door.
P.S. I know I had posted this piece in response to Rara’s prompt but hey! It’s also relevant to January 30th’s prompt: Generation XYZ