For nearly 11 years of marriage, and sixteen years total of being together (dating/engaged/married), Andy and I have been in a mixed race, mixed faith marriage. He is a Roman Catholic, I’m an atheist. I was raised in an atheist family, and never saw the need for religious rituals and the like. Going into the relationship I had to accept Andy was going to remain Roman Catholic and that he was not going to change. For him accepting that I was going to remain an atheist was harder, but I think last year was when he realized the extent of the damage he was doing to our relationship by not accepting it. And the result of this was something I would never have anticipated.
Last year Andy stopped going to church. For as long as I have known Andy, he went to church weekly. When I knew him in college, his mother actually had friends who attended different mass times (there were 7 different times) to report back to her on whether or not they saw him at church so she could make sure he was attending. And to be honest, Andy never struck me as particularly devout. While I knew he was sincere in his belief, it always struck me as he was motivated by fear of crossing his mother and going to hell than that he liked Catholicism and enjoyed it. I can actually recall of lot of anecdotes that show how how didn’t like it or was forced into it, but I also knew he believed in a God and was terrified of going to hell, even having a panic attack over it at one time. Basically, there was never any joy in his belief system. It was fear based.
I was not the only one who noticed this about him. And people wondered if he would still go to church when we moved away from his mother.
This was put to the test over a decade ago when Andy got a job an hour away from where his mother live. She threw the biggest fit when that happened and did not want him moving away from her control. He did though. And he did continue going to church weekly. Looking back, I guess the fear of hell was still real, and I also think he was convinced she would somehow know if he skipped.
Whatever it was, he stopped about a year ago. He would stop going for about a month, go back for a week or two, and then stop again. I’ve never commented on it. At first he would make excuses but I would just shrug and say it’s no big deal either way, and now it often just goes unremarked.
To be honest, the way the local church treats their parishioners is horrible and I think is a large part of the reason he’s stopped. Andy would often come home with horror stories about being asked to leave a seat to make way for someone else, even though he would have two small kids with them and he is physically disabled and it is painful for him to stand for long periods of time (one of his legs is shorter than the other). The worse part? There was plenty of room on the pew for him and the person who wanted to sit there. Why they wanted him to leave was a mystery, but it’s happened multiple times.
They would also have people with small kids crammed into a poorly ventilated room (we’re in Texas, it gets hot, and the reason Andy’s legs are the way they are is because he suffered heat stroke as a child that caused a severe brain injury, and he is at risk of developing heat stroke again because of it) with the bathrooms with the diaper changing table on the far end of the church.
How uncomfortable it is to go there had been a feature complaint whenever he does go and he gets home, and I will admit, I do shake my head and flat out say, “I wouldn’t put up with that.”
And I think he’s learning that he doesn’t have to put up with that.
As an outsider from the Catholic church getting this intimate inside view, the church seems to take for granted that they can treat their members like crap and they will stay because they are afraid of being ostracized from their community and going to hell. But given how people move around so often, people often find their communities fracturing in other ways. Right now Andy doesn’t have any friends who are Catholic. His wife and his best friend (not me, a co-worker) are both atheists. And threats of hell start to diminish once you stop observing regularly and realize nothing bad happens to you. And then when you look around and see people of other faiths or no faith getting by just fine without Catholicism…
There is another Catholic church close by, but for whatever reason he won’t go there, even though I have asked why he doesn’t try it out if he dislikes the current one he goes to so much. And I’m not sure if he’s going through a loss of faith, or just becoming non-practicing, or just giving up on that church or something else entirely.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. And I’m not sure how to approach him in a conversation about it. The one other time I had a friend who was starting to pull away from faith and I asked her about it she got very defensive, so I figure that whatever is going on he will talk when he is ready.
Still, the evidence seems to pile up that something is changing. Today when we were driving we drove by the Catholic church, and he didn’t cross himself three times. When Catholics pass a Catholic church, they have to cross themselves three times. I didn’t know that when I first met him, and I’d wondered if I was scaring him with my driving before he explained it to me, and it’s been an inside joke ever since, so the change is startling. Shortly after we drove by the church, a car beside us clipped our lane and nearly ran into us. Andy used to cross himself whenever a near accident happened. He didn’t. We then got to the intersection and when the light turned green, a car in the left turn lane that was signalling to go left went straight instead, and I had to be careful to avoid hitting him. Once again, Andy did not cross himself.
He could go back to Catholicism and attending regularly, and this could be a hiccup. Still, a few weeks ago he asked our kids if they wanted to go to church, and they both said, “no!” This is a big thing, because I was always adamant that our children have a choice and he was adamant on shoving it down their throats like his mother did him. I did not witness the incident, but he told me about it with a smile and decided if they didn’t want to go he didn’t either, and seemed more worried that I would be upset at the loss of my hour of free time that I get on Sunday mornings when he leaves with the kids.
I told him it was no big deal, and relaxing together on a Sunday morning is one of the best things about not being religious. He didn’t disagree.