My fascination with religion started at an early age. We never had religion in our family. The closest we would ever get to a discussion about religion would be one day in my teens when I asked my mother what we were. “Catholic, of course.” she answered, like she was confirming what day of the week it was. This was troubling to me, as my understanding of Catholicism was that at the bare minimum one needed to be baptized. None of us had been. We didn’t have a church. We never even said grace or prayed. “Look, Lauren, we’re Catholic, okay?”
By virtue of my friends I was able to shop around different religions. Episcopalians. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jewish. Catholic (real ones, not like us). Christians. Pagans. I always tagged along to different services, but nothing ever absorbed. I was always an outsider to it, observing. It was never coming from a place of skepticism… I just thought they were stories. Stories that helped people make sense of life.
This may stem from my earliest encounter with religion. This time of year always makes me think of it. I was in kindergarten and our teacher Mrs. Ritchey had asked us to bring in our favorite Halloween books to read for story time. I had one called The Three Little Witches.
The Three Little Witches was a simple story. The plot was the three witches wanted to make a stew. They flew around looking for ingredients, located them, and made the soup in a cauldron with a touch of magic (for flavor). Simple story. Not quite Halloween, but my teacher didn’t mind.
In the days leading up to Halloween she’d pick a book and read it to the class. I’d sit near my best friend at the time, tiny blond girl. I don’t remember tiny blond girl’s name, but we were good friends… until my book was read aloud.
You see, tiny blond girl’s mother decided to come to class that day. And tiny blond girl’s mother threw a fit when she heard the story of witches and their witchcraft. Shortly after it began, she shrieked about “this filth”. She grabbed the book and demanded to know who brought it. I raised my hand. Soon she was carting me off to the principal’s office with tiny blond girl and my book. I can’t recall where the teacher was, maybe behind us? But I was in tears. I could not understand what was wrong.
Tiny blond girl’s mother yelled at the principal. She talked about witchcraft and said I was a wicked child, bringing books about devil worship to school. I bawled. I can still remember her pointing her finger at me as I sat in my chair and felt small and confused. Tiny blond girl was crying too. She wouldn’t look at me. Her mother had hold of her hand and wouldn’t let her go. She shook the book with her free hand. I don’t remember a lot from being that young, but these images are still vivid in my mind.
The principal agreed with Mrs. Ritchey and really didn’t see the harm in the book. The mother hissed about how we were godless and how her daughter wouldn’t attend school to learn about devil worshiping and witches and magic.
My mother was called and I was picked up from school. I never got my book back. And I lost my friend, too. My mother explained that their family was very religious and I couldn’t talk to that girl anymore. I would remember seeing her for awhile after the incident, but we’d never really spoken again.
As I would reflect on the incident later, I can understand why she was angry. I understood that the book conflicted with her beliefs. But why yell at me? Why the ire directed at a child, innocent and uneducated like so many people in religious texts, who have so much to learn? It was fascinating to see someone so encapsulated by their faith that they bordered on fanaticism.
So I have taken the perspective to be an observer over these years, not falling into any particular category myself. Funny coincidence, for someone who took the last name of Church. I find myself not drawn into to any particular flavor of religion. I just don’t feel that strongly about it, and frankly, I can’t commit because I can’t say definitively that I know the truth to the mysteries of the universe. I might be wrong… and I’m 100% okay with that.