I’ve thought quite a bit over the past two years about the concept of shunning in religious families. It’s been in the back of my mind for a long time, a consequence that I knew I’d eventually have to face when my mother discovered the Clergy Project. I knew that the stakes would be high and that my mother’s religious beliefs would ultimately be an obstacle to our relationship.
On many occasions over the past decade, I have spoken briefly with her about my lack of faith. Though I never lied to her, I admit that I attempted to downplay my atheist activism. My efforts were to ensure transparency, but also to limit the details and frequency of these conversations so that we could carve out space where our relationship could thrive. It was, I had thought, a happy but uncomfortable truce.
Unfortunately, this strategy came crashing down a few short weeks ago, just before my birthday.
One thing you should know about my mother is that she is a deeply religious person — her adherence to Roman Catholic orthodoxy is consistent, her faith unshakeable, and her demand for capitulation absolute. Growing up in this Catholic home was an exercise in extreme limits. The scala naturae, or “great chain of being,” dictated that my parents — in particular, my mother — had absolute authority over their children. The only authority to which my mother submitted, was that of the Church, and therefore God.
As a child, I didn’t know that praying the rosary on my knees every night was an out-of-the-ordinary event, that saying novenas was not a spare-time activity, and that other children did not feel shame and guilt for the crucifixion and death of Jesus. In all aspects, I was an indoctrinated child.