Where Logic Meets Love

What Life of Pi Says about Gay Marriage (or Why I'm Still Catholic)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

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What Life of Pi Says about Gay Marriage (or Why I'm Still Catholic) | Faith Permeating Life
I had a conversation with a friend the other night about the book Life of Pi. He complained about the first part of the book being too religion-focused, which made it difficult for him to get through it to the "adventure" part of the book. I said what I liked about it was how it created this challenge with the idea that a person could consider themselves part of three different religions. His response was that he already assumed that (that you could practice three religions), so he didn't gain anything from it.

This made me think about why what Pi does -- practice three religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) -- is seen as so outrageous and clashes so strongly with our traditional conceptions of religion.

What I think is so beautiful about this book and this character is that it forces the reader to draw a distinction between two very different aspects of religion: belief and worship. When looking at religion as a belief system, it becomes impossible to adhere strongly to these three religions. You cannot simultaneously believe that Jesus was and was not the Messiah. You'd have to pick and choose what you believe from each religion.

If, however, you view religion as a mode of worship, then the contradiction vanishes. You can, as Pi does, worship one God in multiple ways. You can find Him in the temple, the church, and the mosque. And in this way, you are provided with an expanded ability to worship and to experience God. You can listen to the words of not only Jesus but Moses, Muhammad, and others, to learn more about God and find more connection to Him. You can be taught more ways to pray, both with others and by yourself.

I explain this difference -- between belief and worship as offerings of organized religion -- to explain why I am choosing to remain Catholic despite extreme anger and embarrassment at certain Catholic authorities' words and actions. I have, in my Google Reader, a feed of every news article that comes through Google News about gay marriage. It saddens and angers me every time I read about a Catholic diocese contributing money to "fight" gay marriage, particularly those churches who passed around signature sheets and collection plates during Mass to aid in this fight. I was appalled to read about the archdiocese of DC threatening to stop social services if gay marriage passed, out of "fear" that they might have to provide benefits to same-sex partners.

Yesterday a statement from the U.S. bishops came out condemning gay marriage and issuing the vague and oft-repeated claim that it was destructive to "traditional marriage." I had been subscribed to a blog of a woman about my age who was also newly married, Catholic, and practicing NFP, and I enjoyed reading about the similarities in our lives. When she published a blog post praises the bishops' decision, however, (and adding, "Way to go, Maine!") I unsubscribed. I don't think my unsubscribing will affect her in the slightest bit, but reading those words so disturbed me that I didn't want to read anything else she might have to say about same-sex marriage being a danger to our society or a detriment to traditional marriage.

So why remain Catholic, and why keep giving money to the church? I'll answer the latter question first. Because no diocese in Illinois has pissed me off yet, and because I think our priest deserves to get paid if I'm going to keep attending our church, and because he seems pretty liberal and possibly not a personal believer in the "evilness" of gay marriage. (On the other hand, apparently our church is conservative enough that even though we clearly filled out our registration to say "Mr. & Mrs. Michael and Jessica ______ and listed me as the "head of house," we still got our envelopes that said "Mr. & Mrs. Michael ______.") Also, I believe in tithing because I believe that it is an act of faith, and if the money is used for unjust purposes without my knowledge, then that sin is on the spender, not on me.

The first question, why I remain Catholic, brings me back to the point I made at the beginning of this post. I am not Catholic because I need an organized religion to tell me what to believe. I am Catholic because I find that Mass is the method of worship that resonates most with my heart.

I spent a summer traveling the country with a Christian organization and going to all kinds of different worship services, and I missed going to Mass. When Mike and I went to visit one of my friends at a different college and went to her worship service, we went to Starbucks afterward while she was teaching Sunday School, and the first thing Mike said to me was, "I'm so glad we're Catholic." To which I responded, "Me too." It had nothing to do with anything in particular preached during the service, just in the method by which it was carried out. People accuse Catholics of not really participating in church because we just go through a ritual, but you know what? We stand and sit and recite prayers together, we hold hands, we shake each other's hand and give hugs. At this service I could have sat there and slept through the entire thing and no one would have noticed, that's how disconnected I felt from what was going on. Catholicism is how I best connect with, experience, and worship God.

If you understand that about me, you understand why I am completely open to other people belonging to different religions or different denominations of Christianity. If I were Catholic because I believed that the Catholic Church's teachings were the one right way to think about God, then I wouldn't and couldn't be so accepting. But I don't think there's one right way to think about God or talk to God or pray to God or worship God or experience God. This is what works for me. I would much prefer someone to be a devout Muslim than a forced-into-it distant uncomfortable Christian.

I believe the Catholic Church will get its act together on the gay marriage issue eventually, even if it takes 100 years or so. Nothing I do is going to change the fact that the Church does things really, really slowly.

Update: Here are some other posts explaining my views on gay marriage.
...And Then the Bishops Threw a Tantrum
What Is Marriage For, Really?
Also check out A Resource Guide to Christianity and Homosexuality


  1. The Catholic Church would have to turn its back on what the Bible says about homosexual behavior if they were ever to embrace homosexual so-called "marriage."

    The Catholic faith must be based on a Biblical standard -- not a political one.

  2. I would have to say very nicely worded. It is very interesting to understand where you are coming from and I truly agree. The problem is too many people focus on the differences of religion.

  3. I think we might be living the same life in some respects ... in a non-creepy way. ;)

    I also registered at our parish with me as the head of household ... and we still got mail to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph _________. I sent a letter stating: 1. my husband isn't even Catholic, so I'm the only person you'll be contacting in this house anyway, and 2. I have a name. It is Ms. Carla _________, not Mrs. Joseph __________, and if you're not going to respect that then don't send me any mail. I also sent a letter about how upset I was when the new priest went 1950's on the parish and ousted all the female altar servers and lay Eucharistic Ministers (http://lifeofcarla.blogspot.com/2010/10/female-altar-servers-lay-ministers-in.html)

    And I know exactly what you're saying. I don't like being Catholic because I need to be told what to believe or how to behave "morally," or because I agree with everything the Catholic Church teaches. I like being Catholic because I think Mass and other rituals are beautiful, they resonate with me. And because I do think that Catholicism has developed a social doctrine that for the most part is the best course of action for ensuring the well-being of the whole society.

  4. @Carla
    Haha, not creepy at all, I totally had the same thought while reading your blog :)

    For a while I would add my name to the envelope every week, but it was clear that either it wasn't going back to the person who ordered the envelopes, or that person didn't care. And after my husband had a run-in with the rectory secretary (he wanted to help out with the eighth grade teen club and she insinuated he was a child molester or something--but that's another story), I think it's probably the latter.

    I agree about Catholic social doctrine. Our new priest is really awesome and has a great understanding of social doctrine, and he manages to make it and other Church teachings accessible for the congregation. It's really nice to have a priest for once who's not just spouting his own ideas or political beliefs, but actually tying in the readings and Catholic teaching. Most of what I disagree with that come from "the Church" is not actual Church teaching but various bishops or whatever making decrees about what's right and wrong.

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to comment, and I have a feeling we'll have additional interesting conversations in the future :)

  5. Hello. I found your blog through a link you left on a recent post of Elizabeth Esther's, and I reached this post through your blog sidebar. I think I'll probably subscribe. :)

    I really appreciate this post, while disagreeing with you at the same time - if that makes sense, and I hope it does. The Catholic Church sees itself as a belief system, and they are extremely internally consistent. It's one of the things I love most about the Church, as I'm beginning the process of joining it. Now that I'm actually in RCIA, I'm also discovering how much I love the Mass, when once it seemed so awkward and unnatural for me (and I grew up high church Episcopalian!).

    I think it's rather funny that our experiences of the service are so different, as well - I feel like there is a lack of community in most parishes compared to churches of other denominations that I've attended. Then again, I'm slowly starting to discover the Catholic community, as well.

  6. @bluebonnetreads
    So glad you stopped by!

    I think probably every religion considers itself a belief system to some extent, but I think it's still possible to get something out of the Mass without adhering to all of Catholic teaching. What I found at my Catholic university is that, just as with the Bible, people with very different views can always find "Catholic teaching" to back up their beliefs.

    In terms of community, I think it depends a lot on the church--I wrote a while back about how our church offers a lot of opportunities to meet people, but they all cost money, which is frustrating. My parents' church has very little sense of community anymore because they got a new priest who cut all of the activities except Mass and Sunday School. Mike and I went to one church for a whiile in college that had a very strong sense of community; they had a mostly black congregation but welcomed us immediately. I hope you find a strong community at the church where you are :)

    Thanks for subscribing!

    1. I have found that if you keep asking questions, God will give you the answers. Don't ever feel like you have to stop going to mass because you disagree with the Church's teachings. But never stop questioning and never stop learning.

      I was completely with you on gay marriage until I read the story of Josh Weed.

      He's gay and Mormon, but decided to marry his best girlfriend instead of pursuing same-sex relationships. The couple is very happy and has a satisfying sex life.


      For me, it is more of a "loving gay relationships good", "marriage better" than "God hates gays". It DOES make a difference, not only to people like Josh Weed, but to bisexuals who must choose one or the other if they want to have a monogamous relationship.

      As for the Catholic Church, they set the bar pretty high for heterosexual marriage and same-sex relationships cannot meet this bar. This is why the Catholic Church will never approve of gay marriage.

    2. I liked this post from Dianna E. Anderson on Josh Weed: "What we should take away from the story is not 'being ‘ex-gay’ is possible!' but that this decision worked for his life at this time. There is no one right way to be LGBT, just as there is no one right way to be a woman or a man or a person of color. Just as it would be wrong for someone to take Josh’s story and use it to promote the idea that gay people can and should be in straight relationships, it is wrong for me to say to Josh, 'You cannot possible be happy with that.'"

      I don't understand your statement "bisexuals who must choose one or the other if they want to have a monogamous relationship." The monogamous part is irrelevant, as people can be monogamous in opposite-sex or same-sex relationships. But to suggest that a woman who loves a woman should choose to marry a man because she has that option is as silly as if someone had said to you 10 years ago about your wife, "You cannot marry her because she is _______; but feel free to marry this other female friend of yours, since you are attracted to women."

      I appreciate your saying that I shouldn't let my disagreements keep me from Mass. Not everyone would agree. What bothers me is that, as the Church gets more and more out of touch on "the gay issue", I can't help but feel that my attending Mass will be seen by some as a tacit approval of the way Church leaders have talked about my LGBTQ friends. But I also can't stand the thought of cutting myself off from Mass. So I choose instead to be vocal about my beliefs.

      Finally, "never" is a dangerous word.


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