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Religious Disputes In Families

Updated on May 9, 2011

Do you still practice the faith that you were raised to practice?

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The Great Divide

Amazing as it may seem, disputes about faith and religion have been known to divide families. A child raised in the Catholic faith one day decides to study Wicca. An ordinary Sunday prayer meeting at a family member’s house becomes so intense that some of the people in attendance never speak again. It is funny to think that faith, an idea that is supposed to unite people, can drive people apart. How can this be?

When you are raised to look at the world through one religious lens, there always comes a point (usually mid-teens) where you have to decide whether to continue living your life as it is now or to have the courage to look for another perspective. For one of my family members, they chose the latter. I don’t know specifically why he made this decision. Believing religion to be a personal matter, I never asked him. Yet, I have a theory. After years of attending a Catholic school, being brought down every day by people masquerading as “good, honest Catholics,” he began to question how such a loving, Catholic God could put such mean, hypocritical people onto this Earth. Also, being that one side of his family is extremely religious and fraught with mental illness, he had a hard time distinguishing a belief in the Catholic God from the delusions of a mentally ill person. Who would not question their beliefs considering the above examples? In this same light, who would not seek to reconcile their own understanding of God with the one they’ve always learned about?

For my family member, this decision was not encouraged. His mother still struggles with it, hoping that one day he will return to the Catholic church. As people’s opinions on Wicca are based largely on the depiction of witches in The Wizard of Oz, The Craft and the Salem Witch Trials, he has had to deal with many disapproving looks and sarcastic questions. Still, his beliefs are strong. For someone who always longed for acceptance and an organized religion that he could believe in, I am happy he has finally found his niche.

There is a story quietly told in my family involving an uncle I never got to meet and a prayer meeting that shouldn’t have happened. While I don’t know every detail, I will briefly impart what I know. My uncle was a devout man who believed prayers should be said in certain way. My aunt’s husband was an equally devout man with his own prayer style. With such different approaches, it was inevitable that a fight would occur. Once the fight began, it escalated until my uncle and his wife stormed out, never to be seen again. As we heard that my uncle died not too long ago, it is unfortunate that this disagreement will never be resolved.

How can religion cause such a divide in families? I believe it not to be so much religion as it is stubborn people and unshakeable views. Always believing their own opinion to be the correct one, they are unable to hear another’s view point without getting defensive. For highly religious people, for someone to question their religious views, it is like someone questioning their existence. They were born. They have lived. How dare you say that they do not exist? Do you not see the blood in their veins? Are you unaware of the sound of their breathing? Who are you to say they do not exist? If you are to question their beliefs, you might as well question their existence. They are so defined by their beliefs that the mere act of, for example, insinuating that Jesus had siblings when they were raised to believe that he was an only child, chips away at what makes them whole. Even if they raised their children to have open, questioning minds, many parents don’t expect their kids to use them, in their opinion, against them. A family’s religion is just one of those things that you aren’t supposed to question. It tampers with too much history and creates too much bad blood. Religion is a sacred tradition, like Christmas cookies and Fourth of July cookouts, that parents pride themselves on teaching their children to appreciate. With this in mind, if you are willing to fight to continue to celebrate your birthday at your parents’ house, why are you surprised that they want to keep you Catholic?

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