On Falling Away From Catholicism And How Female-Led Spirituality Saved My Life

I grew up as a Bible-loving Roman Catholic African-American boy. This ultimately means that every Sunday, for 90 minutes, I stared into the despondent eyes of a black man on a brown cross who had willfully committed his soul to the hope that the lives of everyone who ever lived forever would be without sin. Thus, religion became everything to me, as I wanted to live in accordance with the Bible, and be akin to Jesus Christ in all that I did. Now as a 38-year old black man, I’m at the point where I see a world where religion is playing a key role in the order of things and I don’t like religion anymore. In the Judeo-Christian white male-dominated cash-grabbing idiocracy that using religion “prostituted” for totalitarian power and ultimate influence has allowed the world to evolve into, I don’t have a place. However, in looking longer and deeper into the universe, it’s in embracing honest, female, (sadly) marginalized, and warrior-driven spirituality where I find myself kneeling and discovering maybe where salvation from a world gone askew exists.

I had been on the fence regarding my relationship with religion and spirituality since college. Ever the good Catholic boy, attending private and Roman Catholic Providence College made all of the sense in the world. However, that was until the day that I simultaneously realized that as an African-American I was three percent of the 3,000 person school’s student body, and that in my Development of Western Civilization class we were learning about the Crusades. These notions aren’t dissimilar when you realize that there’s a very uncomfortable narrative forming that says that Catholics like brown and black people as long as they bow and break to the will of a world where white Jesus is salvation, and all other notions of spirituality are pagan rituals akin to bowing before golden calves. Well, having grown up staring into the eyes of despondent black Jesus, and being in a Roman Catholic place where I was woefully underrepresented, this didn’t sit well. At that point I stopped reading at mass and volunteering for Campus Ministry, instead deciding that me and religion needed a break.

I have been largely disassociated from Catholicism for the better part of 20 years. In that time, I’ve fallen out of favor with tithing, regularly attending mass, and all religion-based, yet commerce-perverted holidays. That means that I pretty solidly hate Easter and Christmas, which means that it’s caused me to largely miss out on spending holidays with friends and family. When I was 18, I had a lot of friends and a lot of family. 20 years of not buying presents on principle and being unwilling to “gather around the table to pray to a God who convinced people to kill my ancestors, and who tells people that it’s okay to worship opulence in all things” really isn’t my cup of tea. So, that’s left me very much alone, and very much searching for family, friendship, community, and in many ways, my best self (as defined via family, friendship, and community).

However, I was still pretty good with occasionally talking to God. Like, I always knew that no matter what, God was still good with me. Like, no matter what was happening, I always knew that the higher power that controlled this whole thing could give me a minute and assure me that everything was okay. That was until January 21, 2017.

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”

Yes, that’s what Donald Trump said in his Inaugural Address, and that’s when I knew religion as I knew it and myself were done. Donald Trump is a carny showman playing the role of “leader of the free world” on television and in social media. I’m not even mad at that, as it’s more a knee-jerk reaction to the rapid digital and mobile evolution of society stripping away our one-time desire for a positive relationship with both humankind and what we once knew as “common sense.” In this being the case, he’s probably our most ideal leader into an era of cultural dissolution. Rather, I’m mad at the fact that this literal fool had to tap dance on my already very frayed nerve with having a relationship with God, the Bible, Catholicism, and long-established religion with which I was familiar.

Since January 21, I’ve had a sit-down with myself and realized that I needed to shift my personal definition of religion from that of “a belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power” to that of “a particular system of faith and worship.” Moreover, I’ve decided that religion for me needs to shift from a near “magical” thing to a more “organic” system. In embracing the organic, it pairs well with the Buddhist idea of chakras and balanced energies to which I’ve found myself ascribing greater importance in my life in the past few years. I ham-handedly attempted to right my way with Catholicism via some sort of Buddhist-Christian meld that simultaneously let me practice Yoga and pray to God, but that now feels highly out of sync with any sort of balanced energy.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, feminism and the strength found in woman-led societies plays a key role. I’ve been keenly aware of woman-led societies since my birth. I was raised in a single-parent household by a prototypically strong black woman who filled the role of both mother and father while sometimes holding down four jobs and still providing guidance to me, sometimes sternly, for 18 years. As well, at every turn as I’ve been fishin’ for religion and spirituality (shout out to Arrested Development) for the past two decades, I’ve learned of the incredible strength, courage and wisdom (shout out to India.Arie) of women in all faiths and mythologies that so often goes without the proper acclaim.

From Mother Earth to the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Shakti, Isis, Gaia, Sophia, Xochiquetzal, Freya, and more, there’s so many women who consistently embodied all things at all times throughout history. Even moreso, there’s a tradition that has seen men embracing Christian and generally established religious dogma representing the worst of humankind, especially in how they treat women of the world. Ultimately, for me, I had to sit and think to myself regarding religion moving forward, if I saw myself as one day metaphorically being black Jesus on a brown cross, who would ultimately best care for the safety of my body and soul as it expired into the universe? I can’t imagine that a God who would allow Donald Trump to quote their holy scripture while building walls and wanting to engage in willful assault against all humanity would let him do that while also valuing my safety. However, I could imagine that a woman, guided by a healing, empowered, birthing and omniscient spiritual energy, wouldn’t let that happen. At that point, the choice became simple.

My only complaint so far about this life is noting the difference between women empowered in a male construct versus those who lean into the strength of the unique energies of their gender association and socialized-as-”female” humanity guide them. We’re at a place where if we all accept that this female energy represents our best way out, then there should ideally be women who are able to embody this essence, as say those like Gandhi, Dr. King, and others have and did in attempting to realize the the “male-dominated energy-spirit-as-religion ideal.” However, that’s arguably not necessarily the case in great enough numbers to truly make a difference.

There’s a “sheep-in-wolf’s-clothing” sense that I may uniquely feel when confronted with the idea of so many women identified as “leaders” whose energies are dominant in the pop culture mainstream. In my current construct of the universe, there’s a strong sense that if you’re going to accept being defined as a leader, there’s also a certain level of responsibility associated with this level of “deification” that must be accepted, too. This doesn’t necessarily mean “accepting of bowed religious prayer,” it moreso means “taking full responsibility for protecting and advancing the energies of feminist-empowerment-as-guiding essence of the world at-large.” Being a comedian or CEO isn’t mutually exclusive with being a warrior goddess. Simply put, the idea of working within this male-dominated Judeo-Christian driven shitshow instead of without, beyond, or inverting it against itself really doesn’t showcase the type of spiritual-as-real-time guidance I’m looking for in the world.

I’ve accepted that this is a world that’s entirely torn asunder. I’ve accepted that in this world torn asunder that I’m desiring a connection to people and energies that are aligned with my desire to protect and enhance my body and spirit. Thus, I want to give a shout out to the brujas, the goddesses, the witches, nymphs, priestesses, and heroines, and those who in real life embody their healing and empowering energies.

I grew up as a Bible-loving Roman Catholic African-American boy who stared into the despondent eyes of a black man on a brown cross who had willfully committed his soul to the hope that the lives of everyone who ever lived forever would be without sin. As a grown black man, I now look at the Bible as tremendous literature that has nothing to do with my spirituality, and religion as a crutch of rich white people and the people the conquered worldwide. Still though, I’m very much feeling like my end is to be met on a metaphorical cross, committing my soul to a cause far greater than myself. Thus, given current aforementioned global conditions, I’ve moved on. Now having discovered what best lies beyond how I once regarded myself and the world, I feel learned (and still learning), enlightened, aware, empowered, and ready for whatever lies ahead for us all.

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Marcus K. Dowling

Marcus K. Dowling

Creator. Curator. Innovator. Iconoclast.