Losing My Religion (Not the R.E.M. Song) – Josh Hall

This summer, my sister and her fiance (now husband) got married in the Catholic church that I grew up in. I was a groomsman, so I was involved in the rehearsal and the ceremony. It was an unusual experience for me. You would think that since I grew up in the church that I would be comfortable there, but truthfully, I hadn’t gone to a church service there — or a church service of any kind for that matter — in years. It wasn’t just me, either. My immediate family hadn’t been to church in some time as well. The last I remember being there was for my confirmation ceremony in early high school, and even then my family had long stopped attending Sunday mass. Why then, you might wonder, had my sister and her fiance chosen to get married in the church? My now brother-in-law’s family isn’t particularly religious, either. I suppose it was in part to appease older generations in our families, those who feel that a marriage is not valid unless it takes place in the church. If the wedding had not been in the Catholic church, there invariably would have been some family tension and drama. From my perspective, it was an odd choice and one that felt slightly unnatural.

A wedding in the Catholic church is governed by many norms and rules. The music, the scripture readings, the vows that the couple exchange, the prayers — all set by parish expectations. Traditional Catholic weddings include a mass, or a traditional Catholic service that includes the sacrament of communion, the ceremonial consumption of wine and bread which symbolize the blood and body of Christ. The rote nature of the mass felt comfortable for me. What was strange to me, though, was how the religious aspects of the service didn’t hold much meaning for me nor (I think) for many of my family members. For many religious traditions, weddings are a momentous occasion, steeped in worship and celebration. Yet from my perspective the whole ceremony felt oddly impersonal for my not-so-devout family. What I realize now is that maybe mass has never meant much to me. Attending mass was just something that was expected of me when I was growing up, and as that expectation faded away so did my own religiosity.

The event caused me to reflect on my own personal distance from Catholicism. Catholicism itself is a religion with many traditions; I sometimes think of them as rules I had to follow to be a “good” Catholic. Over the years, I became disillusioned with the rules that I felt were so emphasized in the faith, like attending mass every Sunday and not eating meat on Fridays during Lent. These rules felt overbearing in my church, so much so that if I were to not follow a rule, I consciously felt like I was a “bad” Catholic. Attending my sister’s wedding this summer gave me pause, as I realized that if I were to ever get married, I don’t think it would be in the Catholic church. Simply put, I do not think I am interested in having one of the most important days of my life be spent in that church.

I have not fully worked out my feelings about Catholicism at this point, and I am not in a place where I want to disavow it or my beliefs forever. I simply find myself wondering if Catholicism has any place in my life now. Yes, it is what I grew up with, it is what I know, but as I enter adulthood I find myself disinterested in Catholicism and the religious “scorecard” I grew up with. 

Everyone’s experience with religion is different, and while I may personally find Catholicism increasingly less appealing, I recognize that so many out there find comfort in its traditions. For me though, it may be time to look elsewhere for spiritual guidance.

10 thoughts on “Losing My Religion (Not the R.E.M. Song) – Josh Hall”

  1. Josh,
    I really admire your ability to be so critical and introspective about your faith. In my experience when religious rituals began to feel like just “things” I had to do, I felt the same way. It was definitely scary, I felt like a big part of who I was began to feel empty. I know what it’s like to be in a spiritual rut, and sometimes it’s not a bad place to be; it lead me to understand and seek meaning where I was lacking it. I hope the guidance you’re looking for finds you.

  2. This was a very interesting testament to how rote and unmeaningful religious practice can feel if you were never taught to question it. When children are raised to participate in things like sunday mass it becomes a chore and I wonder how parents can help their children find faith and religion without forcing it and making it feel so cumbersome.

    1. Sofia I really like how you phrase that “how rote and unmeaningful religious practice can feel if you were never taught to question it.” I will reflect on how having doubts in your faith makes it stronger.

  3. Josh, your article was informational for me because I learnt more about what being a ‘good’ Catholic might look like. Your experience with Catholicism and your church shows that traditions are more meaningful when you have strong reasons to practice them otherwise they become a chore. It is interesting how much family choices and attitudes affect our decisions related to faith even after moving out.

  4. I felt that same way recently. The last time I attended a church service was years ago and I also feel like a “bad” Lutheran for it being so long. After reevaluating my beliefs and values, I found a lot of peace in learning about other religions and finding what works for me. Best wishes on your adventure of finding a spiritual guidance that works for you!

  5. Hi Josh, I know your experience speaks to so many. Questioning religion and religious practices indicates critical thinking surrounding faith, which can lead you closer to truly internalizing beliefs you want to hold. So many of us that follow religions can seem to just go through the motions of the ceremonies, questioning why is what brought me closer to my religion.

  6. Hi Josh, I relate to your experience very much as someone who got confirmed in the Catholic church to avoid familial tension. Catholic traditions have never sparked any inspiration in me. I wonder if I would like learning about Catholicism as much as I have liked learning about Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam (courses I have taken or learned about through friends). I could argue I have already learned about the Catholic religion, but I don’t think I ever paid much attention in class during my youth. Then it seemed like a chore so maybe I should revisit. I think I like learning about religions to try and make connections between them and connection in my life. Thanks for sharing this story.

  7. Hi Josh! Thank you for this very honest and real post. As a practicing Catholic, I can understand some of where you are coming from in terms of being considered a “bad” Catholic for not following some of the religion’s many rules. I struggle with this in my own faith and have just started to overcome being okay missing Sunday mass for something that is important to me and not feeling guilty about it. I love how the exposure from your sister’s wedding helped you to realize that having your special day in the church simply for tradition sake would not be how you wanted to celebrate. It takes a lot to admit that and I am glad you did!

  8. Hi Josh!
    Thank you for opening up and sharing your personal experience with your faith! Growing up, I also thought that if I followed all the religious traditions and “rules” in Sikhism, I would be a “better Sikh”. But, throughout the past few years I have learned that following these traditions does not define how “good” of a Sikh I am. Now, I am focused on learning the significance and meaning behind my traditions so I am not mindlessly following these practices. I’m glad you have been able to reflect how Catholicism and it’s practices play a role in your life, and I hope you are able to find the spiritual guidance you are looking for, even if it’s not through Catholicism!

  9. Hi Josh, I really enjoyed the way in which you chose to share this story. Your thoughts at the end especially, about how you don’t think you would choose to have your wedding in a church were especially interesting to me. Your experiences with Catholicism reminded me a lot of something that I think Martin Luther said: every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying. I think it’s really important for all of us to do exactly what you’re doing: wrestle with our faith and try to figure out what it actually means to us if we’re no longer required to practice it.

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