I was in the newsstand of a Miami bus terminal, my saddle oxfords a bit scuffed and my uniform crumpled after a steamy day of classes, when I spotted something that utterly horrified me. It was not an X-rated magazine, but something much worse: a book called “Why I Am Not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell.
I was born on April 15, 1952 in Columbus, OH, the first of 2 children, into a family that did not practice any religious faith. We moved every couple of years, as my dad advanced his career as a professor. Christmas and Easter were celebrated as secular holidays. In fact there seemed to be an outright opposition in my household to anything to do with God, Jesus, the Bible, or church.
I was born and raised in the small town of Huntsville, about 60 miles north of Houston, Texas. I was not brought up in a particularly Christian household. My mother had attended Sunday worship services in various faith traditions throughout her childhood, all stemming from Calvinistic theology with an evangelical twist. My father was a disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness, who rarely spoke of any sort of faith. So, as one could imagine, I grew up in a rather secular household with some moral standards, but no moral lawgiver.
I was raised in the Methodist faith in a small town in North Carolina. The only Catholic Church in town was a block away from my house and a large brick home which served as a convent was just around the corner. I would often see the nuns, dressed in their habits, walking to the Catholic school which adjoined the church. Whenever I saw them I felt a great sense of respect. I considered them to be very holy, although, I knew nothing about the Catholic faith.
My departure from God began in my teen years as I started to have serious doubts about my compatibility with the Baptist church and stopped attending at the age of 16. This rebellion then evolved to me declaring that I was an agnostic in college and later spending years as a workaholic who was too busy for God. A familiar tale, perhaps?
A Feminist Rebellion
I was raised in the Grace Brethren Fundamentalist branch of Protestant Christianity during the 1960’s and 70’s. I am grateful for a lot of the Bible-based teaching I learned there and from my mother; for the steeping and memorization of Bible passages; for all the wonderful stories that engrossed me; for the hearing the words of Jesus and His pure love. But my rebellious bent began to grow as I reached 15 and became skeptical about the manner of this branch of Christianity and the hypocrisy I witnessed around me and inside me. I wanted nothing to do with youth group. I had a strong dislike of the “saving of souls” that took place at the end of the preaching during particularly sad hymns. I took to sneaking out of the church and driving around in my parents’ car during the service. My absconding intensified when my pastor claimed to know when the world was going to end and picked a day that came and went while he remained at the pulpit.
I found other aspects of Catholic life attractive as well. For example, while a senior in high school, the reading of Richard Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism began a lifelong passion for the social teaching of the Catholic Church. All these things were attracting me to Rome during my years as an Anglican, although I tried to keep the emotional pull of Rome separate from my intellectual considerations about conversion.