What Was Your Childhood Religious Tradition And Do You Still Follow It? by Carol P. Christ
Recently, in an interview with the Women’s Living History Project of Claremont Graduate University, I was asked: What religious tradition did you identify with as a child and how did it impact your childhood? and: Is your tradition the same today that you had when growing up?
I was surprised that the interview questions didn’t ask anything about feminism, experiencing exclusion in patriarchal religions, or belief. My religious and political convictions, which are intertwined, have alienated me from family members. Therefore, I was suspicious of questions that seemed to have been formulated by someone for whom religion and family go together, and for whom believing or not believing (!) did not seem to be an important issue.
After expressing criticism of the questions, I agreed to work with them. My answer to the first question was that I did not have a single religious tradition as a child. I had four.
My family went to the Village Presbyterian Church in a new tract home suburb in southern California. There I was taught that God is love and that I should love my neighbor as myself. Predestination was never mentioned, nor the torments of hell. I declined confirmation at age thirteen, because I didn’t feel we were being prepared to choose between different versions of Christianity. When I finally joined the Presbyterian Church some years later, I confessed to the minister that I believed in God, but was not at all certain about Jesus and the Trinity. He told me not to worry.
My father’s mother was Roman Catholic. When I was six years old I spent a summer with her. After we dropped my grandfather off at his morning train, my grandmother and I often stopped at a Catholic church where she lit candles and prayed the rosary. Although I didn’t know what the “Hail Marys” and the “Our Fathers” were, I understood that my grandmother believed that the Blessed Virgin listened to her prayers.
My mother’s mother was a Christian Scientist. My mother was embarrassed by having been brought up in a faith that seemed odd to the other children in school. Nonetheless, she believed that we did not need to get sick. After we had the measles, mumps, and chicken pox, my brother and I rarely missed a day of school. We were not taken to the doctor or coddled for playing sick. The assumption of health is faith in the goodness of life in the body.
My mother’s mother who was raised on a farm in Michigan lived behind the Los Angeles County Arboretum. When we were young, there was no fence separating it from her orchard. Our grandmother often took us for walks in the arboretum where she taught us to love nature. Peacocks flew into her neighborhood from the arboretum, and though my mother said she would not want them in her yard, my grandmother loved them fiercely. She taught us to feed the peahens, chicks, and beautiful blue-green males from our hands and confided that certain peahens always brought their chicks to her back door as soon as they were born.
My childhood religion was made up of four strands: Protestantism, Catholicism, Christian Science, and Nature. I have taken something from each of them. From Protestantism, I learned that that Goddess is love and to love my neighbor as myself. In Catholic churches, I felt the Blessed Mother always with us. Christian Science taught me to trust in my body and its natural health. Nature continues to speak to me of my connection to all living things.
Decades ago I left the Christianity of my childhood and embraced the religion of Mother Earth. The symbols of Goddess religion are very different from those of my childhood faith. I no longer pray to God the Father. I do not believe in salvation through Christ nor do I have any particular fondness for the life or teachings of Jesus.
I pray to the Mother of All the Living, the Source of Life, and celebrate the powers of birth, death, and regeneration. I believe Goddess is love and that She loves the whole world. I try to do so as well. I believe Goddess listens to our prayers and responds with infinite compassion and understanding. I believe the earth is our true home, that life in the body is a great gift, and that death is the end of life. I know that I am connected to all living things and view plants and animals, rivers and rocks, as my relatives.
I have come a long way from the religion of my childhood, yet in subtle and important ways, my core beliefs are exactly the same as the ones with which I was raised.
This is my mother’s world and to my listening ears, all nature sings and ’round me rings the music of the spheres.
Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement. She has been active in peace and justice movements all of her adult life. She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.