I've been struggling with my faith over the last several months, especially as I come to know who I am more than ever. Some of you may wonder what took me so long, not that I've never questioned my faith before. However, while I used to believe (and still do) that many Christians are just wrong about what they think Christianity teaches along with the fact that it's the men in power who are corrupt, what I'm really struggling with reconciling is the colonization of faith.
I once asked a priest how Father Junipero Serra could be accepted into sainthood when he led vilely un-Christian acts against Indigenous peoples in the Americas. He explained it away as not Father Junipero Serra who was the cruel one, but European soldiers who led the charge. Father Junipero Serra was trying to do his good missionary work, and by bringing the Natives into the missions, he was protecting them from the other cruel colonizers.
It made sense, but how was I supposed to know if that was just the Church's way of explaining away its faults or if there was actually truth in what he said. Some googling revealed articles from historians who referenced documents and recounts that supported the notion that Father Junipero Serra was not himself cruel to the Natives, though the overall system certainly failed. Still, this left me in limbo as to what the whole truth is.
Over the last year or so, as I've more closesly followed Indigenous issues, I've inevitably found myself reflecting on my own family's relations to the Catholic Church. I think my great-grandparents were the ones who initially brought the family into the faith, and the more I read about Chinese history during the first half of the 20th Century, I can imagine how it all came to be. And I know they weren't co-erced into being Catholic, but I still have lots of questions.
Though I struggled with my own cultural identity as a Chinese American, being Catholic was also always a part of my identity and one I never questioned. What I liked about being Catholic was that I felt like I belonged to one giant and global family. Wherever I went in the world, there was always a Catholic Church for me to feel safe and at home in no matter what language we were singing in. I've had really beautiful experiences in churches everywhere, and also profound experiences that have given me strength and a compassionate look on people and life.
Still, one thing that always made me uncomfortable about any Christian denomination is evangilization. To go to someone else's home or just up to someone else and essentially say, "My way is the right and moral way, so come join me," feels really gross. But that's what colonization is, isn't it? Whether you do it in the name of a monarch or in the name of God, you're basically saying I'm better than you so come do things my way (and it's not always an invitation).
This may seem like a tedious detail, but something that has been bothering me quite a bit as of late is, why weren't my ancestors' and relatives' names acceptable? I remember my aunt telling me that her Catholic name is Isabella something or other. Beautiful name for sure. But like, why? Why was her Chinese name not good enough? A few years ago I asked my grandma how she got her name Margaret, and she said a priest gave it to her when she was in school. So again, I wondered...why wasn't her Chinese name good enough?
The message I'm hearing from this is that God loves everyone...but only if he can pronounce your name? It's really messed up to go into someone else's home, treat them less than, and either force them to or convince them to follow your ways...oh and also, you have to change your name. So, for reasons and questions like these, I'm struggling with decolonizing my faith. I really don't even know how to or where to begin.
You may ask then, why not just abandon the faith? Well, that would be much easier, wouldn't it be? I think the struggle comes out of tradition and loyalty to my ancestors who chose to be Catholic and to whom their faith was important. Additionally, my faith has been a foundation of strength and love in my life. There's no doubt about it. When I read or hear (most) passages from the Bible, and when I hear my priest preach, I hear messages of love, compassion for others, and forgiveness. When I pray, I feel I'm talking not just to God, but to my ancestors in heaven, too. Although I think it's also a Chinese thing to talk to our ancestors and relatives in heaven regardless of being Catholic?
I think it's incredibly important to have faith. I guess, maybe I'm working on redefining what that means to me? Is decolonizing my faith just another way to excuse the Church's behavior? I mean, if you look at the entire history of Christianity the issues has always been the result of egotistical, greedy, and corrupt men who mess things up. And this is obviously true beyond the church.
Pope Francis has certainly given us all much more hope and faith in the Church, but it's clear that the politics within the Church still sometimes binds his hands. I remember a friend and I used to talk about how it's the people who have to show the leaders the way. But damn, these leaders really suck at listening to the people they serve. Or I guess, in the Church, they technically serve God. But in serving God they're supposed to look out for the people. Am I mistaken here?
My husband tells me that I've always practiced Catholicism my own way. One might call me a "progressive traditionalist." I'm an independent thinker. I'm not afraid to question what I'm taught or told. I'm certainly not here for the patriarchy nor the hypocrisy. I'm simply here for the love. To be love and to spread love.
Have you thought about religious colonization? If you have, how have you overcome these struggles, or how are you dealing with them?