My husband is a cultural Catholic. Never mind the fact that he doesn't believe in God. He was baptized Catholic and raised in a Catholic home; therefore, if you ask him if he is Catholic, he will say "yes."
So even though he doesn't practice his religion or believe in its supernatural claims, he still has some sort of attachment to it that manifests itself in strange ways.
For example, it annoys him when Protestants claim that Protestants and Catholics are all fundamentally part of one big church. My dad likes to make this claim. Dad grew up mainstream Protestant -- then converted to Mormonism just long enough to marry a returned missionary in the temple and raise all of the resulting kids LDS -- then switched back.
Despite my husband's unbelief, he takes it upon himself to be offended by claims of Protestant/Catholic equivalence on behalf of believing Catholics. After hearing my dad talk about how Christians accept Catholic baptisms (but not Mormon baptisms), in a later private conversation with me my husband commented, "Just let him say that to my aunt, who is a nun. She'll tell him he's going to hell!"
Now my husband's aunt is super-mega-nice, so it would surprise me quite a bit if she told a Protestant -- to his face -- that he's going to hell. Still, my husband may be right about his aunt's fundamental beliefs.
The first time we went to visit Auntie, she asked my husband "Are you Catholic?" Of course he said yes.
Then she asked me what my religion was. I responded that I am a non-believer, not affiliated with any religion. The funny thing was that she wasn't upset by this at all since she figured that meant it would be no big deal for me to join my husband's religion. Then she told us how relieved she was because she was worried that I might be a Protestant.
Despite what that story seems to indicate, my husband's aunt is surprisingly accepting and tolerant. She's a really old lady (in her 90s) and has been a nun her whole adult life, so normally I would expect her to be really rigid about the whole religion thing, but she has been reasonably accepting of our choices.
Of course, during that same first visit my husband's aunt told us that she prayed that he and I would get married and have our kids baptized, to which we surprisedly responded "But Auntie, we are married."
"Civil marriage," she said.
But after that she didn't bother us about it again, and all the times we've stayed at the convent to visit her none of the nuns have ever pressured us to go to mass or anything.
Since then, on a few occasions Auntie has reminded my husband of the importance of having the kids baptized. But she was fine with my husband's explanation when he told her that because of our unbelief, we didn't feel like it was right for us to go through the motions of such an ordinance, but that we wouldn't try to stop the kids from having themselves baptized if they wanted to later, when they're old enough to make a mature decision about it.
I thought it was funny that she accepted this because in my mind it's not a concession at all. If the kids take up a religion once they're grown, whether we like it or not there's not a whole lot we can do about it. Sure we could threaten to disown them, but that's not really realistic. We have only two kids. We can't go around disowning them willy-nilly over trivialities like what religions they choose for themselves. If we did, we'd pretty quickly find ourselves with no kids at all, and then who would we annoy during our golden years? Think about that.
I can hardly ridicule my husband for his wacky relationship with Catholicism though, considering that my attachment to my LDS heritage is equally wacky, if not worse. I seem to have his same weirdo objection to seeing the true church of my youth diluted into just another flavor of mainstream Christianity. So I catch myself browsing around the Bloggernacle (LDS blog network) posting comments encouraging people to be open about their LDS beliefs and to identify as Mormon first and not just Christian.
Why do I care? Obviously I shouldn't. I think part of it is that after having grown up with the idea that it's a virtue to stand up and be counted as peculiar, I have some irrational aversion to seeing Mormons jumping on the mainstream Christian bandwagon.
Also I think it's because this whole "milk before meat" thing strikes me as counterproductive. I've spent a lot of time with ex-Mormons/apostates on the Internet and elsewhere, and I've noticed that there is one particular small current of ex-Mormon Christians who insist on disproving Mormonism by holding up a list of Bible passages and saying "Mormons think this scripture means this but of course Christians know it means that." This is bewildering to many people raised in the church -- apostate and faithful Mormon alike -- who say, "OK, so you've proved that Mormons and mainstream Protestants interpret the Bible differently. Well, no duh!"
But the thing is that it isn't as much of a "no duh" point as maybe it should be. I get the impression that some ex-Mormon Christians are not so much annoyed about having been duped into believeing Mormonism is true as they are about having been duped into believing that Mormonism is not that different from other flavors of Christianity.
So while this practice of downplaying the unusual aspects of Mormonism by claiming Mormons are monotheists or saying that the church doesn't emphasize the doctrine of eternal progression, etc., may make Mormonism more palatable and increase the number of converts coming in the door, quantity is not necessarily the only concern here.
If you find a person who is aware of the doctrinal peculiarities of Mormonism and converts in spite of them -- or even because of them -- now that's a quality convert. That's someone who will likely say "OK" when hearing more of the various eccentricities of Mormonism rather than someone who will just become progressively angrier until he gets to the point where he not only leaves the church but feels compelled to debunk Mormonism's claims of being "Christian."
It seems to me that one convert of the former type would be worth more than 10 of the latter. But I'm an apostate myself, so obviously faithful LDS shouldn't be taking my advice.
In fact, if you're Mormon you should probably do exactly the opposite of whatever I say, just to be on the safe side!
Published in the Utah Valley Monitor February 16, 2006.
Concurrently run as a guest post at fMh.