Monday, August 10, 2009

Losing (or finding) my religion

Religion has always been an interesting component of my family tree research, I think because, if religions were like nationalities, I would only be half-Catholic. I think it started when I realized when I was very young that my mother's father wasn't Catholic. I was raised Catholic, as were both my parents, and my grandfather, whenever he would visit, would come to church with us, but when it was time for Communion, he would stay seated. We had an old photo from my grandparents wedding reception in 1946 and I remember asking my mother why Grandma wasn't wearing a wedding dress and she explained to me that because Grandpa wasn't Catholic, they had to get married in the rectory, and if she couldn't get married in the church, she didn't want to wear a wedding dress.

As a Catholic, I'll be honest that I'm both fascinated and confounded by how easily people seem to be able to move between Protestant denominations. My grandfather was technically Baptist, but his Raynor (Protestant English) and Berg (Protestant German) roots were both Methodist and Episcopalian. All of my first cousins are Catholic, but all of my second cousins on Grandpa Raynor's side of the family are of one Protestant denomination or another. If you go out one branch further, to my third cousins, it gets really interesting, where several of my grandfather's cousins' families are Biblebelt born-again, evangelical Christians. I have more than a few cousins who are evangelical ministers, and several third cousins who were home-schooled and don't believe in dating but rather, in's all extremely fascinating. A branch further out, I have a line of cousins about three generations long at this point who are Mormons. A few of them attended BYU and several of them have been or are currently on missions.

My dad's side doesn't miss out on all this religious fun, either. I think his mother was Catholic, but her parents were not - her German ancestors were stand-up, Catholic-hating Lutherans. My father recently told me that my grandmother used to have to sneak out to see my Irish Catholic grandfather, but I'm not sure if it was her father or her grandparents that she was hiding it from.

The thing is, with Lutheran, Mormon, evangelical, and Methodist cousins, and a whole family line back through the years that's half Catholic and half not (with a possible Dutch Muslim thrown into the mix for added fun way back when), I don't understand how people can hate each other for their religious beliefs. My Mormon cousins and I might disagree on points of theology, but from their social networking Web sites, I know that we all have an artistic streak and that we like the same movies. And if anybody traces their family back far enough, all Christians were Catholics, all Muslims were Christians, all Christians were Jewish, and all humans are family.

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