Catholicism more than stereotypes.

Posted on April 13, 2011

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This is a column of mine that was published in The Red and Black last week.

Hi, I’m Melissa. Charmed to meet you.

Tell you a little about myself? Sure!

I grew up in the suburbs of Connecticut. I’m studying film and journalism. I enjoy moonlit walks, reruns of “The Nanny” and The Doobie Brothers.

And oh, yeah — I’m Catholic.

Wait — what? Deal-breaker? Bummer.

I’ll go ahead and give it a shot anyway.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints hosted a “Meet the Mormons” event, so it’s only fitting I introduce you to a Catholic as well.

Maybe it’ll help if I clear a few things up right off the bat.

I don’t worship a Helga G. Pataki-esque shrine to the Virgin Mary every morning.

Just because I take the Eucharist doesn’t mean I’m a cannibal.

And just so you know, I don’t think of Catholic priests as some breed of divine mailmen who deliver my prayers to God via express mail.

Sure, I don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent.

Sure, my dad has 11 siblings.

I only have three siblings — birth control has become more accepted in our community.

But despite my seasonal vegetarianism and 40-something cousins, I promise I’m not as weird or as different as you might think.

I’m not even that religious, but Catholicism remains a fundamental part of my identity.

I was born and raised in a predominantly Catholic town, where Catholicism was a major element of its culture.

So imagine my shock at moving to a place where the Italian cooking and after-school bus rides to catechism class were replaced by fried okra and youth groups where people spoke in tongues.

My religious assimilation to the South became one of culture shock — one of leaving a place populated by like-minded people for a community of frequently disillusioned ones.

But religious ignorance isn’t a one-way street, ya know? Those avenues lined with competing churches travel back and forth past synagogues and mosques, too.

And in passing by them, I can’t claim I’ve never scoffed at a Baptist church marquee.

Perhaps they make a point when they say things like “Wal-Mart Ain’t The Only Saving Place.”

I’ve caught myself playing quick-to-judge plenty of times.

When I spotted a Jesus-themed amusement park on a recent trip to Disney World, I couldn’t contain my laughter.

Nevertheless, I try to remind myself that — as in Catholicism — there is plenty of legitimate substance in Bible Belt-Christianity.

It’s not just Holy Roller Coasters and televangelism.

And the “Meet the Mormons” event has reminded me of a similar message.

Mormonism goes beyond “Sister Wives” and the Brandon Davies scandal.

So, why not ditch the “fire and brimstone” talk and extend a welcoming hand.

Perhaps if we all took a bit more time to introduce ourselves and listen, a forum for healthy religious debate could develop.

And our Southern culture — which consists of those who practice a variety of religions and those who champion their beliefs in no religion at all — would become a richer one.

Our own Bible-Torah-Quran Belt.

P.S.: call it ironic, but this was possibly my favorite music video as a child (in the Northeast, of course):

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