I took the surprising role of defending my friends who are fundamentalists to help her understand how these Christians arrived at their convictions and why they are so devoted to what appears to be folly. And that led to a rabbit trail I might never have discovered otherwise.
"It just reminds me of all that fundamentalist type stuff I grew up with; you know the scapular and the fasting and the making room for your Guardian Angel and stuff..."
"Excuse me? Whoa, what? Did you say, 'scapular'? What on earth is that?"
"You know, those wool patches you wear under your clothes, with the saints' faces printed on them - or Jesus's. I forget."
"Mom, I have no clue what you're talking about."
At this point she proceeded to tell me that when she was a kid (1940s) in Catholic school, each morning children put on scapular. The description given by Wikipedia is better than my attempt so here it is:
It consists of two small squares of cloth, wood or laminated paper bearing religious images joined by two bands of cloth. It is worn so that one band is across each shoulder and that one square rests on the chest and the other on the back. Older forms of scapular exist that have extra bands running under the arms and connecting the squares.In my mom's case, her scapular was wool and was worn in winter and summer under the clothes directly against the skin. The point? To irritate the skin at all times so that you would remember that you needed God, that you should never be fully content with life and therefore forget that you needed God.
She said they scratched and itched all the time. And in summer, they were hot. She wore these starting in Kindergarten. Not optional.
My mouth dropped open.
So I pressed on. "What is this about fasting and your Guardian Angel?"
She told me that once children had received first communion, they then took communion every day in mass at school. But before Vatican 2, no one could eat any food or drink after midnight before receiving the host. That meant small kids (starting in first grade) would eat dinner around 6:00. They went to bed at 8:30 and woke up, dressed and went off to school without breakfast or even a glass of water.
Communion wouldn't come until nearly 10:00 a.m. Mothers packed jelly sandwiches as breakfast to be eaten after mass. And as my mom went through this dispassionate explanation of what can only be thought of as cruel and unusual religious punishment of children, she commented, "I was famous for fainting. I fainted all the time. The nuns thought I was just not trying hard enough."
I kept driving and had almost nothing to contribute to this shocking revelation of her early childhood life. She added, almost as a post script, that she remembered being in Kindergarten when her teacher, a 25 year old nun that she loved, told them to always sit to the righthand side of the desk chair leaving at least half a chair for the guardian angel who needed a place to sit beside them. Being a 'good girl,' my mother scooted to the edge of her seat imagining that she might not be giving the angel enough room. She never sat comfortably in her chair because she believed her nun and wanted to have a happy guardian angel.
It was at this moment that I finally understood why my mother has no comprehension about why any Protestant would convert to Catholicism. To her, Catholic conversion is equivalent to hurtling oneself back into irrational self-abuse designed by those in authority, disguised as devotion to God.
...whereas Protestant fundamentalism is the conscious and deliberate choice to turn grace into law for the sake of feeling morally superior, more secure and closer to God than the other people in your church. At least, that's how it felt when I was a fundamentalist.