Wither Faith?

Lawrence Pratt

© Copyright 2020 by Lawrence Pratt


Photos of hands holding Bible.

Yes, that’s correct, please remove our names from the parish rolls,” Laura Dean said to the woman on the other end of a conversation that marked the end of a decade-long search for a faith that she hoped would bring her family to the embrace of a single, true god. “Thank you for your time,” she concluded with a tone of resignation, sadness, and fatigue.

For the next few minutes, Laura starred at the willow tree in the back yard as it shifted in the light breeze, so lost in thought that she wouldn’t have noticed if the white and green entity were to completely vanish from view.

So, she reflected, this is how faith is lost. Not by failing to embrace religion, but by embracing truth rooted in facts. Truth could be so cold and empty but attempting to smother reality by accepting what were lies was worse. In any case, we will prevail, she mused, her thoughts drifting back over the years.


Ah, we were oh-so ripe for the picking, Laura thought as she replayed the highlights of her family’s spiritual quest.

It started when her husband, Ted, was given a three-year military assignment to Europe, far from home and extended family. The couple’s emotional and social vulnerability was heightened when, after just a few months overseas, their daughter was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The future was not bright.

As time permitted, Laura volunteered at the nearby military school where she was able to use her English degree working as a tutor and assistant librarian. Here she struck up a friendship with Mitch and Carol Bradley, both teachers at the school. They were members of a church with which the Deans were superficially familiar and the Bradleys began what the Deans later learned was a “soft sales pitch” for their faith.

So,” Carol asked one day, “are you and Ted active in any of the base chapel programs?”

Not really,” Laura replied, “we’re what I call low-key Catholic. You might say we attend weekly Mass on a weakly basis,” she remarked with a slight grin. “The truth of the matter is, with our daughter’s medical condition, the Catholic community is not meeting our spiritual or emotional needs, especially with our being far from home.”

Well, we’re very happy with the community of faith that our church offers,” Carol replied. “Let me know if you’re interested in looking into any alternatives to what you have now.”

Oh, how I failed to realize the quiet guile of that moment, Laura thought, her mind running over time like a long forgotten movie.

Within days, Laura and Ted began conversion lessons regarding this new faith. One of the community’s tenets was the concept of “health blessings” intended to aid the afflicted in healing and dealing with chronic illness. While the couple knew such a concept was not confined to any one faith, it was not a major building block of Catholicism, and they quickly focused on what could be offered to their daughter.

Another major concept of the new faith was belief in the “eternal family” which was a major step up from what other Christian faiths offered regarding reconnection with loved ones after death. The eternal family was ensured by a ceremony referred to as “joining”.

Fast forward two months and the Deans were baptized as adult converts into their newly found faith. While placing more expectations — particularly regarding time and money — on its members than Catholicism, there was nothing that they considered to be “bizarre” about their recent spiritual embrace.

Little did the couple know what the future held.


Reflecting back over the years, Laura thought, the phrase “there’s a sucker born every minute” was made with the Deans in mind.


As time passed, the Deans became entrenched in the community of the faith, for the most part getting as much as they gave. After eighteen months of membership, the family was “joined for time and eternity” as a unit that would endure forever.

At least, that’s what was promised and that promise didn’t come without a price in real demands on the family.

Have we written the monthly tithing check, yet?” Laura asked one Saturday, knowing the ten percent payment was due at the next day’s service.

Got it covered,” Ted replied, the both of them knowing that, order to have full privileges in the church — including continuation of their eternal marriage — the faith demanded a consistent ten percent tithe of pre-tax income.

Am I being a bit calloused resenting having to pay this much for full church membership?” Laura asked, revealing some emerging cracks in the foundation of her faith.

Nope,” Ted responded. “But, if ya don’t pays your dues, ya don’t get into the clubhouse,” he added with a bit of a dark chuckle. “At least the clubhouse dues are tax deductible.”

So,” Laura remarked, “after all these years as members of two faiths, I’m not the only one who wonders how corporate religion qualifies as a tax-exempt charity.”

I’m right with you,” Ted replied, confirming that his concerns paralleled those of his spouse.


The major shortcoming of the faith for the couple was the continuing failure of numerous health blessings to achieve anything close to what they had been led to expect regarding their daughter’s health. When they questioned the blessings’ ineffectiveness, the Deans were told to develop more commitment to the church.

You must have more faith and give more to the church,” their congregation leader admonished.

We’re giving as much as we possibly can, was the Dean’s repeated response.

What could we possibly add to the process, the couple began to ask one another.

More but increasingly persistent cracks began to expand in the foundation of their faith.


A bit more than half way into their overseas tour, Ted developed a job-related back condition that became more intense with the passage of several months. The result was over a year’s worth of medical treatments, a major surgery, three relocations, and a completely new military specialty assignment.

Throughout this time, they continued to give what we could to the faith and received support from congregation members wherever we went. Needless to say, the issue of health blessings again came forth and, for both their daughter and Ted, continued to prove to be completely ineffective.

The couple finally settled into an assignment in Idaho and, as they were now back in the states, while Ted served out his military obligation Laura was able to land a part-time but paying position in the local county library.

With this more stable arrangement for the Dean family, the couple was able to critically focus on limitations of the faith, particularly when it came to health blessings. Soon, this limitation of the faith had been accepted and, in response, the couple began to set boundaries on what they would give to the community.

The issue finally came out in the open during one of the couple’s dinner conversations.

It seems,” Laura remarked, “that with the failure of health blessings, we’ve reached a point where we don’t buy into everything the church wants us to believe in and espouse to others.”

Yeah,” Ted replied, “sounds like we’re going to have to start ‘cherry picking’ what to believe and participate in based on what works for us and rejects what doesn’t.”

Kind of ‘buffet believers’,” Laura said with a short snort. “A little of this, none of that, and some of the other.”

Pretty much,” Ted concluded. “Makes me wonder if we’ll ever hit the point where it will all be ‘none of any’.”

The seed of permanently abandoning the faith was sown. Not a viable long-term position in a community that expected unwavering acceptance of doctrine and authority.


It was during this time that the Deans became increasingly aware of how authoritarian, paternalistic, and controlling the faith could be. As former Catholics, the couple had little issue in accepting male leadership but began to encounter situations that ran to the extreme.

Shortly after their arrival in Idaho, the Deans were involved in an incident that indicated cult-like tendencies in their adopted faith.


Shortly after dinner one evening, the phone rang and was answered by Laura.

Dean residence,” she said.

Laura, this is Craig Bowers. Is Ted available?” Bowers was the congregation leader.

Sure, Craig, let me get him.”

A moment later, Ted was talking to Craig.

Good evening, Craig,” Ted said, “what’s up?”

We’re looking to have Laura take on duties in the elementary Sunday school program,” Craig replied, “and are need your permission to let her take on this responsibility.”

I don’t understand,” Ted said, “you were just talking to her and could have asked her directly.”

I’m guessing this is your first experience regarding such as request for a wife to do work within the congregation,” Bowers continued.

Yes, that’s right,” Ted answered, still a bit confused and catching Laura’s attention to join him so he could put the phone on speaker.

Okay,” Bowers went on, “in the church, wives can serve in positions only after the congregation leader has received permission from the husband to allow her to do so.”

I don’t think so!” Laura interjected, a bit surprised at her own defiance. Perhaps the demands and shortcomings of the faith were beginning to take their toll.

Oh, I didn’t realize Laura was listening in,” Bowers said with an acidic tone.

Over the next few minutes, the Deans were lectured on “how things were done” in the faith and about their duty to get in line.

I’m going to withdraw Laura’s name from consideration for the Sunday school position and perhaps we can visit such a matter at a later time,” Craig concluded. “Good evening.”

Over the next few days, the Deans did a bit of independent research regarding gender roles in the faith. Essentially, the system was patriarchal on steroids with positions of authority held by or accountable to some level of male authority. Under the best of circumstances, it was an institution of soft-sell misogyny. There were no “Mr. Moms” in the church and any couple who assumed such a reversal of gender rules was denied full community acceptance, including denial of being joined as an eternal family.

Well,” Laura commented during a bit of pillow-talk one evening, “the past few days have been a bit of a learning experience.”

You are the master of the understated,” Ted replied with a short laugh.

I think that’s the first time I’ve ever been subjected to hard-core authoritarian, misogynistic, man speak.”

Me too,” Ted chimed in, breaking out in a full laugh. “I think you really shocked Craig with your intense pushback the other night.”

Is it really funny?” Laura asked with a bit of irritation in her voice.

Only in how ridiculous it all is” Ted answered. “No one in this church has any more authority over us than we let them have. For my two cents, I’d like to vote that we stop tithing for a bit and see what happens.”

Good point on the authority and great idea on the tithing,” Laura said. “It’s not like we’ve been reaping a lot of benefits. We can still be decent people and good Christians without helping fill the coffers of folks who’d like to micromanage us like we’re two-year olds.”


Things seemed to run along quietly and low-key for the Deans within the congregation over the next couple of months. Then, one Sunday, they were called into Craig Bowers’ office. Once everyone was seated, Bowers began.

It’s been noticed that you haven’t been paying your tithing for the past couple of months,” he said. “May I ask why?”

Ah, Laura thought, the dollars need to keep flowing to keep the authorities in power.

The fact of the matter is,” she replied, surprising Bowers by taking the lead in responding, “we were pretty offended by the treatment we received in our last conversation regarding the Sunday school position.”

She paused for effect and to see what Ted might offer up.

Laura’s spot on, Craig,” Ted added, continuing the couple’s line of thought. “The church’s decision-making process is more top-down and patriarchal than we’re comfortable with. Plus, it’s not something that’s going to help the church recruit converts in the future.”

The two of you have some valid points,” Craig responded, “but change in established institutions comes slowly. That said, I’d like to ask both of you to consider a way of maybe getting a ‘reset’ in place.”

We’re listening,” Laura replied, not vocalizing her growing opinion that the church was more of an entrenched institution than an established one.

There’s an area-wide youth talent competition in the works,” Bowers continued “and we’d like to invite Laura to assist other women from area congregations in pulling off what’s going to be a major organizational and logistics effort. It’s pretty big-time as the three top finishers will be awarded college scholarships to be held in trust until graduation from high school.”

I’ll do it,” Laura replied without a moment’s hesitation.

She turned to Ted and saw he had a look on his face that told her he was taking great satisfaction in seeing his wife make Bowers more than a bit uncomfortable with her directness.

Laura Dean had drawn her line in the sand.

Well,” Craig said, “I guess that settles it. Laura, you’ll be contacted in a few days about getting on board with the committee that’s being formed. Oh, before I forget, might the congregation treasurer expect a tithing check soon?”

We’ll be getting a partial catch-up check to him shortly then see how things go in the coming weeks,” Ted replied.

Bowers nodded with a look of disappointment on his face as the Deans rose and left his office.


Later in the week, Laura found herself gathering with other church women from various congregations to move forward on the talent competition. Before the group began their work, an unexpected visitor, Thomas Sterling, the church’s regional leader, arrived and indicated he wanted to address the group.

Who was going to say ‘no’ to such an auspicious person?

Ladies,” he began as Laura developed a feeling that the next few minutes would not end well, “on behalf of everyone in all the area congregations, I’d like to thank you for your efforts in support of the competition. However, I’ve determined that a couple of proposed performances are too controversial for our faith and need to be deleted from competition. First is a so-called magic presentation. As we all know, magic is a tool of Satan and cannot be tolerated within the confines of church activities. Similarly, a proposed rendition of the song ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ is to be deleted due to its support of the drug culture.”

You’re wrong on both counts,” came the strong, sure voice of Laura Dean.

The ensuing seconds of silence at Dean’s unexpected comment seemed to linger for minutes.

Who,” Sterling asked, “are you and by what authority do you contradict me?” his tone making it clear he was not used to being questioned, especially by a woman.

I’m Laura Dean,” she replied, “and my authority to question you comes from the fact that you have no more authority over me than I give you and right now, that’s damned little.” The women in the group gasped at Laura’s profanity, particularly since it was directed at a church authority in a public setting. “Your attitudes on magic and the song in question are based in ignorance and backward, provincial thinking. Your dictate on these matters should be ignored by this committee.”

Again, there was a silence so thick it could have been cut with a knife.

Ah, Laura Dean,” Sterling said, maintaining his composure in face of this challenge. “The uppity one. I’ve heard of you. Consider yourself relieved of membership on this committee and expect to be contacted by your congregation leader very soon.”

Sterling departed and the committee was left to its work which first consisted of all its members turning their back on Laura in a clear act of shunning.

Enraged but, after their recent interactions with Craig Bowers, not completely surprised about what had just transpired, Laura made her way home where she waited for Ted to come home from work.


Over dinner, Laura related the short, but highly intense, incident with Sterling.

Sounds like we’re looking at some serious dealings with the church over the next few days,” Ted remarked.

Don’t you mean ‘me’?” Laura asked.

Oh, no,” Ted replied, “why should you get all the fun in dealing with what will likely be our last days of membership. What you endured from the other women was nothing less that a clear case of shunning. I don’t think we should be part of any organization that condones such behavior. Very cultish and something we should get away from as soon as possible.”

Thanks,” Laura said with a small smile. “The past months with the faith have been like sitting through a bad movie that you hope will get better but never does.”

At that moment, the doorbell rang and Ted rose to answer. He returned holding a legal envelope.

I’m guessing that’s not a winner’s check from some publishing contest,” Laura quipped.

No, it was dropped off by the congregation clerk who just said ‘This is for you’ and left. It’s addressed to you, so I’ll let you do the honors,” Ted remarked, handing the envelope to Laura.

Opening it, she read aloud:

In view of today’s incident with Thomas Sterling, your presence is expected at a church hearing tomorrow at 7:00PM to assess your fitness for continued membership in the faith.


Craig Bowers

Sounds like I’m about to be kicked to the curb,” Laura said with mixed emotions in her voice.

Lucky lady,” Ted remarked trying to lighten the mood. “Let’s call Craig after dinner and just finish all this over the phone. Being dragged in front of a hearing to be abused just isn’t going to happen.”

Laura nodded in agreement, tears of disappointment, frustration, and anger welling in her eyes.

We just wanted the best for our family,” she said in exhaustion.

Unfortunately, the church wants what’s best for the church. Its supposed devotion to family is just a smoke screen,” Ted concluded.

An hour later, after the Deans had gathered their thoughts and brought their emotions in check, they called Craig Bowers.

With Laura’s hearing scheduled for tomorrow,” Bowers began, “there’s no need for this call. In fact, the church considers it quite inappropriate.”

Well, as you well know, the church seems to consider me to be very inappropriate,” Laura snapped back. Yeah, she reflected, this is definitely the end of the line with this supposed faith.

What do you — and I mean both of you — want from me?” Bowers asked with more than a bit of exasperation in his voice. It was clear the Deans meant to leave the church and he now just wanted to reduce his personal headaches in the matter.

We’ve discussed the matter at length and we’d like our names and those of our children removed from the church records,” Ted replied.

There was a long pause before Bowers spoke.

I can arrange for that to happen and to cancel the hearing as well. Be aware that you will be considered to be ‘voluntarily excommunicated apostates’, your eternal joining will be nullified, and you will be shunned at every turn by church members wherever you go.”

We can handle that,” Laura retorted.

Then I guess we’re done here,” Craig concluded. “My personal best wishes to you in all your future endeavors.”


In the days and weeks that followed, the Deans adjusted to their new reality. People who had been their friends ignored them and children from church families were no longer permitted to play with the Dean youngsters.

Fortunately, virtually none of Ted’s coworkers were church members and the couple quickly established a new social network. A year after leaving the church, Ted separated from the military and took a job as an airport manager at a small city in northern California close to family on both sides. Laura again found part time work at a library which left her plenty of time to spend with the couple’s now two daughters. Fate had been kind and the older child had moved into full remission from her illness. Unlike several years ago, the family’s future seemed quite bright.

As the Deans settled into their new life, one evening, Laura approached Ted with an unexpected question.

Ted,” she began, “what would you think about returning to the Catholic church?”

His eyebrows rose in surprise.

Maybe not full immersion right away,” she continued. “Baby steps, actually. Especially after that last disaster.

So, weakly attending weekly Mass?” he remarked with a grin.

Laura nodded with a laugh.

Consider me to be your willing plus-one,” he said.


Over the next couple of years, the Deans were reasonably active in their parish, attending services on a fairly regularly basis, taking part in charity work, and adding to their social network of friends and acquaintances.

Then the scandal about the long-enduring sexual abuse of children and associated cover-up by Catholic clergy became public and grew into a worldwide tumor on the faith. The church was shaken to its core.

After several weeks of following media coverage of the scandal, things came to a head for the Deans.


So,” Ted asked as the couple cleared the dinner dishes, “what’s your take on all that’s going on with the church?”

Very much wondering what we’re doing with continued membership,” Laura replied without hesitation. “Despite the church’s attempt to soft-sell the media exposure as isolated cases of ‘abuse’ back east, those priests and higher-ups were doing nothing less than committing the most horrific levels of child abuse. Short of outright murder, it’s the most heinous betrayal one person can perpetuate upon another. Then there’s the cover-up and complicity at the highest levels. It sickens me to my core and I believe the Catholic church should be driven into the ground and eradicated from the planet. I want out.”

Given his wife’s strength of character, her feelings on the matter didn’t surprise him.

Maybe it’s time to cut all ties with religion,” he said.

Sounds like you’ve been reading my mind,” Laura continued. “I’m all but life-and-death certain that what’s been exposed is going to be just the tip of the iceberg and what’s happened isn’t limited to one small geographic area.

I’ve been doing a lot of research over the past few days and the only logical conclusion is all faiths are nothing more than self-serving and dishonest corporations. There’s just no reliable and verifiable information to logically and rationally conclude that a deity of any sort exists or has ever existed.

The human species has simply allowed itself to be taken in by a massive ‘god fraud’ perpetuated by those who gain much at the expense of the few.

I’m done,” she concluded.

Ted took a few moments to process the intensity and finality of Laura’s comments.

I can’t fault your logic,” he replied.

Am I hearing a ‘but’ about to be added?” she questioned.

No,” he answered, “just thinking about overcoming a lifetime of ‘go-along, get-along’ inertia. I think friends and family won’t question our dropping out of religious activity, but we’ll likely have to tread lightly when it comes to being open about our atheism.”

Atheism?” Laura repeated.

It’s the only practical answer to leaving religion behind,” he continued.

Well,” Laura said, “in my research, I did come across concepts associated with humanism and there are several organized groups in our area.”

That might be our next best stop,” Ted agreed.

Yes, but first I want to call the parish office and get our family off the church membership rolls.”

I’m guessing that’ll be easier than our last fiasco,” he said with a short laugh.

No doubt,” Laura concluded.


The next morning, Laura made the call that would forever disconnect her family from any established religious faith.

Good morning, this is the Rosemont parish. How may I help you?” was the friendly greeting from the parish admin.

Yes, this is Laura Dean,” Laura replied. “I’m afraid circumstances are compelling us to request removal of all our family members from the church rolls and that there be no contact from anyone in the Catholic church in the future.”

The deep sigh Laura heard from the admin indicated that the woman had heard this before. But, she was obligated to make a last-ditch pitch for continued membership.

Is there anything the church can do to change your mind?” came the rote question.

Regrettably, no,” Laura answered.

Alright,” said the woman, “just to confirm this is full removal from membership.”

Yes, that’s correct, please remove our names from the parish rolls,” Laura Dean said to the woman on the other end of a conversation that marked the end of a decade-long search for a faith that she hoped would bring her family to the embrace of a single, true god. “Thank you for your time.”

The search for true faith had ended with a short phone call and a family entering the world of humanistic atheism.

This is a short, fictional adaptation of the two-decade, off and on effort by my wife and I to find “the one true church”. Needless to say, the text is a highly condensed version of this effort yet may well touch reality for many readers. If this work of fiction can assist anyone in the search for factual truth, all the better.

The author is a retired Silicon Valley technical writer who has pursued creative writing as an avocation for the past twenty-plus years. His first published works were a series of travel and local interest items, culminating in a “Your Kind of Town” contribution to the Smithsonian magazine in late 2009. From there, the author focused on a series of short stories, two of which appeared in anthology releases with other texts published by independent outlets. In 2013, he released Dark Deception, a self-published novel that is still available via various online sources.

In addition to writing, the author pursues freelance photography efforts, gardening, time with an aging but energetic Dalmatian and travel with his wife, Mikayla. As time permits, he tinkers with his website, miroerarts.com.

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