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Culturally Religious
aka: Raised Catholic

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"I wouldn't be a very spiritual man, right. I don't believe in God, right. Still, Catholic. Because there's nothing you can do when you're Catholic. Once you've started Catholic, frankly, there's no real way to stop being Catholic. Even not believing in God isn't regarded as sufficient reason to get out of the Catholic Church."

There are many who were raised religious, and — even though their life has moved away from adamantly following their religion's doctrine — are still really concerned with their religion and/or cite it often. This comes up very frequently in any Good Girls Avoid Abortion conversation, as when a female character will suddenly be revealed as a "good Catholic" who just can't do it.

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This also pops up a lot with many comedians, directors, and musicians. Even though they may be lapsed, converted to another religion, or are now atheists, religious imagery and topics often still appear in their works. There are also certain N-Word Privileges: A comedian who tells you he or she was raised religious is probably going to make a lot of religious jokes or observations about their faith, which might be deemed more offensive if it came from someone else.

For whatever reason — perhaps because Christianity Is Catholic — this is particularly common for those who were raised Catholic, but there seems to be no common Protestant equivalent to this trope, even though people paying lip service to their family or culture's religion is as old as religion itself. One possible explanation for this is that Catholicism, much more than Protestantism, is considered by some to be a part of one's ethnic and cultural identity in addition to being a religion, especially for those whose national heritage is tied to the Church (such as people of Irish, Italian, Polish, Hispanic, or Filipino descent); Informed Judaism pretty much works this way, as well. Another possibility is that compared to Protestantism, the Catholic Church places a somewhat stronger emphasis on iconography and ritual; this can then become a rich source of material for former Catholic authors who may no longer remember the subtler doctrinal aspects of Catholicism, or who also may require an easy cue for their non-Catholic audiences to recognize. The third probable answer is the fact that it used to be rather difficult to formally abandon membership in the Catholic Church, and since 2010 it's impossible, which means that the Church still considers practically all lapsed Catholics as members of its flock whether they like it or not. (That baptism leaves quite the indelible mark on the soul...)

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Yet this trope is by no means unique to Catholicism. There are Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, LDS, Jehovah's Witness, Jewish, and even Pentecostal and Baptist equivalents of this trope. This is especially common in Russian works, where the Orthodox Church is an institution and has a huge influence on the culture, but is largely seen a means to an end (usually for marriage) and otherwise does not greatly impact individuals' personal lives. In much of Northern Europe, this applies to Finns, Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes who are registered as members of their national Lutheran Churches, even though many rarely attend. The same largely applies to the English note , who might causally refer to their church as "COE" (the Anglican Church Of England)

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There are various shadings of this. A "Sunday Catholic" is someone who attends Mass regularly, and may or may not follow Church doctrine closely; a "Christmas and Easter Catholic" is someone who attends Mass only on those holidays (and maybe such events as weddings and funerals), again regardless of how closely they hold to Church doctrine; a "cafeteria Catholic" is a usually derisive term for someone who chooses which of the Church's teachings to follow or ignore; an "ex-Catholic" or "recovering Catholic" has left the Church, may or may not self-identify or have formally converted to another religion, but still has the cultural baggage of having been raised Catholic; a "cultural Catholic" or "non-practicing Catholic" still identifies as Catholic due to family or ethnic heritage but really doesn't adhere to the religion itself; and a "lapsed Catholic" or "fallen-away Catholic" is the Catholic Church's own term for all of the above, except perhaps the "Sunday Catholic" (depending on how much he/she hews to Church doctrine and how much any differences can be justified as legitimate theological argument—which is, truth be told, rather a lot).

Compare and contrast Ambiguously Christian. See also Nuns 'n' Rosaries. These characters (and creators) commonly invoke Love Is Like Religion.


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Huntress, aka Helena Bertinelli, of the Batman family and Birds of Prey, doesn't bring it up often, but she wears cross jewelry and prays before she fights Lady Shiva, possibly to the death. Her faith has varied in strength over the years, from non-existent (an important plot point in one story) to firm (but never devout). The strength of her faith is used as a symbol of how much hope and optimism she has for the future. In bad times, her faith declines. For example, after causing the death of a mob boss who knew her identity, she throws away her cross. In good times, her faith is stronger. For example, she plans on attending Mass after getting her teaching job and feeling accepted by the Birds of Prey.

    Fan Works 
  • Tim Drake and his late father Jack both fall into this category in Angel of the Bat, though Tim eventually finds much of his faith again. Though she wasn't raised with the faith, by the end Cassandra is a deeply spiritual cafeteria Catholic mostly as a result of her pansexuality and the girl she starts dating. Even the author, who calls himself a deeply religious man, is also a big proponent of God Before Dogma.
  • Ultra Fast Pony. In the episode "Faith to Faith":
    Applejack: "Faithless heathen"? Screw you, I'll have you know I'm Catholic!
    Twilight: Wait a minute. You're a Catholic?
    Applejack: Yeah...
    Twilight: But you don't believe in God.
    Applejack: Of course I don't! I'm Catholic!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Dogma, in the beginning, Bethany doesn't believe in God and works at an abortion clinic, but still goes to Mass every Sunday.
  • Jennifer's Body: Needy appears to be nominally Catholic since her mom crosses herself after talking about Jesus' crucifixion; later, she calls on God along with a couple of saints while fighting Jennifer.

    Literature 
  • This is perhaps the most important theme in Brideshead Revisited; Catholicism has left an indelible mark on the souls of the errant Flytes (Lord Marchmain, Sebastian, and Julia), and all of them are eventually and almost inevitable reconciled with the Church.
  • Cut and Run's Nick O'Flaherty is Irish Catholic. He makes no mention of going to church and isn't really shown praying, but he's apparently practicing enough to stop dead in the middle of an armed chase scene after running by a church and realizing he might be about to kill people on Easter Sunday. He makes sure to cross himself before his friends pull him back to the chase.
    Nick: I'm going to Hell anyway, I don't know why I bother anymore.
  • The Dracula Tape, Dracula is revealed to be actually a Traditionalist Catholic as religious artifacts don't have an effect on him, but he admits not being practicing anymore at the time he tells his side of the story. Still, he takes great offense at having seeing communion wafers weaponized by Van Helsing and delightfully deconstructs how he got them wrong.
  • In the Emberverse, Juniper MacKenzie was raised Catholic, and other characters observe that, despite having converted to Wicca, she still seems to be carrying her Catholic Guilt.
  • In the Stephanie Plum series, both Stephanie and her sister Valerie mention still having guilt instilled by a Catholic upbringing, even though neither actively practices the faith.
  • These Words Are True and Faithful: Ernie identifies as a Catholic but does not observe that faith or even know anything about it beyond what he half-remembers from CCD.
  • Cole St. Clair in Wolves of Mercy Falls Series is heavily implied to be this, without the title "Catholic" ever being used. He is seen holding a rosary, "Fingers grasping the beads as if the gesture was familiar" and later, an interviewer questions his belief in God, quoting Cole's former role as a choir boy. Given that Cole is now a Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll poster child, he is very much the lapsed sort.
  • The Brentford Trilogy features Irish John Omally, who is, in his own words "... a Catholic. Not a good one, but a Catholic, nonetheless." While he seems to have little attachment to the faith in his everyday life and readily admits that the Church's answers to the great questions only raised more questions for him, he does occasionally seek out father Moity for spiritual advice and is willing to risk his life to defend the Church against the depravations of a demonic reincarnation of Alexander Borgia.
  • Household Gods: Nicole was raised a Catholic. Though she's lapsed, the contempt Roman pagans have toward Christians even so strikes hard given her background.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Davos starts out as an atheist, but still instinctively invokes the Seven while seeing something as shocking as Melisandre getting heavily pregnant within days and giving birth to a shadow monster. He later comes to believe in her powers because of this (though he's still no fan of her god).
  • Played for comedy with Mac in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, who only remembers his Catholic faith when he wants to complain or to criticize other people. In one episode Charlie and Mac are both okay with pre-marital sex and abortion but refuse to use birth control because "we went to Catholic school."
  • On House, Chase was raised Catholic, and in the Season 1 episode Damned If You Do it was revealed that he attended seminary before becoming a doctor. It's always interesting when the episode has nuns in it or otherwise mentions religion and God. He zigzags from one end of the belief/skepticism spectrum to the other throughout the series. One season 8 episode sees him fall in love with a novice nun patient and try to lure her away from the Church. His efforts actually get a What the Hell, Hero? from House himself.
  • The A-Team has Templeton Peck, who was raised in Catholic orphanages. Most certainly falls into either the lapsed or recovering groups, as he had no qualms with impersonating a priest if the con asks it of him.
  • Jack Killian from Midnight Caller is a lifelong Catholic, although he isn't very devout.

    Web Animation 
  • Raimi from Broken Saints has a lot of snark reserved for supposedly supernatural practices and is far from reverent in his inner monologue, but still has a crucifix on his wall at home and carries some Catholic guilt.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • While Brad Jones considers himself an agnostic, it's mentioned in his reviews that he attended Sunday School and has Christian friends. This is especially evident in his DVD-R Hell skewering of Rock: It's Your Decision and Deception of a Generation.
  • The late programmer and TempleOS creator Terry A. Davis grew up in a Catholic household and became an atheist until he had a "revelation" from God that ordered him to build the Third Temple of Jerusalem in software format and became a born-again Christian of an unclear denomination. Though he expressed disdain for Catholicism (especially towards the Pope and the Irish) he admitted in an infamous TempleOS blog post that at some point in his life he fantasized about leading an "Catholic army" like in Dune composed of Mexicans and Brazilians (both belong to Catholic-majority countries).

    Real Life 
  • Kevin Smith, who makes foul movies filled with all sorts of cussing and donkey shows, is still obviously obsessed with his Catholic upbringing. And made the movie Dogma. However, he goes to Mass only before commencing the filming of a movie, and before the premiere. He's also pretty open about being a "Cafeteria Catholic."
  • Martin Sheen has been quoted thus: “I'm one of those cliff-hanging Catholics. I don't believe in God, but I do believe that Mary was his mother.” He became a believer again after reading The Brothers Karamazov, which was given to him by Terrence Malick.
  • Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie once described himself as "this indoctrinated Catholic even though I haven't been to church of my own volition in 10 or 15 years now."
  • Luis Buñuel. Even though he is obviously anticlerical, it's impossible to point out one of his films that doesn't include a reference to Catholicism.
  • Guillermo del Toro is an atheist, who was also raised Catholic and uses a lot of Catholic imagery.
  • Edmund McMillen, the creator of The Binding of Isaac, was raised around Catholics and once compared the faith to Dungeons & Dragons. He cites Catholicism's morbid and violent imagery as influential on Isaac's development. In the game, there are many homages to Catholic teaching, such as the Seven Deadly Sins Isaac must defeat, the Rosary, the Bible, and even the Wafer.
  • A poll from a religious magazine directed at Catholics in France has concluded that 48% of them don't believe in God. Not 48% of the French, 48% of the Catholics. In contrast to Ireland, France enjoys the world's most ironclad separation of church and state so getting your kids into school isn't an issue. This is purely a matter of belief and self-identification.
  • Madonna was raised Catholic, and a lot of her songs, music videos, and albums (particularly from The '80s) allude to this. She once stated: "Once you're a Catholic, you're always a Catholic—in terms of your feelings of guilt and remorse and whether you've sinned or not."
  • Lady Gaga was also raised Catholic and even attended an all-girls Catholic school as a kid. Her video for the song "Alejandro" features strong Catholic imagery.
  • Martin Scorsese said "I'm a lapsed Catholic. But I am Roman Catholic - there's no way out of it." His films often deal with Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption. It's been suggested that his 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ, which offended many in the Catholic Church (and many other churches besides) can be chalked up to a vague sense of self-loathing or alienation on Scorsese's part.
  • Joe Rogan, who makes references to his Catholic School education and Catholic upbringing despite being an atheist now.
  • Denis Leary goes so far as to found the Lapsed Catholic Church at the end of his second album, Lock'N'Load. He also admits that he couldn't remember the Hail Mary prayer during a scene when his character in Rescue Me has to recite it, but can name the starting lineup of the 1967 Red Sox off the top of his head.
  • Brazil, like Ireland, is a predominantly Catholic country. Brazilian Catholics are non-practicing majority Catholics. The same can be, and is—probably with varying degrees of accuracy—said about most majority-Catholic countries.
  • Dan Savage is openly atheist and a supporter of the skeptical movement but considers himself "culturally Catholic" because he was raised that way and respected his parents' beliefs. He tends to bring this up when religious conservatives accuse him of being "anti-Christian."
  • Camille Paglia. While she currently identifies as an atheist, she has credited her upbringing in the Roman Catholic church as highly influential to her interest in paganism and its themes in art and culture.
  • Jeremy Irons, who coincidentally played the ruthless Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) on The Borgias is by no means practicing, but does cite his local parish as somewhat of an influence in his philosophy on caring for others.
  • Anthony Burgess was raised by Catholic parents in Manchester, England. He had a heavily religious education in Catholic schools and, though he lapsed from his faith in his adult life, his works are consistent with a Catholic perspective and worldview on various subject matters such as the concept of free will in A Clockwork Orange.
  • A few people from Rooster Teeth cite themselves as this, though most notably Burnie Burns and Michael Jones. The former's dad was a priest at one point before retiring, and while Burnie doesn't seem much of a believer now he admits he would struggle to get rid of a Bible. The latter was raised Catholic by his parents and has said that he doesn't really follow it in adult life.
  • The entire Canadian province of Quebec is an example of this trope. From the conquest of Nouvelle France by the British until the 1960s, the dominant political and social power was the Catholic Church. Then, in the 1960s there was the Quiet Revolution, wherein hospitals and schools became government-run instead of Church-run (though nuns and priests still tour the hospitals on Sunday to offer the Host. Also, schools taught Catholicism until the last decade, though you could opt out very easily.), and the Church was demonized into a totalitarian, reactionary relic of a bygone age. Still, the majority of Quebecers, even those born after the 1960s, are baptized and know the basics of the religion. And suggesting the huge honking cross should be removed from the National Assembly (or the top of Mount Royal), that the mayor should not have the right to say a prayer to open a council session, or that the Premier should publicly wish people Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas (or rather Joyeux Noël) will cause a huge media storm and talks on how those things are not religious but cultural. Oh, and whenever a Quebecois(e) swears, they sound like they're listing off items from a church.
  • Edward Elgar was an English composer who was also brought up as a Catholic. He was sympathetic to English Catholics suffering prejudice in Protestant Britain and he composed a couple of religious choral works, like The Dream of Gerontius, The Kingdom, The Apostles, and The Light of Life. However, he was not particularly devout and was ambivalent towards the Catholic faith, especially towards the end of his life. He only continued going to Mass because his wife Alice, who was a devout Catholic convert from Anglicanism, encouraged him to or because he admired a particular priest in a parish. He also denied that there is an afterlife.
  • Romantic composer Hector Berlioz was also raised Catholic and gained his love of music from the Church. After seven years, his religious fervour eventually died down and he became an agnostic for the rest of his life. However, he was not hostile to the Church and fondly recalled his childhood years. The influence of religious music remained with him throughout his life and he went on to compose a Requiem, a Te Deum, and L'enfance du Christ, an oratorio on the childhood of Jesus.
  • The Dutch provinces of Limburg and North Brabant are distinctly Catholic, and have traditions like Carnival and lighting votive candles, which stands in contrast to most of the culturally Protestant Netherlands. Despite this, very few Dutch Catholics actually believe their religion.
  • Roger Ebert considered himself to be a Catholic and was even friends with a priest (and former Sun-Times writer) named Fr. O'Leary, even though he considered himself to be an agnostic. His colleague Richard Roeper is Catholic, but according to his own words, "not always first in line for Sunday Mass."
  • Comedian Mike Birbiglia. In one of his bits, he says that you can always tell people who went to Catholic school because they're atheists.
  • Tom Baker is an extreme example as he was not only raised Catholic but was into it enough that he spent his late teens as a Trappist monk. Even though he lost his faith, he has remained obsessed with religion ever since and is notorious for banging on about it in interviews no matter what the interviewer is trying to ask him. Sufficiently symbolically sensitive viewers may notice the Catholic imagery and Messianic Archetype symbolism he incorporated into that character for which he is most famous.
  • My Chemical Romance — all four of the core membersnote  were raised Catholic, and it shows, both in their lyrics and aesthetic choices; see the band's page for a non-exhaustive list of example lyrics. It also shows (if less prominently) in their post-My Chem solo careers.
  • Patrick Stump, lead singer of Fall Out Boy. He describes himself as "somewhere between a post-Catholic and a Taoist". Although his mother left the religion, he says "it still has an influence."
  • There's an apocryphal story about a (Catholic) seminar student who went to his mentor saying he no longer believed in God. The mentor responded to him with compassion and understanding and, after a period of study and reflection, led him back to faith. The student later went to his mentor saying he no longer believed in the authority of the Pope; he was told he would have to regain his belief by the afternoon or be expelled from his studies.


Alternative Title(s): Good Catholic, Raised Catholic

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