When I was a kid I heard about god mostly from my grandparents. My grandma would enthusiastically open the blinds and say good morning to the sun and thank god for another day on earth. It never really occurred to me what her actions actually meant until I was much older. I just thought it was fun. My family celebrated all of the major Roman Catholic holidays such as, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Easter and of course Christmas. When I was a little kid I loved the holidays. The holidays were a good opportunity to eat special foods (candy) and to play with my cousins, which I loved. It never occurred to me that we were observing a holy day because the focus was always on the food and of course some family drama.
It wasn’t until I was around 8 years old that my parents started making me go to religions school on Saturdays. I went to public school so I had to “supplement” my education every other weekend at the church school with all of the other public school children. This was the first time I was fully exposed to Christian doctrine and the stories in the bible. We were given a “kids bible”, but the messages were the same. Two things always stuck out in my mind. The first was that Jesus loved me and watched over me. The second was that there were two types of sin and I was born a sinner. My understanding was that the first type of sin was like not listening to my parents, while the other type of sin would get me sent to hell. I explicitly remember the nun explaining the different types of sin to us and then playing off the second type by saying “oh, well no one has to worry about that one.” None the less, it still scared the shit out of me and I spent way too much time worrying about what was going to get me sent to hell. As per the religion school’s instructions, I always fasted for Lent. One time when I was a freshman in high school I nearly had a heart attack for accidentally eating a slice of Hawaiian pizza on a Friday after band practice. When I left the pizza shop I was just waiting for something terrible to happen to me. I imagined something like a car jumping the curb and running me over.
Even after the 5 years that I attended religious instructions, I still didn’t feel like I grasped the idea of being Catholic, other than maybe being paranoid about constantly being watched by god. During class, I never participated and I usually just burned a hole through the clock above the chalkboard in a sweltering hot room. I was constantly getting into trouble for not paying attention and not participating. By ten years old, I was pretty sure I was committing the more serious type of sin. There were a few fun moments here and there, which usually involved getting into trouble, but for the most part I thought it was a huge waste of time. I despised going and I fought tirelessly, but I was never given the choice to stop.
One of my most memorable moments at religious school was when a fiery girl in my class challenged our teacher, who was a nun. The girl announced that she believed that god was a woman and not a man. Her reason was because women have babies and men can’t, so she believed that a man couldn’t have made everything. The Catholic nun’s pale white face was bright red. She couldn’t out debate this ten year old and she knew it. Two thoughts were running through my mind at the time. One was that I was absolutely in love with this girl, and the second was that she stumped this old woman who devoted her entire life to Catholicism. The nun never seemed happy so I couldn’t tell if she hated being a nun, despised children, or both, but she didn’t even attempt to defend her position. The fiery girl raised a valid point and the nun couldn’t give her a valid reason why god couldn’t be a woman other than “well, that’s not what the bible says.” Needless to say, the girl was not in class much longer.
Instances such as the fiery girl challenging the nun are when I would say the cracks started to form for me. For the most part, I did as I was told, but my belief in a god was always questionable, even at a young age because I wanted proof. I considered talking to my parents about it, but I figured that bringing up questions like these with my parents was pointless. They were clearly making me go to this school so they must have believed it. So, on I plodded down the road towards the righteous path, although I did not choose it. To make matters worse, I was then sent to Catholic high school. I went to public school up to grade 9, but then I was sent to an all male school to get a “good Catholic education.” In high school the main focuses were writing, math, science and computer science, but religion was always still there. God and religion were almost exclusively discussed in theology class, but there was naturally a religious undertone in everything we did. For example, we were required to write AMDG on top of all of our assignments, which roughly translates “For the greater glory of God.” We were also required to pray and go to mass at least once a month. Mass was nothing more than an opportunity to get yourself into trouble because the teachers would circle the pews like sharks and hand out days of detention by the dozen.
Our theology classes were rarely interesting, but the teachers were surprisingly kind. Once again, there were a lot of stories about sacrifice and punishment, but there was no real evidence to back any of it up. For the most part, we saw theology class as an easy way to boost our GPAs, but some challenged the teachers. Looking back on it now, most of us were scared to challenge a teacher. I had one teacher who taught theology for thirty years. What kid is going to argue that everything they’re teaching is bogus? Nobody is, especially since detention was handed out so easily. This was indoctrination at its best and its worst. Like most of my peers, I just wanted to keep my head down, graduate and go to college. The worst part of mixing religion and high school was that it always left me feeling conflicted. I was required to suspend belief in theology class and then provide concrete evidence in chemistry class through conducting experiments. As an impressionable student, this left conflicting thoughts in my head. It taught me how to compartmentalize and to not question anyone, especially if they’re an authoritative figure, like a nun or a teacher.
If I told you that I had the first bat that Mickey Mantle ever hit a major league home run with you would want to see proof because of the improbability of that being true, and I would completely understand that. My struggle wasn’t whether god and religion was real; my struggle was why something so complex and grand wouldn’t have more evidence of its existence. Take dinosaurs for example. Dinosaurs were tremendous and to actually wrap your head around the idea that an animal could weight nearly 30 tons and walk the earth is difficult, but there are remnants and bones. There are lots and lots of gigantic bones that even tell us how old they are through radioactive decay. Even as imperfect as the evidence may be, there are tangible remnants of these gigantic creatures that are put on display in museums for all to see. The question I always had, and still have to this day is this; wouldn’t there be some type of artifact or remnants of THE most powerful being that ever existed? Instead, there are stories and schools and building dedicated to telling these stories.
As you can see, high school did not provide much clarity, it just added to my confusion about Catholicism and religion as a whole. I can say that since high school (20 years), I’m still left with so many questions. No one has been able to answer my questions and I know why; there are no answers to these questions. I believe that god and religion is whatever you want it to be. Our purpose and place in the universe should always be up for discussion and debate, and no one person has the “right” answer, although most religions will tell you that they do. I think that the right answer is unique to the individual and you can choose to believe in an explanation that best suits your needs, so long as you are kind and compassionate to others. I came to this conclusion after many years of being told other people’s beliefs, which still lay dormant inside of me.
I am a parent now and I feel like I have the ability to start over. People ask about religion for my kids and I tell them that I don’t practice any particular religion and that I don’t intend on imposing one upon my child. I’ve received many looks of concern and some people are just horrified by the idea. I don’t believe that I am saving my children from something evil; I am just giving my children the ability to choose on their own, instead of making the decision for them, like the decision was made for me. I want to give my kids that ability to think critically, make a choice on their own and then live with that choice if they so choose to. I wasn’t given a choice when it came to religion, and I think I would be a lot happier with my religious beliefs now, had I been given the ability to discover what I wanted to believe. As an adult I still struggle with my religious beliefs, but I believe I am in a better place now. I haven’t lost my way, but I have lost my religion.