As a child, I grew up Catholic. Not because I wanted to be, but because that’s what my parents were. I went to Catholic grade school and high schools for thirteen years. During those years I would attend mass during the week and then again on the weekend. That was just the norm. I didn’t know any better, but I can’t say I really complained much. Sure, there were some altercations between me and my parents, like when I once dared to untuck my shirt in church or didn’t want to kneel because I preferred to sit, but for the most part I enjoyed growing up with religion in my life.
I look back fondly at my Catholic school moments with religion. I enjoyed learning the stories in the Bible, and weekday masses with the rest of the school were fun. We had a Sister who would come and play guitar, and she would even take requests for our favorite church songs. The first priest I can remember at our church incorporated plays into holiday masses. People used to complain about how long his homilies were, but I remember always being captivated by them. To me, they seemed like cool stories and a way to make things relevant. I believed that God watched over me every second and that Jesus came down from heaven, died, and rose from the dead, but I also believed in Santa Claus at one point too.
I’m not sure exactly when or why things changed, but I no longer consider myself religious. Maybe it was around the time that I discovered Santa wasn’t real. I mean let’s face it, for most kids that revelation has you questioning everything. Maybe it was just part of getting older. The stories weren’t as fun and original as they were as a young kid, now that I had heard them over and over and over again. Nothing seemed to change. Every week it was the same things over and over again. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, kneel, shake hands, kneel, sit, stand. The rituals never changed, and why did we even do these things anyways? At fourteen years old, I started to question everything about religion. Why do we do these things? Does God really care if I sit down during this part of mass or stand? Does it matter if I kneel or if I sit? Why do I have to bow my head at certain words and phrases, or hold my arms out during a certain prayer, or even interlock my hands with someone I don’t want to? It just didn’t make sense. I asked my mom why we had to go to church, and she told me that the least we could do was set aside an hour a week to thank God for everything we had in our lives. While I didn’t disagree, I wondered why I couldn’t do that at the beginning or end of each day from my bedroom.
The more I started to question these things, the more I started to question religion in general. In the Catholic church, Confirmation is the sacrament you receive at fourteen that affirms you want to “officially” be part of their faith. It’s supposed to be the time when you make the grown up decision on your own that literally seals your fate with the Catholic church, at fourteen! For most people that attend Catholic schools, this is just what you do. Everybody else is doing it, so just follow along. It’s not much different than going to church, just do what everyone else is doing and don’t really think about it. The problem was, I thought a lot about it, and the more I thought about it the more I realized I didn’t want to get confirmed. It wasn’t that I had anything specifically against the Catholic church at that time, but I just knew I wasn’t sure if I wanted to officially join any religion at that point in my life. After all, this was my decision, right? Wrong!
When I informed my mom that I did not want to be confirmed, she told me that I was not going to be the only kid in the school that didn’t get confirmed. How would that make them look? I remember telling her that the sacrament was MY choice, and that by me not getting confirmed it would look like they were letting me make my own choice. Seemed logicial, but it didn’t go much further than that conversation and my mom telling me that I was going to be confirmed. A week or so later, I trudged through the ceremony and officially became a member of the Catholic church. At fourteen, I made the ‘adult’ decision that this is what ‘I’ wanted, despite never being exposed to any other religions or branches of Christianity. I was sworn in as Catholic, because that’s what my parents were.
I didn’t outwardly turn against the church after that, but I can say that my faith and belief in the practices of Catholicism were changed. In high school and college I went to church, but I honestly remember doing it because I wanted to impress girls, or keep the one I was dating happy. Before getting married, my wife and I had to take the classes the Catholic church forces you to go through before you can say “I do” in one of their churches. Don’t even get me started on having a man who has never been married offering up relationship advice, but during those classes we also had to meet with a mentor couple. They were wonderful people, but during those sessions I watched my fiance breakdown into tears. She was distraught because I didn’t always attend church with her anymore. She felt like I wasn’t supporting her and her religious beliefs, and she was worried that when we had kids I wouldn’t model a good religious faith for them. It was heartbreaking to see her crying like that in front of relative strangers, so because I loved her I started going to church more frequently. Not because I wanted to, but again, because someone else was telling me too.
I’m not sure if it was the fact that I felt like Catholicism was being forced on me, or if it was the idea that anything was being forced on me that caused me to turn against my religion. For years, I had wanted that feeling I had as a kid to return when it came to religion. I asked to try different churches or branches of Christianity, but they were always rejected, so I just trudged on in my Catholicism. Over time, it got to the point where I despised going to church.
It didn’t help that I was a history teacher, so a big part of my job was sharing objective stories with kids about how throughout history religion was and still is at the forefront of so much violence and hatred in our world. The Crusades, The Inquisition, heck, even the start of Christianity was centered around the violent death of so many early believers. It just never made sense to me that people would kill someone else in the name of religion. Somehow, the fact a person had been born and raised with one set of religious beliefs made them superior to another just blew my mind. Yet, we still see this in our society today.
Christians talk about forgiveness and loving thy neighbor, but that must not apply to gay people. They are labeled as sinners, and Christians work arduously to make sure they do not have the same rights as heterosexuals. Why? Because some group of random writings from a couple thousand years ago might have a line or two suggesting it was wrong. However, Christians are quick to point out how forgiving God is of our sins. It’s okay to walk around and do horrible things as long as you say you’re sorry, but being gay is out of the question. This is why some people think it is okay to target gay people in the name of religion.
How about all of the cases of child molestation that the church has worked tirelessly to hide and and ignore? Oftentimes the church knew of these instances and did nothing about it. I’m supposed to support a religion that protects those kind of people? But hey, it’s all about forgiveness right? I guess if that’s the case then Hitler should be forgiven? Are we supposed to believe that he was just a misguided Christian?
There is just so much hypocracy in any form of organized religion that I just can’t get behind it as an adult. I understand that it is about faith, and that as humans we all have weaknesses. So when I see pastors just taking endless amounts of money from their congregations to create elaborate churches, I can’t help but smile and shake my head. Since I grew up Catholic, I know the story about Jesus going through the Temple and chasing out all of the merchants because they were making the house of the Lord into a marketplace. Yet, today places of worship have coffee shops in them! Anybody else seeing the irony of organized religion in how they run with some areas of the Bible but ignore others?
The Christian faith has always centered around money. In the past, one the quickest ways to gain power in the church was by giving it more money. All could be forgiven with the paying of indulgences. The idea that you could buy your way into heaven seems ridiculous now, or does it. Churches are constantly asking people for money today. If you don’t tithe, you’re not being a good person. How do you know that a person’s extra income isn’t going to good deeds in the community? Instead, we’re supposed to hand over our extra money to the church and let them choose how to spend it? So if I give $10 a week to people that need gas or a little something to eat, but I don’t go to church or give it to them, I’m not fulfilling my Christian obligations? I find it very ironic when Christian conservatives complain about having to give money over to the government so they can spend your money on what they think is best, but they don’t question it when it comes to the church.
These are just some of the reasons why I can’t get behind organized religion. It has caused more problems in society throughout our history than it has helped. I don’t want to go even deeper on other political issues, but there are endless modern day clips where church leaders use their platforms to “preach” about political views and wild conspiracy theories. Didn’t we set up a society where there is separation of church and state? People can believe whatever they want without interference from the government, and churches can operate free of government taxation and interference; but, it is okay for churches to use that power and influence to support political candidates and views? Organized religion at its finest. https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/2022/05/20/its-bad-faith-say-christians-cant-vote-democrats-pastor-greg-locke-hill/9844735002/
Now, I know that many people go to church for a sense of belonging and community. I completely respect that. In fact, I think that’s what I’ve been missing over the years. My first church as a child had such a great community feel, and my parents were involved within the church. Once we moved away, I never was able to find a similar connection to a church like when I was young. Perhaps, maybe if I did I would change some of my views and opinions now, but I think I’m too far gone. At Christmas Eve mass, I couldn’t even bring myself to utter all of the weekly sayings and phrases at certain parts of the mass. Instead, I just stood there and thought about the things I was grateful for, wishing the best for family and friends, and just reflected on how I had gotten to this state with religion.
Maybe I should “pray on it.” I remember praying when I was a kid and “talking” to God, but I also remember “talking” to Santa Claus as a kid. I just shake my head a smile when I see people ask for prayers or calling all prayer warriors. It makes me picture God sitting around with a smile saying to himself, “Well, I was going to let John die, but since he officially reached 2,500 prayer requests, I am going to intervene on this one.” I understand the comfort of prayer, but I shake my head at the idea that people believe it plays a role in the outcome of events. Somehow your prayers made a person a better doctor? The medicine worked a little bit stronger?
What about unanswered prayers? Well, that was just God’s will. It’s so funny to me how people can justify things either way based on religion. God doesn’t intervene with earthly events. Well then why the heck do we pray? So many different ironic things that religion makes us believe and do. And for what purpose? Salvation? Everlasting happiness?
I’m sure some people that are reading to this point are thinking about how misguided I am, and how I just haven’t experienced God in my life like you have. I’m totally fine with that. I’m not trying to tell anyone to change their beliefs, I am just trying to explain and rationalize my own. Religion is based entirely on faith. I find it ironic when religious leaders talk with certainty about what happens after we die. They know just as much as you and I. They’re basing their thoughts and ideas on faith. But think about how many times you have been let down in your lifetime when you had faith in someone or something.
The bottom line is, we just don’t know when it comes to religion. That is why I sit here just a month shy of my 46th birthday trying to explain my views on religion. I’m not sure what happens when we die. I want to believe there is a heaven, but I also believe that when we die that’s it. It is why I try to maximize my time here on earth. I try to do all of the good I can while I am here, so when I am gone people speak of me well. I don’t do the things I do to enjoy some sort of better afterlife. European society was held in check for centuries by the belief that nothing on earth mattered, it was the afterlife where a person reaped the rewards for their life lived here on earth. I just can’t get behind the history and the present of so many people that practice organized religion that put other people or groups down.
This is why I live a spiritual life, not a religious one. I am thankful for my religious upbringing. I am glad that I had religion introduced to me at a young age. There are many great themes and lessons that come from religion as a child. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Those are my favorites. I believe and act upon those on a regular basis. I treat every person I meet with kindness and respect. I work in jobs where I can help people, because I genuinely care about helping people. I am a good person, I know I am a good person, but religion has a way of trying to make people feel guilty.
Am I not a good person if I don’t believe I need to make the sign of the cross if I get hit with “holy water’ being thrown around by a person? Am I not a good person if I don’t mutter certain phrases each week without much thought? Am I wrong for not wanting to hear the same passages being read in church time and time again? Am I wrong for questioning The Bible? All of the stories in the New Testament were written by people who were never there. The “pictures” of Jesus and the names in The Bible are off someone who was from the United Kingdom, not the Middle East.
Oh, how I could go on forever and ever, but I’ll end it on this note. I am a spiritual person. I do believe their is a God. I don’t understand God. I don’t go to church, but I give thanks to God almost every day the blessings I have in my life. I do not believe that God cares about my daily life or will alter any events based on my faith, prayers, or actions. I do believe that I will be judged in some way for the sum of my life. I do believe that we all have a unique soul, but I don’t know what happens and if we experience anything after we die. I do believe that there are many good things that come from religion here on earth. I also firmly believe that religion is the root of some of the most evil and hypocratic things here on earth. I believe that we should all strive to be good people, be kind to each other, stop to give thanks for the blessings in our life, and be accepting of ALL people and beliefs. I believe that you do not need to go to church to do any of those things.