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6/21/05                                                                                       View Comments

Catholic hanger-on

sent in by Claywise

My story is frankly a lot less fascinating than that of many posters here. But I have finally decided to lay it out.

We went to Catholic Church when I was a kid. I went to CCD -- got in trouble once for swiping unconsecrated Communion hosts with a friend! -- but my father was more or less an agnostic who had himself thrown off his Catholic straightjacket and only went to church on holidays to please my mother. My mom was never a radical, or hard core, but she went to church because, well, that's what nice American families did.

I hardly remember what I was taught in church as a young person, or in CCD (what we used to call "catechism"). But somewhere along the way, I developed some pretty messed up notions: Humans are, by design, flawed and pretty rotten; sex is repulsive and wrong; to even question the tenets of the Church is to condemn oneself to eternal punishment. In short, I came away from my early experience with a lot of fear and self-hatred.

When I was about 13, my mother, to her credit, abandoned the Catholic church because of its unfair stance on women, including the abortion issue. I tagged along with her, as did my younger brother, although my sister, in high school, was involved with Young Life and didn't have to go.

I stuck with the Episcopal Church for two reasons: I liked the priest, who soon died of brain cancer (good going, God!) and because I had a major crush on a girl. So I kept going, kept listening, but never did any of it really stick. Finally, at about age 16, I bailed entirely and stopped going to church. I declared myself an atheist, and a rather arrogant one, at that. Again, to her credit, my mom really didn't hassle me about that.

I soon had a girlfriend (all my religious experiences seem tied to romance ... interesting! That ol' sex thing....) whose family was large, liberal, and Catholic. Germans. Her father was an anthro professor at the University of Colorado. I loved being in the embrace of this warm, happy, intellectual family with a fondness for beer (which they shared with underage lads like me!). I started going back to church, a liberal Catholic congregation, which I liked a lot.

But still, even though I appreciated the more progressive outlook, I found myself increasingly questioning the basic tenets of the church. This whole notion that God created humanity knowing that "we" would rebel, necessitating the incarnation of himself (??), and his suffering and death ... what? Also, the sex thing became a major impediment. While my girlfriend's family was all but silent on the issue (the father even suggested that his teenage son, who planned to become a monk, have sex before making the decision!) I became increasingly subject to my early childhood fears about damnation. It didn't stop me from having sex, which to me seemed the closest thing to divine that I'd ever experienced, but I did feel guilty. I'd been molested by a scoutmaster at age 12, and that whole thing made me fear I was gay, a big no-no with the Catholics (turns out I'm not, but that didn't stop me from fretting, good little guilty Catholic that I was).

No surprise, then, with all the guilt and worry and intellectual confusion, I became a heavy drinker and drug user. And basically a self-centered prick.

Later in life, I became a cowboy. Living alone, or nearly alone, in the big world made me aware of a kind of divineness in EVERYTHING, but it didn't connect at all to the God of Christianity, which seemed the opposite of all that. So I felt connected to something, and the disconnect with all I'd learned was disconcerting.

In my mid-20s, I hooked up with a girlfriend -- actually, she was my second cousin; the scandal! -- whose family were "charismatic" Catholics who believed in speaking in tongues, healing, all that nonsense. We had to keep our relationship secret, since it was "sinful" (cousins, you know: second cousin means my mom was her dad's first cousin -- oh no!), and of course that just added to the charge, the taboo, the intensity of the sexual forbidden. Nevertheless, they were always telling me tales of miracles -- most of which I could, logically, question; i.e. the father had "healed" people of broken legs, but of course no x-rays were ever done -- and that sucked me back into the fear of hellfire. So I tried, as hard as I could, to be a "believer." I tried to pray, but never received anything like an answer.

Through that experience, I came to despise "God." Here I was, an inquisitive young man with a brain that actually worked, and I was being told simply to shut up and believe. My girlfriend's father told me things like, "Don't get hung up on the predestination thing," when I posited that an all-knowing, all-powerful God meant that I had no free will.

So, I made a personal religion of hating Christianity and their God, even as I was terrified to let go of it. I convinced myself that I was the worst human ever spawned, that I was doomed anyway, and so why not keep doing the drug thing? Why not be an asshole? WHY NOT? God hates me, anyway, simply for being what he made me to be.

Oh, man. That hatred fueled some very long years, indeed. I have always been able to keep a job, and indeed, succeed, but gradually, my hatred was killing me. The drugs finally caught up with me years later, when I was married, and I decided to do something about it before my wife left me.

I went to rehab, and in rehab, they sent us off to 12-step meetings. In truth, I hated AA (no insult intended to AA people). To me, it was very clear that "Dr. Bob" and "Bill W." cloaked their system in niceties, but they damned sure expected that you would wind up in church, eventually. A Christian church! They even prayed the Lord's Prayer at every meeting.

But in Narcotics Anonymous I found a much more flexible, open way. Yes, God is mentioned, but it is stressed repeatedly that "God" is up to you. Whatever it is that helps you realize that something, anything, bigger than you can help you a) stay off drugs and b) become a better, kinder, happier person, is good enough. If that's a tree, a mountain, a universe, a group of people, or a big guy in the sky with a beard and flowing white robes, cool. Whatever you like. And whatever you do, DON'T PREACH ABOUT IT! Your beliefs are yours alone, and it's not your job to convince anybody else that you are "right." I like that a lot.

I have an aversion to the word "prayer," but once I developed a "higher power" that worked for me -- one that was diametrically opposed to the one I'd had for so long, and hated and feared for so long -- I began "praying" in my own, quiet way. More than anything, without getting specific, it helped me learn some patience when I want to explode in anger, the recognition that I have a choice in how I act, and a calmer overall presence.

The hatred was gone. At last.

I still get a major buzz out of my anger toward Christianity, and I probably need to work on that. On the other hand, in my work (newspaper columnist) my whole experience now informs the way I can communicate to people about the dangers of a religion that insists it has "the" answer, that is wildly illogical, that spawns hatred and bloodshed, and whose driving motivation is fear, especially of death. I find the whole thing rather infantile, and in my better moments, have a great deal of compassion for those stuck in the Christian fear trap.

My own fears have subsided greatly. I don't know if anything happens after death, and I really couldn't care less. I don't even know if my higher power exists; it doesn't matter.

What matters is that I've escaped. Even though my experience is not nearly as extreme as those of many others here, it poisoned me for four decades.

Thanks for this site. I've been glad to read all the testimonies over the past year or so.

Colorado
USA
Christian from birth
Left in late thirties
Was a Catholic, Episcopalian
Now a Rationalist, open-minded, Deist
Converted because I was born into it
De-converted because I became tired of the hateful, irrational God I believed in
email: evansc at dailycamera dot com