I think I'm the first Italian that writes her story on this website... please excuse me if I'll do some errors and stay with me 'till the end :) I'll also be happy to read your comments, if you have some, since perhaps Italian Catholic, American Catholic and Protestant churches are very different.
I'm 24 years old, I'm an Italian and I've always been. It's Catholic custom to baptize (hope I've got it right) very small children only days after they're born. The reason for this has something absurd and sick in it: priests say that since Adam and Eve soiled themselves the Original Sin, every human being that comes to life is a sinner, and should he/she die he/she'll go straight to hell. If you ask a priest what happens to a baby that dies at childbirth, though, he usually says that an unbaptized baby ends up in a place in Hell called "Limbo", which is a bit less horrible than the rest of Hell. However the priest says "Surely you don't want your child to suffer hell for eternity! Baptize him NOW so that, should something happen to him, he'll stay in heaven and not in hell."
And Lo and Behold! The baby is sprinkled with water and becomes clean and pure as snow (a metaphore they often use).
So I became a Catholic. As other people knows, Italian Catholics think THEY are Christians and all other churches are not true christians. Obviously Protestants, Anglicans, Jehova Witnesses, not to say homosexuals, bisexuals, and all others are going to hell, BUT (here's the trick) in Italian Catholic Church priests have learned that nobody likes to hear you when you start ranting about the "Fiery lake of hell" and all that bullshit. Often because Catholics should ALL go to hell if you follow the scriptures (they commit idolatry, they very often go to mass just on easter and christmas thus not sanctifying the sabbath, and so on).
So if you directly ask a priest here "will x go to hell since he's a *insert something unCatholic here*?" he'll start acting uneasy, looking around as if searching for help, blubbering and then finally he'll say "Weeelll... yeeess... but he can always repent on his deathbed (or it's even better if he does that sooner) and embrace true faith, so there's nothing to worry about."
Or perhaps he would answer me that way only because I was very little at the time, and he'd answer me very differently should he see me and speak with me now.
So I grew up. My parents kept saying me that I was a Christian, thus I had to go to mass every sunday, and then attend every thursday afternoon some sort of school when you go and learn about god for 2 hours (here we call it Catechismo, don't know how it translates in english). I absolutely had no will to go to this religious school so I asked my parents "Why do I have to go?" and they said "If you don't go you won't be able to do your First Communion" (eating the holy wafer). So I asked "What's so bad in not being able to do 1st communion?" they answered: "If you do your First communion there will be a great party just for you, there are going to be chocolate Confetti, some cake, all of your friends will be invited too, and all of your relatives are going to make you very nice gifts, even gold rings and gold necklaces".
Can you imagine THAT? They convinced me when I was 6 with promises of gifts and jewels and they said NOTHING about being able to eat holy wafers thus purifying myself from sin and all that stuff. So the only reason they provided for me to become fully Christian was purely materialistic.
So I went to my Catechismo. Man, was that useless! We sat around a great table, with a teacher that said us to sing some happy song (some of them were christian, other clearly weren't, I still remember one that went "Our chief's car has a hole in a wheel and we're going to repair it with bubblegum". Talk about time loss...). We also read pages from a little book, with lots of pictures and some stories from the Bible.
Then there was my 1st communion. I hate the holy wafer, and didn't feel anything strange, but everybody were so happy and sure, I got many jewels, necklaces, gold rings, and all of my relatives were so happy...
I went to mass every sunday, sometimes I questioned why my parents weren't coming with me a single time, but they answered "Do what I tell you to, not what I'm doing". So they again resorted to corruption: they knew I loved reading, so they gave me some money every sunday to buy something to read at the local newspaper store while I was there. Sometimes I thought of becoming a priestess (little did I know that catholics think that women absolutely cannot do that) so that everybody's eyes would've been on me... sort like hoping to become an actress one day *LOL*.
One day, though, when I was 10, my grandmother died. That day I prayed all day to God: I asked him to save my grandmother, I really loved her very much, she was like a mother to me, since my real mother had to go to work and hadn't much time for me.
The same year a sick bastard raped me. My parents weren't any help: they just said "just shut up and pretend nothing has happened, and never go in the place you've seen that guy that did those things to you." Didn't take me to a Doctor, didn't take me to the police.
I was shocked. And I started to ask myself some questions.
If god was so powerful, if he could create the world, and do everything he wanted, then why hadn't he saved my grandmother? She was a good woman and she died without a reason, just because her surgeon was an ass.
Why did he allow such horrible things to happen? Again if he was so powerful, he surely could destroy Evil and the Devil in a second, or less. I asked my religious school teacher why God permitted some horrible things to happen, and she said that "God doesn't want us to be like puppets, he gives us the freedom to choose between good and evil".
That didn't relieve me one bit. Okay, the rapist had chosen his path - evil. God had given him his freedom to choose, but... what about me? God hadn't done anything for me. In the Bible, God was always ready to help his believers in need... well, he surely didn't help ME, that's for sure.
I started asking questions, receiving answers that didn't seem complete, and then trying to answer them myself. I studied the inquisition: on our Italian story books there's almost nothing about Inquisition, it's just mentioned "en passant" like some sort of strange thing, very folkloristic but not important in the end. I started talking more with my uncle, a great person, he was sweet, caring, very intelligent, he had a psychology and a pedagogy degree, and he was an atheist. I asked him questions, he answered me always reminding him that this was just his point of view. He wasn't afraid of death. He wasn't afraid of it being the end of all things: he just said "when I'll be old I hope to die without pain... I'll accept death, why shouldn't I? I've lived a full life and I've nothing to regret."
Catholics, when they are 13 or 14 (I think, perhaps I'm wrong of a few years) do a thing called "Second Communion". It's like a three-step procedure: first you have to be baptized, second you have to do "First Communion" and then you can take holy wafers, and lastly you have to do "Second Communion", and then you can marry yourself in the church. Well, I said my mother that I didn't want anything anymore with Catholicism and that I wasn't going to make my Second Communion.
Boy, she went crazy! At first she was all sweet and questioning: why are you saying that, perhaps some boy at religious school did something wrong to you, tell me what is the problem...
And I said her. Perhaps I still hoped she'd have some good answers to provide, but her fearful eyes told a me a different story: not only she didn't have any good answer, but I was also frightening her. She didn't want to look inside herself and admit that neither her fully believed the Catholic crap.
Then she tried corruption again. If you take your second communion there will be even greater gifts, gold wristwatches, gold necklaces and rings (again), a little motorcycle, a lot of money... didn't I want money, she asked, sure I wanted them, all relatives could have given me money and then I could have done with them as I pleased...
My answer remained No.
Then she became menacious. You live in my house you'll do what I say, you have to follow some rules, all our town will speak ill of us if you don't take your 2nd communion... again my answer was no. I didn't care for neighbors or gifts. I didn't care not marrying in the church. She even lied to me, by saying that if you marry in the Town Hall you cannot have music, a white dress, and friends greeting you when you go out.
Some months later, we went together, my mom and I, at my future High School for subscription. Along with all the bureaucratic papers there was one saying:
Do you wish to follow the weekly hour of Catholic Religion?
My mother took the paper and compiled that for me. Here's how our dialogue went.
"I'm going to make you follow the Catholic Religion hour."
"Please, don't. I already said to you that I'm not Catholic anymore."
"I don't care what YOU say. I'm your mother and I'll choose for you until you are adult. Besides what else could you do?"
"I could come home one hour before the normal timetable..."
"No, I'll sign you in just now."
And then the secretary said "Excuse me, mrs, but do you see THIS blank space at the end of the paper... it's for your daughter's signature... I'm sorry but the choice is not yours, it's hers."
I think my "HA!" made those old walls tremble, and the secretary surely smiled. My mother started being all kind and sugarlike again: Catholicism is part of our culture, and I should give it a try, and... I didn't listen to her. I compiled my paper the way I wanted, and I gave it to the secretary returning her smile with mine, happy that my freedom had been respected.
That was the end of my Catholic disadventure. But here in my home war still goes on, at least with my mother. My sister has become an atheist just like me, and I'm proud to have taught her to use her mind when it comes to religion. My father leaves me freedom of choice. My mother though is very upset at me: it's funny, even if she isn't Catholic she insists that I should be and that she is one (she has never ever read a bible in her life!). Sometimes I try to explain to her the reasons behind my choice, and she screams "I don't want to listen you! You're just trying to spread hate and to humiliate me! Just shut up!".
Perhaps one day she'll see the light :D
Everybody that wants to email me about my story or Catholicism is free to do that - and I welcome comments (be kind with me if I've done some mistakes, since my mother language is Italian) even if from Christians: I'm always interested in hearing what they have to say - provided they don't just say "god still love you" and then run away never to comment back to my answer.
I used my nickname here just because everyone on the 'net knows me as Asuryan, not by my real name, and I'd like to take credit for what I've written here today. I'm not afraid to say my real name, I won't shield behind anonimacy, if someone wants to hear my real name just email me and you'll know it. :)
Waiting to hear from you all! :)
URL: www.jpknet.com & www.asuryan.splinder.it
City: Torre del Lago
Became a Christian: At birth
Ceased being a Christian: I think I was 13 or 14.
Labels before: Roman Catholic Apostholic
Labels now: Proudly Atheist
Why I joined: They forced it on me.
Why I left: Read my story :)
Email Address: asuryan at jpknet.com