By Rick James
I was baptized a Roman Catholic, along with my twin brother, quite shortly, I'm sure, after our birth. I don't know what you'd call me now ... a "recovering Catholic?" My dear, aging and brutally frank gay-lover-of-26-years tells me I've been hopelessly scarred by the Church, and that my frequent anti-religious, faith-mocking rants and outbursts, which I thoroughly enjoy, testify to the damage done me.
My parents, life-long Catholics, were not particularly devout -- they went to mass only on Easter and Christmas, if then; but they insisted that my brother and sister and I attend both mass and catechism classes regularly. We weren't above pointing out the inherent hypocrisy on their part to them about this. They had a pat answer: "When you've gone to church as long as we went to church, you can stop going."
I never much liked going to mass. I found it boring, and all the kneeling hurt my back. But throughout most of my childhood, and until I middle teen-aged years, I never truly doubted the veracity of the Church.
I believed, in short, that the Roman Catholic Church was the "one, true and holy Catholic church," that redemption outside of it was impossible, that my good but spiritually errant Protestant friends and relatives, never mind my parents, were, regrettably, hell-bound, and on and on and on. It's scary and hilarious to look back on what I once believed -- but I'm hardly the first person to have been duped and manipulated by the largest and most powerful of the world's Christian denominations.
I clearly remember the day I first truly doubted. I was 18, a senior in high school. I was no longer an active Catholic. I was a hell-bound faggot who could never stay in a state of “sanctifying grace” for more than a few hours. But more than ever, I was a guilty and scared Catholic.
Anyway, I was on the high school soccer team, and we'd just finished our late afternoon practice at a public field not far from school. There was a tall, lanky, bald man dressed completely in black. He was painting the goal posts of an adjacent field. Such a strange- looking dude. My brother and I and a couple of our friends went over to him to talk.
His name was Tom. He was a player with the local adult soccer league. He was fixing up the equipment because it needed fixing up. I told him I’d taken him for a priest, given his dark get-up. He burst into laughter, and launched into the first atheistic tirade I'd ever heard.
Lord, Lord! It was blasphemous, heretical, sarcastic, vicious, scandalous, sinful! Nothing was sacred to this man. God was a fabrication -- all gods were fabrications. Organized religion was a power-and-money-grubbing extortion racket that preyed on weak minds. The methods of indoctrination and control churches used to trap believers were subtle and effective.
Tom went on and on, waving his paint brush into the air, until the sun went down, and darkness forced us home. I was stunned by what I'd heard. He had had a ready, witty and withering response to every question that we, innocent believers, could throw at him. I felt, I guess, a little like Saint Paul, when he was thrown off his horse. The logic and reasoning of Tom's nearly two-hour diatribe made more myth-shattering sense to me than years and years of carefully crafted Catholic indoctrination. The more I pondered what the man had said, the more I realized how badly that I, and millions of people like me, have been duped.
I have been a liberated and relatively happy "non-believer" now for close to 40 years. I did backslide into spiritual madness for a brief period, during one of my latent heterosexual phases in my mid-twenties. The girl I was living with became increasingly insane. I wanted desperately out of doomed and occasionally violent relationship. (She was the aggressor.) When I told I wanted to end our affair, she threatened suicide. I knew she was serious.
Anyway, we were desperate for a way out of a hopeless dilemma, and very vunerable -- ripe for spiritual picking. A trusted, mutual friend, who convinced us he'd found the path to peace and happiness, led us into an "eastern cult" (Guru Maharaji's Divine Light Mission).
Within a matter of months, my domestic worries were over: my girlfriend fell in love with another devotee, and ran off with him. I quickly became disenchanted with the sect I'd joined, however. I realized that they were using the same, basic techniques of conversion and control (group pressure in particular) that the Catholic Church had used on me ... and that nothing they taught could be "proven" to anyone who was rationally skeptical.
I believe this second, brief bout of religious insanity has given me some valuable insight into the nature of organized religion. I have enjoyed a kind of spiritual triangulation, have been able to see, and live, the religious experience from two different perspectives, have witnessed, first hand, its vile and perverted nature.
Reno, Nevada, USA
Bigrickjames at yahoo.com
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)