Read part 1 here.
I’m starting off on this task with a bit of a history of my thoughts. Future posts will expand on my current thinking, and how I arrived there.
I was raised Roman Catholic, of the post-Vatican 2 American variety. I saw the pope (JP2) when he visited the US back in 1993 for World Youth Day, and there were several times when I considered becoming a priest. My family attended church every sunday, even on vacation (we kids especially did not enjoy that part), and Mom managed to get us to attend most of the major church holidays when good catholics are supposed to go to church. In fact, Mom really drove all of our religious activity. Dad was originally raised a Methodist, but he attended catholic church with the family, at least as long as I can remember (apparently he didn’t so much with my older siblings). He did convert to Catholicism in the mid-90s. I’m not real sure why, because I’ve never asked him about it. I plan to do that sometime soon, but I keep chickening out.
I completed all the standard catholic activities (sacraments), baptism, confession, communion and confirmation. (Careful at those links. They are officially sanctioned catholic dogma, and are mind-numbingly long and theologically thick.) I was never very excited about any of this stuff, but there was never much option. There was one part of my religious education that I enjoyed, though. As a wee little kid, I don’t remember much traditional ‘sunday school’, or CCD as catholics call it. Instead, we had a group of families that met every week called ‘Little Church’. I remember we would usually have somewhere around 5-8 families, so around 30-40 people? We had some instructional materials from somewhere, and basically used group activities to teach the catholic catechism. We’d do little skits acting out bible stories, or other activities. I’m kinda drawing a blank, as I enjoyed the acting somewhat, but don’t remember much of the other stuff we did. Mostly I liked it though for the socializing. We’d meet at a different families house each week where we’d have food, the kids would play with other kids their age, and generally have a good time. I’ve never been good with long-term friendships (I think I have something of an issue here, but that’s for another time), but I still keep in touch with a couple other folks that I know from Little Church. It’s kinda funny, that some of those I keep in touch with have left the church as I have. Of course there are those who haven’t strayed as far as I have either.
I wonder if this less formal mode of instruction didn’t sink in as far as the more traditional methods. On the one hand, it wasn’t the traumatic experience some people describe with nuns and brothers, but on the other, we spent more time having fun than in learning the ins and outs of the catechism. As I got into highschool though, things got a bit more traditional. We had the formal Youth Group thing, which was a preparation for confirmation. This is where the kids are supposed to make an informed and knowledgeable commitment to being a lifelong catholic. Hehe, lemme tell ya, that didn’t stick too hard. Anyway, I think I was among the more earnest students in Youth Group. The vast majority there were there only because their parents forced them to be. I wasn’t enthralled with it by any stretch, but I made an effort to really do what I was supposed to. Hell, I was probably one of the only kids there who actually took the whole requirement to remain a virgin until marriage seriously.
Which is a bit odd, because there were definitely issues I had with Catholicism. I got into several arguments with my mother when I thought some point we were supposed to believe didn’t make any sense. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to remember any of them. There was certainly a certain amount of tension though, because of my older siblings. Of course this is what I remember, and I may have missed some things, but I felt that my older sibling had fallen away from the church, and that that had greatly upset my mom. I wanted to show her that I was a ‘good boy’ and I think that at least partly explains why I made an honest effort at being a good catholic. I suspect that my two younger sisters also felt the same to some extent, and made the same kind of effort.
I even attended church regularly when I joined the Navy. In fact, the 1-2 hours of church on Sunday was my only refuge from all the stresses I was under in boot camp. To be able to slouch in a padded chair in an air-conditioned building, listening to familiar songs from my childhood was a serious morale boost that helped me get through. I was even moved to tears a few times with the feelings that welled up in me. I continued attending church regularly until I got to my submarine. I would still go when we were in port, but at sea we didn’t really have a chaplain or anything. There was an informal catholic study group that would meet on sunday, but I never felt comfortable approaching them.
The last time I went to church for my own benefit was christmas morning in 2002, on the tiny island of Diego Garcia. The church was tiny, and there were only about 20 people present, but it was very peaceful and intimate. Again, it was that feeling of security and familiarity as an escape from stressful conditions that really drew me in.
And I think that’s a good place to stop this post. I’ve got one more post I want to do, then the next post after that will cover my de-conversion, and after that I think I will describe what it is that I believe now, returning to the title of this post. Please, if you would like to submit a This I Believe essay as I talked about the other day, please do so. Thanks, and stay tuned!
EDIT: Read part 3, part 4 and part 5.