I will admit: I’m a little nervous about writing this next series of posts. I’m going to be talking about very personal things. Things I haven’t really discussed much with friends or even family. Things that many people get very passionate about. True, some of my recent philosophy rants may have alluded to the subject, but this will be the first time I’ve talked about it this plainly, maybe even to myself.
I’d like to talk about how I lost my faith.
I hope you’re still with me. For those of you that are, thank you. I’d like to take you on a journey through my personal history with religion. I’m not trying to offend anyone, and would welcome thoughtful, considerate discussion on the matter. This is a big topic, and one I may be revisiting if better words come to me in the future. With that said, let’s jump in!
Like many people born in or near the American Midwest, my early life was spent growing up Christian. Catholic, in fact. Even though my family wasn’t overly religious, it was still a big part of the background culture. We went to church on Sundays. We got dressed up for Easter. I even received my First Communion. At the time I wasn’t really aware of religion as a “thing;” it was just part of the culture, as ubiquitous and unremarkable as water to a fish. In other words, it was most definitely taken for granted as a given.
But not all my experiences with religion at that time were benign and forgettable. My experience with Catholic school, for instance. While my family lived in Cincinnati, I attended Catholic school (creatively named St. Mary’s, of course) for first and (most of) second grade.* I don’t remember much about this time, other than having to go to Mass as part of school. Even then, it wasn’t very fun. I also remember getting into an argument with my teacher about the number of syllables in the word “tire” (I was convinced there were two, for the record). Other than that, I can’t really comment much on the quality of my education.
That being said, there are a few things that stick with me from this time period. One of them is good old Catholic Guilt. That’s something I internalized all too well, and it’s still affecting me to this day. Sometimes it gets to the point where I can’t even enjoy a day off without feeling like I should be doing something productive, or if I don’t give an activity 110% effort I’m somehow letting someone down. Let me tell you, it’s been great for my self-esteem.
The other thing that sticks out for me is an experience I had once my family moved to Denver. We didn’t know many people out here when my dad got transferred, ans had to start looking for a new church from scratch. One of the ones we tried was a little more… vigorous than what I had been exposed to back in Cincinnati. I don’t remember the specifics of what I was told; all I remember are the nightmares. I had always had an overactive imagination, and it swung into vigorous action filling my head with visions of hellfire and burning pits whenever I closed my eyes to sleep. These visions, on top of my already internalized guilt, were devastating for me. I was convinced that I had done something wrong, and would be damned to suffer for all eternity. I was literally so worried I couldn’t sleep.
Needless to say, my family didn’t stick with that church for very long.
*It turns out telling the parents of a bored second grader that “he would be much happier if you didn’t let him do science experiments at the kitchen table and made him play Candy Land instead” doesn’t endear one to said parents.↩