I try to keep things impersonal here. Sure, I talk about some of my experiences, but I think my
readers are more interested in my ideas than my actual life and all of its happenings. But over the next week or so, I want to share a part of my life's journey with you, my faithful readers, in an attempt to help you understand exactly where I stand in terms of spirituality. I think that the spiritual journey is something not many people truly consider. You're born in a certain religion, and you die in that religion--at least so it goes for most people.
Here is the story of how I have arrived to where I am today.
I've had a fairly rocky religious journey that started at what I consider to be a fairly young age. My mom and her side of the family are almost entirely Catholic. My dad and his side of the family are all Protestant, with my dad and his sister being Baptists.
Up until I was in the 5th grade, my dad and aunt really didn't make a big deal about the Risen Lord. But around that time, they both found Jesus again, and Christianity has been a big part of their lives ever since. At first they started out with Presbyterianism, which is what their mother (m grandmother of course) practices. For whatever reason, they felt unfulfilled, so they went out seeking a new church and landed on a Baptist church in Genoa township--just a little place in between Columbus and Sunbury, OH.
That's where their faith began to have an impact on me. I had to accompany them to church when they were doing the Presbyterian thing mostly because I had to go wherever they went anyway. But once they started going to Genoa Baptist, they really felt that it was important for me to go and get something out of it.
I like Pastor Frank. He's a good man with a good heart. He's not the type that speaks about damnation and hate, but his sermons more focused on love and, of course, "accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior." That part always got me. Being Catholic, the first thing you're ever taught is that Jesus saved us from our sin.
What many don't understand is that Catholicism is a very intellectual religion. Faith is important, because the Church recognizes the fact that, ultimately, we can never actually know the Truth. But the Church teaches that blind faith is not a necessity. We can be reasonably certain about the mysteries of faith based on reason and scholarship. So there is no notion of "accepting" Jesus as the savior, because the leg work has already been done. You either understand the scholarship that indicates his divinity, or whatever, or you deny all of that and live a lie.
At any rate, I had a real crisis of conscience around the 6th grade. I went to Catholic school, so I was getting a heavy dose of that theology, but there was so much about it that seemed wrong. Why does mass have to be so boring? Why do I have to spend my life doing good works to prove to God that I'm worthy? Why didn't my mom let me choose to be Baptised, rather than forcing me to do it as an infant? Transubstantiation? What utter nonsense!
Although my aunt was always supportive of me being Catholic and finding my own way to God, my dad was pretty happy about me doubting my religious upbringing. He has always been an ardent opponent of Catholicism, and the thought of me being "saved" was a great thing for him. And that's when he and I began to diverge.
He told me that unless I accept Jesus as my personal savior, I'm in danger of going to Hell. I really struggled with that because I had been Catholic my entire life, and it's not easy to abandon tradition. To think that my father thought me unworthy of God's presence was a serious blow, because I had always considered myself to be a good person. Flawed, to be sure, but I've always tried to be honest and true, generous and compassionate. How could a loving God seek to punish me simply because I was Catholic?
My dad's descent into fundamentalism further divided us. One day he told me that every word in the Bible is literally true, and as a result, the earth is only 7,000 years old, and dinosaur fossils were God's way of testing our faith.
As asinine as that may sound to some, our divide hadn't yet arrived. One day, he told me "I know that I'm going to heaven." I had had enough, and being the impertinent youth that I was at the time (this was around my eight grade year) I challenged him: "how can you possibly know that you're going to heaven? What if you're wrong, and I'm right?" My dad didn't have much of an answer other than to say that he's read the bible, and that's how he knows.
But in my study of Catholic theology, and my experience with Protestantism, I had arrived at a vastly different conclusion: that we can never know the mind of God, and thus we can never know if we're truly worthy enough to be with Him in heaven. My father's certainty propelled me from only questioning Catholicism to questioning religion as a whole. High school would only heighten that criticism.
Stay tuned for part II of my spiritual journey.