Many of my friends have gone through crises of conscience and faith. It seems that many of the
people I have associated with over the years have abandoned Catholicism for one reason or another, but they seemed to do so later in life than I did.
Most of my classmates simply accepted Catholic theology and went about their lives. I couldn't, especially not after seeing the other side of Christianity. But unlike all of those wandering sheep who found comfort in the arms of their personal savior, Jesus Christ, I found no such solace, just more questions.
It wouldn't be until high school that I would begin to discover the true nature of Catholicism. Before high school, you have religion class in Catholic schools, but the teachers aren't theologians. They are simply teachers, no more versed in Catholic theology than the kids they're teaching, who are given little religion work books from which to give out their lessons.
Catholic high schools are much different. First, that class is no longer called "religion." Every student in a Catholic high school is required to take four years of Theology, and for the most part, the teachers have actually earned at least a BA in Theology. The emphasis shifts from introducing young minds to the things they are supposed to accept without question--because greater minds than theirs have done the due dilligence to arrive at our conclusions for us--and onto an attitude of actual scholarship and true understanding.
I had always suspected that many of the stories in the Bible weren't literally true. It was sort of like when a child matures to the point when he knows, in his heart of hearts, that Santa Claus doesn't truly exist, but he can't bear to admit it to himself. So for my theology teachers to give credence to that thought--the notion that perhaps Adam and Eve are allegorical, especially given current scientific thought--it was a refreshing experience. If I was going to Hell for not believing the literal word of the Bible, then at least I wouldn't be lonely.
My dad was thoroughly worried for me. To him, I was on a path to damnation lest I abandon my hethen, Catholic ways. My friends know that I've never been a very religious person. Moral, yes, but I've never been one to really pray and actually mean it. But my mom always told me that God has a plan for all of us, and my dad sort of echoed that sentiment by espousing the notion of surrendering to God's will--that God puts us where he wants us.
That was another uneasy prospect for me, this idea that although we have free will, we are supposed to submit to God's plan. Even as a teenager I saw that as being hopelessly paradoxical, and in my junior year, I finally worked up the guts to think for myself. A quote from Tecumseh sealed the deal for me forever.
"I am the maker of my own destiny."
I had always felt it in my heart, but hearing it made it more tangible. I am not a puppet, nor am I here for my creator's amusement. There is no plan for me except for what I make for myself. I couldn't be one of those fervent acolytes who just put their entire lives in God's hands. Afterall, was it God's plan to allow innocent people to be mercilessly slaughtered? Is ethnic cleansing a part of God's grand scheme? How could a god of love and mercy be so unmercifly hateful to his own creation?
I told my father that he was silly for believing so heartily in something he could never actually know, and he blindly replied "I know because the Bible tells me so." I rejected Protestantism entirely as I could never allow myself to be some blind servant. My life would be what I make of it, not what some god says it's going to be. I was by no means a religious man, and so I wasn't a super Catholic, as I like to call them. But at least with Catholicism I felt like I was still allowed to use my brain, and I could do things in life without feeling like I'm just a pawn in some sick, cosmic chess match.
If God was going to send me to Hell, it wouldn't be because I used the intellect he blessed me with, and it certainly wouldn't be for the simple fact that I identified myself as Catholic. Perhaps he would send the Muslims and Buddhists to Hell, because they don't believe in Jesus. "That's an awful lot of people that would be horrifyingly punished for all eternity . . . just because they don't believe in Jesus." That line of thought began the next phase of my journey.
If Jesus supposedly died for our sins and saved us, allowing us to enter heaven, then why the hell do we really need to believe it? You don't need to believe in gravity in order for it to affect you. Why are there so many damn pre-requisites to getting into heaven, and why are there so many damn versions of the pre-requisites?
In Part III, I will discuss how my time in the Navy helped me answer that question.