I actually have a lot on my mind concerning religion, having grown up entirely from pre-school to senior year of high school in Catholic schools. (@Marilink, I actually would love your thoughts about a couple friends I lost myself due to religious debates. I don't think I ever told you about Ryan and Tim, have I? It's been in the back of my head to talk to you about them for a long time but I forgot if I have.)
Throughout my childhood and adolescence I was actually really stringent in my beliefs. I was much more serious as a kid than I am now, which feels weird and surprising. I always prayed every night and wanted to tell people about Jesus. I remember feeling conflicted when I had my first girlfriend in high school because of her secular ways, particularly in terms of sex before marriage and the like. Freshman year of college was when I really went through a rocky transition in my identity.
I had two really good friends from high school - Ryan and Tim. I particularly thought I was really good friends with Tim because we bonded over movie soundtracks and we could relate to classical music. He was a very dapper guy and very sincere and fun to have a meaningful conversation with. The three of us still kept in contact shortly after we graduated. We even hung out a couple times over the summer.
As a freshman in college, I took a writing test to gain entry into an upper level writing course. You would only have to take one writing course for one semester as a freshman, as opposed to two, and you had to write a 10-paged research paper on whatever you wanted. I had a great teacher in high school named Koch and he taught me everything I know about biblical studies (the historical search for Jesus, the Yahwist, Priestly, and Deuteronmist sources of the Old Testament, all sorts of scholarly work on the Bible). It was and still probably is my favorite course I ever took in any school. I decided to pick up my old notes and write my 10-paged paper on "Was Jesus a Historical Figure?"
To keep a long story short - I fell down the rabbit hole with that one. I realized it wasn't an easy answer at all. Near the end of my paper, I started getting worried and doubted my own beliefs. Up until then I had a firm belief in Jesus, but then I started panicking at all the seemingly convincing arguments that contradicted Jesus' existence as a historical figure.
I approached both Ryan and Tim about my crisis in faith. That was the last conversation I ever had with them. I remember messaging Tim about it over AIM and he ensured me that there was enough evidence to support the historicity of Jesus, but said he didn't have the time then and had to go somewhere. The last thing I ever said to him was something along the lines of, "I'm starting to think it doesn't matter if Jesus was real or not, but it's too late to change the thesis of my paper. I think whether he was a real figure or not is pointless. His teachings meant something and created a religious lifestyle that is an admirable set of morals."
At the same time, I was in the process of making Tim a playlist of movie soundtracks I thought he'd love. He knew about it and had said "Yeah sure send it to me whenever". We did that once and a while - give each other mix CDs and playlists.
I messaged him a couple days later on AIM to send him the playlist only to realize that he blocked me. I went to Facebook and found out that he unfriended me, as well as Ryan. I thought nothing of it at the time. Facebook was a relatively new thing at the time and maybe they got confused and pressed the wrong button, right? (nervous laughter). I requested their friendship again. I noticed later that they denied it because I had the option of sending another friend request.
I never knew for sure. All I know was that the last conversations I had with them were about my crisis in faith and my leanings towards doubting Jesus's existence. I was also expressing more secular views on sex and marriage with them. In general, my freshman year of college was a really turbulent time for me for many reasons as I was trying to formulate my identity. I really wanted to figure things out with these two friends of mine, but they ended up leaving me without any explanation.
Years later, I had the biggest delayed reaction. You see, throughout high school there were many obvious hints and clues that I didn't catch. For one, Ryan and Tim were REALLY close to the higher-ups in New Jersey's Diocese of Trenton. Like, they had Facebook pictures with the archbishop celebrating Christmas and having dinner at really fancy restaurants with priests. My high school was an all-boys academy and pretty expensive. I didn't realize until years later how most of us were privileged white kids who were racist, misogynist, and homophobic. It wasn't until Facebook got popular that I saw how most of my high school classmates really believed in what they said. The naive kid in me thought they were all joking, that they wouldn't seriously enact these views outside of jokes. Ryan in particular always said awful things about Jews, Hindus, and atheists. 16 year-old me would just laugh nervously shrugging it off as a joke. Tim never really joked about that stuff but in retrospect I could never picture him being friends with someone of different beliefs. He was firm in his stance that only Jesus could save you, and if you didn't believe in Jesus then you were 100% going to hell, no questions asked.
It wasn't until after Ryan and Tim ghosted me that I thought, "****, I think they were serious." It all hit me on the head like "DUH." I remember back to when the head priest in high school kept saying "Atheism isn't COOL. It's not hip." And I know where he's coming from given the recent pompous attitudes a lá Richard Dawkins, but it was also kind of cringy saying that. I remember the "sex ed" teachings from freshman year of high school. Our gym teacher took a chair and said "This chair has imperfections because man is imperfect. You can't see them but there are tiny holes in this chair. A condom also has these tiny holes. They are imperfectly made." I remember that kind of freaked me out about having sex. As freshman, we also had seniors who were our "gurus", and my guru told my group "Don't believe anything about the health benefits of sex." There was a period in time during high school when I would say things like "Being gay isn't natural" and a bunch of my other friends would find that appalling and I didn't quite understand what I was saying. I was just reiterating things from all our Christian teachings classes. I still have our textbooks with lessons that confused me the more I thought about it like "It's not sinful to be gay but sinful to act on being gay."
Recently, both schools I went to have been in the limelight because of recent arrests of our most trusted priests and deacons. I never thought I would say that I grew up in two Catholic schools with priests and deacons who have been arrested for sexual assault. I had heard rumors a few years ago around 2016 that our priest in elementary school Father Brendan Williams (his name deserves to be called out) did something, but it was hushed as nothing more than unsubstantiated rumors. He abruptly left the school to go to Ireland, his home country. Meanwhile, it was revealed that one of my own teachers from high school, our deacon Joseph Priolli, had molested a family member. He taught me all the basics of how to work a computer. I was very shaken by the initial revelation because to just think - this man TAUGHT me something and I trusted him with my safety and well-being. Same thing with Father Williams. It was revealed this year that yes - he did commit sexual assault, among other things. He fled the country and then returned to a local retirement center for clergymen hoping it would have blown over by then. Back in 2009, he squashed a lawsuit against him that claimed he protected another priest for molesting several boys. In turn, Father Williams molested several girls during my time there as a student. It's unclear to me still where the boys were molested, but one of my closest friends from that school who is gay said it was suspected to take place at a gay conversion camp. When we were kids, Father Williams suspected my friend of being gay and approached his parents about sending him to a gay conversion camp. His parents disagreed and let him be.
When Ryan and Tim ghosted me, I was in a crucial point of my development where I needed someone to talk to, but I didn't have anybody. I was going through a turbulent time in my relationship with my parents, so I couldn't talk with them. I ended up having to figure things out for myself and it pushed aside my enjoyment in life for a long time throughout college. It was too late in senior year when I finally became myself and started enjoying life. Before I knew it, I was back home having already graduated. It was like waking up from a dream you were just starting to enjoy. The first thing I did when I got back home was cry my guts out. It was so sudden and inexplicable. My mom had given me a graduation card from a family member and as I read it I just sobbed because it was that moment when I realized, "It's really over." I can have a big mouth and come off as being an *******, and it's gotten me into trouble. At the time I would blame myself and think "If I had kept my mouth shut I would still have Tim as a friend." Old people always regret not having said their true feelings in order to keep the peace - I have suffered the opposite.
Despite all that, my attitude towards religion hasn't worsened. It's organized religion that I'm wary of. I would want to teach my children all about religion but I am hesitant about sending them to Catholic school. On the flip-side, I think Catholic school fosters a greater sense of camaraderie among the students. I'm still very good friends with many people I met in pre-school and kindergarten. I don't think many people who went to public schools can say that. We see ourselves almost as being survivors like, "Yep, we went through that BS." I hope that something new comes out of this generation with its attitudes towards religion, not to squash it or ridicule it, but to change its practices for the better. My gay friend who almost went to that gay conversation camp has done really great things in the name of Jesus. He has been to Native American reservations and helped people with depression and has done more volunteer work than anyone I know. Our experiences haven't deterred him from his beliefs. He can go the limit to do good that I can't. You don't need religion to be good - but that doesn't mean it never inspires people to do good.
Ironically, I enjoy going to mass more now than when I was a kid, despite being more devout when I was a kid. I find religion and comparative mythology endlessly fascinating and I'm always seeking to learn more about how and why these beliefs started and persist. I'm agnostic rather than atheist. I think there is some truth shared among all religions but you can't quite fully describe the truth. I cringe at radical fundamentalists just as much as I cringe at pompous atheists.
(Also, as a sci-fi/fantasy writer, it's fertile ground for imagination.)
Last edited by ScottyMcGee
on Tue Nov 05, 2019 12:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.