I’m close to finishing The Portable Atheist, and I can’t help but think about my time going to catholic school. After my parents divorced, I was sent to attend it. I hated grade school and middle school, but much for different reasons than my experiences in high school and college. Although many of the same themes overlap, I will mainly just concentrate on my time from high school to college.
In high school, I didn’t have much confidence in myself or my abilities. I don’t know what it was. I just thought there was nothing good about me. There was nothing important in my existence. I blamed the Catholic sky-god for my problems, and I blamed other people. I just could not see that just maybe I could fix the things I hated. That I could be an active force in changing my life. But I was young. I didn’t know better. I was scared. I just wanted to feel important and as if I belonged.
So going through four years of high school was a stupid roller coaster of emotions. I would never wish to relive them. High school is NOT the best time of our lives. If anyone says this to you. They are a liar. I have found more growth, and freedom since I left it. But my situation is a little different since it wasn’t a public high school. Rather it was a catholic high school. The thing I hated about attending a catholic high school was the lack of rationality.
I was going through a phase. Or so some people claimed. I hated that there wasn’t any openness to question things or be outspoken. I remember one time I had asked a theology teacher openly during class, “How do we know Muhammad didn’t just rip-off the Bible?” That sure caused her to sweat. But that is the kind of person I was and rediscovering I am still today. I didn’t like being told that I was wrong for my way of thinking. Of course. I was just one student with questions and objections to the various staff, students and teachers who believed this nonsense.
At that time, I didn’t think of myself as an Atheist. I didn’t know what I was. I was just searching for answers. I wanted a reason to say, “This is why our god exists.” I felt everyone at least needed a religion. Something to believe in even if maybe I didn’t believe in Catholicism. So, I even explored many different religions. But I was lazy. I didn’t want to read doctrines or beliefs of something new. Pagan religions seemed interesting with their rituals and fancy rites. But I found the pagan gods mythological, and absurd to believe in.
I was introduced to a book called Fundamentals of Faith by Peter Kreeft. It was actually this book that made me consider the priesthood and catholic apologetics.
I found this book amazingly insightful with its essays and causes for the existence of god. But looking at it now, many of these arguments can be easily demolished. I then realized just how important it is to see from both sides of something. To weigh in the evidence. Especially on something that effects ones worldview so strongly.
I had a theology teacher that I enjoyed talking to. She was a nice lady and often would listen to what I had to say. I don’t think I could ever forget her kindness and patience. I mean, she did listen to me selfishly talk on and on about things. One day she asked me, “Do you think that maybe your reason for wanting to be a priest. Is because you are searching for your faith?” I firmly denied it at the time. I thought nothing of it afterwards. But her words are something that come back to me now. It entirely makes my story with religion make more sense. I was using Catholicism as a crutch for something I needed emotionally. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to feel important. I wanted an easy way out. I thought the priesthood would be something easy, and I could just coast along with it.
During my final year of high school, I was really dead set on being a priest. I wanted to defend the faith. How ridiculous I was. I just couldn’t see how I was going along with it. It was a facade. I didn’t want to admit it. My best friend had noticed and said so. I argued with him over it. Recently, I apologized to him for my rationality at that time. He had said to me that during that time it was hard for him to be my friend.
I didn’t want to recognize it. Faith made me feel important. It made me feel good about myself because other people were noticing. But others took advantage of me too. I was naive to this. They showed me all kinds of books, and introduced catholic retreats I could go on. I had to have brainwashed myself to believe this nonsense. I was getting a deep emotional need that I wasn’t getting any other way. I deluded myself that if I became this certain way, it would be easy for people to like me. To find a nice girlfriend. I was sacrificing my values and core beliefs for something I didn’t entirely believe at all. I was becoming a doormat.
It wasn’t until I attended college and going to theology classes did I realize I didn’t have an interest in Catholicism. I couldn’t see eye to eye with the other students in my major. I was feeling like an outsider. I found myself arguing with the professors about their claims rather than agreeing with them. I didn’t want to be in this major anymore. But, I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what to do.
But thanks to a friend who knew me better than even I did, recommended I try taking some Japanese classes at her college over the summer. It was then that I took my life in my own hands. I changed my major and found a different college. Today I look back on that experience of changing my major as the first step of my change as a person. I still am shocked about it because I was so used to other people doing things for me. Suggesting things I should do and believe in. But that one time, I took change into my own hands. It wouldn’t be until many years later would I realize the strength of change and being active. But discarding religion entirely was a step in the right direction.