#MondayBlogs – Rants on Faith : What Went Wrong Pt 2

(This is a continuation of what I now believe will be a 5 part blog. To read part 1, click HERE.)

So last week, I touched upon a conversation I had with my mother on how they couldn’t understand how someone like me, with such an upbringing and record of service in the Catholic church, could have abandoned all such teachings and become an atheist.   Being staunch Catholics themselves, they asked themselves again and again, what went wrong with me?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And to ALL of my family, my path was no different than yours. Even as late as university and so on, I was still a true believer. I sang in the choir. I read the scripture before the crowds. I even mentored other youth in the faith at one time or another. My gal, WK, when talking about all of this, even told me that I was still a believer even 8-9 years ago.

But what made the difference that made me reject ALL religions, whether it be Christianity, Islam, Cthulhu, Buddhism, Taoism, Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, Elvis, Zeus, Odin and all the rest, was a triple knockout combo of logic, morality and ethics.

This week, I’m going to cover a bit about the logic part. That came through introduction to some ideas proposed by Robert Heinlein and of all things, an episode of the Twilight Zone and much later, to Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

Robert A. Heinlein is one of the grandfathers of Science Fiction, and a unabashedly unapologetic atheist. He was a war hero, a writer of worlds beyond measure, a believer in the evolution of society and more. His words through Stranger in a Strange Land, to Friday to the Lazarus Long tales, hit and resonated a chord inside me. Certain key words taken from the novel Friday had hit me hard, and put that first chink in my Armour of faith…

A religion is sometime a source of happiness, and I would not deprive anyone of happiness. But it is a comfort appropriate for the weak, not for the strong. The great trouble with religion – any religion – is that a religionist, having accepted certain propositions by faith, cannot thereafter judge those propositions by evidence. One may bask at the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak certainty of reason- but one cannot have both.” [Robert A. Heinlein, from “Friday”]

These words had a ring of truth, and it resonated with somewhere deep inside me. But it had only dented my faith, it didn’t break it. It would take the words of another science fiction writer to do that, in an episode of the Twilight Zone, Dead Run.

In this tale, truckers were entrusted to bring the souls of the damned to Hell. But there was a problem, a rebellion in Hell had started, as one of the truckers had died in service to God and found himself among the damned. He would then discover that people were being sent to Hell for the wrong reasons, people who were good at heart yet had taken a stance on something that someone of faith might object to such as fighting to prevent a book burning of novels that might have sacrilegious text. And the souls of the damned would tell their tale, of those sent down because they were atheists, or because they overdosed on drugs but never hurt anyone else and so on.

That was the tale that knocked a hole into my sureness of faith.  The issue I had was with what I had been taught about religion as a child to adulthood, which is that basically all non-believers will pretty much go to hell regardless of the good they did in their life.  This wasn’t the act of a loving, forgiving God at all. Now having been introduced to the actual consequences in this tale, I suddenly I now saw this as an act of a malicious bastard, a cruel child who strikes out when he doesn’t get his way. It made me wonder how could anyone be good without the context of God, and the story of the damned atheist suddenly put things into a context I honestly never saw before. More importantly, when taking into the context that there are over 6 billion on the planet, of which only 1.2 billion are Catholics or Christians in one way or another, that means that just under 5 billion are going to go to hell just for the sin of being born in a country where “The Word” hasn’t even reached them. So, was God now allowing people to be born for kicks just so he can keep Hell pretty well full of people to toss into eternal fire? My instant reaction as a HUMAN BEING was… WTF?

I slowly started to look further into the texts and the dogma of the church. I would read the declarations of the Pope, and started to put some of that religious upbringing into focus through the eyes of an adult as opposed to an indoctrinated child. I would learn more about the causes the church had fought, such as women priests, abortion, and the treatment of gay people and the like. And with each page, I found myself having doubts about what the church taught me. These words, from the leadership going all the way to the Vatican, struck me as wrong. And the more I would look into it, I honestly started to be ashamed for what I was a part of.

Let’s take the topic of female priests for example. In the here and now, to even breach the possibility has gotten believers around the world excommunicated outright. Why? Mary Magdalene could easily be considered to be one of the apostles, She was recruited by Jesus, and was a recipient with the other 12 when the supposed miracle of tongues occurred. She went out into the world, and did her best to spread the word, just like the others.

So if Jesus didn’t care, why isn’t there any female priests? Why are nuns are at best second class citizens in service of Christ. And I read further. In the earliest days of Catholicism, there were female “priests” of sorts who would spread the Good News. There wasn’t any such separation, but all that changed when Emperor Constantine became the head of the church.

That hit me hard. It wasn’t some declaration by God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit that set the Church on this path. It was a declaration made by a man, based on the social conventions of his time. Yet, it was one that was readily approved of by the faithful, because said faithful believed that God spoke through this man.

But, I was raised and exposed to strong women in my life. My mother is and has always been the cornerstone of my family. One of the first women to graduate from Loyola College in finance, and later became the Director of Finance of a hospital. My grandmother on the Lo side, despite her many faults and my very personal misgivings about her, raised a small army of children through the ravages of World War II, the murder of her father by the Japanese invading forces, and still bring the family through the dark economic times that followed. She had to endure conditions that would break most people, man or woman, and I have to give credit where credit is due. Who’s to say she wouldn’t have made a hell of a priest? And as I look out now where women are leaders on the global stage, dreamers and thinkers throughout all walks of life, who says they can’t be effective priests? The answer is easy; a group of conservative men in their late 70’s to 80’s in a cloistered marble palace in Vatican City.

There are so many many more topics I’d love to hit on this, but that would have to be covered in some other blog entry. The treatment of the LBGT community. Birth control. Abortion. Divorce. This and so so many other topics I will write about one of these days.

So now through my own investigations and examination, my belief in the Church was thoroughly shaken. Then along came Christopher Hitchens…..

End of Part 2

#MondayBlogs – Rants on Faith: “What went wrong” Pt 1.

I just spent a weekend for a sad duty, but one that was enlightening as well. My best friend’s mother had passed, and as he is my brother in every way that matters to me except biologically, I had to come to offer my support for him and his family. His mom was a pleasant, charismatic woman, a teacher, a seeker of knowledge and one who I always regarded with warm feelings and pleasant thoughts. She was a woman who loved, whether it be her son and daughters, her husband, or their large family of grandchildren, brothers, sisters and extended members. But I learned for the first time, how that love was extended to people in need, her students, fellow church goers and more, and I can only laud her that much more as she was loved deeply as well by all. Good on you Mrs. P, as I believe that the measure of a person can only be seen in the end by the tears of those left behind. As such, she was truly a wonderful, cherished person and I am proud to have ever made your acquaintance.

But this put me directly back into the path of faith and belief, as people who know me, know that I am very much an anti-theist. I see that religion is not so much a solution to problems as it is the source of those problems. But more on that later.

This was the second funeral I had attended in as many months. The first, was a tragic death of a friend of my gal from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and not long after the birth of her first child as well. She was one of faith, like most in the Filipino community usually are. But her memorial service actually angered me, infuriated me to a point that I would have walked out if it wasn’t for decorum. From the readings, to the psalms to everything said and told by the people (except for one unfortunately monotone presentation of the late person’s life), every single message was thanks be to God for making this woman’s life a living hell with this disease, and that everyone should be thankful. And as I looked around, every single thing that this woman represented wasn’t because she herself was a good woman, but because it was God who made her so and all credit belonged to God, not her. I saw this as an insult to her memory, and definitely one that demeaned her, made her achievements, her joys and her sorrows not of one of a remarkable young woman who fought against the oncoming tide, but one that it was all great because God had all the credit in making her act as she did. It had struck something fundamental in me, as credit was being stolen and more so, and I’ll get back to this shortly.

Mrs. P’s service however, still in the same context of God, was a celebration of her life. Sure faith and God might have led Mrs. P into certain decisions, but in the end, she was a person of true and virtuous character. Yes there were the hymns and the readings, but in this context, it showed that this remarkable woman was someone whose loss is something that we will all feel, and all would miss in so many ways.

The next day, I went to visit my parents, and some friends in Montreal. But the 2 very different celebrations was in my thoughts. Conversation with my folks eventually touched upon my relationship with my nephews, and, with faith on my mind, asked my mom’s opinion on whether my change from faith to atheism might affect my relations with my sister. She had chosen to raise the kids as Catholics as well, and I’ve stayed quiet around her as it’s not my place to dictate anything despite personal reservations. Instead, she mentioned to me how upsetting it has been to the both of them and how my activism against religion specifically hurts them, and how they wonder what they did wrong. It’s from this conversation where this blog entry comes.

As I bounced about in the skies above Canada on my way home today, all of these events of faith the last few days, reminding me of my own decisions, and wonder a bit about how that belief had given my friends and family comfort, and how it gave some a direction as well. And most importantly, how I’ll have to make those I care for and love understand why I have left that belief because it was right for me. So the only way I can express myself properly would be through what I know best… my writing.  SOooo… where to start.

The beginnings….

The path from faith and belief to what I like to describe as a growing up stage wasn’t one that was too difficult, but I can’t call it easy either.

I was given the typical Canadian Catholic upbringing.  I was brought to church every Sunday to hear the sermons and sing to the hymns.  I did the altar boy thing, dressed in the robes and brought the wine and the tapioca host circlets to be transformed into the blood and body of Christ.  As I grew up, my role changed to that of one who served to one who taught, and did my bit to spread the word at mass, doing the readings, being a part of the youth faith groups and the occasional forums.

And no one can say that I wasn’t given the right encouragement either.  I went from Catholic elementary school to Catholic high school.  My instructors were priests and deacons. My parents are staunch Catholics, and can only be described as true believers of the faith.  They themselves served the church in as anyway they could.  Dad would help Father Tou of the Chinese Catholic Church with the regular affairs.  Mom would volunteer years of service for convents and the like.  On long car rides, Mom would lead the family into a round of prayers with the rosary, saying the Hail Marys, Our Fathers and proclamations of the mysteries over and over down the highway.  My godparents would lavish religious items from time to time, and celebrate my entry into Catholicism with parties and dinners. My grandmothers, both of them, can only be described also as believers, though in many ways, I would even say zealots to the cause.

I myself, can honestly admit to being a zealot at one point as well.  I went to daily morning masses in High School, would join in on the prayer events at school and home and even considered a calling to priesthood.  I would pray on my own, asking for guidance and strength to be the good Christian, the good Catholic.  I even wondered from time to time what it would be to be like those who would go out into the deepest darkest lands to spread the Good Word, converting the heathens and the unfortunate who would never had the chance to know HIS love, and be envious by their bravery and faith.

I feared Hell, Purgatory and all that, and would go out of my way to do good deeds like every Catholic boy who believed that there is some cosmic ledger out there weighing the good and the bad.  My classmates and I would even go through a weird “who’s the better Catholic” game of oneupmanship unofficially to see who really was the most faithful, the most believing.

In all that, I was fated to be a true believer, a soldier of the faith. Everything that could have been done to me, with me, by me and for me that could make me believe was done after all. So, as my Mom and Dad, plus the other members of the Lo family might ask and wonder why I turned away… I thought it was time for me to answer their question…  exactly “what went wrong”

End of Part 1