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 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