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A 3-Re Guy

By “Bored Again” ~

My specialty is irreverent essays, two of which I’ve sent to this site (“The Lord’s Prayer Laid Bare” and “Entrée to Eternity”). But I’ve always enjoyed your exit testimonies and thought it time to pull mine together. I consider myself a “3-re” guy, having journeyed from religion to relationship to reality. I don’t expect to go through a 4th “re” (i.e. reincarnation), but if that happens, I’ll get back to you. By the way, my referring to my life as a “trinity” of phases is purely coincidental and not meant to suggest that I am “triune” in any sense of that illogical word.

I use the pseudonym “Bored Again” because it applies to me on several levels. The obvious one is the homonymic reference to “born again” which I once proudly proclaimed myself to be. Also, the adjective “bored” has applied to me at times, but does not do justice to my mental state at the end of the first 2 stages of my life (try “exasperated”). Finally, as a verb, “bored” describes what I did (i.e. drilled down – I hate that phrase, but it applies here) to get to the core of each phase of my life.

My testimony is very “danbakeresque” in that my search for meaning and truth involved deep involvement in both religion and in a close personal “relationship” with an imaginary being.

Re-ligion

I was born and raised a faithful and true Roman Catholic (a title apparently bestowed upon me in utero), and the oldest of 8 children (it took my parents a while to figure out that Vatican-approved family planning methods are not infallible). We went to Mass and Communion every week (plus, every day during Lent and on all 8 “holy days of obligation”). There was confession (which I hear has been upgraded to the “Sacrament of Reconciliation” so it won’t sound like a CSI episode) every 2 weeks, novenas, first-Friday rituals, daily family rosary, stations of the cross, fasting, meatless Fridays, and of course, the mandatory tribal amulets: I wore a St. Christopher medal, a “miraculous medal” of Mary, and a sticky plastic scapular at all times. I went to Catholic schools (where I was once hit with a ruler by a hooded, and misnamed, Sister of “Mercy”) and a Catholic college (where I learned a valuable lesson: Jesuits like to watch young men shower). I was a Catholic’s Catholic, and in it up to (and apparently over) my eyeballs. In fact, when I was twelve, I actually volunteered to serve as an altar boy, but I have to admit my real motivation was to draw the attention of a certain blonde female in my church. There I was, wearing a bright red, dress-like cassock, prostrate at the feet of a registered sex offender who was wearing a dunce cap and a silk bedspread, all the while beating my chest and mumbling unintelligible prayers in Latin. Can’t imagine why the blonde didn’t find that attractive.

In seventh grade, I became convinced I was being called by god to be a priest. I had been elected by my peers to be president of the Civics Club and two nuns told me that this was a sure sign from God that I was being called to the priesthood. At the time I didn’t question how my vast junior high school civics expertise qualified me for a life of celibacy. But, I bought into it, and if it weren’t for transportation problems to the seminary, I’d be a man-in-black today.

But it was not the fanny pats by the parish priests when I was an altar boy, or the Jesuit “fathers” at college watching me pee, that caused me to become a Roamin’ Catholic. It was the emptiness, the silence from god. I felt like I was playing hide-and-seek with the Invisible Man, and gave up trying to find him. As a kid, I was obsessed with stories of miracles performed by the Catholic saints, and wanted some of that Lourdes and Fatima action for myself. But no matter how hard I prayed, I got nothing. I wasn’t asking god to part the Red Sea; just something simple, like making my little brother disappear, or healing a pimple before the prom. God simply would not cooperate and give me just one little miracle, one little sign that he cared or even existed.

I also had noticed that the church I read about in the New Testament bore little resemblance to today’s church, and nobody could tell me why. I questioned all the traditions, the Mary-ology, the liturgy, the silly rituals, the vestments, and no one, not even my parents, had answers for me. I studied Church history and came to the conclusion that the Catholic Church was a man-made farce, based on legend and tradition, and I no longer wanted to waste my time on it. I expressed that feeling to a public high school teacher (and closet evangelical Christian) and he told me that the key to meaning and truth is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus began the second leg of my journey.

Re-lationship

At first, the whole idea of a “personal relationship with Christ” did not compute with me. It sounded like some sort of religious oxymoron. As a Catholic, I was raised on the idea that we are “here” and god is “there.” He is a king on a throne in the sky, we are rats in the gutter, and ne’er the twain shall meet, until you die. And even then your chances are only 50/50. I was taught that the Bible, his inspired word, is so sacred and mysterious, only a priest can read and understand it. But now I was learning that I could read the holy scriptures all by myself, that Jesus wants to be my personal buddy, and that I could be a child of god and refer to God the Father as “Daddy.” Wow, religion up close and personal! Sounded good. Sounded like what I had been missing, so I jumped in with both knees: got saved, born again, baptized in the Spirit, baptized in the local river, read the Bible from cover to cover, married a Christian girl, joined a fundamental, evangelical, Bible-believing, pre-millenial, post-dispensational church, and prided myself that I had solved all the mysteries of the universe.

Over time, I became a teacher, choir member, Deacon, Elder, Sunday School Superintendent, and Christian School Board Chairman. I even preached a few Sunday morning sermons. My first job out of college was teaching English at a Christian day school. Once again, I was in it up to my eyeballs. Fortunately for me, however, the eyeballs still worked, and eventually saved me from this disastrous phase of my life. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of a direct connection with the Almighty, and I liked the values of the Christian community, I was never really sold on the Bible as the “inerrant, infallible word of god.” The more I read, studied, and meditated on the “Word” the more I realized that my “faith” in the Bible was aptly described by Mark Twain: I was saying I believed in something I “know ain’t true.” I desperately WANTED it to be god’s word, but all logical evidence pointed otherwise. I mean, I’m worried about issues like war, and cancer, and starving children, but reading a “divine” revelation that tells me how to cure a skin boil using fig cakes soaked in wine! I also knew the whole inerrant/infallible thing could be blown away with just one contradiction, and I was finding hundreds. But every time I asked a fellow Christian about an obvious contradiction, I was given a convoluted, illogical interpretation that could supposedly explain away the problem. I finally realized that the defenders of the faith had determined that biblical inerrancy was absolute rock solid truth that nothing could shake, not logic, not science, not common sense. After all, they would say, it says in 2Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is inspired, so it must be true! Their circular illogic was driving me crazy! I finally decided that I could still be a “Christian” without buying into the whole infallibility thing.

I saw no harm in letting others live out their self-delusion about the scriptures, there was plenty else I enjoyed at Church, as long as I kept quiet. What finally pushed me out of the womb of Christianity (I was born again, again) and into the real world was a debate our church sponsored between an atheist and a local Christian apologist. The atheist ate the apologist alive and made a very strong impression on me. As a Catholic, and later even as a Protestant, I was a big fan of Thomas Aquinas and liked his “proofs” for the existence of god, especially the one noting the need for an uncaused, or first cause. The atheist surgically dismantled that argument (via the “infinite regression” scenario) and every other one the apologist tried. He used crystal clear logic, with heavy doses of common sense, and I was sold. Listening to him, I had to admit to myself that I was at least an agnostic if not an atheist. Even though I wished with all my heart that there was a loving god, a holy book filled with his revelations, and a happy afterlife, I knew that I could not “decide” or “will” to believe in these things; I either did or did not believe, based on the evidence presented to me. And the evidence added up to my “relationship” with Jesus being a classic case of self-delusion. Time to face reality.

Re-ality

Most Christians I know, including my own family, are scared to death to read anything that might put down or contradict their precious faith. Their excuses include: “If something is not written by a known Christian author, it is written by Satan”, or “It would be a mortal sin to read that,” or “Reading it would mean that I support something that is against my faith.” My view has always been that if what I believe is true, it will stand on its own merits. Thus, why should I be afraid to read anything? So read I did, and thanks to the Internet, found a ready supply of authors that experienced reality the same way I did: rationally. I couldn’t get enough of Ingersoll, Harris, Dawkins, Hitchins, Dennett, Barker, etc, etc.. These guys were putting into words exactly what I thought and believed deep down inside. Their view of the world was so much more “real” than anything I had found in my experiences with religion and divine relationship. No superstition, no fantasy, no wishful thinking, or wild leaps of faith; just a realistic and reasonable view of the universe.

I can honestly say that after I determined that Christianity was a sham, I never had the separation anxiety/trauma that many on this site have experienced. In each phase of my life I have become immersed in a world view that, over a long period of time, I proceeded to explore and eventually dismantle, piece by piece, based on what I observed and understood. Both as a Catholic and as a “born again” evangelical Protestant, I was deeply involved, but always ready to question anything that didn’t make sense. I never really felt I was a committed, fully sold-out believer. I think, because of that, I was spared any great feeling of loss when I moved on.

I hate branding, but if I had to call myself something today, I guess it would be a “CPA” (Catholic Protestant Agnostic), reflecting my past and present. I like the Dawkins approach; I won’t feel like I can be deemed an “atheist” until someone can prove to me unequivocally that a “god” being cannot possibly exist. “Agnostic” seems to me like a more honest term for what I am. My current understanding of god goes like this: there doesn’t have to be one, and I doubt there is, but I can’t say I know that there can’t be one. In my view, we are like ants living inside a computer, and naively confident we have the wherewithal to figure out how it works.


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